Do YEC ministries employ the same rhetorical tactics as Richard Dawkins?


(Casper Hesp) #1

A while ago, I came across the following quote from Richard Dawkins:

"(…) I lately started to think that we need to go further: go beyond humorous ridicule, sharpen our barbs to a point where they really hurt.

Michael Shermer, Michael Ruse, Eugenie Scott and others are probably right that contemptuous ridicule is not an expedient way to change the minds of those who are deeply religious. But I think we should probably abandon the irremediably religious precisely because that is what they are – irremediable. I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt…"

I must say it was rather surprising to me that Dawkins so openly admitted to the employment of this shameless strategy. Actually, many people (atheists and theists alike) have responded negatively to it. This seems to have led Dawkins to remove the corresponding article from his blog (original link doesn’t work anymore).

Weeks later, I came across a completely unrelated topic here started by @BradKramer linking to an article of Creation.com. That article is as “anti-BioLogos” as conceivably possible which is to be expected from YEC writers. But what shocked me was the contemptuous tone of the article. I was thinking by myself, if they really want to “save” BioLogos and affiliates, such contempt is not an efficient approach at all… Something just didn’t seem to fit.

Going over this whole situation in my mind, suddenly something clicked. Linking back to the quote of Dawkins, I started to entertain the idea that those YEC articles are not aimed at helping Evolutionary Creationists to “repent” at all… Instead, those tactics are aimed at convincing the “fence-sitters”: those Christians that haven’t made up their minds yet on the topic of origins. Apparently, any means are allowed for attaining that goal, even if it neccesitates the contemptuous ridicule of fellow Christians (given that they even accept ECs as having authentic faith).

What do you guys think, is this idea correct? How could we foster more respect? Will this situation change some time in the future? It kind of confuses me that Christians are actually willing to sink to the level of Dawkins in their way of treating others…


#2

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(Casper Hesp) #3

Thank you for your reply :smiley:. I would say that the “edges” themselves are not necessarily a problem.

In the end, discussions are valuable despite the huge differences. I would say the deeper problem is the unwillingness of people to seriously look at the situation from another person’s perspective, despite disagreements. Like you said, it is always important to try to learn something from another person. What’s funny is that a YEC actually literally said to me once: “Give me your arguments, then I’'ll try to show you why you’re wrong.” I was so flabbergasted by this attitude that I was at a loss of how to make him understand the absurdity of that statement.


#4

I wish I could say that I am flabbergasted by such behavior but I’m far too familiar with it—and I’ve come to expect it. And that makes me sad.

Yes, the parallels between Ken Ham (and AIG in general) and Richard Dawkins are all too apparent. Worst of all, they both promote the false dichotomy: “You must choose between God and Evolution. You can’t affirm both.” It is quite shocking how often Ham likes to quote Dawkins, almost as if he is proud that a famous scientist agrees with him.

As to the wide spectrum of what can fall within the label “contemptuous tone”, I must admit that I feel torn. Yes, I really want to say that all dialogue should be 100% respectful and courteous and filled with the very best skills of the well-trained ambassador. Yet…

Why the “yet”? As much as I wish I could say otherwise, I must admit, at least to myself, that if not for the carefully sharpened barbs from some colleagues who were fed up with my “creation science” ignorance—and who were willing to hit me over the head with a 2" x 4", treating me like the stubborn, evidence-ignoring, The Genesis Flood-quoting donkey [Yes, I avoided the more common synonym] that I was in the 1960’s and 1970’s—I might have been a evolution-denying, pseudo-science spewing threat to American science education as a tireless public menace for far longer than I was.

Seriously.

The Book of Proverbs gives us plenty of reminders of how we are to deal with fools who hate instruction and mock those who would teach them. Sadly, I deserved such rebukes. For years I was impervious to arguments based upon evidence, so the proverbial 2"x4" may have been the only way to get my attention.

