August 11, 2014
I don’t follow Mark Driscoll closely or anything, but every list of ‘charges’ I’ve seen lack the essential quality of charges because:
1. they do not specify facts or instances of behaviour;
2. they do not relate that behaviour back to a set of general principles; and
3. they are not set out in a form that enables him to respond to the charges.
To say ‘he is an angry little man’ is not a charge because it lacks these qualities. You need to prove the point you are making by relating it back to a set of specific instances of behaviour. ‘Charging’ him with being an angry little man serves no other purpose than to sully him as a person and rally the useful idiots against him.
To take a step further, nothing he can say in response to the ‘charge’ that he’s an angry little man will satisfy people that he isn’t. He either says ‘Yes I am’ and endures the hostility of those who hate him or he says ‘no I’m not’ and endures both the disbelief and the hostility of those who hate him. But worst of all are the people who will be persuaded by the ‘charge’ when he says nothing. Because people are fickle, and that’s what they do.
The approach taken has not accorded with natural justice and is unbecoming. It was wrong for Acts 29 to disendorse him on the basis of the ‘charges’ simply because a person cannot respond to them in a meaningful way.
To make charges in an honourable way, you need to follow those steps. That may be uncomfortable, but it is the simple requirement of the justice that Christians are supposed to love. Now he may well be at fault, but we can’t really know that because all we have been provided with are populist defamatory imputations and not genuine charges. If you’re going to charge someone, you need to have the fortitude to do so properly. Otherwise you’re simply engaging in a malicious prosecution.
Acts 29 may well have done this properly and privately. If so we won’t know. But the murkiness in this discourse does not help. If you are to remove a person from an office, the process needs to be transparent. This process has not. Responding to vague allegations which more accurately represent rants than charges is improper and unjust. We cannot and should not trust such a process.
I am unwilling to dismiss Mark Driscoll on the basis of the rubbish which is floating around. If he has done wrong, it must be named and specified. Otherwise these defamatory rants are simply ungodly personal insults.
March 14, 2014
I’ve been thinking about the nature of people this week, with the Cowan trial all over the news and my Facebook newsfeed and all that. I have formed an opinion. Allow me to give it some background.
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
I am no less capable of evil than Brett Cowan. I am simply blessed that God has been good enough to deliver me from my depraved nature. He has worn his nature. By the mercy of God I have not.
I was sitting up the back of the arrest court with my client one time, when I noticed the other solicitors were all sitting up the front on a row of chairs behind the bar table. Perhaps I should have been too. But the thought I had that day was that there was nothing inherently good about me that meant that I was somehow better than those I was sitting amongst. It’s only by the grace of God.
The moment when we forget the important truth that we are no less capable of evil than people like Cowan, we set ourselves up as more inherently righteous or worthy than other people. I think that’s a bit dangerous. I little sense of entitlement goes a long way. I get the feeling that somehow the self-entitled are locking themselves into a cell of their own self-righteousness.
February 12, 2014
Professor HLA Hart of Oxford wrote a book in 1961 called the Concept of Law. In that book, he spent the first few chapters building the case for what is known as the Command Theory of law – the positive law being a set of orders backed by threats to make people behave in a particular way. He built a very strong case for the theory, indeed by the time I got to the end of these chapters I was buying into it.
Then for the rest of the book he destroyed the Command Theory.
In 1949 Lon Fuller had an article published in the Harvard Law Review named ‘The case of the Speluncean Explorers’ in which he wrote the decisions of 5 judges, each who held to a particular theory of law. The argument which I found the strongest, most persuasive, and best exposited was, if memory serves, that of the second judge.
Fuller’s own views were diametrically opposed to the best argument he put forth – the argument of the second judge. To be fair to the argument he opposed, he took all care and diligence to ensure that he set the case fairly and properly before he dissected it in his later work. He truly thought it through and took the high road and thus established his credibility as a true scholar.
Each of you are probably aware of people within your own disciplines who take such care in their work. In my view, the only credible way to debunk someone’s argument is to first understand it properly, then set it out strongly and fairly, then to ruin only the best argument that can be made. You can then establish your own credibility and also persuade people that the best exposition of their argument can be defeated by your logic.
