Doug Dawkins in “Birds of a Feather”

On the White Horse Inn blog, Michael Horton has an excellent piece on the criticism of The New Atheists from within. One of their own, Terry Eagleton, wrote a book in 2009 criticizing The New Atheists’ approach to combating the Christian tradition. As I read the post, the New Atheists’–especially Richard Dawkins’–problems are twofold: ignorance and arrogance. Or as Horton more nicely puts it, they get Christianity wrong, and their smug rationalism allows them to ignore the realities that otherwise militate against their position.

As I was reading this post on Ron Paul, I couldn’t help but think the same thing about the Federal Visionaries, particularly Doug Wilson. In this note, Wilson takes Paul to task on an abortion question. Here’s what he writes:

In response to this question, Ron Paul said that a woman who is raped should go to an emergency room immediately, and get a shot of estrogen, which would prevent the implantation of a conceived child in the uterine wall. Further, he said that he would administer that shot of estrogen. Piers Morgan, astonished, said that he thought Ron Paul believed life begins at conception. Ron Paul said that he did, but that we don’t know at that point whether the woman is pregnant.

This, in effect, was saying that if we don’t know if someone is living in a room then it must be okay to fill it up with poison gas.

Wow. I can’t say that I would defend Ron Paul’s comments in this interview (especially since the context is missing), but is this what Paul is really advocating? Is there really a direct, iron-clad moral equivalency between filling a hopefully empty room with poison gas and what Paul is suggesting here (again, we are without context)? There may well be a moral equivalency, but I assure you that it is not as iron clad nor direct as Wilson would have us believe. What if the question to Ron Paul asked for his advice to pro-choice women theoretically living in a state that outlaws abortion? In such a context, the estrogen shot might exploit a loophole available to pro-choice women who had been victims of rape. In such a case, would one woman’s actions, especially as it represents all the babies not aborted in that state, really be a moral defeat for the pro-life cause? How would such advice compare to the use of regular birth control shots or pills? Don’t they work essentially the same way? And what about the burden of the woman in terms of the pregnancy itself? Wilson is totally mute on that point, even though I’m sure he’d affirm the reality of the curse made against Eve in Genesis 3. There may very well be answers to all of these questions. But skipping them only exacerbates the problem. It doesn’t solve it.

And yet that’s exactly what Wilson would have us do. In reminiscing on a recent speaking engagement, he writes,

When I was in Minneapolis last week, we had a number of really edifying conversations in the context of the speakers’ dinners. One of the most edifying was the last one, where John Piper and I spent a lot of time exulting in (get this) the law of identity. A is A. A is A means that A is not something else, like B, for instance. And those who want it to be something else, or a little bit fuzzier for them, are trying to escape accountability. They don’t want to be held to the terms of the argument — whether we are talking about their own argument or someone else’s.

This pro-life issue is one of the reasons I know that God expects us to grow up into the maturity of logical precision.

I’m glad (not really) that everything is so black-and-white for Wilson. And that he has firsthand knowledge of God’s expectations for our capacities for logic (pass the prooftexts, please). But for the rest of us mere humans, we rarely have the luxury of being so glib about the moral-spiritual dilemmas of life. At worst, we might have to counsel a woman who has been raped. At the very least, I will likely have to preach a sermon series one day on the life of David or Moses or Jacob. Talk about moral ambiguity! And for the record, my elders will be there to keep me accountable.

In my mind, this rationalistic approach to straw men and inconvenience characterizes well the Federal Vision approach to theology and the church. They argue all baptized people, even libertines living in open sin, are Christians. After all, aren’t married men who cheat on their wives still married? Sure. But you can only draw that line if you ignore the fact that unfaithful-yet-baptized Christians usually have never taken vows, and yet married men have. They argue that Adam, even prior to his fall, lived by faith in the covenant promises of God, i.e. not by works. After all, isn’t God the same yesterday, today, and forever? Sure. But what about the fact that the voice of God walked in the garden in the cool of the day, looking for Adam and Eve, especially in light of the definition of faith in Heb. 11:1? What about the fact that the covenant of works in Reformed orthodoxy technically includes both grace (in its establishment) and works (in its conditions)? Sadly, none of Wilson’s literature addresses these problems, and yet it goes on to make it’s Visionary claims all the same, stealing the name “Reformed” along the way.

Richard Dawkins would be proud.

Takes One to Know One?

Today, I finally got around to reading some of the material surrounding atheist Christopher Hitchens’ death, and I came across the obituary by Doug Wilson in Christianity Today. As with most of the material surrounding the death of The Atheist’s Atheist, Wilson’s words were circumspect but complimentary, cordial but cautionary. Several remarks, however, struck me in particular. At one point, Wilson writes,

…we were thrown together in a number of situations. One time we shared a panel in Dallas, and I told the crowd there that if Christopher and I were not careful, we were in danger of becoming friends. During the time we spent together, he never said an unkind thing to me—except on stage, up in front of everybody. After doing this, he didn’t wink at me, but he might as well have.

Obviously, Wilson separated the public Hitchens from the private one. The public Hitchens was an enemy, very versatile with tongue and pen. The private Hitchens was almost a friend, definitely an intellectual traveling companion (albeit hoeing a different row). How could these two personae exist in one man? Wilson actually resolves the tension a few paragraphs earlier. Concerning Hitchens’ caustic polemic and vitriol, Wilson writes,

But this was all part of Christopher’s very public rhetorical strategy, not a function of an inability to domesticate a surly temperament. He was actually an affable and pleasant dinner companion, and fully capable of being the perfect gentleman. He was fully aware of the authority an enfant terrible could have, provided he played his cards right, and this was a strategy that Hitchens employed very well indeed. One man who delivers a terrible insult is banned from television for life, and another man, who does the same thing, has people lining up with invitations and microphones. In case anyone is wondering, Christopher was that second man.

So in private, Hitchens was quite respectful (at least of opponents he considered intellectually worth his while), but his public persona as a hostile atheist nurtured his speaking and writing career, thus paying the bills. Fascinating.

I wonder if we learn as much about Wilson in this obituary as we do about Hitchens.

If you think about it, Wilson’s career represents a rough parallel to Hitchens’. Concerning the latter, Wilson himself observes, “A defining characteristic of his life was a willingness to break with the last group he was identified with. Whenever Orwell’s ‘smelly little orthodoxies’ began to develop, Christopher would be down the road.” Hmmm. Didn’t the name of Wilson’s church go from Community Evangelical Fellowship to Christ Church? Isn’t Wilson a Westminster man, with just enough exceptions to keep any confessionally Reformed denomination from ever ordaining him? And speaking of enfants terrible, hasn’t Wilson built a publishing empire on being just a little bit (to be read: a lot) different than your average Presbyterian? A little more satirical? A little more classical (not theologically, of course)? A little bit smarter?

Call me Ruby Cornpone, but if you ask me, it takes one to know one.