The Walls of Mystic Despotism
I dares ya ta’ step across this line.
- Bugs Bunny
I had thought to let this series of posts go, (June 12th, 12:20 a.m. to June 13th, 2:43 p.m.) on Women and Children First, offered by self-identified Mike Doherty. My reasons were equally divided across a few thoughts. First, I am working on another article tentatively called “Crisis Management” and didn’t want to get distracted from research. Second, in my mind, Mike Doherty’s words speak for themselves, and I expect that the savvy Spiritual Tyranny readership sees the implicit failure in Mike’s demand. Third, I have addressed many of the stock defenses of tyranny over and over and over and over and over and over. Fourth, I anticipated this was just another drive-by blogging; people say their piece and move on. However, Mike did return for a couple more shots at me, my character, my lack of deference to him, some foreboding proclamations about biblical authority, and a general: “What are you talking about?”
One must wonder if orthodoxy forbids classes on reading comprehension, because detractors seem not to grasp my specific criticisms in context to the atrocity of rape, and my unrelenting critique of the doctrine of apostolic covering being taught to American Christianity: its catastrophic failure to deliver on its self-declared social contract.
Several articles have been written detailing this issue, The Very Important Thing of Blog Apostleness; Women and Children First; Family Member Tomczak Responds; Frauds, Papists, and European Religion, plus numerous sub-comments on related posts. How then my detractors can toss up their hands and say “I just don’t understand what you are saying” is a mystery. The same thing happened with Paul Balluff and his wife, which I detailed in two related posts: Paul Balluff Lessons and Paul Balluff–the Final Lesson. They are but a few in a list of people who more vocal at condemning tone than manifest bankruptcy of action.
Somehow I’m the ungracious one. Evidently when I point out ANY failing, it is a lack of humility and a failure to extend mercy because “We are all just sinners.” When they demand my justification and rail against what they see as my character flaws, it is … what exactly? Where is the chapter and verse to justify calling me sickening? How come I don’t qualify for the expansive exercise of everyone being a sinner? Eeeeaaahh … what’s up with this, Doc?
Of course there is a huge BUT coming: not to be confused with a gratuitous posterior.
However, >snicker< after my initial ambivalence, I realized that underneath Mike’s comments is a very important issue: using “scripture” to shield against the critical review of tyranny. Something is seriously wrong when anyone can, with a straight face, use bible verses to diminish tyrannical outcomes, justify imposed suffering as a failure of doctrinal precision, and trivialize unequivocal, objective judgment as mere emotional ranting. Scripture can never be something to HIDE behind; yet historically, this is exactly how tyrannical governments and their partners in crime, the Mystic Despots, have used it. I reject the notion that one needs chapter and verse to resist tyranny. And one certainly does not need chapter and verse to lay siege to the Walls of Mystic Despotism.
Eeeeeeh, watch me paste this pathetic palooka with a powerful, pachydermous, percussion pitch. Or maybe better said, I’m ready to writerly rumble. So let me begin with the end of his first post on Women and Children First, June 12th, 12:20 a.m. (Mike, you shoulda taken dat left toin at Albe-koi-kee.) Here is the last paragraph:
“I commend Heather for her comment. It was nice to read an intelligent, humble, well-thought-out and graceful statement, as opposed to the sickening, divisive, and uncharitable comments that I’m sad to say make up the majority of this blog. Grace and peace to all of you through Christ Jesus our Lord!”
Mike “commends.” I guess that is important. For those of you just tuning in, Heather is more than the average rabbit-hater, oops … poster on Spiritual Tyranny. She weighed in heavily on Family Member Tomczak Responds. She took me to task on my tone, only without Mike’s hero worship. She agreed with my comments just not my methods. Maybe Heather is flattered by Mike’s approval, and then maybe not. She is a wordy sort and can speak for herself.
Here is what I want you to see, Dear Spiritual Tyranny reader. The assumption is vast and revealing. Notice what Mike is doing: he implicitly thinks that his judgment, his bible understanding, is THE defining measure of the conversation. As he becomes increasingly more agitated by my unwillingness to dance to his drumbeat, this expectation radiates from every paragraph of each subsequent comment.