But then there are those who don’t do that. Rather than build a strong case before undermining it, they build a straw man – a mere effigy of the argument they intend to debunk – or at the very best an anaemic version of the argument they then intend to triumphantly destroy.
Doing this undermines their credibility as it raises a very real question as to whether they have even taken the time to understand the argument they oppose. If there is no evidence on the face of the argument of such due care being taken, is the opposition merely for collateral reasons such as antipathy? Is there even a real objection at all if the person demonstrates no true understanding of the argument? Why would a person be doing this if not for some inherently irrational or self-congratulatory reason?
In England past, come October, it was common for the poor and disadvantaged children to begin preparing for Guy Fawkes night. They would gather together the material to fabricate an effigy of Guy Fawkes. Part of the ritual for these kids would be to beg for a penny for the guy, with their partially completed effigy on display, with which they could buy further material to advance their fabrication. The more impressed people were with the partially completed effigy, the more pennies the child would collect. This ritual would culminate in the children of London setting fire to the effigies on the 5th of November and enjoying the fire while it lasted.
In my view Dr Michael Brown follows this pattern. Recently on Facebook he published an inflammatory and unbiblical comment attacking Calvinism, yet masking it as a yes or no question pitched at Calvinists. I just looked it up to get the wording to quote here, but I couldn’t see it on his timeline. Perhaps he is ashamed of it. I would have been.
In the comments section it was put to him that his question was disingenuous because of a number of patent errors in the backstory he told to frame his question. The effect of those errors was to make the lead proposition look unconscionable. Dr Brown responded to that post by requesting that commenters answer the lead question irrespective of the errors in the backstory, which makes me think that he was well aware of the ostensible dishonesty of the question, but was prepared to persist with it anyway.
I put it to you that Dr Brown was begging for pennies. He was gathering material with which to stuff and decorate his effigy of the real proposition. Those who were already behind his endeavour were inspired by his bare stump of a comment and were willing to chip in for him to put his straw man together.
But this is not the only example. I have followed him on Twitter for a while and have observed this appears to be his method. Another example is his recent ambush of Dr Justin Peters. Dr. Peters published a 14 point indictment against Benny Hinn as part of an article chastising Dr Brown for pleading ignorance after appearing on Mr Hinn’s television show. Dr Brown’s counter attack on Dr Peters saw Dr Brown attack two collateral questions arising from Dr Peters’ article, referring to evidence that undermined Dr. Peters’ grammatical tense used in one of the 14 points on one count, and questioning Dr Peters’ paraphrase of a passage in one of Mr Hinn’s books yet claiming this as evidence that Dr. Peters’ overall premise (that the doctors at a hospital which Mr Hinn visited completely rejected Mr Hinn’s recount of an incident in which it was said Mr Hinn participated in the healing of most people in a hospital) was incorrect. Dr Brown gave no evidence concerning the other 12 points, but nonetheless left those of his less critical readers to understand that the refutation of one point and the collateral attack on another were sufficient to call Dr Peters’ entire article into disrepute as being dishonest.
This too is penny-begging. Any thinking person is not going to be persuaded by the attack because it is weak, pathetic nonsense. But those who are less attentive or less accustomed to weighing up evidence – and generally those who already offer their allegiance to Brown – will lap it up.
It’s clearly poor form, and certainly doesn’t live up to the standard set by Hart and Fuller. It is good evidence, to my mind, that Brown does not deserve his reputation as an academic. For it is one thing to rigorously and painstakingly build an argument in order to demonstrate its lack of merit, but it is quite another to beg for pennies until such time as you are sufficiently happy with the effigy you created that you can set it on fire.
Where is the sense of achievement or credibility? Why would you pat yourself on the back in congratulations for lighting your intentionally fabricated guy on fire and watching as it does precisely what you constructed it to do – burn to nothing?