This is one of those issues where one can find scripture proof-texts to reinforce about any position you wish to take. (“Entreat them like a father.” and “Stripes are for the backs of fools” come to mind. And yes, I’ve seen both scriptures invoked as the “last word” on this topic.)

I am not endorsing some kind of “total war” doctrine that Richard Dawkins would probably love. Nor am I calling for less gracious attitudes on these threads in this forum. I’m simply wondering aloud about the various ways God gets our attention and makes us aware of our foolishness. People differ and individual situations and contexts differ.

Meanwhile, we watch a few off-the-deep-end, crazy-uncle who lives-in-the-attic origins ministry leaders seriously obfuscate the teachings of Jesus Christ and confuse non-Christians as to what it means to be a Christ-follower. Indeed, when I was more active within very diverse discussion forums, I regularly dealt with these reactions from both atheists and agnostics and even some anti-theists:

(1) “I had no idea that there were rational Bible-loving Christians who care about scientific evidence, affirm evolution and billions of years and who teach at major universities, and aren’t bat-$#!t crazy and ignorant ,” and

(2) “Why aren’t more Christians like you denouncing the nut-jobs who are ruining the reputation and credibility of Jesus’ teachings? Why are you so reluctant to denounce the fools among your numbers? Wasn’t Jesus known for calling it like he saw it and even overturning some tables of the Establishment?” [Yes, the term “the Establishment” will date me some.]

I’ve observed a few who talk quite harshly even to the fence-sitters. I’m not saying that they have the best strategy and that we should all adopt their strategies. I am saying that I’m thankful that some straight-talking people were willing to rebuke my appalling ignorance of the science and even to ridicule my ignoring the enormous mass of scientific evidence which refuted my young earth pseudo-science. At the time I had no idea that I was relying upon professional liars and snake-oil sellers. [Yes, the latter is what their books & tapes tables in the church lobby were all about. They even wanted everybody to think that their ideas had always been the beliefs of True Christians™ ever since the early Church.]

Thankfully, Jesus didn’t always apply 100% civility. Thankfully, neither does the Holy Spirit today. God continues to use straight-talking people to rebuke sinners and fools—aka Homo sapiens like us who are all prone to sin and foolishness.


(George Brooks) #5

I think you are completely correct on this, @Casper_Hesp !

I have had any number of discussions with a very pessimistic Evolutionist - - where he said that it really didn’t matter what he said, the Creationists were going to cherry-pick some apologia out of their heads … and explain away anything he said.

My counter to that was that he was NOT trying to convince Creationists to become Evolutionists … he was supposed to be providing enough information to prevent OTHER fence sitters from becoming full blown Creationists.

He said he didn’t have the heart for it. More’s the pity …


(Casper Hesp) #6

Hi @OldTimer, thanks for sharing your take on the matter! I always enjoy reading your anecdotes :grin:. I think you have a very valid point. So in your experience, the scornful ridicule was actually useful to break you free from your self-perpetuated imprisonment?

I suppose, yes, Jesus was harsh at times. I recall that He even called Peter a demon. But then again, this is Jesus we’re talking about. If all of us Christians would make such sweeping statements as Jesus did, the Church would be a rather self-righteous collection of people.

Also, I think it is important to make the distinction between rebuke for the sake of the person him- or herself versus public rebuke purely for the sake of swaying an audience… I think Jesus only made use of the first option and not of the second.


(Casper Hesp) #7

Are you talking about an atheistic or a theistic evolutionist here?

I think in principle there is nothing wrong with finetuning your arguments not only for the person with whom you are speaking, but also for any (virtual) audience that might be following the conversation. However, I would say it goes too far when you try to convince people in the audience by discrediting the person with whom you’re conversing.


(George Brooks) #8

This was a pro-Evolution writer. I asked him why he didn’t make use of even the most basic refutations (like marine dinosaurs never being found with whale fossils). He said "what’s the point, they have a rhetorical sound bite for every possible argument.