He makes a stock offer to intellectual broadmindedness—that he could be corrected in erroneous belief—but this is subterfuge, an effort to demonstrate some prescribed cultural humility. The truth of the matter was his parting comment (June 13th, 2:43 p.m.)
“Don’t bother. It’s obvious neither one of us is going to convince the other of anything. You haven’t even been able to muster up the energy to even tell me what you’re trying to say, or even correct your spelling. So I’ll just bow out here. I have church in a few hours and I’d rather not have this pointless conversation in mind when I’m trying to worship God. Thanks for the stimulating conversation and for having so little respect for my viewpoints as to not even address them. Don’t bother replying, I’m officially unsubscribing from this particular waste of time.”
Gee, ain’t I a stinker?
As an aside, what kind of person takes a spelling mistake as a personal slight?
Whatever… this is a revealing admission considering the leading criticism was that I had made no effort to respond. Which means, by definition, I had not tried to persuade: if I’m not talking, I’m not aiming an argument at your head. His parting comment is framed against the very pious action of worshiping God but this sanctimony is subterfuge to justify the declaration of his true state of mind: intellectual recalcitrance.
So this begs the following questions. What could underlie such absolutist thinking? What must someone believe to act with such manifest obstinacy? What must one believe about life to frame every action in terms of a bible verse? In a world filled with sinful men whose minds are corrupted by selfish depravity, who live to please themselves, who need help to live holy, how can such certainty ever be found?
This can only stem from one glaring presumption: that all things them = all things Bible.
Notice this from Mike’s first post June 12th, 12:20 a.m.:
“That to me, is the most damning evidence against the entire anti-SGM movement. Scripture is rarely held up as an example, and when it is, it’s usually taken out of context.”
I bet you say that to all the wabbits.
Critics who try to quote scripture are misled souls executing contextual interpretive failure: critics = unbiblical. Conversely, notice how pervasive the biblical vindication for those he defends: even when church leadership fails, they are like everyone else, just sinners in need of grace. Even their “failure” is scriptural.
Now turn your attention to this paragraph in his first post:
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16) So why are you treating it as a hindrance to your cause? How about Romans 8:1? James 5:9? 2 Timothy 2:14? Phillipians 2:1-3? Do you perhaps ignore these verses because if you followed scripture then you would have to extend grace and offer rebuke in a manner that please God rather than just ripping SGM apart and pleasing yourself?”
When someone starts proof-texting their overarching assertions, realize they are laying the foundations for Mystic Despotism. The verses are the bricks. The mortar is an inevitable appeal to interpretive authority a mere breath away. For example, in the above paragraph, it is true that scripture is profitable for the list offered. That is the proof text I’m intended to concede. This is Mike’s effective reading: since scripture is profitable, the source of all rebuke comes from specific bible passages—everything else is forbidden. So MY rebuke is in error because it is not specifically cited with chapter and verse. Now watch how he frames the argument in the last sentence: “…because if you followed scripture then you would have to extend grace and offer rebuke in a manner that please God rather than just ripping SGM apart and pleasing yourself.”
Beyond the presumption of a mere man claiming to know what pleases God, the rest of his last sentence is Kantian philosophy superimposed over Christian ideals and largely irrelevant. In context, true self-absorption would be to shut my mouth and let the tyranny persist, and just pretend that the carnage does not exist. But notice how the bricks and mortar fit together: for me to disagree with his proof text is ultimately to disagree with bible authority. If I reject his synthesis, I reject BIBLE.
Any number of Exegetical and Hermeneutical problems are woven deep into stringing these passages together to establish a doctrinal point or dogmatize a specific Christian practice. But for the moment let’s pretend that Mike is right. Let’s pretend that the verses above require a critic to narrow his comments to a specific tone and method. Let’s pretend that some men in Christianity are protected from specific words. Let’s pretend that the bible advocates an oligarchy immune from certain types of criticism. Let’s pretend that we have absolutely sourced our ‘scriptural’ conduct.
Here is the problem. To justify applying that standard to ANY modern day preacher, teacher, or mendicant requires making an EXTRA biblical assertion: NO ONE is listed as the sole rightful heir of scripture. For any modern day man to presume eldership, or pastor-ship, or presbytery-ship, or apostle-ship or any other ship, they must adopt interpretive methods that let them rationalize presuming to claim the elite oligarchy criticism protected class for themselves.