February 5, 2014
‘To abate the force of these considerations, an enemy of free discussion may be supposed to say, that there is no necessity for mankind in general to know and understand all that can be said against and for their opinions by philosophers and theologians. That it is not needful for common men to expose all of the misstatements or fallacies of an ingenious opponent. That it is enough if there is always somebody capable of answering them, so that nothing likely to mislead uninstructed persons remains unrefuted. The simple minds, having been taught the obvious grounds of the truths inculcated on them, may trust to authority the rest…’ – John Stewart Mill, on Liberty.
I put it to you that the dominant paradigm in modern thought and life is that which Mill was criticising in this passage. For Mill, participants in a society ought to have their liberty, but hand-in-hand with that liberty comes a responsibility by participants in a community to think for themselves, to critique thoughts and views and to hear contrary arguments to their own opinions lest they either be wrong or require their opinion to be buttressed should it be grounded in reason.
I dare not hazard as to why this paradigm has arisen. There are likely a number of reasons that ought to be uncovered before the trend can be reversed. But I see the paradigm playing out in political and religious discourse.
A. Political discourse
A simple appeal to authority can be a strong method by which to shape the opinions of the community. For some reason there has developed a line of thinking which has prioritised the opinions, findings and pronouncements of some in the community. Many would hold the view that Cardinal Pell is a perpetuator of dogma, yet would dare not view Richard Dawkins as a Cardinal of evolutionary biology.
In one respect they are different – the biological sciences are built on a footing of empiricism that does not rest solely on a priori knowledge (though I would argue evolutionary sciences do rest on a number of a priori assumptions) whereas theology is less an exercise of observation and experience and more an exercise of pure reason founded on a number of foundational propositions. On the other hand, both profess to hold a certain authority in each discipline which holds special knowledge of less trained and less learned folk. Most people must, in each case, trust the knowledge and understanding of each to fill in the gaps in our own.
With this trust in authority, are we justified in in electing not to engage our own inquiries? Mill would say we are certainly not. I tend to agree. Yet nonetheless the predominant view seems to hold those who question the authority of certain professions are foolish. We then end up in society with a discord, and the authority has the power to silence discontent.
It may be that this trend is turning. One example that comes to mind is the ABC’s episode of Four Corners in which the authority of the medical profession in respect of its stance on saturated fats was questioned. Yet in other cases, we are a long way off. I understand that internet access is now a human right, but beyond the a priori presumption that human rights are ‘self evident’, we still have no real basis beyond the authority of their proponents to believe that they are true (and the warm feelings the aspirational comments invoke). Nonetheless, people will not accept submissions from others who critique the rights and equality discourse as eager as they will accept an authority with which they identify a sympathy (or reject an authority with which they identify an antipathy).
In short, our political and social discourse has grown stunted by the ten dandy of people to accept the edicts of authority (including media) without any further investigation or criticism of their own on certain core presumptions which they take to be the starting point of their opinion. Therefore opinions are taken by many individuals to be invalid not on their merits, but rather simply because they discord with the presumptions of the opinion holder.
B. Religious discourse
This issue has clearly and discreetly flowed over into religious discourse. Antithetically to the proposition that the church is not to be of the world, the precise fallacy has flowed directly out of the social mood and through the doors of our churches. Leaders are now taken to be authorities on issues who are beyond criticism and can procure an ‘Amen!’ For the most preposterous of comments.
The modern movement of Pentecostalism, and particularly the prophetic and the new apostolic movements have seized this with both hands. Now, to criticise a leader on doctrine is to be unloving, and will likely attract you some ill-quoted verses from 1 John or Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and a whole load of condescension and derision (the irony ought not to be lost on you). The term ‘do not touch the Lord’s anointed’ has transformed – it is no longer about killing one’s own king while he takes a dump in a cave, but rather about questioning or disagreeing with a leader who may very well be misrepresenting God to others.
Why is this so? I suspect it has something to do with creating a God who, like the golden calf, meets a desire held by the people. God hates that. If you can’t worship the God who identifies himself through the Bible, changing his attributes to make him more palatable to your tastes is merely a self-glorifying exercise. Blaming an authority figure for that creation affords you no excuse – you are to answer for yourself.
So what am I saying?
