On name-calling

Posted on 03/07/13 16 Comments

Today I received a comment from Breen that caught my attention:

Dr. Rauser, I’ve begun reading your series critiquing Craig’s defense of the Caananite killing and have found it to be insightful; however, I don’t appreciate you degrading a fellow Christian brother by calling him a “apologetic spin doctor.” Name-calling to put down others should have no place in a Christian’s vocabulary, especially when directed toward another believer.

I agree with Breen: it is wrong to name-call in order to “put others down” where “putting others down” means “belittling” or “humiliating”. However, I disagree with Breen’s statement that this is wrong “especially when directed toward another believer.” If it is wrong to belittle or humiliate a person then it is wrong, full stop. I don’t know in what sense it would be less wrong to belittle a non-Christian than a Christian.

Alas, I have a second, more serious disagreement with Breen which centers on the assumption that by referring to Craig’s argument as evidence of the “apologetic spin doctor” I was thereby belittling or humiliating him. Far from it. My intent was to invoke an accurate description of Craig’s characterization of the Canaanite genocide.

Let’s start with a definition of the term “spin doctor”:

“a person who provides a favourable slant to an item of news, potentially unpopular policy, etc., esp on behalf of a political personality or party”

By applying the term “apologetic spin doctor” I am making the claim that Craig satisfies this definition with respect to some aspect of his apologetic work. This isn’t an inflammatory term, it is not merely an insult. There is no animus here. I simply believe that I have provided evidence that Craig satisfies this description. How so?

Let’s return to the context where the claim is made. It comes in my article “William Lane Craig’s defense of genocide based on a reprobate culture” where I point out that Craig misrepresents the nature of the genocide described in Joshua by presenting it as something broadly analogous to a forced resettlement when in fact it fits within the framework of herem sacrifice. It is understandable that Craig wouldn’t be inclined to stress the sacrificial dimensions of the narrative because doing so makes his job as an apologist that much more difficult. How can he explain the fact that the Canaanites are censured for child sacrifice while also accepting that the narrative depicts the Israelites as engaged in herem sacrifice of an entire population … including children?

But my conviction is that the task of an apologist includes the obligation to present the whole picture, warts and all, even if that makes your case more difficult. Indeed, I believe such a commitment is, among other things, absolutely essential for intellectual credibility in front of a skeptical world.

So how to assess the fact that Craig misrepresents the genocide by never mentioning the central theme of herem sacrificial warfare? Well let’s look at our term “spin doctor” again:

“a person who provides a favourable slant to an item of news, potentially unpopular policy, etc., esp on behalf of a political personality or party”

In this case Craig is providing a favourable slant to the Joshua genocide by eliding any mention of the herem sacrificial framework, and he seems to do so on behalf of the evangelical Christian community in his role as a Christian apologist. Consequently, this is what I wrote:

“Craig’s representation of what is going on in the text looks to be another case of the apologetic spin doctor at work. Defend the letter of the narrative if you must, but at least represent accurately what it says.”

Now it is perhaps conceivable that Craig is simply uninformed about the concept of herem sacrifice. But given Craig’s status as Christianity’s leading apologist and his undeniable adeptness as a debater and public intellectual, as well as the fact that he has addressed these very texts on multiple occasions, this seems most unlikely to me. And so it leaves as the most likely option the conclusion that Craig succumbed at this point to the wiles of the spin doctor.

In closing, it should be emphasized that everybody is in danger of succumbing to the wiles of the spin doctor. I’ve been there. I’ve spun things in my favor. (Hey, let’s be honest. Who hasn’t done this at one time or another? We’re not talkin’ the unforgivable sin here.) So if I was making an argument in a skewed fashion (consciously or unconsciously) in a way that distorted the issues in favor of my position, I would certainly appreciate others calling me to account.

 

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  • Jake

    “Craig’s representation of what is going on in the text looks to be
    another case of the apologetic spin doctor at work. Defend the letter of
    the narrative if you must, but at least represent accurately what it
    says.”

