Tomorrow’s Easter treat is going to be a fisking of a post written by a Christian leader who insists that we should let his tribe proselytize the tar out of us because they think Jesus totally changes people and improves them for the better, and they want to help us find that change and improvement just like they have. I thought it’d be funny to talk about one case where that’s completely true. You can see the divine Jesus Aura illuminating this man’s life and see for yourself how amazingly transformed he’s been by the love of his god. Friends, marvel as I present to you: Douglas Wilson, the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ who’ll change your mind about the effectiveness of fundagelical doctrines.
We talked about Douglas Wilson a long time ago. He was mentioned in passing as a Christian who thought that slavery was a wonderful thing for black people. Especially in the right wing of the religion, there’s a growing number of Christians who hold that view and go to special pains to make slavery sound like it wasn’t quite so bad.
Slavery apologetics has one foot planted firmly in the extreme racism of fundagelicalism, itself a product of Deep South slavery-advocating Christians from before the Civil War. Its other foot may well be set deep in the dungheap of apologetics itself.
Inerrancy Means That Part Too.
Fundagelicals think that the Bible is not only totally literally true (rather than at least parts of it being true only in a metaphorical sense, as many other Christians believe), but also inerrant–meaning that every one of its stories is perfect and reflective of a perfect god. They also tend to believe that the Bible is not only descriptive of the times of its various anonymous authors, but also prescriptive, meaning that it’s meant to be an instruction guide for people even today. And last, they consider it authoritative, which means that fundagelicals think that they have been commanded by their god to live according to those prescriptions, and thus disobeying any of those orders is a sin. (Also, all sins, no matter how minor or serious they are, have only one punishment: eternal torture in Hell without reprieve, escape, pardon, or hope. And if a fundagelical stops believing any of this nonsense, that’s a sin too.)
Most people would look at that list of attributes and immediately think of some big problems with viewing any ancient mythology system in this bizarre way. But fundagelicals have been raised and indoctrinated to actively avoid critically examining the system. Many lack the skills entirely, while others compartmentalize their minds to avoid allowing those skills access to their beliefs.
So when someone brings up something in the Bible that is very obviously wrong–either morally or factually–then a fundagelical who believes in all those attributes has to do a lot of dancing mentally to keep their beliefs intact.
Thankfully, their indoctrination has provided them with some nearly-foolproof tactics.
They can of course find some way to totally invalidate the person bringing up that information. Ad hominems are one of their favorite counter-attacks, but there are a lot of others. All they need to do is declare that the dissenter sounds kinda angry, and suddenly they don’t even have to hear what the dissent was about.
They can counter the information with something out of the Bible itself. Using the Bible to prove something in the Bible doesn’t make sense to outsiders and certainly won’t persuade us (it is, in fact, the definition of circular reasoning), but it works with believers, which means that we won’t see an end to this strategy anytime soon.
Or they can rely on the vast body of pseudoscience and junk history that their religion’s apologists have built up over the years to try to refute the information provided. As a last resort, they can totally redefine words or even head into metaphysics and quantum physics to try to maintain their holy book’s magical attributes.
Once you’re aware of the playbook they’re using, you’ll be able to quickly determine which route a given Christian is taking in dealing with information they don’t like about their beliefs.
The Slam-Dunk That Wasn’t.
About ten years ago, I began hearing non-Christians criticize the Bible for its stance on slavery. At the time it sounded like such a slam-dunk to the people using it: “The Bible can’t possibly be inerrant because its writers were all totally okay with slavery!”
Indeed, that’s exactly what we find when we look at the Bible. Even Jesus has no understanding at all of self-ownership–and is totally on board with the worst practices of slavery. Certainly not a single place in the Bible says “Um, don’t keep slaves at all.” At most, the Bible’s prohibitions center around who in particular can or can’t be a slave.
Normally, this revelation might well have been a dealbreaker. With a crowd that actually understood science or history or that cared about critically examining their own beliefs, one that didn’t hang their entire belief system on the nail of inerrancy, literalism, and authoritarianism, that might have accomplished what dissenters wanted it to.
But those brave dissenters weren’t counting on fundagelicals’ indoctrination. They didn’t know the playbook. They especially didn’t know what the stakes were, nor the punishment for disbelief in any aspect of that system. Nor did they really understand just how intimately modern fundagelicalism rubs up against Civil War-era racism and all the ideas that go with it. A strong streak of Confederalism never quite died in that crowd, which always viewed itself as very hard-done-by in modern times. Its streaks of patriarchy and authoritarianism, both always powerful influences on their own, only got more powerful as the religion continued in its extremism and polarization during the 1980s and 1990s.
So when confronted with this powerful argument against their conceptualization of the Bible, they swung into action to defend themselves.
Over time, they evolved a multi-pronged response to this charge. Now fundagelicals who are even slightly troubled by this accusation of slavery advocacy can handle it easily.