I’m saying that it probably wouldn’t kill us to stop and listen to people, understand instead of misrepresent their views and perhaps even learn from them. As Mill notes, there are three reason we shouldn’t shut down free discussion:
1. We may be wrong while the other person may be right – if so, out we not to have our errant beliefs challenged?
2. We might be right but the other person may have a fantastic argument against our position which will help us crystallise our views while simultaneously allowing us to engage with people in error and correct their problematic thinking.
3. There may be an element of truth and an element of falsity to what each is saying, and if that is the case, it would be far more beneficial to both to talk it through and grow each other’s understanding.
Try talking and listening instead of fighting about things – particularly if each argument can be resolved in a manner favourable to each of you. Progress isn’t replacing one incomplete idea with another nor starting a war with other people, and it can’t happen between duelling mules. Stop relying on authority and star asking your own questions and treating people as if they have their own intellect and have thought their own views through more thoroughly than you have considered their personal beliefs.
Then you might find we get somewhere.
August 14, 2013
I want to write some brief ideas about Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott and each of their approaches to politics and leadership because I think there have been a lot of unfair attacks against each of them which are simply born from a failure by people to engage in some critical reflection of their various motivations.
I don’t pretend to know these guys at all, so my observations are based on what I have seen of them on television, newspapers et al. The point that I’m really trying to make is that there is a perfectly innocent explanation for a lot of traits that people see as dark and sinister, and thus hopefully to give you a different view of how they lead.
Kevin Rudd espouses a Christian faith. I am one of those who does not believe him because of the number of ways that he has been caught out when he thought he was behind closed doors, because the ham-fisted obfuscation he made of Bonhoeffer’s work seems to evidence an absolute lack of personal conviction and because it seems evident from his politics that he does not hold the conviction that life in accordance with God’s design is good for humanity.
David Marr has described him as an angry psychopath. Scott Stephens has described him as a narcissist with a God-complex. The Australian Christian Lobby has tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. But I think there is also another explanation that none of us have thought of that could very well explain his behaviour in a more innocent way.
Niccolo Machiavelli, one of the most misunderstood leadership philosophers ever, took the view that there is a complete divide between the morality to be exercised by an individual on his own behalf and the morality which applies to the position of an officeholder (as distinct from its occupier). Accordingly, sometimes a person in leadership must take action which contradict the person’s own individual ethics. Such actions should not be attributed to the individual, but rather to the demands of the office. Therefore being a good person is separate and distinct from being a good leader.
The reason we must bear this in mind, according to Machiavelli, is that our highest ideal in governance is stability. Whatever happens, the leader must take the steps necessary to advance a stable and firm government and society.
The divide between personal and formal morality influenced the federalist Montesquieu who in turn influenced a number of aspects of the Australian constitutional structure. You can see certain Machiavellian concepts ingrained in a number of Australian conventions like privileged cabinet deliberations and the office of Governor General.
Mr Rudd may very well be motivated by this ideal and may identify with their formalisation in Australian governance. If so, he has failed abysmally to delivered the desired outcomes. Nonetheless, an innocent explanation of his behaviour may simply be that he considers that certain policies which are good for the nation, whilst they may not necessarily fit with his own view, may help lead to stable governance. Hence he may well come across as an amoral, even sociopathic, leader. However he may, in his own mind, be acting in what he understands to be the national interest.
Tony Abbott sits at the other end of the spectrum. He holds strong convictions about what is good for Australia, and also believes that history should be our teacher. Many take this to mean that he intends to force his own views upon others. However an innocent explanation is just such that he is fully aware of the human tendency to make errors, and is therefore far more hesitant to deconstruct social conventions which have the benefit of having developed over time by method of trial and error. This is the essence of conservatism.
As a Rhodes scholar, it was necessary for him to be both an academic and an athletic achiever. At Oxford he was a fighter and a champion. He was an extraordinarily aggressive university union member. As opposition leader he has had to be the Liberal Party’s dog of war. As a Roman Catholic, he is presumed by many to be a talking head of the Pope.