I’m not going to address if those interpretive methods are right or wrong. My goal is to show how interpretive methodology is directly related to Spiritual Tyranny and the Walls of Mystic Despotism.
“You don’t have enough scripture to back up your criticism,” which also gets said like this: “You’re not forgiving, so your criticisms are un-scriptural.” And also like this: “You are going against the clear teaching of scripture…”
When those of Mike’s doctrinal pedigree say “scripture,” they are really staking a claim to the standard of interpretive judgment: their interpretive methods are right because their interpretations are expressions of authority. No matter what lip service is paid to intellectual broadmindedness and reasonable consideration, they are daring you to cross a line in an argument they are positive they would win.
Notice this exact equation in Mike’s broadminded concession to some theoretical spiritual abuse. He concedes the general probability of leadership failures because in thirty-some years of existence, the statistics lean towards sin. Here is what he said:
“I freely admit that such spiritual abuses may have, and probably did, occur. While some of these complaints are merely the unwillingness of some people to submit to what I believe is biblical authority, I have no doubt that in it’s thirty plus year history, mistakes have been made, situations have been mishandled, and yes, sins have been committed.”
I want you to notice the start of the second sentence. The complaints about abuse are “merely the unwillingness… of some… to submit to … biblical authority.” This is Mike’s way of saying that pain would not exist if people would just submit to what God wanted. The equation is bible = authority. The source of the complaint is a failure to adhere to the standard of scripture.
Hmmmm….. Where have I heard this mindset talked about before? This is why I love it when these guys post. They make my case over and over and over. I wrote about this very mindset in To Reform or Not to Reform. Here is what I said:
…they think the problems lie from without. You have failed to make their job a joy. You failed to adhere to a sound biblical teaching that they are morally on the hook to defend, advocate, and enforce. The hurt feelings, the spiritual collateral damage, the individual pressure that arises out of conflict with them are merely signs of selfishness and sin and the natural consequence of failing to embrace the higher truths of their sound teaching. In light of eternity, how could these momentary light afflictions be of any real consequence?
If you only understood that you don’t own you. If only you understood that you have been mandated by God to submit the entirety of your SELF to their care, the conflict would not exist. You don’t own you, so how can you object to a violation of your personal boundaries, aspirations, wants, and desires? It is all sin, and they are doing God’s work by standing in the way of your determination to carry out your sinful self.
Herein is the greatest lever of Mystic Despots’ argumentative and autocratic power: the ascription of bible authority to their specific mandate. The fact that THEY wield bible authority is the given. The loose algebra offered is: Scripture = Authority = Orthodoxy = the standard of judgment = (THEIR) government = (THEIR) force.
Mike raised the issue of orthodoxy in his comments on June 13th, 1:45 p.m., and while he was not detailing the doctrinal algebra above, he presumes the equation. Well, except (maybe) for the force part. I added that to reiterate that Government is force…. always.
OK, here I go with the timid little woodland creature bit again. It’s shameful, but…ehhh, it’s a living.
What is orthodoxy? Well… very good question, and in another work I will dissect what it really means, but for now, we will take the loosely accepted definition: that which has been believed by everyone, everywhere, always. Well, that is not quite right, because sons of the Protestant movement say orthodoxy and mean the authority of the Reformed Tradition and that body of “unerring” interpretation, as opposed to Catholic Orthodoxy, or Eastern Orthodoxy, and a host of other orthodoxies spanning 1,800 years of church history.
Now notice what this does to any bible content conversation: those who claim authority have enormous argumentative power. They can dismiss any reading that deviates with traditional theological conclusions and demagogue the interpretive high ground. How dare you offer an “un-scriptural” interpretation? This is an outrage! I demand an explanation. The overt criticism is, to disagree with me is to disagree with authority, which is to disagree with orthodoxy, which is to disagree with greater minds than yours, which is to disagree with time-tested truths, which is to disagree with the Bible, which is to disagree with God—Heretic!