I thought that was a pretty strange way to justify an incomplete presentation …


#9

Perhaps. But it may also be a very human reaction. For example, I often lack motivation to exhaustively destroy a bad argument when I know that (1) I’ve got other writing projects on which I’m running behind, and (2) I know that I may be dealing with The Gish Gallup, where it takes thirty times more time and effort to debunk bad arguments than for their originator to simply toss them into the air in a flourish of sound bites. (Anyone unfamiliar with that debate tactic of the late Duane Gish should Google the phrase.)

At this very moment an evolution-denier on these threads is demanding yet again that “evolutionists prove X, Y, and Z” even though we’ve been through that charade dozens of times in the past. One loses the motivation to provide the evidence which will again be ignored.

As Ken Ham stated in the Ham-Nye Debate: No amount of evidence would lead him to change his position. So one has to make decisions about how much of one’s life one is willing to allocate to repeat a Sisyphean task.


#10

Yes it was. Yet, on the other hand, I fully realize that such an approach might cause some people to dig themselves even more.n deeply, becoming even more blind and and deaf to all evidence and reason. Irenaeus talked about this in terms of the “hardening of Pharaoh’s heart”. Irenaeus said that the same circumstances and words may turn one person’s heart hard and another’s soft. He likened it to “the sun’s heat, which causes soft clay to turn hard and brittle but causes wax to turn ever softer.” He challenged his audience to choose whether to be like clay or like wax.

I had friends within the “creation science” movement who were wax-like and others who were just about as clay-like as I’ve ever seen. Not one of those “wax-like” friends stayed in the movement (to my knowledge.). Of the “clay-like” types, I found it interesting that they either stayed within the IFCA fundamentalist camp OR they (two of them) became angry anti-theists. (One has become a huge Franky Schaeffer fan and a similar kind of activist.) Obviously, those few cases are nothing more significant than anecdotal. But I find them interesting, nonetheless.

What 2"x4" had the most impact on me? My exodus from the Young Earth Creationist “creation science” movement had many factors behind it. But I well remember being told, “Thinking yourself to have the ultimate scientific refutations and remediations for entire fields of science—from radiometric dating methodologies to the geologic record and phylogenetics—all while declaring the entire scientific academy of PhDs to be wrong, that’s not just foolhardy and comical. It’s frighteningly narcissistic.” Yes, I already knew that! And it really did bother me to hear it stated out loud! (Somehow that made it less speculative and far too real.)

It bothered me even more after I questioned Dr. Gish about it. That would conversation would require an entire chapter on its own.

Hearing out loud my own inner concerns and suspicions coming from a faculty colleague somehow made it seem far more real and even DANGEROUS. Why dangerous? I knew enough Church history to recognize the roles of hubris and narcissism in so many of the very worst episodes of the story of Western Christianity and civilization in general. (And my uncle had always warned me: “When someone is absolutely certain that they are right and everybody else is wrong, be very very careful. When someone is absolutely certain that they are right and everybody else is wrong because God told them so, be very very afraid.”)

As the saying goes, “For goodness sake!!!”. I had actually taught worried, pale-turning students about the horrors of Calvin’s Geneva, John Wycliffe’s exhumation and bone-burning, and the “justice” of the Salem Witch Trials. I began to ask myself: If I had been born in another time and place, would narcissism and hubris have made me one of the villains?

I had already been concerned that “creation science” seemed to thrive wherever the excesses of Pharisaical fundamentalism thrived. I used to preach in a lot of IFCA churches and it amazed me how many of the ministers who were going to introduce me liked to tell me the same joke: “You know what IFCA stands for, right? I Fight Christians Anywhere!” It seemed like a harmless joke—until they would eventually ask me the very serious question: “Are you a first-degree separationist or a second-degree separationist?” (Two pastors explained to me that mere first-degree separationists would never be invited to speak at their church a second time. One exposure to their congregation was the limit.)