    Your comments seem to lack the charity you give yourself for behaving like a spin doctor at times.

    Instead you seem to indicate that Craig’s repeated spin doctoring justifies labeling him a spin doctor. Not just a person who occasionally spin doctors, but a person who normally does.

    Is that really what you mean?

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      No, that’s not what I mean at all. I’m guessing that when you read that Craig’s account of the genocide is “another case of the apologetic spin doctor at work” you thought I was saying Craig was “the apologetic spin doctor”. That’s incorrect. I was saying that Craig’s presentation here reflects the actions of an apologist who spins the facts to suit his or her presentation of Christianity. Hope that clears things up.

  • Hubert Frost

    Well in German “to spin” (spinnen) means being crazy, so as I read this term this sounds pretty naturally like an insult to my ears :=)

    As you pointed out, it is a shame that WLC uses such bad arguments while he can think quite thoroughly and rationally in other domains.

    This greatly diminishes his credibility.

    But what should we do now? We are very unlikely to convince him that these commands reported in the Torah don’t stem from God.

    And I think that consciously or unconsciously he will always resist this conclusion because there would be so much at stake in his personal and private life if he recognized that the Bible contains errors like all Christian books written since the fourth century.

    Think on Mike Licona and the way proponents of inerrancy and creationism have “expelled” him.

    By the way Randal I think you should give up your concept of Biblical Canon.

    For me, it makes much more sense to include C.S Lewis, Greg Boyd or the early Anabaptists in the Canon than Leviticus, Joshua or Judges.

    I would really love to hear (or rather read) your take on that.

    Kind regards.

    • Hubert Frost

      I meant you should give up plenary inspiration of our largely arbitrary Canon.

      • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

        After completing my critique of Craig’s podcast shortly I’ll address more fully the issue of canon, though it looks like we won’t be finding ourselves in agreement on this issue…

  • Breen

    I certainly appreciate your taking my criticism seriously, Dr. Rauser; I was under the impression that characterizing someone as “the apologetic spin doctor” was a derisive description of someone’s life’s work and character, but from what you’ve written, I can see how you could have meant that only certain aspects of Dr. Craig’s work resemble strained harmonization. Concerning the part about Christians and non-Christians, I suppose what I had in mind was that immoral behavior toward family is especially wrong; if a son mugged the mailman, that would certainly be wrong, but if he mugged his mother, such an action would be especially heinous it seems. Of course I wouldn’t want to say that hurting non-Christians is “better” than hurting Christians. Anyways, I appreciate this series you have done on mass killing in the Bible, and you’ve certainly given me food for thought for a few days.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Your explanation about the primary moral obligation toward family is interesting. I don’t know that I agree but at least I see where you’re coming from.

      However, it still remains counterintuitive. For example, it would imply that mugging a Christian stranger is worse than mugging a non-Christian mother. But then Jesus says things that could be taken in support of that counterintuitive view.

    • Jag_Levak

      “I suppose what I had in mind was that immoral behavior toward family is especially wrong; if a son mugged the mailman, that would certainly be
      wrong, but if he mugged his mother, such an action would be especially
      heinous it seems.”

      Did Randal go too far in his spin doctor remark? I suppose he could have been a bit clearer that he was talking about the workings of a spin doctor mentality rather than a spin doctor personage. But if we accept your point that the comparison was too harsh and hyperbolic, then how ought we feel about comparing Randal’s remark to a heinous immoral mugging? Isn’t that even worse? At least Craig’s behavior really did resemble the workings of a spin doctor.

      My guess is that you weren’t looking to mug Randal, and your criticism was motivated by a desire to see one of your own do better. But what do I know? I’d have made the same guess about Randal’s motivations.

    • Clarissa

      Randall Rauser is a Collaborator who provide aid and comfort to those who would destroy Christianity.

