Open Mic Thread 29


The open mic thread is where you have the floor and can raise or discuss issues of your choice. There is no such thing as off-topic here. The comments of this thread are free for you to:

  • Discuss things that you have been reading/listening to/watching recently
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Over to you!

Earlier open mic threads: 123456, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17,18,19,20,2122,23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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102 Responses to Open Mic Thread 29

  1. whitefrozen says:

    Analytic theology/philosophy – friend, foe, something else?

    • Facebook ‘friend’ who mostly clogs up your feed with tedious stuff, but can occasionally be helpful.

      • whitefrozen says:

        Any particular reason you feel that way?

      • Continental prejudice.

      • whitefrozen says:

        So you just like being that wrong – got it 🙂

      • I bet you just don’t like continental philosophy because you don’t get it! 😉

      • whitefrozen says:

        Oh, I like it, in the way you like that really weird uncle at family reunions who thinks that ‘the truth is out there, man’ 🙂

        I rather enjoy the Continental tradition – I don’t think some of the grander narratives of, say, Heidegger hold too much water, nor do I find many continental conclusions terribly forceful since they are seldom argued for – but I do enjoy it and find some of ideas with regard to action/cognition/reason/inference (Brandon and the Pittsburgh Hegelians) quite fascinating.

      • Caned Crusader says:

        Analytic theology: the friend that is smarter than you. Continental theology: the friend that is not smarter than you, but thinks he is.

      • Lol! More seriously, analytic theology can be very helpful for certain sorts of problems. However, I find continental theology much more helpful for getting a grip on the larger whole.

      • whitefrozen says:

        It certainly can be. The great advantage of the analytical tradition in philosophy was to de-couple various problems from that large web of ideas/histories and so enable them to stand on their own. This has the great advantage of allowing more sustained inquiry into problems, since they can be gotten at on their own.

  2. Sheila says:

    Now I wish I’d followed through on that philosophy degree so that I could say something clever. As it is, I’ll just be happy to see people disagreeing in good humor. Refreshing. 🙂

  3. Caned Crusader says:

    What troubles me about continental philosophy/theology is its insistance on being deliberately obscure and inventing its own languages. Analytic philosophy does this to a certain extent, as well, but I usually find analytic philosphers much less circumspect about defining their terms and laying out structures before proposing a system.

    • whitefrozen says:

      That was roughly Carnap’s criticism of Heidegger – obscurity and using words in such a way as to empty them of meaning. Reading Heidegger one is rather sympathetic to Carnap, who is not the most sympathetic figure.

      • Caned Crusader says:

        I took a Heidegger course in the spring, and that was my biggest frustration (which I voiced repeatedly in class.) Heidegger had some interesting things to say, but they were buried amidst lingo. i’m not terribly sympathetic to Heideggerian intperpretation, either–trying to “read Heidegger against himself” and so forth.

      • whitefrozen says:

        One does not simply interpret Heidegger.

  4. This is a fascinating read: Why It Pays To Be A Jerk. I’d be interested to hear people’s thoughts.

    • whitefrozen says:

      Having only skimmed it, what especially caught my eye was the perception that giving = weakness. The distinction between disagreeable giver and the narcissist is interesting – but the overall point about the social nature of power dynamics and structures really seems almost irrefutable.

    • mnpetersen37 says:

      I’ll have more thoughts later, but, I believe this is WEIRD, at least in *how* people work to defend the group. For instance, among Western Apache, courting couples don’t talk for months after the start courting–till they know each other. And likewise, when people meet new people, they tend to be silent for several days, till they know the new people. And loud people are seen as wanting to sell something–or if they’re white, to “help”. (This is from Keith Basso’s work.) That said, it’s almost certainly true that there would be other sorts of activity that aggressively defend the group, which would be valorized.

      Second, I think it’s very important that we remember that the commands toward hospitality, and the claims that we will be judged as we judge are not directed toward *individuals*, but toward groups. Though an individual has to guard both the internal front and the external front, in groups, different people will guard the different fronts, but nevertheless, it is extremely important that we be just on all our fronts.

      This leads to a third consideration: If we’re members tasked with working on a different front, it is very possible that we take advantage of people unjustly guarding the external front. We need to carefully guard against the possibility that though we, individually, are just in our interaction with outsiders, we benefit from other members of our group who interact unjustly with outsiders, and thus are implicated in their sins.

      • I doubt that it is just WEIRD. I suspect that many of these behaviours would backfire in those Nordic societies that function with some variety of ‘Jante Law’. WEIRD is a helpful concept, but what we generally refer to by it tends to more specifically Anglo-American in character.

        Your second point really is crucial. It is a constant frustration to me how often we discuss things as if we only ever acted as detached individuals interacting with other detached individuals (for instance, the assumption that persuasion should not involve direct confrontation forgets that disputation typically exists to persuade the audience, not one’s opponent). Recognizing that we act as social bodies on different fronts (thanks, Rosenstock-Huessy) is incredibly important and should also help us to recognize that certain behaviours may be required on some fronts that are inappropriate on others and that certain persons may be gifted actors on some fronts but less so on others (and, for the record, I suspect that we all agree that many of the particular behaviours described in this article are sinful).

        One thing that has interested me is how in Scripture God seems to make heavy use of traits that we would typically stigmatize, but which can be powerfully beneficial—though still volatile or potentially dangerous—traits in the context of leadership. We stigmatize assholes because the way that they act isn’t pretty or pleasant. However, as in the human body, assholes have the benefit of—to put it crudely—expelling an awful lot of the ‘shit’ that we would otherwise become full of, especially if we were all incredibly sensitive and non-confrontational. That said, although we really need some—or at least members who are capable of occasionally acting as assholes—for our health as a group, we wouldn’t want too many assholes in a society.

        The other thing that I think that we need to be more attentive to is how many of the ‘nice’ behaviours that we tend to celebrate actually operate contrary to the health of groups. There are times, for instance, when sensitivity, empathy, and pity present dangerous threats to the health of our groups and we need people who have a higher tolerance level for other people’s pain and discomfort.

        I completely agree with your final point.

    • quinnjones2 says:

      According to the article, it works, but it comes over to me as one great big rationalisation for being devious and manipulative, whilst claiming to have the noblest of motives. I still think it’s possible to give and to challenge without being disagreeable, and I actually found found it difficult to be as direct as I was in my first sentence in this post!

