Category Archives: culture

Using Mark Driscoll and Robert Morris to teach the fallacy of false dilemma

Mortal pride and earthly glory,

sword and crown betray our trust;

though with care and toil we build them,

tower and temple fall to dust

- Hymn 665, The Hymnal 1982

Last Tuesday’s Warren Throckmorton post reported on Mark Driscoll’s visit to the the Gateway Conference, which was “hosted” by Robert Morris.

A video clip in the post shows Morris saying of Driscoll:

Here’s what I figure. We’ve got two choices. One is we could crucify him. But since someone’s already been crucified for him. The other choice is we could restore him with a spirit of gentleness considering ourselves, lest we are also tempted. It is very sad that in the church we’re the only army that shoots at our wounded.

So, so many problems in the above.

First, the choices are not, “Either crucify Driscoll or restore Driscoll.”

Realistically, when someone has left as much of a wake of destruction as Driscoll, forgiveness, as well as respect and trust, are going to be incremental achievements, not either-or matters. (More on this below.)

Furthermore, you can be certain “we” will not restore Driscoll.

I think more likely (and yes, a bit cynically) Driscoll will be “restored” when he reinvents himself in a new, revenue-generating way that provides him a bully pulpit without requiring him to interact with other humans.

(That ought to be read as a critique of the U.S. religious-celebrity machine, but it might just give the defensive folks a chance to flag my use of “cynically.” Such are the risks of blogging.)

Second, if we’re talking about shooting our wounded, Driscoll did far more shooting, from a far higher perch, with a far larger weapon, than anyone who writes a blog.

As far as I’m concerned, Morris has said, “Driscoll went on a rampage, so let’s make sure people stop picking on him about the disaster he left in his wake, and let’s help him feel better about himself.”

What rampage?, you may rightfully ask. This rampage, and this rampage, and perhaps more importantly, this rampage.

Third, in light of the above-linked rampages, restored to what? And for what?

Faulty Reasoning

If Driscoll had murdered someone, the applauding Gateway Conference folks would have seen no reason to jail him.

As Morris points out, Jesus died for Driscoll.

Apparently, when Jesus has died for you, your fellow Christians shouldn’t say anything unflattering about you.

Unflattering words are certainly less harsh than jail time, so jail time is out of the question.

Ergo, we shouldn’t punish people for whom Jesus died.

We’re all Christians here, so there are no consequences to actions.

I know, despite my sarcastic demonstration of his reasoning, Morris didn’t say that — he only implied no consequences for Driscoll’s actions.

Which is worse.

Good Irrationality, Bad Irrationality

Because religious authority now becomes an endorsement of wildly irrational behavior, not irrational loving-kindness or irrational self-sacrifice, but irrational sanction for nearly anything just because one is powerful.

You see — and we all must pay close attention to this — Morris is using his position as a religious authority and celebrity to neglect common-sense reasoning.

False Choices or False Dilemmas

Are all either-or scenarios wrong? Of course not. I tell my students, “Either you do the paper, or you will not pass the assignment.”

In Driscoll’s case, and in the case of all political and religious leaders, either you behave in a trustworthy manner, or you will not be trusted. Maybe feared, but not trusted.

(At least that should be the case, but religious authority often has a bad way of superseding common sense and decency.)

Seems to me this quotation floating around in my mind — judge a tree by its fruit — ought to have some relevance to people who claim to value the Bible.

That is how I judge the legitimacy of religious authority: look at the real value of its work, of what it produces, or its produce — not its popularity, not its income, not its ability to turn out voters, not its ability to fill up a Gateway Conference.

So maybe there is at least a third option available to use beyond Morris’ false dilemma. Maybe we can take a wait-and-see approach.

Sure, Driscoll might lose some income and take a dip on the Internet-buzz matrix — and those are crucial matters for eternity-minded people, of course.

But rest assured. Time will be the judge of his character.

So no, Robert Morris, I do not have to choose, and no one else has to choose, between Driscoll having religious authority or Driscoll being figuratively slaughtered by my hand.