      This is simply an accurate description of what he is and what he does, not a put down or insult.

      • Jag_Levak

        Funny, from the outside, he looks like the Energizer bunny in advocating for his view of Christianity. Yes, some other Christians disagree with his views, but has there ever been a Christian who didn’t think some other Christian had it wrong, or who was not considered a bad Christian by some other Christian? Centuries of doctrinal disputes, and it doesn’t seem to have destroyed Christianity yet.

        Craig is an avid and accomplished debater, which means reason is his stock in trade. Randal is venturing a critique in which he is laying out the bramble patch where he thinks Craig’s reasoning leads. Maybe Randal is wrong, and Craig can produce an alternate, and more acceptable set of implications, in which case, Randal has simply given Craig another opportunity to show what he can do. Or maybe Randal is right, in which case Craig can revise or abandon this defense, or he can come up with a defense of the implications, in which case a vulnerability in his position will be removed or reinforced–which again benefits Craig. Or maybe Randal is right, and Craig will simply leave the matter unaddressed, which might not be good for Craig, but that would hardly be Randal’s fault, merely for being right.

        I’m no fan of Craig, but I at least give him credit for being a big boy who doesn’t need defending from a little criticism. I don’t even think he would want that. But if you think Randal’s argument is flawed, you don’t have to wait for Craig’s response. Just point out the defect in his reasoning. That would be a lot more effective than trying to impute improbable motives to him. On the other hand, if his argument is sound, then it really doesn’t matter what his motives are. A sound argument stands on its own.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/F6TDUJ27E5VNJDBDM3LNBTOLSI Vincent

    Dr. Rauser,

    Mis-representation is an intentional act. You write that “Craig misrepresents the genocide by never mentioning the central theme of herem sacrificial warfare” and you add that “Craig is providing a favourable slant to the Joshua genocide by eliding any mention of the herem sacrificial framework.” In other words, you accuse Craig of lying by omission. (You then go on to allow for the theoretical possibility that he may be “uninformed about the concept of herem sacrifice,” but you consider this to be most unlikely.) However, your whole accusation presupposes that herem IS sacrificial warfare. You think that’s a fact which should be obvious to anyone who has read the literature; I think it’s a highly controversial statement, and I would bet that Craig shares my opinion. (By the way, can you name a single Orthodox Jewish rabbi who agrees with Niditch on this point? Or are you saying that the Jews can’t read their own Bible?)
    The source you cite to back up your claim (Susan Niditch, “War in the Hebrew Bible”) writes from a perspective which can only be described as neither Jewish nor Christian. Consider the following passage (see “War in the Hebrew Bible and Contemporary Parallels” at http://wordandworld.luthersem.edu/content/pdfs/15-4_Nations/15-4_Niditch.pdf ):

    “Does the God of Israel desire human sacrifice? Indeed, increasingly scholars suggest that Israelites engaged in state-sponsored rituals of child sacrifice at a location just outside of Jerusalem in the Valley of Hinnom at the tophet, a term cognate with oven or furnace. Such ritual activity is condemned by Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and other biblical writers (e.g., Lev 18:21; 20:25; Deut 12:31; 18:10; Jer 7:30-31; 19:5; Ezek 20:31), and the seventh-century reformer king Josiah sought to put an end to it, but the notion of a god who desires human sacrifice may well have been an important thread in Israelite belief.”

    That’s the kind of anti-Christian polemic I’d expect from, say, Dr. Hector Avalos. At least the man has the courage to call himself an atheist; Niditch calls herself a Professor of Religion. And what’s her main piece of evidence?

    “In Num 21:2-3, for example, the Israelites make a vow: if God allows them
    victory, they will devote the enemy to God in destruction…The ban as sacrifice informs not only Num 21:2-3 but additional texts such as Deut 2:34-35; Josh 6:17-21; 8:2; 24-28; 11:11, 14; and 1 Kgs 20:35-38. My NIV Bible commentary notes that “the Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the Lord, often by totally destroying them.”