      • whitefrozen says:

        This was my initial thought – that all this was just an excuse to be ‘disagreeable’. But being disagreeable or aggressive doesn’t necessarily equal being devious or manipulative – and in all honesty, being devious or manipulative isn’t always wrong. Aggressive stances can really force us into a reality check of sorts – they can jar us into seeing the bigger picture, or seeing a better point or making the better decision. We need people who are aggressive in their dealings with us to (a) keep us humble (b) keep us from falling into complacency (c) keep us from screwing up. There are certainly times and places where it is/isn’t appropriate, but without any form of aggression or disagree-ability, we really start to just wilt as people.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Thank you for your response. I agree that ‘being disagreeable or aggressive doesn’t necessarily equal being devious or manipulative’, but I also think that it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable or aggressive, namely by being firm and assertive, both of which, in my opinion, are more challenging and more skillful than straightforward aggression.

        ‘Being devious or manipulative isn’t always wrong’: it sounds as if you think the end justifies the means. I don’t think it does. This could, of course, be a matter of semantics. Being persuasive could be construed as being manipulative, I suppose.

        ‘We need people who are aggressive in their dealings with us to ….keep us from falling into complacency…’. I don’t need any help with that – I am already my own harshest critic, and the people who have helped me most are those who have pointed out some of my skills and gifts to me, and who point out my mistakes gently. No one needs to use a sledgehammer to crack this particular ‘nut’! I appreciate though that some people are so arrogant and thick-skinned that they respond better to the ‘stick’ than they do to the ‘carrot’.

        ‘Without any form of aggression or disagree-ability, we really start to wilt as people’.
        I differentiate between feelings and words/behaviour. Certainly angry feelings are healthy, but they are our own feelings and I don’t think it’s good to ‘dump’ them on other people. However, I think that there is always a case for righteous anger, though I think that this can be expressed without aggression or disagree-ability, and also without sarcasm, sneering and so on. Righteous anger can be expressed firmly and assertively, but doing so is not easy, and requires considerable self-control and skill.

        One colleague once commented to me about another colleague, ‘I think she thrives on conflict.’ I agreed with this comment. I think Twitter would be a very boring place for people who thrive on conflict if most of us started being ‘nice’ to each other!

      • When thinking about being devious and manipulative, it is worth paying attention to the many examples of devious and manipulative behaviours that are blessed in Scripture. The righteous often gain advantage over the wicked using trickery and deception. Jacob is a classic example here, of course.

        Your distinction between words/behaviour and feelings can be helpful to some extent here. What is being discussed here is primarily the former. Also, it is not primarily jerky persons that are being advocated for, but persons who are able to employ jerky behaviour on appropriate occasions, not just as their single natural mode.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Thank you for your reply – I thought that you would agree with Whitefrozen about this. I will reply briefly for now and more fully later, though I am not in a position at this stage to say when I will comment next.
        I don’t see eye-to eye with you about this:
        ‘…many examples of devious and manipulative behaviours that are blessed in Scripture.’
        I would say that they are transformed, rather than blessed, in the way God transforms many ugly and repugnant things into beautiful and edifying things. I think, for example, of a strawberry growing in a dung-heap. I don’t, for instance, see Jacob’s duplicity as a shining example for us to emulate!

      • I agree with whitefrozen here. Many of the behaviours described in the article are clearly sinful and we should not support them. However, there are others that are highly beneficial for the well-being of a group. The great leaders of Scripture—Moses, David, Paul, etc.—demonstrated many behaviours that could be and have been described as psychopathic, for instance. There are occasions when pressing need or the demands of truth require a willingness to hurt others. The fact that falsehood and unfaithfulness so often prevail in our society has a lot to do with our unbiblical desire to be as nice, inoffensive, and tolerant as possible. Of course, this doesn’t make it right to hurt people purely for our own pleasure, but learning to be unpleasant, offensive, abrasive, and intolerant on appropriate occasions is important, especially for those who are leaders..

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        The fact that falsehood and unfaithfulness so often prevail in our society has a lot to do with our unbiblical desire to be as nice, inoffensive, and tolerant as possible.

        I’m not sure if I can articulate this fully, or defend it, and I’m saying it in part so that I’ll have to:

        I’ve wondered for a while if part of the reason for niceness is that in the Modern world, toughness, particular toughness which pulls us toward a traditional position, can very easily degenerate into fascism, (both Rosenstock-Huessy and Eco point this out) and we are *rightly* very concerned to avoid fascism. The challenge facing us (and it is a very difficult challenge) is to be able to be both tough, and gentle; to walk according to what we have already attained–and thus, to defend it–and yet, to repent of our failures (and these are real and deep), and to press on as having not attained, indeed, forgetting what lies behind. We need a leader, who can be a jerk, but not the sort of leader who is a jerk.

        The instability of the position of leader is seen in German: a leader is necessary, but a leader must not become a Führer–the older translation of “leader”, which, because a certain German leader became a Führer, has been replaced with “leiter”. (Though google translate still gives Führer.) And Wayne Christaudo says that the pernicious nature of much managerialist discourse is apparent on translation into German.

        Thus, when Christian leaders try to be jerks, they tend to become Driscolls, unjustly policing the interior of a community, unjustly interacting with the community’s neighbors, and unjustly trying to force the future of our community to be like the past. On the other hand, when they try not to be Führung, they end up failing to guard. So what we need is someone to do the hard work of incarnating a new human type: A leader, who can lead and fight, and indeed, fight for the old ways, while yet, not becoming a fascist afraid of the modern, and who can cut a new way of being human.

      • Well put: ‘We need a leader, who can be a jerk, but not the sort of leader who is a jerk.’ I agree with this.

        I have mixed feelings about the antipathy towards characters like Driscoll in light of this. While I don’t believe that Driscoll is a good biblical leader that we need, in the absence of pastors who are prepared to be assholes on appropriate occasions, Driscoll’s general asshole approach actually helped to mitigate some problems (while causing others).

      • quinnjones2 says:

        The conversation has continued while I’ve been busy.
        I’ll fill in my own gaps a bit and then pick up on your most recent comments, Matthew and Alastair The Atlantic article seems to me to suggest an ethos of the survival of the fittest and the weakest go to the wall, which strikes me as an antithesis of Jesus, who reversed the pecking order and spoke of the last being first and the first being last.