Furthermore, as comments on Throckmorton’s blog have noted, respect and trust are much, much different from forgiveness.

Maybe the most damaging and dangerous false dilemma in this entire scenario is this: either trust and respect Driscoll, or fail to forgive him.

‘still frantically concerned…to keep thought separate from the exigencies of the flesh’

quotation by Steven Shaviro from


Compare what Shaviro says with the information on Pietro Torrigiani’s marble bust “Christ the Savior.” Consider physicality and materiality, and wonder about the default modes of anti-materiality and anti-physicality within Western culture and sub-cultures.

As Mark Driscoll resigned, no one mentioned ethical concerns

“Pastor Mark has never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy.” — Mars Hill Board of Overseers

“Prior to and during this process there have been no charges of criminal activity, immorality or heresy, any of which could clearly be grounds for disqualification from pastoral ministry.” — Pastor Mark Driscoll

I cannot believe the audacity of Mars Hill Church. Maybe a leader really does say everything about an organization.

In the above quotations from Pastor Mark Driscoll’s letter of resignation and the Board of Overseers’ response, the reader is reassured Driscoll has done nothing immoral, illegal, or heretical.

The implication, which I’ll say more about later, seems to be that Driscoll is leaving just because he was mean a few times.

But common sense should indicate much more is at stake here.

Driscoll was unethical, and ethical concerns should bother anyone as much as immorality, illegality, and heresy.

Nothing in the letters mentioned Driscoll’s unethical plagiarism as defined in the Chicago Manual of Style, or the MLA Handbook, or the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.

As a writer, Driscoll should not be considered trustworthy. Compare his behavior, as a man with a bachelors degree in communications, with these old ethical guidelines.

Less love for Benedict


Near the museum of Rome. I noticed John Paul II and Francis souvenirs far more than Benedict XVI. I saw a postcard with images of John Paul II and Francis but not Benedict.

Christ busted




George Will is an atheist??

Colin Foote Burch:

I had read George Will was an agnostic, but that was several years ago. I know he had given a favorable blurb to the Roman Catholic magazine New Oxford Review, and had mentioned C.S. Lewis somewhat favorably in his column collection, “The Pursuit of Happiness and Other Tory Notions.” As for pro-life atheism, he has at least one other fellow traveler, Nat Hentoff.

Originally posted on Why Evolution Is True:

How many of you thought George Will was a Catholic? I bet it’s not only me.  He’s long been a politically conservative columnist critical of “pro-choice” people, and I swear that, when I lived in the Washington, D.C. area, it was “common knowledge” that will was a Catholic.

But common knowledge was wrong. Will is in fact a longtime atheist, and although I generally dislike his conservative views (he has some progressive ones, too), I give him credit for saying he’s not an agnostic, but a genuine atheist.

Or so he admits in an interview on baseball, politics, and faith at Real Clear Religion. The interview ranges widely, including Will’s favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, but here’s what is of interest to us.

RCR: Do you believe in God?

GW: No. I’m an atheist. An agnostic is someone who is not sure; I’m pretty sure. I…

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Florence Postcard: Inside the dome of the Florence Cathedral


On the way up 400-plus steps to the top of Florence Cathedral, a loop around a narrow interior gallery provides a closer look at the dome.



Florence Postcard: From the Top of the Cathedral


NBC cameraman tests positive for Ebola; Dr Nancy Snyderman quarantined

Colin Foote Burch:

Two nights ago, Snyderman spent part of her Nightly News segment demonstrating how she and others prepared to enter an Ebola ward: a body suit with a mask and goggles. Presumably, the cameraman was suited up, too.

Originally posted on Twitchy:

An NBC cameraman working in Liberia is now the fourth American to test positive for the Ebola virus.

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‘We’re not the worst thing we’ve ever done in our lives’ — and yet sometimes distancing oneself is ethical

Today I un-friend-ed my Facebook connection Kirk Nesset, an English professor at Allegheny College and a well-known figure among academic writing programs.

Nesset is facing federal child pornography charges, which I learned about after Sandra Beasley, an award-winning poet, blogged her dismay with Nesset’s admitted behavior.

