Friday, October 26, 2012

Part One of Thousands in Response to Steve's Rebuttal Post

Ok, I don't really intend to address all of the myriad points in my friend Steve's latest divorce-related post (link to his post).  Nor do I intend to address only one here.  I'll start at the beginning and get as far as I can in a reasonable amount of time.  Steve is a resourceful and astute thinker, so it's worth considering his points, even when my opinion is that they are in error.

Steve states: "TFan has posted a 2-part response to my discussion of divorce vis-à-vis domestic violence. In this post I’ll reply to part 1"  But actually the post to which Steve is responding is my own positive case.  It doesn't aim or claim to interact with anything Steve wrote.  Steve's wrongly framing my post.

Steve states: "Divorce is not the only thing the Lord hates. Given what God says about marriage in Eph 5 (to take one example), I’m sure that God also hates domestic violence."
a) Steve uses the term "domestic violence" without defining it.  Clearly God does not hate the corporal punishment of children, which falls within the scope of contemporary definitions of "domestic violence."  On the other hand, clearly God hates all sin, including spousal abuse (whether violent or non-violent).
b) In the context of this discussion, though, raising the fact that God hates sin that occurs within the marriage is red herring.  All parties agree to that.

Steve states: "TFan doesn’t seem to grasp the nature of case law, even though I already went over that ground."
a) Steve has leaped to a conclusion that isn't warranted.  While Steve does word it tentatively, this is supposedly the leading example of "several serious problems" in my post.
b) Steve is continuing to treat my positive post as though it were a response to him.
c) Steve's own understanding of the case law needs refinement, as we've seen in the last post and as we may see below also.
d) Whether or not I grasp the nature of the Torah is actually not the issue.  It's not about me (or Steve), it's about the truth.

Steve states: "OT case law is illustrative rather than exhaustive. It doesn’t cover every conceivable situation. Rather, when an issue arose which wasn’t specifically addressed in the Mosaic law, Jewish judges had to extrapolate from the nearest applicable law."

a) My comments don't deny that.  You don't have to think that the Torah was exhaustive in order to identify the absence of a particular concept in Hebrew law.
b) Moreover, amongst the provisions of the Torah is a provision that limited judicial legislation:
Deuteronomy 4:2
Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.
Deuteronomy 12:32
What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.
Steve continues: "So TFan’s argument from silence is fallacious."
a) Steve's wrong about claiming that this in argument from silence.  My statement was: "There was no category of women divorcing their husbands."  Steve can try to claim that this is a fillable gap in the Torah that judges could extrapolate into, but he can't reasonably deny the fact that the category wasn't there. My comment is a factual observation, not an argument from silence.
b) And, of course, see Deuteronomy 4:2 and 12:32.  There were restraints on judicial legislation.  That's a positive argument from a written rule.

Steve continues: "Notice that TFan doesn’t even attempt to show that my explanation of case law is false. He simply ignores it."
a) Again, Steve is acting like my post was a responsive post, rather than the positive presentation that it was.
b) And, of course, not all of Steve's observations about the Torah were false.  Some of them are just irrelevant (like the fact that judges had to extrapolate in certain cases).

Steve continues: "I find it disappointing that he refuses to argue in good faith. When he raises an objection, and I present a counterargument, it’s incumbent on him to acknowledge and interact with the counterargument. For him to simply repeat the same objection, as if no response was offered, is intellectually frivolous."
a) I wasn't offering an objection in the post in question, as noted several times above.  I was making a positive case.
b) Given that Steve is clearly aware of my second post (the one that addressed his arguments), it's strange for him to act as though I didn't offer responses to his arguments.
c) I hope that Steve doesn't think that interacting with some of his arguments somehow intellectually commits me to responding to all of his arguments.  If so, he may be in for further disappointment.

Steve continues:
ii) In addition, I presented another counterargument. To quote myself:

To begin with, the complementarian position is that masculine nouns and pronouns can include women. That follows both from the conventions grammatical gender and generic masculine usage as well as the theological fact that men can function in a representative capacity for women.

For instance, the soteriological and eschatological promises (or threats) of Scripture are often addressed to male referents, yet they implicitly include women. Women as well as men can be saved or damned.

Of course, masculine language is sometimes used to single out males. But there’s no presumption to that effect. Rather, that’s context-dependent.
a) That's not a counter-argument.  It's an observation about a rule of grammar/syntax without an application of the rule to the particular case.  The fact that sometimes (or even often) a male is used as an example for both male and female is quite true.
b) A counter-argument would have a next step of showing why in a particular verse a masculine noun or pronoun must be understood generically.
c) Steve seems to be setting up a polemical idea that there is only one complementarian position.  But, of course, there are a range of complementarian positions, ranging from a highly patriarchical to highly feminist.

 Steve continues:
i) In his latest response to me, TFan blows right past that. Once again, it’s disappointing when he refuses to argue in good faith.

ii) In addition, he’s arguing like a feminist or egalitarian. “Evangelical feminists” deny generic masculine usage. They assume that all grammatically masculine usage is gender-specific and gender-exclusive. TFan seems to share the same understanding. I find it odd that he’s siding with feministic hermeneutics.

iii) Regarding Deut 24:1-4: if you read it carefully, this statute didn’t authorize men to divorce their wives.