        John Cadbury and Josiah Wedgewood were successful businessmen and philanthropists who had high standards and expected high standards of workmanship from their employees, while also caring about the well-being of their employees – John Cadbury even provided his employees with homes and established Bournville (Village). To the best of my knowledge, they did this without being ‘jerks.’

        Alastair, please could you expand on this?:
        …’the fact that falsehood and unfaithfulness so often prevail in our society has a lot to do with our unbiblical desire to be as nice, inoffensive and tolerant as possible.’

        Dr. Henry Cloud’s book, ‘Necessary Endings’ also mentions GE within the context of of ‘pruning’. I accept the importance of pruning up to a point, but I am wary when it is taken too far.

        Matthew – I’d better not get started on the subject of Nazi Germany – it’s one of my hobby-horses! German was my specialism and I spent a fair amount of time in Germany listening to what the people had to say about it. I’ll just say here that when I read the Atlantic article, the word ‘Faschist’ did cross my mind.

      • whitefrozen says:

        It is quite clearly not survival of the fittest – the point of the article is not that jerks rule, nice guys drool, and the article gives examples and reasons why such behavior doesn’t work in a lot of times and places. Its that in some environments, someone who is willing to excercise ‘jerky’ traits – not be a jerk, simply exercise the traits – for the benefit of a group will do good for both themselves and the group and can often be the most important part of a groups success.

      • The Atlantic article is definitely describing a lot of survival of the fittest approaches. However, it isn’t justifying these, I don’t think. Its main thrust is descriptive. Towards the end it starts to discuss more positive forms that these traits could take and it is to this section of the piece that I—and I presume whitefrozen and Matthew—make primary reference.

        I don’t believe that any of us are arguing that people should just ‘be jerks’. Rather, the point is that on certain occasions it is necessary or justified to adopt jerk-like behaviours. This doesn’t mean that everyone needs to act the jerk from time to time.

        Jesus could sometimes engage in actions that seem very insensitive or cruel when you think about it. Imagine being one of the herders whose 2,000 pigs Jesus cast out the demons into. In one fell swoop, Jesus probably destroyed their livelihoods. Imagine how their wives and kids would have felt upon their return. Or sending his disciples to take the colt for the Triumphal Entry without any suggestion of a payment. Or calling away his disciples from their families for months or more at a time. Or the well-meaning businessmen in the temple whose wares Jesus upset and whom he drove out with a whip. Or the sharp words that Jesus used of other religious groups, many of whom were probably genuinely pious. Etc. How many of us would be prepared to do these things? Most of us would think of the human discomfort or suffering to supposedly well-intentioned yet possibly misled people and refrain from action. Not Jesus!

        …the fact that falsehood and unfaithfulness so often prevail in our society has a lot to do with our unbiblical desire to be as nice, inoffensive and tolerant as possible.

        Notice the way that marriage and sexual ethics have become so surrounded by sensitivities that very few dare to speak directly to the issues and, when they do, they tend to fudge so as not to hurt or offend. Our extreme desire to avoid anyone feeling discomfort prevents us from speaking forthrightly about the truth, about what our society lacks, and about the reality of God’s judgment.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Hi Alastair,
        Yes, having the courage to go against the flow and take risks is a strength, and can work for the common good.
        I agree with what you wrote in your final paragraph, but I’m not convinced that speaking out does anything to improve the morality of others – but that’s difficult to quantify.
        I already wrote in the comment I posted at 1.30 p.m that arrogant and thick-skinned people respond more to the stick than to the carrot so, yes, there is a place for tough talking and confrontation, but I see no need for aggression, which is unprovoked hostility, though firmness and assertiveness are fine, as I commented earlier. I also wrote in the same post about righteous anger… but I wouldn’t describe Jesus as a ‘jerk.’ In the story of the Garasene Demoniac, Jesus was casting out demons, as you said, and leaving the villagers without a livelihood, and also without a scapegoat, with the result that they were then open to searching their own hearts and hopefully to leading re-formed lives. I can see the ‘tough love’ in this but I can’t imagine anyone entitling this story ,’Why it pays to cast out demons’.
        Was the Atlantic article written by a Christian? I didn’t get the impression that it was. Dr. Henry Cloud is a Christian and he makes similar points about ‘pruning’, but with more empathy.

  5. quinnjones2 says:

    I’m just having a short break, so I’ll make another brief comment now – more later. The Atlantic article describes one way of running a business. I’ve just been thinking about the ways that John Cadbury and Josiah Wedgewood ran their businesses . I can’t remember many details off the top of my head, but I was very impressed when I first heard about them and I will check them out before I comment further.

  6. quinnjones2 says:

    Correction to the comment I posted at 12.36 a.m.:
    ”I wouldn’t describe Jesus as a ‘jerk’ ” should read ‘I wouldn’t describe Jesus as having jerklike behaviours’

    • quinnjones2 says:

      In an attempt to search for the goodness I’ve apparently missed in the Atlantic article, I just had another look at it and at those four photos which are part of the message of the article …and no, they definitely don’t depict a ‘nice’ man, and they’ve done nothing whatsoever to put me off ‘nice’ men.

  7. mnpetersen37 says:

    What do you think of this piece? It bothers me quite a bit, but I’d like to hear a second opinion.

    • mnpetersen37 says:

      Specifically rape cases are, by their very nature, extremely difficult to adjudicate “objectively” from a distance: There weren’t many witnesses to the event. Because of this, the worst an outsider could say is that they have reservations about trusting one party or the other. (Which does not mean they should say that.) But the article seems to use the very ambiguity of witnesses as proof that Sulkowicz is lying, and then that feminism is not interested in truth. Which is simply a dishonest practice.

      The problem is worse since the article takes the fact that the university cleared Nungesser as evidence that Sulkowicz’ charge that the university *wrongfully* cleared Nungesser is itself false. Unless I’m misunderstanding something, when it’s spelled out, it’s ludicrous to treat that as an argument at all. And so the article’s point there turns, explicitly, on duplicity.

    • The whole discussion surrounding such cases concerns me. We have those who take a ‘just believe her’ approach that stigmatizes any questioning of the details and interpretation of such events, resists the operation of due process, and pushes for lower standards of evidence. We have those who don’t take seriously the injustice that those unfairly accused of rape may face (this raises some important points from a related context) and the dangers of pursuing definitions of rape and consent that are increasingly divorced from the messy reality of sexual relations. We have those who fail to take seriously the fact that false rape claims tend to be very rare, presume that every accusation that doesn’t lead to a conviction is a false claim, and wish to persecute the people bringing forward such claims. We have the media that can rush for the most extreme but most likely to be unsubstantiated cases, discrediting those advocating for the many real cases out there. Sections of the media and politics also seem to have consistently exaggerated the extent of these issues. We have other parties in the media that engage in demonizing those whose cases haven’t been substantiated or which have been called into question.