I started telling such questioners, “I’m a third-degree separationist!” I say it without smiling and that always produced an interesting reaction. If they had the courage to ask for a definition, I would say, “If somebody asks me if I’m a first or second degree separationist, I give them the third degree—and ask them where in the scriptures God authorized them to destroy the unity of the Body of Christ by holding a separation contest.”

I considered telling them that I always ironically separate myself from those who insist on finding new excuses for separationism. But I generally was in a hurry to separate myself from the kind of people who obsessed over such questions. (Hmmm, come to think of it. It has been a while since I’ve preached in an IFCA church. Interesting coincidence. Or perhaps they’ve simply separated themselves from me.)

I have never forgotten that I bear some of the responsibility for the pseudo-science of the “creation science” and anti-evolution movements within Christendom. So I feel obligated to try and undo at least some of that damage. It is certainly NOT something that I enjoy. Especially when I see someone parroting the very same young earth and anti-evolution arguments I used to preach a half century ago, it can make me very depressed.

I ask myself what I would say to my younger self if I could go back in time and confront me at one of my anti-evolution debates. I honestly don’t know because I was extremely naive as to who I could trust to tell me the truth about science. (I made the mistake of assuming that those who shared my theological beliefs and traditions were the most honest and informed about science as well. Newsflash: They weren’t. Until I figured that out, I was under their influence.)


(Casper Hesp) #11

I do get that person’s point though. In my experience, discussions with dedicated YECs often feel more like a game of tennis :tennis: than like an actual conversation :speech_balloon:.


#12

And that is what they are taught. One learns mantras and slogans to be deployed for various questions and challenges. It’s about propaganda, not science.

Notice how many “wildcard replies” are taught at Young Earth Creationist websites. No matter what the argument, the YECists can say “We all share the same evidence. We just have different presuppositions by which to interpret that evidence.” It is a denial of science by means of denying evidence. (They do NOT interpret the evidence differently. They IGNORE the evidence.)


#13

I should add to my previous answer:

One big difference in 2016 versus the 1960’s is that *today the movement has far more of the zany types of loons and flashy-showmen than what we had a half century ago." (Money will always attract that element and the rise of the Internet brought that increase in money.) Say what you will about Henry Morris and Duane Gish, but even at their most extreme (even in their later decades) when it comes to shear, exponentially mind-numbing pseudo-science rantings, they couldn’t begin to hold a candle to a Kent “Dr. Dino & Ex-Con” Hovind, Ray “Banana Man” Comfort, Chuck “Peanut Butter Jars are the Evolutionist’s Nightmare” Missler", Walter “Hydroplate” Brown, or an entire peanut gallery of wannabe creation science entrepreneurs trying to outdo one another today for Golden Crocoduck fame and fortune. So you will find that anybody carrying the “creation science” banner today is all too aware of (1) the questionable company he/she keeps or is thought to keep, and aware of (2) the oversupply of crazy-uncles-in-the-attic which encumbers any attempt to make one’s “side” seem like real science.

Today, there’s no getting around the fact that one side of the debate has lots of “baggage” and embarrassing (even clownish) non-scientist “celebrities” to worry about [I choose the mildest and most polite terms I could select while still retaining some self-respect and honesty] while the other side rarely gives thought to any negative associations accompanying their position. Why? Because only one side has a “loon problem”. That’s why I have great empathy for an honest Young Earth Creationist scientist like Dr. Todd Wood. And that’s why—even though I concede that there MAY be a valid place for hard-hitting criticism in waking up our Christian brethren who are caught up in very mistaken and damaging ideas—we should be very very careful about unfairly lumping real scientists and honest questioners like Dr. Wood with convicted felon con-men like Kent Hovind. (I’d say that over fifty criminal counts qualifies Hovind as a pathological liar----that is, pathological liar is a fact available to the public in court records, not just a “judgmental opinion.” )

It is very very tempting to play up the “loon factor”, especially with big audiences. But seeing how the anti-theists and their followers already have that tactic covered, I think that for us it should be reserved for private, one-on-one interactions when it can be seriously explored with the objective of determining why so many of the worst character elements are drawn to the movement. I know of several relatively recently minted ex-YECs who have confessed that embarrassing reminders of the Ray Comfort & Kirk Cameron Nightline tv debate a few years ago (against a couple of unimpressive but nevertheless non-silly atheists) did play a role in their mortification momentum which helped lead them out of the “creation science” movement.