Beasley says:

As I write this, [Nesset and I] share 710 “friends” on Facebook, which essentially represents our overlap in the writing community. Many of those writers are parents who unhesitatingly post snapshots of their kids in various stages of dress. They deserve to know, and so I will link to this on Facebook.

She admirably has taken responsibility for her possible role in exposing anyone to risk. Compare that to the apparent irresponsibility of Sovereign Grace Ministries founder C.J. Mahaney and his own brother-in-law when another man’s sexual abuse of children was revealed.

Beasley goes on to write:

There’s been anxiety and anger in our community as of late because of transgressions–some alleged, some confirmed–of one writer against another, with accusations that a cloak of protective silence has come down around the perpetrator due to his or her popularity and/or influence. I’ve stayed out of it. That choice, I realize with some embarrassment, is a luxury of not knowing any of the parties involved. I have no such luxury here. I have implicitly endorsed Kirk by making friendly introductions over the years; I have offered explicit endorsements by sending students his way.

What an outstanding confession. I mean, of course Beasley had nothing to do with Nesset’s extremely harmful behavior. Yet she realizes that even unwittingly placing someone in harm’s way obligates her to speak out.

Compare Beasley’s approach to that of Pastor Mark Driscoll, the self-anointed moral authority who has verbally and emotionally abused people, in a sense becoming harm himself.

I noticed in comments on Warren Throckmorton’s blog people who were saying, in various forms, forgiveness is one thing, but trust and respect are other matters. Similarly, Beasley quotes former Sen. Bob Kerry, who recently told a reporter, “We’re not the worst thing we’ve ever done in our lives, and there’s a tendency to think we are.”

That, to me, is not the biggest issue when numerous other lives are damaged by an influential person. To me, the biggest issue is, as Beasley says, “a cloak of protective silence has come down around the perpetrator due to his or her popularity and/or influence.” She’s making a broad comment here, not referring specifically to Nesset, but she is explaining a tendency within social groups and professional groups to give leaders and high-profile banner-carriers special privilege.

With that in mind, I think this is one of Beasley’s most important points:

The eccentric good-ness of this writing community has seen me through many a dark night.

We owe it to each other to shepherd that goodness, and that means recognizing when something has gone very wrong.


U2 says what some former Mars Hill Church members need to hear from Mark Driscoll

“I thought I heard the captain’s voice / It’s hard to listen while you preach.”

– U2, from “Every Breaking Wave”

The captain’s voice might be God’s voice. The narrator reflects on a time when he thought he was hearing from God. Then the narrator laments preaching more than listening.

Bono and The Edge share songwriting credits on all the lyrics for the new album, Songs of Innocence, on which “Every Breaking Wave” appears.

Biden On Domestic Violence: ‘The NFL Hasn’t Seen Nothing Yet’

Colin Foote Burch:

Yes, “it is cowardly not to step up” when another man is assaulting a woman.

Originally posted on CBS DC:

WASHINGTON (AP) – Vice President Joe Biden said Friday the nation needs to bring young men into the struggle against domestic violence by encouraging them to stand against the crime on college campuses.

Biden, speaking at a meeting of the Democratic National Committee’s women’s leadership forum, said the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act highlights the need to fight domestic violence against women in their teens and 20s.

Biden said the administration would be unrelenting “to make it clear that it is cowardly not to step up.”

“There is an absolute obligation, a moral obligation, to step up and intervene and say something,” Biden said.

President Barack Obama and Biden were unveiling a campaign Friday to target domestic violence on college campuses. The vice president also was holding a round-table discussion on domestic violence later in the day in Denver, where he planned a fundraiser for Democrat Andrew…

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Better Teachers Receive Worse Student Evaluations

Originally posted on HBR Blog Network - Harvard Business Review:

A 1-standard-deviation increase in university teachers’ effectiveness in boosting student performance reduces the students’ evaluations of their professors’ teaching quality by about half of a standard deviation, on average — enough to significantly reduce the teachers’ percentile ranking at the university, says a team led by Michela Braga of Bocconi University in Italy. Students, especially the least able, appear to respond negatively in their evaluations to the extra effort that good teachers require of them, a finding that casts doubt on universities’ reliance on student evaluations to inform faculty-promotion decisions. The researchers also found that student evaluations improve when there is fog and as the weather gets warmer, and they deteriorate on rainy days.