      Because of the nature of the crime in question, the law will always struggle justly to convict rapists. Although there are steps that can be taken to increase just convictions, the law’s task is just judgment on the basis of the evidence it has available, not maximizing convictions (better police work would definitely help here). The law not arriving at convictions in cases where there isn’t sufficient evidence is the law doing its job as it should be doing its job. Rape is easier to prevent than to punish, which is why it seems to me that our primary focus should probably be elsewhere.

      • Also, it seems to me that it is entirely appropriate for different people to take different postures towards such cases. The duty of close friends may be to believe the person bringing the allegations. The duty of the police and the authorities may not be to ‘believe’ her so much as to take her claims very seriously. The duty of a jury is to determine whether her claims meet relevant standards of evidence. The duty of the media is to report responsibly. The duty of the public is, among other things, to maintain caution in relating particular cases to larger social problems and to resist substituting partisan ideology for attending to the particulars of a given case.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Re: ‘police and the authorities’ I would like to include the CPS, who decide whether or not to prosecute, or whether or not to offer the accused a plea bargain, and also the defence barristers who have a duty to ensure a fail trial for the accused.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        Thanks for the response. I think I agree. (Though I don’t think I could articulate it well online—I don’t want to be SOMEONE who said SOMETHING on the internet, and I’m not quite familiar enough with the potential pitfalls to deftly avoid them.) What bothers me most is the second order use of these stories: Using thin reasoning about the allegations to prove how evil the other side is. That, for instance, “It has made clear how utterly uninterested the feminist movement is in anything like an appeal to facts or common reason.” We need to judge as we would be judged—and indeed, if we want to have any chance of getting a fair hearing, we need to be very careful not to use the sorts of weights in our judgment against others we would have them use against us, since they will be no more just than we are. When we misread non-Christians, we are enacting a pedagogy in the sort of reading we expect from them, and if we cannot hear, listen, and respond justly, we will not receive just responses. (Not to mention that we’re training our children to lack intellectual virtues that we will need them to possess in their later interaction with the Church’s claims.)

      • I think that, even when such cases are grossly misused by ‘the other side’, it is important to develop the ability to ‘steelman’ their position. Frankly, I don’t rate many popular feminist arguments very highly, even though I take care to listen to and hear what they are saying. However, I recognize that they may often be groping towards a position that has genuine weight and merit. It is important to learn to articulate that to myself and to learn to respond to the best possible positions that could be advanced for other sides, rather than the weakest and most ridiculous.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        I “I don’t rate many popular arguments very highly.”

        And yes, I very much agree about “steelmanning” arguments. This is something we need people to do to us: “Yes, Matt Walsh said that very poorly, and very objectionable. But I’m not going to dismiss his side because if him, but will instead find stronger representatives, while recognizing my side has it’s Matt Walsh’s.” That’s the non-Christian I’d like to interact with, and the sort of attitude I’d like my children to take toward my generation.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        Sigh, I suppose this is what I get for having to post a comment before I have time to edit it. Anyway, I think my point is clear. Jesus says that as we judge, so shall we be judged. I think this has a secular application too–if we don’t work to “steelman” our opponents’ arguments, we hardly have a claim to their time and deep engagement with ours. We need to treat non-Christians as we would have them treat us. And that means we need to work extra hard to read them as charitably as possible.

        (Also, when I’ve done so, I’ve often found surprising commonalities.)

  8. quinnjones2 says:

    I think your comment is a fair comment on the article.
    We none of us know the facts about what must, legally, be called allegations of rape, and although people inevitably form opinions about it, I find it disconcerting when opinions become the story.

  9. quinnjones2 says:

    …plus the US equivalent of the CPS

  10. mnpetersen37 says:

    Links to facebook can be a little frustrating, but I thought you might be interested in this thread, and a few of us would be interested in your thoughts on it. (Though it’s quite a bit of reading.)

    • Good article. I largely agree with it. I’ve hashed out this issue at length in private correspondences and private e-mail discussion lists and it would take some time to give my thoughts here (Brad Belschner has been privy to many of these discussions). Rather than rehearsing the arguments again here are a few fragments from one particular discussion:

      Why should we speak of the firmament as a ‘scientific misunderstanding’? I have yet to be persuaded that it is either ‘scientific’ or a ‘misunderstanding’. Why is speaking about the firmament any less appropriate than speaking about, say, rainbows? If all ancient peoples perceived—not just ‘theorized’ or merely ‘believed’—a firmament-solid-dome, surely that fact is significant in itself. To declare such a perception mistaken just because it fails as a scientific account is rather problematic, I think.

      [Is this merely phenomenological?] I am arguing that it is a genuine phenomenological object and that such an object doesn’t need to be material to be real. The addition of the ‘merely’ arises from our devaluation of perception and humanity’s natural vantage point within God’s creation. And, yes, the rainbow comparison was chosen as a close analogy. While it may be scientifically correct to take issue with someone who directed your attention to the rainbow behind some feature of the landscape, as if it were an object that could be located out there, in all of the senses that really mattered you would be wrong.

      I am not claiming that the ancients regarded these things as ‘merely phenomenological’. That would be a modern way of viewing things. I also have no doubt that most of them thought that the firmament was, at least in theory, a tangible material object. My point is rather that the appearances were the starting point and that the appearances themselves are given by God (God ‘put’ his bow ‘in the cloud’). The rest is just a descriptive account of these things, which recognizes divinely ordained meanings within them. It isn’t really trying to get ‘behind’ the appearances in the same way as our science seeks to. As far as it goes—which is pretty far—its account is true. The fact that most might have thought that the appearances were sufficient for an account of the world and could be pressed to this end doesn’t make the descriptive account wrong. This would be to presume that the firmament description functioned in a similar way to a modern scientific theory.

      I think that God created the appearances for a reason. They bear an anagogical relationship to higher realities. I wouldn’t be comfortable with saying that the firmament is an actual material thing within our universe that is actually and materially before the throne, though. I think that would be to collapse the reality with that which is patterned after it.