First, they quibble about exactly what we’re talking about when we talk about slavery. I’ve literally heard more Christians than I can count at this point trying to make the claim that really, slavery in Ye Olden Tymes wasn’t much worse than working at McDonald’s. By redefining slavery to make it sound less horrific than it really was, they can start making the case that the Bible was actually some kind of human-rights advance for the species. The Christians going this route often try to contrast “Southern slavery” with “Biblical slavery.” In reality, slavery’s always been terrible. Some aspects have changed a bit with the years and with slave-owners’ specific needs for labor and whatnot, but its essential nature has always been the same–and it’s always been monstrous. By now and with what seems like dozens of slavery apologists working overtime to produce junk history to support their views, it’s more than possible that some lifelong fundagelicals have no idea what the truth is there.
Second, they try to argue about what they view as the positive gains that slavery brought to America specifically. The first time you ever hear a fundagelical chirp that slavery brought black people here away from mean ole pagan Africa so it can’t possibly be so bad, it might set you back on your heels, but you’ll discover soon enough that it’s not that uncommon of a sentiment in that crowd. Others try to argue that slavery introduced a work ethic to a population they view as essential sub-human, and that without it those folks are now languishing. Often they’ll point to (often fabricated or exaggerated) crime statistics that they think support their notion that black people were much better off as slaves and that now, gosh, they just have no idea how to handle their lives.
If all else fails, fundagelicals punt to mystery. They don’t actually understand why the Bible never says to just not keep slaves. It definitely is a corker, all right! But they’re sure it’s in there for a good reason. “God” seems to like it, and that has to mean something.
Douglas Wilson, the slavery apologist we’re looking at today, falls into every one of these traps and more. Jesus sure did change him and make him a better person! Wow, lookit the Jesus Aura on that guy!
The Conference Uproar.
Way back in the innocent days of 2003, some fundagelical minister in Idaho thought it’d be awesome to do a history conference at the University of Idaho in Moscow (Moscow being a small college town in northern Idaho, the happy land of fundagelical extremists and skinheads). The conference would feature Douglas Wilson’s junk history revisionism about slavery. The announcements around campus read, “Meet the Authors!” and talked up the authors who’d be speaking at this “conference.”
Douglas Wilson, clearly under the influence of the Holy Spirit, had helped write a book called Southern Slavery, As It Was, and it follows the playbook I’ve outlined above. Among other things, the flier printed Mr. Wilson’s claims that Southern-style slavery “was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence. . . There has never been a multiracial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world.” He claimed that Southern slaves had had quite the cushy happy lives, albeit ones full of “simple pleasures,” and that they’d had excellent care: medical care, food, clothes, all the stuff anybody needed.
And this flier sparked an uproar.
In the end, both authors of the book were roundly condemned and there were all kinds of counter-events and demonstrations protesting these racists.
The Southern Poverty Law Center traces his ideas back to the 1960s in the anti-Civil Rights movement headed by the extremely racist Robert Dabney and the ultra-patriarchal Rousas John Rushdoony (who so inspired the very godly and discerning, wise and benevolent Michele Bachmann).
Mr. Wilson’s inspirational heroes were kind of heading toward a sort of Benedict Option as it was, just not so explicitly spelled out. Mr. Rushdoony himself was a big believer in castes and “Constructionism,” which is the idea that Christians of his tribe should rule the world and institute “Biblical law” in place of secular–including stoning gay people to death and all that–with fundagelical white men at the very top of its pyramid. That kind of thinking really alarms their tribemates, producing one of the few instances of them literally wondering aloud if fundagelicals are turning into the Christian version of the Taliban. (The answer: yes, very much so.)
And Dabney and Rushdoony were both way into homeschooling for indoctrination reasons and likely are the start of that movement, one that’s taken so firmly that there are now many “nice” fundagelical parents who wouldn’t even dream of enrolling their kids in evil public schools.
Douglas Wilson became a minister in 1977 in that heady atmosphere and quickly created a private Christian school that teaches what he thinks children should learn. He’s got a small empire up there at this point, with its own printing press, ministerial school, religious college, and other such groups–all teaching his weird blend of Dominionism and patriarchy. He hates feminism with blind throbbing disgust, is fully on board with stoning LGBTQ people, wants rape victims to be forced to marry their attackers, thinks all government schools should be abolished, and thinks that the children of non-Christians are “foul” and “unclean.” He thinks Christian parents should beat the shit out of their kids starting in their toddler years and that they should murder ones who really backtalk. He openly says that what he wants is nothing less than a complete “overthrow” of all secular thinking and the chaining of all humanity to Christians just like him.
And you can imagine what he thought about Fifty Shades of Grey.
Every single thing I criticize about Christianity can be found in this person, in other words. (Praise Jesus! Isn’t he glorious to make this minister of his so amazingly wonderful and perfect? Isn’t it wonderful that he’s so concerned for all our souls? Jesus sure did make him a great man!)