By the way, this entire subject brings to mind in even bigger and more uncomfortable question: To what degree am I enabling false teaching and con-men within the church when I avoid coming down hard on the worst propaganda ministry websites? (Indeed, Kent Hovind misled and financially harmed a lot of our Christian brethren. Did we stand by and remain silent while our gullible but generally sincere and well-intentioned brethren paid the price for our silence?)

Honestly, I don’t have a good answer to that question. I feel very torn. And I also know that the kinds of abrupt confrontations which helped me find my way out of an increasingly cult-like situation might not work well at all with other personality types and perhaps 95% of the people in my former ministry circumstance. (Of course, undoubtedly, my behind-the-scenes experiences in the movement made me much more aware and feeling personally liable for my own guilt and repentance.)

Yes, these are hard questions and complex situations. But does that mean that I’m just making excuses for my silence and culpability? (Should we go along to get along? Is that truly scriptural?) I have no easy answers.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #14

One of the ‘softer’ (but still difficult) things to do is for each party to exercise restraint toward their own side. News agencies thrive on conflict, fear, and attacks, but less known (and unfortunately still-too-rare) events in the world have happened and are happening where popularly-imagined ‘enemies’ reach out to each other, such as Muslims banding together to protect a Christian or Jewish meeting place from violence and vice versa, such as described in this news article.

In that same spirit, places like Biologos would probably do well to encourage extra restraint among their own ranks when popular targets here are attacked (such as I.D. or YEC, or even evolutionary Creationists!) It is hard to know where one is in all that when you are busy being attacked from all sides. But if you occupy what is deemed to be a respectable ground that is being used as a platform of attack against others, then it is probably a moral obligation for you to expend some of your capital to stand-down the like-minded troops as they give themselves over to demonizing their enemies. I imagine there are YEC’s (maybe some present here!) who find themselves pressed into that function in their respective intellectual communities as well. You take heat sometimes for allegedly being an enemy sympathizer, but it will still be the easier pill for you/your side to swallow rather than sharp criticisms from an enemy, no matter how truthful those criticisms may be. Wrap up a truth in a malicious package, and it will be tossed aside just like all the other trash, and may as well have never been delivered. Without truth, relationship may end up being unsustainable, but without relationship, truth is crippled.


(James McKay) #15

Actually, BioLogos does seem to be encouraging restraint here. For example, on the thread “Worries about structural dishonesty in YEC scholarship” one of the most vocal contributors in that respect is @Christy Hemphill – one of the BioLogos staff and a moderator on these forums.

For the most part, I would concur. Hanlon’s Razor should be our guiding principle here – never ascribe to malice that which can be better explained by incompetence or misunderstanding – and it is more gracious to assume as far as is reasonable that they are simply getting carried away with themselves. It also gives you the moral high ground (as well as being Romans 12:17-compliant) when you are being accused of being a “faithless so-called Christian” and a “compromiser” for failing to acknowledge that there were dinosaurs on the Ark and that nuclear decay rates were accelerated by a factor of a billion at the time of the Flood.

Having said that, some things are clear-cut examples of dishonesty, and these should be called out for what they are. This is especially the case given that accusations of dishonesty against the scientific community form a large part of the YEC message, and as such, they have an extra responsibility to make sure that their own house is in order first (Matthew 7:5 is the operative Bible verse here).


#16

Amen to that. The elephant in the room is the obvious fact that the Young Earth Creationist “creation science” world is well known for its con-men and very popular howler sound bites on Youtube—yet their defenders make blanket condemnations towards all of the science academy being “fraudulent”, including the many of their Christian brethren in the sciences who they condemn right along with them.

