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May 01, 2009

Our Rude Savior

Jesus-money-changers4 Not long after finishing my post on Jonathan Edwards and the Presbyterians, in which I chided Christian leaders who mislead their flocks, I picked up my May issue of Touchstone magazine and read this piece by S. M. Hutchens (for the editors). While it's titled "The War on Error: The Business of Confronting Heresy," it might just as easily have been titled: "What to say to people who claim you're rude (and unChristian) to criticize their views."

What we ought to remember, Hutchens writes, is how desperately rude Jesus Himself was when he confronted heresy. Ditto the church fathers. "It is hard to go far in their writings without finding them bluntly identifying their opponents as heretics, perverts, madmen, liars, and tools of the devil," Hutchens writes. But these days, "polite Christian society will have none of that: It is the sort of thing one expects only of the unwashed fundamentalist. ...What sort of person, after all, would call apparently well-intentioned and perfectly respectable people, often very important, very religious people, snakes or hypocrites, or compare them to dirty tableware?"

Well, obviously, the kind of people who write for The Point!

Actually, I didn't actually call anybody names (Gina probably wouldn't let me, anyway), and didn't even call Janet Edwards a heretic (which is what she is); I did quote Scripture that makes it clear what biblical writers think of those who preach heresy. Jesus, too. He let loose quite a few times in his earthly ministry, attacking both religious and political leaders as "serpents," "snakes," "fools," "blind guides," and various other epithets that would be considered unprintable on most Christian blog sites were anyone but Jesus to use them.

But perhaps we ought not be so prissy. "Identifying heresy and falsehood and those who teach it is a duty which, if shirked, will subject the souls under one's infuence to the tender mercy of the wolves and one's own soul to the judgment reserved for the shepherd who did not protect his flock," Hutchens writes.

I agree.

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Jason Taylor

All of which begs the response that none of us are Jesus or even Paul.


Anne wrote: "Actually, I didn't actually call anybody names (Gina probably wouldn't let me, anyway), and didn't even call Janet Edwards a heretic (which is what she is);"

Waaaaaaait a minute... :-) That was *very* sneaky, Anne! I had to re-read it to be sure you were in fact doing what it looked like you were doing.

On the other hand, I favor this technique myself, of saying I'm not going to say something - and thereby saying it.

One of Jesus's best zingers acquires the most force in a modern translation: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2023:27;&version=65;

A friend of mine went to a Lutheran college and studied Luther's letters in the original German. Apparently some of his references to Church leaders acquire some, ummm, extra force when you know the medieval German idioms.

But my own favorite quote from the Touchstone article is this: "The heresy-hunting inquisitor is not a divine office, whereas pastor and teacher are. To the former mentality, exposing error is not a painful task cast in one’s path by the duties of office, but a form of pleasure—a dungeoner’s pleasure of which no good man would be proud."

That quote reminds me of "Billy Budd", which I was blessed to see in movie form with stars Peter Ustinov and Robert Ryan, rather than reading it: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0055796/ The John Claggart character, particularly Ryan's performance, captures the masochistic undercurrent perfectly.

I strongly suspect that even though Jesus didn't mince words, he wasn't happy about needing to say them. It's only after all attempts to reform have failed that we should expel someone as a danger to the community.

Jason Taylor wrote: "All of which begs the response that none of us are Jesus or even Paul."

No, my friend, merely their followers - i.e., those who seek to be like them. Gotta wonder what it will take for us to, as Tolkien put it, put aside the Ranger and become who we were born to be. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRtKAQJUc3g


Whoops, sadistic undercurrent. Haven't thought about that stuff for a while, thank God.

jason taylor

"No, my friend, merely their followers - i.e., those who seek to be like them. "

To put it in "rude" terms: "Do you see these stripes on my sleeve, private? Now look at your sleeve. Do you see any stripes? What does that tell you?"

Being a follower by definition means you are NOT supposed to do certain things a leader is supposed to do. You ARE supposed to do what they would want you to do. Big difference.