      [Why isn’t this position like that of a scientific theory?] My point is that their account was an account of the appearances. This is a very different sort of thing from what we do when we do science, which is an attempt to get behind the appearances and explain the underlying mechanics. Sure, there are some areas of overlap, but the driving principles of each approach are quite different. What we are dealing with in the case of the firmament is a descriptive account of the appearances that occasionally pushes itself to a position where its claims are no longer true. However, it isn’t a theory at heart, so these errors, where they occur, are only marginal to its account.

      To illustrate my point, the scientific account is akin to looking at this art piece independent of the frame. The descriptive account of the world order takes the artist’s framing as its starting point. Both perspectives have value, but it is the scientific account that is at most risk of missing the point.

      I think that you are greatly overstating the degree to which the firmament is intended to ‘explain’ something in the way that a scientific theory is. That there is an element of induction there shouldn’t be taken to mean that it is functioning as a modern scientific theory is, or that it arises out some theoretical reflection on nature. There is induction involved in all perception on some level or other. I perceive whole entities when they are partially obscured. I can perceive a man from Durham on the basis of snatches of an accent heard from outside my window. We might perceive the rainbow to be in the cloud, because it would never occur to us to perceive it otherwise. There is no theorizing taking place here, just a non-theoretical sense-making of my world. The firmament has more in common with this than with our scientific theories. It is a natural sense-making of the phenomena. While it may bear more weight in answering ‘how’ questions in some cases, that is not how it arises, or the purpose that it exists to perform. The sense-making is more integral to the act of perception, not a subsequent act of theorizing occurring on the basis of it. What else would they perceive the firmament as?

      I think that it is rather important to see ‘scientific’ statements as incidental to their cosmology. Besides, in many senses, one could argue that the ‘behind’ that they would have been thinking in terms of was not a set of scientific laws, forces, or entities, but an anagogically related reality—the heavenly reality that was manifested in shadow in the terrestrial realm. The temple was their closest analogue to CERN, the place where they got into contact with deep reality, the place where they did their ‘science’.

      I think that it is crucial to maintain that, whatever else the do novo creation of all species and the description of the creation of the world is, it is divine revelation. I don’t think of it as human ‘science’, but as communication of God’s truth and the truth about his creation. And I don’t think that any of this is ‘mistaken’ or ‘wrong’, at least when understood correctly. They only become ‘wrong’ when contemporary historiography and science are established as absolute measures. Understood on their own terms, they are true.

  11. quinnjones2 says:

    Just a few thoughts:
    My Twitter feed was pretty miserable-making for me today until Alastair’s Pentecost tweet appeared.
    I am interested in national and international events, but today I am enjoying being ‘parochial’. Our little street is tucked in between the park and the canal and there is a notable absence of the intense enthusiasm about the Irish SSM vote which is manifest on Twitter.
    I wish to express my appreciation again for those of you who have put the theological case for heterosexual marriage so cogently and convincingly.
    In my garden forget-me-nots are growing wherever they want and they are a joy to behold.There is no law against them planting themselves and blossoming wherever they want, just as there is no law against the fruits of the Spirit. I will transplant some forget-me-nots later, and then mow the lawn, but I will leave that blue cloud where it is just for a while. A cat has made himself comfortable in a heap of grass cuttings I left at the bottom of the garden to dry out. This is my territory, not the cat’s, but he’s a welcome, though uninvited, guest.
    Happy Pentecost.

    • Focusing on our local situations, where we can make an immediate and concrete difference can be very helpful. The fear, paranoia, and sense of powerless engendered by the news of society more generally can easily lead us to lose hope and become inactive.

      I’ve been enjoying the wonderful weather here in Durham today: I hope that you’ve had some of it where you are too!

  12. quinnjones2 says:

    I just thought about my use of the word ‘territory’, which I chose because cats seem to be so territorial and they seem to think that what’s theirs is theirs and what belongs to everyone else is also theirs.
    I am mindful of the fact that I do not own the garden. I have responsibility for it and stewardship over it. As a steward, I welcome the presence of the forget-me-nots and the cat 🙂

  13. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    Any thoughts on this?

    As best I can tell, the egalitarian side is saying that God can only have one will, so any talk of the Son submitting to the father is nonsense. Therefore, you can’t use the Son submitting to the Father as an example of someone submitting to another while remaining equal.

    I’d note that Peter Leithart has made the charge that feminism is Arian, because it denies that anything the proceeds from another cannot be equal. I recognize that this is a different issue.

    • Various thoughts.

      First of all, this isn’t ‘the egalitarian side’, just one form of it. The many egalitarian defences of egalitarian that rest upon social Trinitarianism also fall to similar critiques.

      Second, most of the complementarian theologians I interact most closely with have huge reservations with Trinity-based arguments, especially with the ways that they often court unorthodoxy. If challenge to such arguments is a fatal blow to a complementarian position, it has passed us by unnoticed.

      Third, such arguments seek to articulate a deeper theological rationale for complementarian teaching. However, they are not the reason why people hold complementarian positions. People hold complementarian positions because they are taught fairly directly in Scripture.

      Fourth, ‘complementarianism’ à la Piper and Grudem gets a lot of attention and criticism because it has been raised to the level of an ‘ism’. However, this is only one minority form of non-egalitarianism. For most of us, our position on the theology of gender owes more to the Vatican than to Minneapolis.

      Fifth, focusing the concept of ‘headship’ around concepts of hierarchy and subordination is unhelpful. Indeed, this is a key dimension of the problem. If people used the concept of headship more carefully and were more circumspect in their statements about the immanent Trinity, many of the same points could be maintained.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        I was actually wondering about your thoughts on the theological point: one will vs. submission of the Son.

      • On the theological point:

        1. I think that the verse is referring to the economic Trinity.
        2. I don’t believe that authority/subordination are the most illuminating categories within which to think here, at least not as they function within our thinking. Headship has more to do with priority and pre-eminence, which aren’t quite the same thing.
        3. Social Trinitarianism is an underlying problem here. Presentations of the Trinity in terms of authority and submission often play into this sub-orthodox way of thinking.
        4. The sort of argument about eternal subordination is not some complementarian novelty, but is also found outside of the context of complementarian theology. Here is Colin Gunton, Holmes’ former doctoral supervisor and colleague:

        [T]he priority of the Father is not ontological but economic. Such talk of the divine economy has indeed implications for what we may say about the being of God eternally, and would seem to suggest a subordination of taxis—of ordering within the divine life—but not one of deity or regard. It is as truly divine to be the obedient self-giving Son as it is to be the Father who sends and the Spirit who renews and perfects. Only by virtue of the particularity and relatedness of all three is God God.