When I helped moderate a Christian forum some years ago, we often dealt with this, especially after some participants accused us of allowing anti-evolution Christians more freedom to lambast others while we encouraged their opponents to avoid such sweeping generalizations. Admittedly, we ended up with that imbalance because the constant reminders in the form of vacuous generalizations tended to make the anti-evolution ranters the very best at undermining their own credibility. There was something about Kent Hovind, Ray Comfort,and Ken Ham fans complaining that the entire academic world was conspiring to commit academic fraud that functioned like a perpetual bucket of cold water reminding any fence-sitters of how the two sides differed in knowledge, intellect, and maturity.

Sometimes the best demonstration of the differences between the real scientists and the science-deniers was to let each “side” do what they were naturally prone to do. And for every honest YEC skeptic like a Dr. Todd Wood, there would always be 100+ angry “mainstream YECers” to remind readers where rationality and science was most at home.

Ken Ham and AIG have a cartoonist on the payroll, whose embarrassingly puerile humor constitutes little more than elementary school playground taunts, often gets his work linked from non-YEC websites. Why? His tactics convey far more than the cartoonist is apparently aware. (And often the dishonesty is so rank that I find it seems nearly impossible to give him the benefit of the doubt.)

Thus, whenever I think of honorable Christian brethren like Dr. Wood being regularly reminded of their affiliation with the YEC cause and its most lamentable elements, I feel sad and embarrassed for them. The YEC tent—crowded with every imaginable variety of eager origins-ministry entrepreneur elbowing for a piece of the lucrative donor and “creation science” merchandise pie—lacks a discreet side door for those trying hard to distance themselves and, understandably, try to preserve some last vestiges of dignity. Worse yet, those few who have legitimate academic degrees from relevant fields of science get criticized and even attacked for failing to sufficiently “police” the ethics and junk science of the rest of the movement. (I’m glad I made my exodus from YECdom before the Internet brought so many entrepreneurs and showmen into the movement and built an industry.) Yet, is someone like Dr. Wood truly any more responsible for the bad apples than any other Bible-affirming Christ-follower who cares about the credibility of the Christian community and the progress of the Great Commission? Should we care enough to speak up only when the problems are coming from our exact and specific sliver of the Christian community fellowship spectrum?

I’ve asked myself these questions about a great many regrettable segments of the evangelical community in America, where it took the most damaged victims of various ministries to eventually get their stories out and, in some cases, into the courtrooms where their silence can no longer be enforced. (I won’t list some of the mega-ministries and Christian celebrities behind the latest round of tragedies but, suffice it to say, we as evangelical Christians in America do a terrible job in exposing, denouncing, and limiting the damage done by out-of-control “ministry” conmen and snake oil sellers.)


(Benjamin Kirk) #17

Hello James,

How would you apply the razor to the tedious claim that “both sides are looking at the same evidence”? You don’t need to be the sharpest tool in the shed to see that to making such a claim with any authority explicitly requires a lot of direct familiarity with the evidence.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #18

All this discussion of “Hanlon’s Razor”, is fascinating to me as I had not heard of it before this. After reading the Wikipedia description of it, though, I cannot help but think that Christians may be playing with fire (perhaps in more ways than one!) in dabbling with this kind of reaction to your intellectual foes. After all, what does Jesus say (Matthew 5, I think) about anybody who calls somebody else a fool? The (Hebrew?) word ‘raca’ is, I think, the word used, and it would be interesting to know more about the connotations of that word to the original listeners. But think about this, even today. On what grounds does anybody decide that being called an ‘idiot’ is to be preferred over being called ‘malicious’? We might think the former is somehow the more charitable choice … but which would really be deemed the bigger insult in our society today? Compare popular movies …who gets the greater admiration? The wicked but brilliant protagonists of a plot like ‘Ocean’s 11’? Or somebody who has a good heart but a slower wit making them an easy target? (I don’t have a good movie example for that … perhaps someone else can fill in the blank.) In fact look at where slang has gone in popular culture today … when it is said: ‘that’s really wicked!’ those words are often ones of admiration. The same is not true of word ‘idiotic’.