That is a lot of pressure. Who wants to be a heretic? Well, the accusation doesn’t have the same weight in the modern age, with bonfires being out of vogue, but people are still hard pressed to suffer a name that implies bad, bad earthly things and even worse eternal things. So, to hedge their spiritual bets, preempt the label, and gain credibility, they dance to the historic drumbeat. And herein is the problem. To gain credibility means to adopt the assumptions of the historical debates. Those assumptions are deeply embedded in the interpretive methodology handed down from intellectual father to intellectual son until we have a Monkey See Monkey Do Orthodoxy.
And here is the dirty little secret that virtually no one has the nerve to say out loud: The Bible does not drive “what everyone has believed, everywhere, always.” Interpretive methods based on specific historical assumptions determine orthodox belief.
Let me say this again with an illustration. Many attempts were made at Catholic Church reform before good ol’ Martin was born. But “orthodoxy” for some 1,500 years said that the Pope determined the MEANING of scripture. (Catholic Orthodoxy STILL affirms this doctrine) Said another way, papal authority was the interpretive method. Until the “orthodox” interpretive method changed, papal understanding remained the standard for all biblical discussion because the Pope was in charge of MEANING. So, in as much as reformers were compelled to concede papal authority to define meaning, they could not escape papal conclusion.
This is why the battle cry “Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Scripture Alone,” was such a formidable counterargument to papal authority. It marked an absolute shift in interpretive methods by leveraging the leading Enlightenment concept ushered into Christianity by St. Thomas Aquinas in the late 12th century–the Aristotelian predicate that Man can understand the world around him, and that includes the Bible. (Scripture Alone is meaningless under the Platonist/Augustinian world view that dominates Christianity since the mid 4th century.) This was the essential intellectual departure from the papal interpretive monopoly that made all subsequent Reformation doctrines possible.
Here is the heart and soul of the Reformation conflict. Scholastic Disputations Against the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences was really a catalyst to a much deeper, longstanding disagreement: the source, practice, and methodology of Papal Authority. The Reformation’s theological battleground was over the issue of inspiration, authority, tradition, and revelation. In other words: whose interpretations reign supreme to justify tyrannical practice? It is to this issue that Martin Luther wrote the following:
The Romanists have, with great adroitness, drawn three walls round themselves, with which they have hitherto protected themselves, so that no one could reform them, whereby all Christendom has fallen terribly.
Firstly, if pressed by the temporal power, they have affirmed and maintained that the temporal power has no jurisdiction over them, but, on the contrary, that the spiritual power is above the temporal.
Secondly, if it were proposed to admonish them with the scriptures, they objected that no one may interpret the scriptures but the Pope.
Thirdly, if they are threatened with a council, they pretend that no one may call a council but the Pope.
(Modern History Sourcebook : Martin Luther’s Address To The Nobility of the German Nation, 1520)
Mike’s comments reflect an implicit expectation that is anecdotal for the exact same set of papal assumptions. Reformation Theology shills are posing as historic papists posturing as the MEANING police, and in many ways, this situation is worse. The Papacy was confined to one man at the top of the pyramid, and that placed some limitations on the nature and scope of tyranny.
But all any Reformed Theology aficionado has to do is start saying: “I am Orthodox. Submit to my authority! Submit to my authority!” Abraca-pocus! Poof! Instant doctrinal justification: now all comers to the interpretive throne need to justify themselves against their authority. They utter one word and they become the elite oligarchy criticism protected class. Carrots are divine… You get a dozen for a dime… It’s maaaa-gic!
I addressed the concept of Dictated Good in detail on the post Defining Insanity. As stewards of Dictated Good, they are uniquely qualified to claim for themselves all deference. Bully for Bugs, they are the authority, you are not—they dictate, you don’t. This presumption gives them absolute power to build a wall around all interpretive conclusions and any subsequent practice. And heaven forefend that bonfires become a fashionable expression of church authority, we’ll all be screaming: “Stop steamin’ up my tail! Whataya tryin’ ta do, wrinkle it?”
Call me Loony Tunes if you want…
But if one lets them hide behind their walls, the Meaning Police will exploit those on the outside with impunity. They rely on everyone’s bible insecurity in concession to historic interpretive methods. But this path condemns counterarguments to the flaws and failures deep within the historic interpretive assumptions. By conceding their right to measure accuracy, people set up the historic conclusions as the default standard, which really elevates historic understanding in modern minds to biblical infallibility. From here the argument is lost: one cannot challenge doctrinal failures because one has accepted the ideas that created the conclusions.