        Therefore, while it is right to affirm both Western and Eastern emphases on the Father as the ‘fount’ of the Trinity—though noting and disapproving its possibly impersonal connotations—this should not be at the expense of being able to speak of a kind of equality. . . . Despite the danger that it might suggest a subordination of the personal to the impersonal, the use of the concept of the homoousion—probably best translated today as ‘one in being’ rather than ‘of one substance’—is of great value in this context. It should not be understood as in any way implying that God is in some sense ‘substance’, or that there is impersonal being under- or over-lying the three persons in relation. Its function rather is to ensure that we do not suppose there to be degrees of deity in the Godhead. The Son and the Spirit are as truly and fully God as is the Father, in and through their economically subordinate functions of doing the will of the Father in the world.

        Holmes may strongly disagree with this view, but it is important to note that it is a view that is not merely held as a pretext for complementarianism. Rather, a number of people perceive merit within it on other grounds.
        5. The important and orthodox point about inseparable operations can be overplayed with the result of obscuring the distinctness of each of the divine Persons’ activity within this unified action. Father, Son, and Spirit may be actively and directly involved at the baptism of Christ, but they are each differently involved within this single unified action: the Son is being baptized, the Father is authorizing and naming, and the Spirit is anointing and empowering. Holmes’ emphasis on the unified character of the action needs to be complemented(!) by a recognition of this distinctness. Also, I fear that Holmes’ approach often works better as systematic theology than as a basis for exegesis. The points that he defends are generally right, but it seems to me that they do not settle the debate as straightforwardly as he might think.
        6. Holmes rightly recognizes the relationship between the economy of the Trinity and the taxis of the immanent Trinitarian relations. From Holmes’ characterization of Claunch’s arguments (I haven’t read the book in question), I think that Claunch is moving in the right sort of direction on a number of points. I don’t see why Claunch’s argument couldn’t be ‘steelmanned’ in terms of Holmes’ concerns.
        7. I don’t think that the term ‘head’ is being used of the Father’s relationship to Christ in the same sense as it is used of the man’s relationship to the woman, which weakens many complementarian cases, I think.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Alastair and TMWW – I am also interested in your thoughts about ‘submission of the Son’, though I am out of my depth with most aspects of the debate in the linked article. I originally inquired about this at our church within the context of Jesus as our intercessor before God – in our prayers at church we pray to the Father and end our prayers with ‘in the name of Jesus’. It has never occurred to me that there could be any conflict of will between the Son and the Father, because I thought that the Son submitted willingly to the authority of the Father. [My original concern arose from the fact that my mother was a lapsed Catholic at that time but she still used Mary and dead saints as intercessors. I have not heard much about the Trinity as a model for marriage/gender equality ]

      • No one in these debates is suggesting a conflict between the will of the incarnate Christ and the Father. However, one of the underlying questions is whether we should regard the Second Person of the Trinity in his divine nature as if he possessed a will of his own in distinction from—even if not in competition with—the will of the Father.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Thank you. I find it difficult to think of the Second Person of the Trinity as having a will of his own in distinction from the will of the Father, and less difficult to think of him as having a distinctive nature while being of one will with the Father, though I would be unable to define such a distinctive nature!

  14. quinnjones2 says:

    On the popular subject of gender differences, and male and female preachers, I would be interested, if you have the inclination and the time, in your thoughts on whether the quotes below are from sermons made by male preachers or by female preachers. The quotes are all from sermons I have heard over the years and they have stayed in my mind. I promise that all shall be revealed in a day or two and I will post the gender of the author of each quote 🙂

    1. ‘Some people want the orange but they don’t want the lemon; they want the crown, but they don’t want the cross.’

    2. ‘Receiving the Holy Spirit is like being given a big hug.’

    3*.’Imagine yourself asleep in your bed. Imagine that you wake up and the sun is shining through the window. Imagine that you open the curtains and look out at the sun and the blue sky. As you look, imagine that God is looking at you and saying ”I love you”.’

    4. ‘What matters is what is on our hearts – and we could all do with a heart transplant.’

    *I may not have got the exact wording, but I have certainly got the essence!

    • I really don’t think that one would have enough to go on. Certain statements may be more likely to be one or the other, but there is no reason why any of those statements couldn’t come from a sermon preached by either a man or a woman.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Thank you for replying – that’s an interesting objective comment. I was actually surprised to hear two of the statements, but that’s probably because I knew/know the preachers. However my surprise had nothing to do with the gender of the preachers, but more to do with where I thought they stood on the conservative/liberal spectrum (based on what I’d gleaned from informal conversations and also from having taught the daughter of one of them!)

    • quinnjones2 says:

      1. male
      2. female
      3. male (guest preacher during an interregnum)
      4. male

  15. I’ve left some extensive thoughts in the comments of the Jesus Creed post that TMWW linked above. Some of you might be interested in reading them.

  16. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    I have been thinking about Sappho, and, in particular, this article.

    Though I doubt that her society was as restrictive as, say, classical Athens, the Greeks on the whole were not known for the freedom they gave their women, so I presume her life was quite restricted. Yet, her society produced one of the 2 or 3 truly great female poets worldwide.

    On the other hand, women today are free to get pretty much whatever education they want and to write whatever they want, yet most of what even the best female writers* produce is fairly trivial. Because, I suspect, contemporary life is fairly trivial. They have freedom, but nothing worth writing about.

    There isn’t necessarily much of a correlation between freedom for women and the conditions that are likely to produce great female artists.

    *This is also largely true of contemporary male writers, btw. It’s endemic to modern life.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      BTW, I recommend the translations of Guy Davenport, Willis Barnstone, and Diane Rayor.

  17. MichaelJP says:

    Over here in the States, the big religion story in the press for the past several days has been Josh Duggar’s recently revealed sexual offenses involving younger sisters and others. Alastair, I don’t know if this piece of US television pop culture has popped up in your conversations at any point, but it’s a very large and publicly visible “evangelical” family that is the subject of a popular reality show, “19 Kids and Counting.”