A Benedict Option Believer.
I was pretty surprised, a few days ago, to be reminded of him while looking at this lady’s essay about how the Benedict Option had completely failed her family.
The writer didn’t name him directly, of course. She made a very off-handed reference in the essay about how the main source of the Benedict Option, Rod Dreher, had gotten into some online squabbles with “the pastor of an Idaho community who harbored a sexual child molester and helped get him married off, all while using his clerical platform to minimize the crimes and vilify the abuser’s victims.” Me being me, I got all curious about who this pastor might be and went hunting for some deets.
I found them very quickly. Rod Dreher wrote extensively about the squabble over at The American Conservative (whose motto appears to be “All the News Fit to Line Your Birdcage With”). The writeup was called “Scandal in Moscow.” And yes, it centers on Douglas Wilson.
It’s a very eye-opening read. Mr. Dreher begins by reminding his readers about an essay Douglas Wilson had recently written about why he thinks Christian women are hotter than non-Christian feeeeeemales. Spoiler alert: Douglas Wilson clearly got all his information about non-Christians from Men’s Rights Activism blogs.
But in 2015, Douglas Wilson was busy trying to defend a pedophile who’d been convicted of molesting several children. He wrote the judge asking for leniency for the pedo, who did end up getting released in 2007 after only 20 months in prison. Only six weeks later the pedo got caught peeping. (Good discernment, there! See how great Jesus is?) And a few years later, we find Douglas Wilson performing a marriage ceremony at his church for the pedo, who immediately fathered a child by the unfortunate woman involved.
Of course, the pedo isn’t actually legally allowed to be alone with his son because the courts have reason to believe that he is sexually stimulated by being around babies. And Douglas Wilson was outraged–yes, outraged!–that the law is getting between this family’s master and his rightful prey. He wrote a huge blog post about it, even. He thought it was awesome that he got criticized for these actions because persecution means extra Jesus points, etc. etc., and said he’d raised an extra glass of Scotch to spite all his meaniepie critics. (How loving Jesus’ love has made him! How gracious! How very concerned for the innocent! Marvel at it!)
Of course, this incident was far from the only time that a pedophile has been closely associated with his church. Like most far-right fundagelical churches that get into isolation and patriarchy, he’s been associated with a near string of scandals along those lines.
And this guy just loves the Benedict Option, which is quite the embarrassment for Rod Dreher. His response, which is surely inspired by the love and grace and justice of his very god, is to largely omit all mention of disastrous leaders in his movement in his book about the topic.
The Accreditation Uproar.
That was in 2015 mostly. In 2016, Douglas Wilson found himself in a whole new scandal–one that was way more up his alley. Last year, Tennessee’s state Senate was considering a Republican-pushed bill that would have allowed church schools to be accredited by Douglas Wilson’s group, the Association of Classical and Christian Schools. That group was started pretty much to accredit his own church’s various schools, but obviously they wanted to expand their reach. Douglas Wilson isn’t actually the group’s leader at this point, but his essays and thinking still exist both on the group’s site and materials and in their minds.
Mr. Wilson’s own comments about black people and women came to light very quickly, and the bill was defeated. Tennessee folks sounded just aghast at the very idea of allowing his group anywhere near their schools. “Slavery Defender’s Group Will Accredit Schools Under State Senate Bill,” screams the Nashville Scene, making special note of Mr. Wilson’s ideas about exiling gay people and executing adulterers and about how easy slaves really had it in the Deep South. Raw Story had a similar field day with the story.
The Republican responsible for the bill, Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), got really flustered when someone asked him if he knew that the creator of the group thought slavery was awesome. He eventually said he didn’t know much about “the actual person.” After some attempts to defend the idea of the bill, Mr. Kelsey postponed the vote entirely. (Don’t worry though–this fine Christian is busy doing his best to destroy public education all the same. He’s been pushing for vouchers lately. Ain’t Jesus just great? Look what he did in the life of this State Senator!)
Douglas Wilson is laying low now, but I reckon we haven’t heard the last of this guy. The year’s still young, after all. He’s got a ton of clout, a surprising number of people under his sway, and the shrewdness to keep trying to reach out for more power and influence in other areas.
It’s really amazing to see how much Jesus really changes people, isn’t it? Douglas Wilson is a shining example of everything in Christianity that people should see. His fellow Christians might disapprove mightily of his actions, but they can’t seem to stop him–or even to adequately warn the vulnerable and unwary about him. And he sees this failure as a divine mark of approval. It may well be. Definitely it shows us exactly what his god’s all about, doesn’t it?
Who wouldn’t want to be changed and transformed by such a god?
As I mentioned, I’ve got a special treat for y’all tomorrow – tune in for a fisking of a Christian’s Easter appeal! See you then.