Ben W

Jason, you took the words right out of my mouth.. err, keyboard. (and thanks for not saying "begs the question", even if it wouldn't make sense).

Sooo.. would it actually do any good to speak more harshly?

Jason Taylor

I would say Ben, that it runs something like this. Pain is naturally a reduction in good. The inflicting of pain including that which comes from being insulted must be justified as a concession to a fallen world. That is a dentist, or in a different(and more direct) way a magistrate may be required to inflict pain by his duties he must assume that that is an expedient. The default should be against not for causing pain.
Thus it may be necessary to our vocation to say harsh things for most people it is not.

Furthermore, Jeremiads in many cases are essentially a way to get a reputation for righteousness at the expense of others simply because it does sound vaguely like what a prophet would say-as the word jeremiad indicates. Such things a temptation and one to be avoided. Besides that such behavior was likly much of what Jesus was berating the pharisees for.


Jason, still my dear old friend (Can I refill your snifter?), please note that the Pharisees were all about setting up a hierarchy of legitimacy and a structure of command-and-control. Jesus inverted the pyramid, placing the leaders at the bottom as servants.

And Paul wrote some material that is truly shocking in how egalitarian it is.

To answer Ben's question ("Sooo.. would it actually do any good to speak more harshly?"), I say it would. (Sic 'em, Anne!!) I've criticized labrialumn (who I miss very much, actually) for using "heretic" too, uh, liberally. But I don't fault his zeal - merely his haste and his apparent unwillingness to value the person to whom he's speaking. In fact, I have probably learned more theology from lab's rants and the rants of others of similar passion than I have from most of my time sitting in church. Conflict is quite instructive, as most historians are willing to point out at encyclopedic length.

Jason, you of all people ought to know what happens to a civilization when its members don't call corruption by its proper name. But you can sit here and finish your brandy and cigar; I see some televangelist moneychangers in yonder "house of prayer" and I'd like a word with them, so to speak.

Jason Taylor

LeeQuod my dear old friend, while brandy and cigars can be most relaxing, I do in fact know what happens when corruption is not called by it's proper name. Though in fact "corruption" is a troublesome term as it can imply the more or less easy-going sorts of public vices which cause annoyance but seldom cause disaster. Robespierre was evil but in fact was not "corrupt" in this sense. One could wish he was more corrupt but unfortunatly he was very dedicated and dutiful.

Be that as it may, the decay of language is as often used to create new insults as to take away the sharpness of old ones. It is true that people today are sexually active instead of being lecherous swine and that they conduct overseas contingency operations instead of chastising savages.

It is also true that we have new insults like "Imperialist, millitarist, capitalist, facist, exploiter" which in so far as they mean anything, refer not primarily to specific vices but to groups with which a given party is supposedly associated. These insults are allowed by the corruption of language.

Now as it happens, the fact that lecherous swine get to call themselves sexually active helps the spread of lechery but while that is not ideal, things could be worse. And the use of the phrase Overseas Contingency Operations, may in fact make us less efficient at chastising savages(or deciding which savages need chastising) then is ideal, we have enough power available to muddle through if need be.

However words like, "imperialist, capitalist, militarist, exploiter of the prolitariat" can be used and have been used to justify the worst atrocities imaginable.

In any case my main point was that one must remember that civility should be the default. If in fact harshness is necessary, it should be a temporary measure. A related point is that What Would Jesus Do is a fallacy simply because we are not Jesus. For one thing Jesus would not use the internet as in fact there was no internet available in the first century. The proper formulation is "What would Jesus want you to do."

Now, while I wait for your response, I think I'll go back to the Club and finish my brandy and cigars. Cheerio, mate.

Ben W

Hmm.. well-played, sir. I suppose that there is a time for everything under heaven, both for harsh words and gentle ones.

Jason Taylor

Actually, I suppose what I said was not to different from what Mr Hutchens said.

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