    What concerns me is that it’s one more case which solidifies in our public discourse a connection between an ostensibly traditional family (open rejection of contraceptives, frequent talk of father as head of household, plus a simplistic vision of the “Benedict option” in how carefully the family avoids exposure to outside cultural influence) and some kind of assumed underbelly of abuse behind the scenes. In this case, the family has a close tie to the teachings of Gothard’s Institute for Basic Life Principles, the founder of which was last year implicated in his own abuse scandals after teaching about marriage, headship, traditional parenting and homeschooling, etcetera for decades.

    The story confirms for many out there that this is what a patriarchal Christianity looks like, and abuse is its truth behind the scenes. It’s like a very small pop-culture version of the Catholic abuse scandals in how it affects the view of the church and confirms the suspicions of authority that were already there. It further doesn’t help that the family member, Josh, who committed the abuse has been a prominent voice against SSM, not tainting his arguments and credibility from within.

    …How do we respond to this or make sense of it? Or, in general, when we are teaching that there is a kind of authority that is not corrupt (eldership in our churches, certain roles reserved for men in the structure, families with at least some complimentarian principles), how do we handle the fact that so many prominent cases of what looks like patriarchal authority end up mired in an abuse scandal and thereby confirm the contemporary view that all authority is inherently corrupt in nature, and that the church is merely a kind of vestigial and now fading shield for this reality?

    I ask it this way because I think it’s a challenge that shouldn’t be taken lightly. I do believe strongly that authority can be redeemed in the church, and that my own church uses eldership and pastoral discipline in a genuinely loving, gospel-driven way. And I believe that there is good in authority and structures of ordering, which is to say that I agree with the half of O’Donovan’s view which is aimed at the order of creation even while we have the order of resurrection in view as well. The modern fantasy that freedom of the person is only possible by way of tearing down all authorities or barriers is nonsense and hides an equally powerful kind of perversion of the self. But how do we show that authority and the looming father figure in all its guises (elder, priest, leading father) is not corrupt underneath at its core, when these stories have a tendency to define the narrative today?

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      We really need to stop pretending that a return to patriarchy, broadly considered, does away with sin, that it will create these perfect little (or big) families.

      On the other hand, I must point out that societies tend to be pretty selective in what institutions or social arrangements they single out for facilitating abuse. The public (state) school system and the entertainment industry are largely given a pass here.

    • I agree with TMWW’s points here. For instance, there have recently been immense child abuse scandals in the UK involving local government, members of Parliament, and leading figures in the BBC, with connections to the NHS, prisons, and other institutions beside. Clearly something has been profoundly rotten in these contexts and has been covered up. Yet I don’t see the same wholesale discrediting of these institutions as one finds of the Church.

      I think that there are a number of lessons to be drawn from all of this. There will always be people with predilections that lead them to abuse children. The question is how we prevent such abuse from taking place and deal with it if it happens. Many institutions have a long record of being extremely poor at doing either. And there are certain traits of certain institutions that can provide welcome soil for abuse. The sort of ‘patriarchy’ that the Duggars seem to represent and the sorts of churches that often accompany this have a number of such traits in a very pronounced form and are, I believe, much more susceptible to abuse than many other contexts. This would be one of my criticisms of the sorts of society that they represent. We should be under no delusions that many forms of ‘patriarchy’ are profoundly dysfunctional, which is why we shouldn’t be arguing for patriarchy as such (besides, I don’t believe that we need to: some form or other of patriarchy is fairly inevitable).

      Such cases should prove educational, though, acquainting us with dangerous and poisonous dynamics that we need to resist and avoid. One of these dynamics, I believe, is a society the marginalizes or minimizes women. While men will almost always dominate in holding direct power, a healthy society is one where this power is used in order to serve those who are less immediately powerful. Frankly, I think that such a society will look quite different from what many identify as ‘patriarchy’.

      Another thing that is important to bear in mind here is that a lot of people are making strong judgments on this particular case without knowing all the facts. Like many other such cases, it is readily pounced upon for opportunistic reasons by partisans who are more concerned with stigmatizing their opponents than they are with getting at the truth. There are very important concerns at play in these debates, but the motivations at play in the debates themselves are often quite unhealthy.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        I like your comment, Alastair, and especially what you wrote about patriarchy.
        I would like to add my understanding of the dynamics: I believe that at the root of this abusive behaviour is, paradoxically, a deep sense of impotence, fear and shame which is defended against by controlling, evasive and self-distracting behaviours. I believe that this applies to abusive and controlling behaviour itself (sexual abuse and other forms of abuse), to people who cover-up and/or walk by on the other side, and to people who take an excessive interest in pointing a finger without knowing the facts and in stigmatize (and demonize) their opponents in debates on this subject (some of which are not worthy of the honour of the title ‘debate’). When we are aware of our own vulnerability, fear and shame, and put our trust in our Lord who gave His Son to die for us, and who strengthens, guides and heals us, we have no need of human ‘scapegoats’.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        I should also point out that if you have had problems like this in your past, even if you have put them in the past, you should avoid taking on positions of public moral and spiritual leadership.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        I don’t agree. St. Paul was a strong and wise example of ‘public moral and spiritual leadership’, and he, as Saul, subjected others to persecution, and later, as Paul, was subjected to persecution and abuse from others, but he was called and anointed by the Lord and became strong and wise in the Lord.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Just to clarify, as far as I know St. Paul was neither a perpetrator nor a victim of sexual abuse but, as I mentioned in the comment I posted at 3;32 am today, I believe that the dynamic at work in instances of sexual abuse is also at work in instances of other forms of abuse. I think that my comment about St. Paul (above) also to applies to, for instance, OT Joseph and David.

      • MichaelJP says:

        Just to be clear, I wasn’t asking how we can defend general patriarchy or something of that nature; I think the challenge is much deeper than that. I know from having traveled in many more secular circles over time than religious ones that the public perception towards this problem is articulated in much more encompassing ways.

        In other words, if one simply asserts today — as the Mere Fidelity podcast did (even if rightly) — that men have a unique relationship or claim to a set of functions at the highest leadership of the church (even when carefully qualified by saying that the pastor is truly a servant position, etc), this will be interpreted as belonging to the same core thinking that drives the bad or explicit kinds of patriarchy that we see with the Duggars. Or, suggesting that wide use of contraception might just not fit within the outlines of what constitutes the fullest realization of marital love. These are assertions that have truth to them; but I’m stating them in the simplistic terms in which they are heard on the outside of the church, and without question I can say that most secular (or vaguely spiritual) people I know would take those two positions alone — the suspicion of contraception and an insistence on male leadership in the church — as a direct confirmation that we are essentially kneeling to the same anachronistic and dangerous foundational gestures that are only a bit more exposed and explicit in the case of the Duggar family.

