Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Moral charlatanry

Ben Witherington has been giving waffling answers on gun ownership. Sometimes he takes a hardline pacifist position:

Me personally I don’t think Christians should ever use lethal force against another human being, but that’s just my view. 

At other times he denies that he was advocating a total ban on the private ownership of guns.

But here’s another plot twist:

Hi Ray: I am indeed saying no gun toting of concealed weapons in public. I’m saying fine to have them at home, but not in a public place, not in a restaurant, not in a theater, not at the car wash etc. Why not?…Secondly, I don’t believe in public deception, which is what this amounts to, and is not a Christian position.

Several issues:

i) Deception and concealment are not interchangeable. Sometimes concealment is deceptive, but sometimes not.

If the window in my bathroom is opaque, is that deceptive? If I have curtains in my bedroom, is that deceptive? Is privacy deceptive?

ii) BW3 is also assuming, w/o argument, that deception is not a Christian position. But that’s disputable. For instance:

iii) What about off-duty policemen who carries a concealed revolver. Is that unchristian? What about an FBI agent who carries a revolver under his suit jacket. Is that unchristian? What about sky marshals who dress like civilians and carry concealed revolvers. The whole point is to blend in with the other passengers. Is that unchristian? What about an unmarked police unit. Is that unchristian?

iv) Moreover, there’s such a thing as military deception. For instance:

If BW3 takes the position that deception is never a Christian position, then this is a supporting argument for pacifism. But in that case he needs to come clean about his wholesale objection to self-defense.

BW3 has a habit of speaking off-the-cuff with great confidence. He makes snap judgments without considering the counterarguments. He speaks with great moral conviction, but he doesn’t put the intellectual effort into acquainting himself with the issues or thinking through his position. He’s a moral charlatan. Think before you speak. Do a little research. Anticipate counterexamples.


  1. Judges 3:15 Again the Israelites cried out to the Lord, and he gave them a deliverer —Ehud , a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite. The Israelites sent him with tribute to Eglon king of Moab. 16 Now Ehud had made a double-edged sword about a cubit[d] long, which he strapped to his right thigh under his clothing. 17 He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab, who was a very fat man. 18 After Ehud had presented the tribute, he sent on their way those who had carried it. 19 But on reaching the stone images near Gilgal he himself went back to Eglon and said, “Your Majesty, I have a secret message for you.”

    The king said to his attendants, “Leave us!” And they all left.

    20 Ehud then approached him while he was sitting alone in the upper room of his palace[e] and said, “I have a message from God for you.” As the king rose from his seat, 21 Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king’s belly. 22 Even the handle sank in after the blade, and his bowels discharged. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it.


    Ehud's mission was not only pretty freaking violent, but it was done utilizing concealment AND deception. He deceived everyone by pretending just to bring a tribute to Eglon. He deceived everyone by concealing his sword under his clothes. Then he deceives everyone again by pretending he has some sensitive information to give Eglon, and just before violently dispatching Eglon, Ehud deceives him again as he says he has a message for him from God. Not only that, but he isn't punished for this behavior. In fact, he prospers later on by becoming judge of Israel!

    It seems Witherington needs to take up his complaint with God. God provided Ehud as the deliverer of the Israelites, and yet Ehud used public AND private deception and concealment all along the way in order to save God's people. It doesn't seem like God shares Ben's ethics in this matter.

  2. For the record, I submitted two comments on the Patheos blog asking Ben how he reconciles his view on public deception with the account of Ehud from Judges 3. They were identical except that the second comment included an apology in light of the fact that I might have posted the same comment twice since the first didn't go through. Here's the original comment:


    Secondly, I don’t believe in public deception, which is what this amounts to, and is not a Christian position.

    How would you explain Judges 3 where Ehud, God's selected deliverer of Israel, utilized public deception in his mission to kill King Eglon?


    As of this point in time, neither have gone through, much less has an answer been given. Is it possible that Ben has no answer? Is it possible he just didn't know this was in the Bible? I don't know, but we'd do well to come up with some answer or change his position.