However he abandoned the seminary because, as an independent and assertive thinker, he didn’t fit in. His sister, who abandoned her marriage and took up a lesbian relationship (two massive deal-breakers in Roman Catholicism) described him as the most thoughtful , compassionate and accepting of this change in her life out of their entire family. It has been a long time since he was at uni, and he appears to have grown up since those days.
Edmund Burke was known as a conviction politician. According to Burke, the politician is elected not to be the puppet of his or her electorate, but rather to act on conscience according to what he or she believes is best for the people. In fact, a person who did not remain true to their convictions as to what is best for the electorate was not fit for office. After putting his position strongly to his electorate, Burke had overwhelming support and was elected in a landslide. It would seem that the people of that day saw conviction and moral fibre as virtuous even if they did not necessarily agree with him.
Mr Abbott may well agree with Burke, though recognising that we no longer live in a time when the loudest voices appreciate conviction. If so, he is not trying to force his views on others, but rather believes that the social conventions which have developed over the last few thousand years have had the benefit of those thousands of years worth of trial and error. His views may be expressed as ‘if it has evolved or developed over millennia, why do we want to risk the benefits of that time period based on a sentiment which has sprung up in the last ten years’?
His concern may well be, then, for the benefit of society. In fact, he would be loathe to force his own views on others, as his own views may not necessarily have the support of history. Forcing individual views on others – Hayek’s top-down law or thesis – is, in fact, the antithesis of conservatism and is more akin to the work of the Left, if the Hayekian model of nomos – the bottom-up law – accurately describes Mr Abbot’s position.
I’m not saying I’m correct, but I think we would be wise to consider that there may be innocent explanations for the behaviours of each of the leaders. No matter who occupies the positions, there will be criticism. I think it’s small-minded and foolish to automatically behave like a jerk and say really nasty things about people without first trying to stand in their shoes. I have thought about it, and I have formed my opinion of each – but so many haven’t. I think it is symptomatic of a dumb society who reacts and lashes out emotionally rather than really and honestly tries to consider the issues, and it worries me greatly.
Well there you go. You can be reformed without being cessationalist. And you can believe that God isn’t an Indian giver without being braindead and thinking somehow that when Jesus said that He had been given all authority he actually meant You…
January 18, 2013
One of the early steps taken by those who are agitating for gay marriage was to quickly establish marriage as something that gay couples are missing out on. The language of ‘marriage equality’ quickly took to referring to marriage as a right which people are being deprived of.
But is it?
A right, by definition, is a claim that others must do something for you. It is the opposite of a duty. It is a primary claim. So if marriage is a right, there must be a primary claim that you can exercise against somebody. Take a moment to think this through.
There is no primary claim attached to marriage. There may be secondary claims. I can claim that you must not interfere with my marriage. This means that you have no-right to interfere with my marriage. I therefore have an immunity from your interference because of my marriage. But that doesn’t give me a right to marriage. The immunity from interference arises from some other device. I may have a right that if you agree to act as my celebrant, you will solemnise my marriage. But this is a right arising from an agreement. It does not give me a right to marriage.
There is no right to marriage. We’ve been fooled.
What is marriage then? It’s not a right because I can’t compel it from someone else. It’s not an immunity because I need one before I can prevent people from interfering with it.
Some may see it as a privilege. This means that its something to which I am entitled which no one has the right to prevent me from having. But that does not explain it’s origin as a privilege.
Religious doctrine (from where the institution of marriage in the Western world originates) in fact sees marriage as a duty. According to Christianity, you don’t get to get married, you have to. Duties are the opposites of rights. Marriage is a duty because God demands it. God has all the rights in marriage, because if your relationship is not glorifying to Him, he has a claim that you set it right because it’s outside of his design.
Privileges correlate to duties. Because, according to Christianity, you have a duty to get married, no-one has a right that you don’t. But it doesn’t start out as a privilege.
This first step is what gets ignored when people talk about marriage as something that people are missing out on. Marriage only receives it privileged status because it is prescribed by God. Falling outside of that prescription denatures the privilege by separating it from the duty.
Marriage is nothing if it is not first a duty.