        What concerns me is that the underlying logic of church authority and discipline has a “paternal” shape to the progressive eye, so that even if a few female pastors are to be found the problem remains unchanged. Cases like the Duggars become a popular confirmation not only that patriarchy in the extreme sense is dangerous, but more broadly that any instance of classic paternal structures (elders, church discipline, restrictive sexual morality, Benedict-option gestures) hides an oppressive side, and that the church must therefore be understood as refusing to reform itself fully if it still sustains these gestures at all, even when doing so carefully within a narrative of Gospel and grace-driven servant leadership.

        I don’t know… I don’t think the task is to revive patriarchy, but I do believe there is work to be done in simply showing that the root of all power and evil isn’t the paternal villain who is being shaped in the public mind.

      • Yes, I think that there is definitely lots of work to be done on this front. Like you, most of my day-to-day interactions are with people for whom such ways of thinking are incomprehensible at best, but more likely to be regarded as reprehensible.

        Frankly, I am more concerned with shaping the reality of the Church’s life than with winning the virtually unwinnable public relations battle in the hall of mirrors of the media and public discourse.

  18. quinnjones2 says:

    ‘ stigmatize’ should read ‘…who stigmatize’

  19. mnpetersen37 says:

    Why is gender (etc.) performed, not enacted? The first metaphor seems to suggest that there is a reified I who performs–the actor is not the character–and even a self-watching–an actor not only acts, but remaining separate from the acting, and watches himself acting. It also seems to disagree with Levinas/Derrida’s notion that the individual is radically indebted to the neighbor–a debt that is prior to the self–and with Chretien’s notion (from St. Paul) that the Divine Call is prior to the one called (a call, that, it seems, is spoken by human lips–the Evangelists–or by a human voice–St John the Baptist “the Voice of one crying in the wilderness” or Moses, who utters the Shemah).

    • This is more or less the difference between someone like de Beauvoir on gender (performance) and Butler (performativity). Butler’s notion of ‘performativity’ stresses the manner in which the actor is constituted in and through their acting (and that of others). However, I think that you are, appropriately, trying to address this from a perspective that does not so privilege the individual.

    • mnpetersen37 says:

      It is, I think, G. M. Hopkins’ “inscape” that’s behind this particular preference: “That being indoors each one dwells” is not a static essence, but rather, precisely, “what I do is me.”

      As Kingfishers Catch Fire

      As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
      As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
      Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
      Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
      Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
      Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
      Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
      Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

      I say móre: the just man justices;
      Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
      Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
      Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
      Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
      To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

  20. mnpetersen37 says:

    You’re quite a piece of work, Thursday.

    An excellent example of why I prefer commenting here to most other places. I highly doubt you’d get that sort of treatment here.

    • Vigorous and challenging yet respectful and good-humoured commenting has been one of the principal things that has kept me blogging for over a decade. I feel incredibly fortunate to have a number of regular commenters here—you are definitely one of them—who consistently leave thought-provoking comments and with whom I can be assured of stimulating interaction apart from petty personal attacks. The community of commenters here has always proved resistant to the occasional abusive individual that has blown in.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        The above was written, I believe, about a commentator here, who nicely carried his point against a rude blogger who should have known better. I do appreciate the thought provoking, but respectful interchanges here, but I’d also like to express sympathy and agreement.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        But I think that wasn’t quite clear in my original comment. Here’s the exchange.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      I’m not all that. I have a certain “pest” persona online. I’ve been banned by Richard Beck, Scot McKnight (or his wife, who sometimes moderates apparently), and Matthew Lee Anderson.

      Alastair has been unusually tolerant of me, probably because, while a pest, I also have some pretty smart things to say. Also, we tend not to be that far apart in substance.

      Ed Feser, however, is the mother of all a’holes (I’m not exaggerating, read his book The Last Superstition), so it isn’t hard to seem calm compared to him.

      • I generally quite dislike personal abuse (although I have a high tolerance level for it when directed at myself and some tolerance for it when directed at people who are well able to stick up for themselves) and always dislike wilful misrepresentations of others. However, I believe that a lot of what is categorized as trollish, abusive, or assholish behaviour online is produced by people who have little patience with bullshit and annoy people by their refusal to tolerate it or by people who just like to engage in a more confrontational manner. Sometimes such people can just be annoying. However, there are a number of highly intelligent people among them who can do a community a lot of good by forcing it to value truth over sensitivities and by irritating communities into giving an account of themselves and their beliefs. Although they may require a lot of patience, they require less patience of me than bullshitters and, unlike bullshitters, can do a disproportionate amount of social good.

        I may not always appreciate your mode of engagement, and may confront you about that from time to time, but I think that you are a genuine asset to the community of commenters here and wouldn’t want to lose your participation. There are ‘pests’ that are purely destructive, delighting in others’ discomfort, but there are also smart ‘pests’ who, like the Socratic gadfly, rouse lumbering beasts into appropriate action. I think that you fall into the latter camp. Yes, you can be very annoying, but I respect you highly, not just despite it, but often even for it.

  21. I left a comment in a discussion of the Left’s purity psychology here.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      I am not convinced that what Beck is talking about is a widely based phenomenon. It’s just a few really noisy people online. The studies say purity psychology is pretty low (though not non-existent) among most liberals, and that matches my in person observations. Your average left liberal tending person just want to have sex, have a beer, and watch HBO. They’re broadly supportive of at least some left liberal ideas, but aren’t particularly energetic about putting them into practice. I suspect that this is one of the reasons that liberals still can’t get much done, often in areas where they are numerically dominant.

      So, as I see it, you’ve got a few online liberal activist types with high(er) purity psychology trying to herd the slacker liberal masses, and getting more and more shrill about it. The slackers, being slackers, tend to get demoralized and turned off by the shrillness, which ticks off the online activists, who get more shrill, which makes the slackers even more demoralized.


      There are certainly social status oneupmanship aspects to this (“I’m more progressive than you are”), and the net does amplify the most extreme voices. But I think everyone is acting primarily out of sincere beliefs.

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