So is there really any charity in the attribution of stupidity to your enemies in order to save them from the charge of dishonesty? I suggest rather that there may be more charity to be had by taking that word ‘stupidity’ out of Hanlon’s razor and replacing it with some different word … one that would mean ‘differently aligned --and with conviction’ or ‘filtered through a different belief system’ or ‘differently determined’. I can’t think of a good one word here and now that captures those. But those thoughts would be a bit more neutral with regard to judgment.

And I predict on that ground that many will be quite happy with Hanlon’s razor just as it is because judgment is precisely what they want the other side subjected to, and furthermore, their appeal may not be directly to “those people” but to other listeners instead with whom they want to share and revel in that judgment over the so-labeled ‘foolish’ group. Beware then that mockery is a fickle and faithless friend. And you would be right not to expect your targets to just roll over in gratitude that you so ‘charitably’ held them to be above dishonesty only then to consign them to your loony bin categories. I suggest that Jesus knew what he was talking about when he had such strong words about casually throwing these labels around at people. Just think back to the last time you were stubborn about something and it might have caused you to appear just a bit less than intelligent to others … I don’t have to reflect very long in my own case. The sting can be memorable. And that’s just for those times where you retrospectively judge your former stubbornness as unjustified! Might there be occasions of truly justified stubbornness?

If anybody hopes to win a battle by mockery; that is, by appealing to a third-party audience against a target who has been deemed ‘unreachable’, then that would be (Christianly speaking) already to have lost the battle. That is indeed the stock-and-trade of much popular media and news, but I think we are called to something much higher.


(Christy Hemphill) #19

I just studied this word in a semantics class. It’s an ‘expressive,’ which is a word that does not refer to anything in the real world and has no truth value. It’s a word used to convey (rather than describe) the speaker’s attitude, beliefs, or feelings. Like “Ouch!” or “Oops” or most swear words. In the case of raka, Jesus used the Aramaic word, presumably because there was no equivalent in Koine Greek. There isn’t really an equivalent in English either. Bible scholars believe it was an expression of extreme derision and scorn. I think the idea Jesus was trying to communicate correlates with the idea further on in the passage where lusting over a woman is as bad as adultery. One’s attitude toward the woman matters as much as one’s actions. In the case of raka, having an attitude towards someone that they are so worthless the world would be a better place without them in it is as bad murdering them.

So the takeaway, I think is not that Christians should never negatively evaluate other people’s intellectual conclusions. Jesus and the apostles did not seem to have a problem labeling certain people fools or ignorant or bad teachers. But when we interact with people, we should do so without being scornful and derisive. It’s wrong and un-Christlike to intentionally try to make someone feel ashamed or worthless because we don’t think they measure up intellectually.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #20

Thanks for the correction and clarification on that. It certainly is true that Jesus didn’t mince words in many circumstances --including words that certainly do sound condescending if we used them today … “you’re a teacher in Israel and you still don’t understand this?” It may be worth considering how/when/if it is appropriate for us to emulate that kind of interaction.

Despite my incomplete understanding of “Raka”, I still think the broader point stands. This might be similar to how Lewis raised some issues in his “Abolition of Man”. Attributing moral failure to somebody is at least acknowledging their responsibility and possibility of change … their humanity if you will. Call me dishonest, and there is hope for me that I can change. Call me mentally deficient or pathologically afflicted, and then you have denied my hope of change or removed it to therapists or other professionals, consigning me to be the object of their fashioning and according to the ideology of the day.

That is no doubt an oversimplification; I’m not denying a legitimate and highly Christian place for medicine, but I would rather hold on to all such responsibility as God has given me to retain as part of my humanity. It would be cruel for me to, as a matter of course, deny anybody else the same.