    Sorry, but giving something over to God as marked for destruction is an altogether different thing from offering something up to God as a sacrifice. The latter act requires a pure and spotless victim; the former presupposes the guilt and uncleanliness of the victim. Herem is the diametric opposite of sacrifice.

    To make matters worse, Niditch goes on:

    “Did Israelites ever fight actual wars motivated by the ban as sacrifice and treat those conquered in accordance with its tenets? We have no way of knowing for certain…”

    Whoa. So Niditch is not sure of her own thesis? That’s a bit embarrassing! But then she triumphantly concludes:

    “CLEARLY this notion of devoting human conquests to the deity, be it the Israelite Yahweh or the Moabite Chemosh, existed in Israel’s immediate world of thought.”
    I find it offensive that Niditch could speak of God and Chemosh in the same breath, and treat them as morally equivalent. I suspect that William Lane Craig shares my abhorrence for this secular mind-set. If he does, then I can only say: good for him.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      “Sorry, but giving something over to God as marked for destruction is an altogether different thing from offering something up to God as a sacrifice.”

      That shows you don’t understand the function of the concept of sacrifice in ANE religion.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/F6TDUJ27E5VNJDBDM3LNBTOLSI Vincent

        Dr. Rauser,

        You haven’t answered the point I made earlier. that something unclean cannot be offered up as a sacrifice. The Holman Bible Dictionary bears me out on this point, in its article on “Sacrifice and Offering”: “The animal for this sacrifice could be a young bull, lamb, goat, turtledove, or young pigeon; but it had to be a perfect and complete specimen.” In other words, a spotless victim, without blemish. Don’t tell me I’m not familiar with this concept: I’m a Catholic. The same terminology is used in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Catholic Mass, which is very heavily based on the Old Testament (especially Eucharistic Prayer I). Catholics well understand the notion of offering up the body of Christ as a spotless victim that can take away sin. A tainted victim (e.g. the body of Hitler) could never do that. So the body of an idolater could never serve as a sin offering.
        Don’t believe me? Ask a rabbi. You still haven’t cited a single Orthodox Jewish rabbi who concedes that the people marked by God for destruction were offered up to God as a sacrifice. Do that and I’ll start listening to you.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      By the way, you’re also incorrect in your understanding of misrepresentation. Look up “misrepresent” in a dictionary and you will find “to represent incorrectly”.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/F6TDUJ27E5VNJDBDM3LNBTOLSI Vincent

        Misrepresent:

        1. To give an incorrect or misleading representation of.
        2. To serve incorrectly or dishonestly as an official representative of.
        Technically you are correct, if you were using definition 1. However, you then argued that Craig must have known that his representation was incorrect. That at the very least makes him dishonest by omission, on your account.

    • Hubert Frost

      Vince,

      “Does the God of Israel desire human sacrifice? Indeed, increasingly
      scholars suggest that Israelites engaged in state-sponsored rituals of
      child sacrifice at a location just outside of Jerusalem in the Valley of
      Hinnom at the tophet, a term cognate with oven or furnace. Such ritual
      activity is condemned by Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and other biblical writers
      (e.g., Lev 18:21; 20:25; Deut 12:31; 18:10; Jer 7:30-31; 19:5; Ezek
      20:31), and the seventh-century reformer king Josiah sought to put an
      end to it, but the notion of a god who desires human sacrifice may well
      have been an important thread in Israelite belief.”

      That’s the kind of anti-Christian polemic I’d expect from, say, Dr. Hector Avalos.

      .”

      with all due respect I think you are dead wrong on that.

      In all his atheistic writings, Hector Avalos never recognizes that the Bible speaks with contradictory voices on moral issues, but gives his readers deceptively the impression that the ENTIRE Bible is completely consistent in describing God as a moral monster.

      Given his fundamentalist background, it is no wonder he still thinks in black and white categories.