Friday, January 20, 2006

"Theological pitbulls"

Before we move on to another thread, let’s try to tie up a few loose ends.

This appears to be McCain’s “Dear drop dead letter”:

“I've recently been involved in "discussions" with a few Calvinists. The best way to describe them is to describe them as theological pit bulls. Thankfully they are not representative of many Calvinists I know and have known. There are Lutheran pit bulls as well, just waiting to pounce on any perceived error. Such pit bulls tend to be predominantly younger men, for whom immaturity in how they express themselves might be somewhat excusable, but there are older men seemingly egging them on, whom they look to for direction.”

Ah, yes the problem of men. There are two different ways of looking at this. There is the feminist strategy which views male aggressiveness as a dangerous social construct. All men are rapists at heart. That sort of thing.

The solution is to raise little boys the way we raise little girls. Don’t let them make snowmen. That’s sexist. Don’t let them throw snowballs. That’s violent. Don’t let them play sports. That’s injurious to the self-esteem of the losing team. Don’t let them use male pronouns. That’s patriarchal. Don’t tell students that 2+2=5 is the “wrong” answer. That’s hurtful to their self-esteem. Hand out “student of the month” awards to every kid in class.

Then there’s the traditional strategy in which you treat male aggressiveness as a natural, inbuilt masculine trait which needs to be properly channeled rather than suppressed. This included competitive sports and contact sports, as well as hunting.

Being the aging, male chauvinist pig that I am, I happened to prefer Dobson’s philosophy of child-rearing to Gloria Steinem’s.

But, to continue:

“ They have an odd way of talking theology. If you make a comment criticizing Calvinism, or Lutheranism, or anything that they hold dear, they will immediately pounce on you and attack you personally.”

Personal attacks. Hmm. You mean like his recent characterization of James White:

“Meanwhile self-appointed Internet Calvinist apologists, with degrees from stop-and-shop Internet seminaries, are hosting cruises on luxury liners to talk about ‘Pulpit Crimes’ ... preceded by a conference in Disney World where there is going to be a debate with Spong. I guess these guys' groupies eat this stuff up. It's a great way to get a free vacation, that's for sure, but...”

Speaking for myself, I have a simple rule: I treat respectable arguments with respect, while I treat disreputable arguments with disrespect.

Moving along:

“You will be accused of being illogical, or illiterate, or incoherent, or obtuse, and so forth.”

What’s wrong with accusing someone of being illogical or incoherent?In fact, McCain accuses the Westminster Divines of being incoherent. See his recent post on the subject.

So what is McCain’s position? Is he saying that there’s nothing wrong with being illogical, only wrong with saying someone's illogical when he is illogical?

Once again, I have a simple rule: it’s wrong to say someone is illogical if he’s not illogical, but it’s not wrong to say someone is illogical if he really is illogical.

And while we’re on the subject, there is a time and place to get personal. If your opponent is willfully misrepresenting your views, it is directly germane to the substance of the argument to point that out. This is not a personal insult. This is a matter of elementary honesty.

Does MCcain think that Christians are not accountable to one another for what they say? That truth-telling doesn’t matter? That it’s unchristian to point out to a fellow Christian that he is distorting the opposing position?

Once more, I have a simple rule: we should hold our Christian brothers to a higher standard, not a lower standard.


“If you do not meet their every post with an equal deluge of words, they seem to take it as a personal insult and then take great delight in tearing and devouring their adversaries, as they describe you.”

Not to mention:

“They seem not to appreciate the fact that blog posts do not have to go on for twenty paragraphs. They are obsessed over answering every comment, and every and any perceived slight.”

No, this is not an issue of word count. The problem is substituting intellectual theft for honest labor. When they claim to have proven their point without arguing their point.

They are at liberty to spend as much or as little time as they wish on any particular exchange. But if, like Mr. McCain, you bandy charges of heresy, and the other side presents a factual, reasoned rebuttal to your allegation, and your response is to disregard the rebuttal as if nothing was said by way of answer, and then repeat the original smear—indeed, claim to have make your case when you simply brush aside the counterargument, then that is unworthy of Christian conduct.

“Such theological pit bulls are truly a blight on the Christian Internet experience.”

Ah, yes, the bad old Christian Internet. To judge by Mr. McCain’s background and behavior, his problem is that he’s used to living within the cocoon of a self-validating religious subculture. Inside that sheltered environment, one can easily fall into the habit of caricaturing the other side. You can get away with cutting corners on the truth because you’re always addressing a sympathetic audience. No one’s going to call your hand because your listeners are a self-selected group of like-minded believers.

But when McCain leaves the gated community of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood for the mean streets of the Christian Internet, he does, indeed, come in for a rude surprise. He discovers that he isn’t so SPECIAL anymore. He finds out, for the first time in his charmed existence, that there are real live Calvinists out there—not just the kind you find in history books. And not just Calvinists. There are real live atheists out there too. Welcome to the rough and tumble of the blackboard jungle, Mr. McCain.

And Mr. McCain suddenly learns what it feels like when he attempts to palm off his urban legends on a hostile audience. He encounters real resistance. He's challenged to document his claims and defend his allegations. Shock! Shock!

Yes, Mr. McCain, this is the world that Triablogue inhabits. This is the world that Dr. White inhabits. This is the world that Jason Engwer inhabits. This is the world that Dr. Dembski inhabits. In the Wild Wild West of the Internet, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

“Perhaps their greatest danger is that they like nothing more than to drag you down to their own level of rude discourse.”

I wonder if Mr. McCain is as disapproving of the very colorful language Luther uses on Catholics, Calvinists, Jews, and Anabaptists—the likes of which you’ll never find at Triablogue.

“They like to justify this behavior by appealing to "apologetics." But, in the end, they are really no more than pit bulls, mindlessly attacking.”

“Mindlessly attacking?”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall that I, or Gene, or Evan, initiated this attack. We were merely responding to McCain’s offensive. And if you bother to read our replies, there is nothing “mindless” about them.

“I must say that I can't help but wonder how much time they spend writing their blog posts, feverishly responding to every comment, spending endless hours on discussion groups and e-mail lists. Is this how we are best able to use our time in service to Christ? I'm having my serious doubts.”

Was writing a four-volume critique of Tridentine theology the best way for Chemnitz to spend his leisure time?

Back when I was attending a Lutheran church, one of the major concerns of the denomination (WELS) was the low retention rate among the young. Kids were growing up in church, but as soon as many of them grew up, they never went back.

We live in a time when ever so many of our young men are lost to drugs, pornography, street gangs, and the like, yet Mr. McCain thinks it’s a terrible waste of time for young men to be debating Scripture and theology on discussion boards. Who’s the one with his priorities out of whack?

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