This statute doesn’t institute, command, or condone divorce. It’s really about remarriage after divorce rather than divorce proper. It takes a certain custom for granted, then protects the divorcée against certain consequences of the customary divorce.
a) It's a little dull for Steve to continue to harp on not getting enough responsive attention from me in my positive presentation of my position.  It's worse than dull for Steve to suggest that it is somehow "bad faith" for me to offer a positive presentation, rather than a rebuttal of his views.  But, at least I'm offering one now, so hopefully he can feel less disappointed (though see above, I'm not committing to answering every comment he may ever make).
b) Whether I'm arguing "like a feminist or egalitarian" only matters if they argue wrongly.  Instead of trying to tar me with association to them, perhaps Steve can focus on the actual arguments.
c) Instead of actually engaging the argument I wrote, Steve sticks a position in my mouth that I didn't take.  I didn't assert that "all grammatically masculine usage is gender-specific and gender-exclusive."  Steve's arguing against a straw man.
d) Whether or not Deuteronomy 24:1-4 authorizes men to divorce their wives, or merely regulates that divorce is mostly immaterial.  I didn't argue that it authorizes men to divorce their wives.  I will point out that the KJV and the ESV have different interpretations of the underlying Hebrew text (they also differ on the Malachi passage I quoted in my positive presentation).
e) It's worth noting, though, that Steve's interpretation of Deuteronomy 24 differs not only from the rabbinical views but also from Jesus' view.  Jesus stated:
Matthew 19:8
He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
Steve continued:
iv) To take a comparison, the Mosaic law doesn’t ban prostitution across the board. Although prostitution is a sin, not all sins are crimes.

Rather, the Mosaic law takes the status quo (i.e. social reality of prostitution) for granted, then restricts it. Jews are forbidden from being prostitutes.

Likewise, Deut 24:1-4 doesn’t legitimate the right of a husband to divorce his wife under those circumstances. Rather, it takes the status quo (i.e. customary divorce) for granted, then limits remarriage under those circumstances–apparently to limit the harm done to the divorcée, who was divorced against her will.

v) Likewise, it doesn’t address divorce in general, but a very special case.
a) Steve's comparison is largely irrelevant to the discussion.  Yes, the law only outlawed the act of serving as a prostitute (by an Israelite) and not the act of hiring a prostitute.  And yes, that does not imply that it is ok to go in unto a prostitute, or even that it is morally upright to do so.
b) Perhaps the one relevant part is that Steve is setting up one of my rebuttal points.  Specifically, just because something is a sin does not mean that the law addresses it or provides sanctions for it.  To wit, spousal abuse is a very heinous sin, but that does not mean or imply that the OT law provides a sanction for it.
c) Moreover, Steve seems to recognize that there was not to be gap-filling to address the cases of the alien prostitutes or the men who hired prostitutes.  This reinforces the need for Steve to show why gap-filling or extrapolation is justified in the particular case he has in mind.
d) Whether Deuteronomy 24:1-4 addresses divorce in general may be a disputed point, but it seems like a totally irrelevant point.

I had written:

This is important to remember when dealing with the text of Scripture. It is easy to anachronistically apply contemporary cultural norms to the text. In an age when people are redefining marriage to include reference to same sex couples, one might think that Christians would be on their guard to remember that this is not the first redefinition of marriage.
Steve responds:

That’s a nice exercise in well-poisoning. Remember, though, that the question at issue is whether wife-battery is grounds for divorce. Is that “redefining” marriage? Does TFan think wife-battery figures in the original definition of marriage, which contemporary cultural norms are trying to redefine out of marriage?
a) As noted numerous times above, my post was a positive presentation, not a rebuttal.
b) Well-poisoning is probably a better description of Steve's repeated assertions early on that he's dealing with a disputant who is not arguing in good faith or suggesting that I'm using a feminist hermeneutic.
c) And, of course, the "question at issue" for Steve is not the question at issue in the post he's responding to. He's not dealing with the positive presentation, he's treating the post as though it is responding to his position (while simultaneously complaining that it is not responding to his position).
d) Steve's question is tendentious at best.  More to the point, he's again suggesting arguments/positions as mine that I haven't made.  And he's choosing inflammatory arguments without good contextual basis.
e) To wit, in context "This is important to remember" relates to what I wrote immediately above that line, which had nothing to do with "wife-battery," as Steve ought to have picked up on.
f) And, of course, the original (Garden of Eden) definition of marriage is not obviously at issue.  At issue is the definition of marriage at the writing of the Torah.  The question is how to interpret the Torah, not what the pre-Fall ideal of marriage was.
g) Was wife-beating a cultural norm at that time?  I wonder what Steve's response on that point is.  In contemporary times it has a massive negative social stigma that it did not have in America 400 years ago.  Clearly it did not have that stigma in 7th century Arabia.  Now, I'm certainly not suggesting that 1600's colonial America or 7th century Arabia is the cultural context of the Torah.  Since Steve has raised that question, what does he think the cultural norm was, and what's his basis for thinking that?
h) But, of course, my comment (in context) was a reflection on the fact that the family was a patriarchy.  Husband and wife did not have equal rights in general - the husband was the ruler.  Today, the cultural milieu is on the feministic side of egalitarian.  In that time, the only category of divorce was of a husband putting away his wife.

Unfortunately, Steve post goes on and on (or perhaps fortunately, Steve is an excellent thinker and it's always enjoyable to read his posts, even when they are critical of what I write).  I lack the time at the present to deal with every error that he makes or to highlight the many points of agreement between us.


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