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CNN International: ‘Skeletons found “holding hands” after 700 years’

‘When the church is where the war is’

Hope is where the door is

When the church is where the war is

Where no one can feel no one else’s pain

– U2, “Sleep Like A Baby Tonight,” Songs of Innocence

Living well is not a gift from God (but the ability to live well is): Seneca on God & wisdom

I should start with three quick notes on Seneca’s relevance in Christian history because some background will give reasons for considering his writings as relevant to thinking about God.

First, a general assessment of Seneca’s point of view in relation to Christianity:

His [Seneca's] writings represent Stoicism at its best and have been much studied by Christian apologists for the similarities as well as the contrasts of their moral teaching with the Gospel ethic.  — The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

Second, John Calvin’s interest in Seneca:

In 1532 he [John Calvin] issued a Latin commentary on Seneca’s ‘De Clementia’. — The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

And third, a translator’s note on Seneca’s importance to four Christian thinkers:

While scholars and schoolmasters in the century following continued to condemn Seneca, early Christians were taking to this kindred spirit among pagan writers, so many of who ideas and attitudes they felt able to adopt and share. Anthologies were made of him and he was frequently quoted by such writers as Jerome, Lactantius and Augustine. Tertullian called him saepe noster, ‘often one of us’.  — Robin Campbell, in the introduction to his translation of Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic

Furthermore, as Campbell also notes, Dante frequently quotes Seneca.

So, as I was recently reading Seneca’s Letter XC, I came across something that helped me think about what God does and what God doesn’t do for humans.

In a way, the following passage sounds like an overview of the biblical book of Proverbs.

From Seneca’s Letter XC, as translated by Campbell:

“Who can doubt, my dear Lucilius, that life is the gift of the immortal gods, but that living well is the gift of philosophy? A corollary of this would be the certain conclusion that our debt to philosophy is greater than the debt we owe to the gods (by just so much as a good life is more of a blessing than, simply, life) had it not been for the fact that philosophy itself was something borrowed by the gods. They have given no one the present of a knowledge of philosophy, but everyone the means of acquiring it. For if they had made philosophy a blessing, given to all and sundry, if we were born in a state of moral enlightenment, wisdom would have been deprived of the best thing about her — that she isn’t one of the things which fortune either gives us or doesn’t. As things are, there is about wisdom a nobility and magnificence in the fact that she doesn’t just fall to a person’s lot, that each man owes her to his own efforts, that one doesn’t go to anyone other than oneself to find her. What would have have worth looking up to in philosophy if she were handed out free?

“Philosophy has the single task of discovering the truth about the divine and human worlds. The religious conscience, the sense of duty, justice and all the rest of the close-knit, interdependent ‘company of virtues’, never leave her side. Philosophy has taught men to worship what is divine, to love what is human, telling us that with the gods belong authority, and among human beings fellowship.”

My takeaway:

Life is a gift from God. Living well is a gift of philosophy. Philosophy is also a gift from God, and philosophy has taught us to worship “what is divine.” But living well is not a gift from God. We must engage philosophy to learn how to live well.

The Penguin Classics edition of Letters from a Stoic, selected, introduced, and translated by Robin Campbell

“Letters from a Stoic” by Seneca, translated by Robin Campbell

For those who left Mars Hill Church, and for those who stayed, and for Mark Driscoll

The song isn’t part of the brand-new album, but the lyrics say everything about where the human race is right now and especially about the controversial culture within the Mars Hill Church organization as led by Mark Driscoll.

That’s because “ordinary love” is a great goal, and when people strive to become more meaningful than ordinary love, they somehow become worse as humans beings.

Ordinary love needs to be the baseline, the ground, the default, the aspiration. Don’t tell me you have something more until you’ve proven you understand this.