CTBHHM: In Which Debi Poisons the Well

Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 49-51

Dear Debi,

How can I have a merry heart when my husband treats me harshly? Do I just pretend he is a good man instead of a lazy, TV-watching, selfish jerk? Do I just let him walk on me? How can I have a merry heart when all I feel is pain?

Linda

Debi’s response is typical of what we have seen so far:

Dear Linda,

You have two choices. You can doubt God and say, “I know God does not expect me to honor this man.” Or, you can say, “God, I know your Word teaches me to be a woman who is there to help meet all my husband’s desires and dreams. Make me that woman.”

Debi does not mince words. Women exist to meet their husband’s “desires and dreams.” End of story. One thing I will say for Debi: she doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to dress up her teachings to make them more palatable.

A woman’s calling is not easy. To allow someone else to control your life is much harder than taking control of it yourself.

Interestingly, it’s not clear from context whether this sentence refers to a woman letting her husband control her life or a woman letting God control her life, and that very fact is revealing to how often God and husband get all intermingled and coagulated in Debi’s writing and instructions.

It doesn’t take a good man, or even a saved man, for a woman to have a heavenly marriage, but it does take a woman willing to honor God by being the kind of wife God intended. It takes one woman willing to be a help meet — a suitable helper. If you look at your husband and can’t find any reason to want to help him — and I know some of you are married to men like that — then look to Christ and know that it is He who made you to be a help meet. You serve Christ by serving your husband, whether your husband deserves it or not.

The more I read of Debi the more clear it is that she really is suggesting that women can create perfect marriages by themselves. Debi says that women can have a “heavenly marriage” even with a man who doesn’t want to cooperate in creating such a marriage. And finally, she says once again that women obey God when they obey their husbands, and, too, that they must “serve” their husbands whether they feel their husbands deserve it, and even whether their husbands have any redeeming qualities at all.

Women exist to serve men. Check. Women can make their marriages perfect on their own. Check. Obedience to your husband is obedience to God. Check. A wife must serve her husband whether he has any good in him or not. Check. Sadly, this is all typical Debi and really shouldn’t come as a surprise if you’ve been reading my reviews over the past couple of months.

What I want to focus on here is something slightly different: Debi’s use of a fallacy called poisoning the well.

POISONING THE WELL

Description: To commit a pre-emptive ad hominem attack against an opponent.  That is, to prime the audience with adverse information about the opponent from the start, in an attempt to make your claim more acceptable, or discount the credibility of your opponent’s claim.

Logical Form:

Adverse information (be it true or false) about person 1 is presented.

Therefore, the claim(s) of person 1 will be false.

Example #1:

Tim: Boss, you heard my side of the story why I think Bill should be fired and not me.  Now, I am sure Bill is going to come to you with some pathetic attempt to weasel out of this lie that he has created.

Explanation: Tim is poisoning the well by priming his boss by attacking Bill’s character, and setting up any defense Bill might present as “pathetic”.  Tim is committing the fallacy here, but if the boss were to accept Tim’s advice about Bill, she, too, would be committing the fallacy.

Example #2:

I hope I presented my argument clearly.  Now, my opponent will attempt to refute my argument by his own fallacious, incoherent, illogical version of history.

Explanation: Not a very nice setup for the opponent.  As an audience member, if you allow any of this “poison” to affect how you evaluate the opponent’s argument, you are guilty of fallacious reasoning.

Exception: Remember that if a person states facts relevant to the argument, it is not an ad hominem attack.  In the first example, if the other “poison” were left out, no fallacy would be committed.

Tim: Boss, you heard my side of the story why I think Bill should be fired and not me.  Now, I am sure Bill is going to come to you with his side of the story, but please keep in mind that we have two witnesses to the event who both agree that Bill was the one who told the client that she had ugly children.

Now that you have a basic understanding of the “poisoning the well” fallacy, let’s return to Debi. Remember that Debi has just finished telling reader Linda that it is her duty to obediently serve her husband whether she likes him or not.

Women who have difficulties in their marriages usually follow their feelings and just react. But you must stop trusting your hurt responses or the advice you receive from the world, for today’s media communicates a worldview that is skewed at best.

Here Debi tells women that they can’t trust their feelings and they shouldn’t trust the advice they receive from the world. Your friend tells you your husband is abusive? You can’t trust that! A counselor tells you you’re codependent? That’s just the world talking! Ignore it! Sadly, this sort of thing is all too common in fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism, and it allows pastors and people like Debi to keep their followers from looking beyond their insular world for information by creating and fostering inherent distrust of any other information.

And on the next page, Debi does it again:

Now, before we go any further, we must first consider a pertinent matter. You must come to terms with the fact that the biblical well from which I would have you drink this living water has already been put off limits in your mind by timid Bible teachers who have themselves never tasted the gift of a heavenly marriage.

There are many books written by men, “scholars,” that undermine the beauty of a woman’s help meet position. They do so by casting doubt on the Bible itself. They talk in elaborate and “learned” terms about “the original languages” and the “cultural settings” in which the words of scripture were written. … [They would] block [the] way to the well of water that produces heavenly marriages.

Debi is warning her readers that there are Christians out there, including Biblical scholars who use big fancy words, who will argue that the Bible says something different about women’s roles. Debi is preemptively informing her readers that those scholars are wrong, and that they are out to mislead women and keep them from obtaining “heavenly marriages.”

And once again, this is something common in fundamentalist and conservative evangelical circles. As an evangelical child, for example, I was taught that “liberal Christians” were clueless dupes at best and cunning villains out to destroy God’s truth at worst. In this way, fundamentalist and conservative evangelical pastors work to make sure their followers view the words and arguments of progressive Christians and Bible scholars as treacherous songs of a siren to be avoided at all costs. In other words, they work to ensure that their followers will not even listen to, much less consider,the arguments of progressive Christians and Bible scholars.

See, Debi knows that the ideas that she is putting forward compete with other ideas, and that her voice is only one among many, both in society at large and also within Christianity. In order to make sure that her readers listen to her and not to these other voices, she poisons the well. Her goal is to make sure that when her readers hear other ideas and opinions they will say “we were warned against you, and taught to see you as the false prophet you are.” In other words, Debi is not simply stating that she knows there are other arguments and she thinks they are wrong. Rather, she is laying the groundwork to ensure that her readers will not even be willing to listen to those other arguments. And in this way, she is seeking to create a captive audience, an audience willing to listen only to her, an audience that will immediately reject any counter-arguments without even offering them a hearing.

CTBHHM: What "Companionship" Means in Pearl World
CTBHHM: Playing Telephone with God
CTBHHM: Blessings and Vessels
CTBHHM: A Young Wife Should Be "Bored and Lonely"
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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