So when these people start chanting “scripture, scripture, scripture,” realize they are chanting “orthodoxy, orthodoxy, orthodoxy,” believing they have played the ultimate ‘biblical’ trump card. They mean to say that nothing else is scriptural, which is really code for: “We don’t reasonably consider anything that isn’t traditional interpretation handed down for the last 500 years.” They flaunt their intellectual recalcitrance like a badge of purist qualification, emulating the spirit of their intellectual forefather:
“This is my reply to you and to him. It is not my purpose to quarrel with the Jews, nor to learn from them how they interpret or understand scripture; I know all of that very well already.”
(On the Jews and Their Lies, 1543, Vol. 47, Part 1, third paragraph, Martin Luther, Translated by Martin H. Bertram, Fortress Press & Augsburg Fortress 1971.)
Real conversations about church reform are necessarily about interpretive methods, because church structure and practice are built around interpretive conclusions. So if your interpretive method demands authority as justification, the fight is inevitably about who is qualified. There is no such thing as out-authoritating an authority, because he with the most FORCE wins.
This is THE problem with doctrines that create Dictated Good. Dictated Good requires FORCE to achieve. Men must be compelled to get the right answer because objective truth does not exist. Or maybe better said, man’s corrupt nature prevents him from knowing objective truth–which amounts to the same thing. Historically, the guy with the greatest will to use the biggest bonfire won the argument of authority. In the modern age, forcing is limited to social manipulation—at least for now. So for the moment, the conversation merely degenerates into endless scripture stacking and recriminations about Christian authenticity.
For those of you who have suffered spiritual tyranny, this is why when you went to reason about ‘scripture,’ the response was character assassination and accusations of spiritual sedition: you failed to “submit to authority.” No matter the pretense, no matter how broadminded the façade, the conversation is never about bible content. At the root, it is really a fight over who is qualified to dictate and if they are the ones with the office or the historic pedigree, it ain’t you.
The result is trench warfare with the historic lines dug deep into the bedrock of a substance that does not seem malleable. Rodney King says, “Can’t we just all get along?” And the handwringing and argumentative mea culpas begin, scripture stacking done, argument over, status quo is sustained, spiritual tyranny persists. Never once were the Mystic Despots hiding behind ‘scripture’ made responsible for their intellectual passivity, logical slights of hand, doctrinal outcomes, or their impiety.
They get all the benefit of authority but none of the responsibility of their authoritarian outcomes. As long as they can make a claim to orthodoxy, make a claim to “scripture,” all relational breakdowns and ministerial failures are due to the vagaries of “we are all just sinners.”
Everybody else’s bad ideas, bad doctrine, bad theology, is directly responsible for bad actions. But their ideas cannot possibly be at the core of their bad actions. Human failures are not interpretive failures but rather the logical extension of depraved humanity. The truths stand apart eternal and affirmed by the universal failure of humans to live up to a standard they are condemned to fulfill.
This is a masterpiece of demagoguery. The castle is fortified against any assault. Leadership has, with great adroitness, drawn walls around themselves. Up till now these walls have protected them so that no one could hold them responsible for their tyranny, whereby people are enslaved.
First: If it were proposed to admonish them with scriptures, they objected that no one but orthodox theologians (sort of) may stand in the stead of God, for it is the job of commended leadership to correct leadership.
Second: If pressed with external scrutiny, they insist that such conversations can only be motivated by bitterness, gossip, and slander which disqualify the criticism and frees them to summarily refuse review from anyone not submitted to their authority.
Third: All tyranny is attributed to the vagaries of human sinfulness, the humble efforts of good but failed intentions, and morally equivalized by “we are all just sinners.”
Shhhhh…. I’m about to defy you.
The walls seem formidable and the leadership calls down lightning like Elmer Fudd’s unrequited love. But the dirty little secret is they don’t really have a spear and magic helmet.
I guess it is about time to use a little ‘stragedy.’ Dear Spiritual Tyranny Reader, I knight thee Sir Loin of Beef!
Well, what did you expect in an opera? A happy ending?
No rabbits were harmed in the production of this article, but all impressions were mangled. We offer many apologies to Mel Blanc.