Yesterday, I published an analysis of Doug Wilson’s response to Karen Swallow Prior–a response that included a rant against Rachel Held Evans. Here’s why I did that. Wilson writes in a way that purposely confuses his readers. On the surface, he appeared to address the objections that had come his way. But once you drilled down to his main point, it was a different story.
This is called obfuscation.
I wanted to point it out because obfuscation is more common than you think. The Cry for Justice blog addresses it all the time. It is a common tactic of narcissists and abusers. It is an attempt to deflect criticism, instill doubt, redirect readers and gain allies. It involves using complex analogies, logical fallacies, alternate definitions for common words and, occasionally, outright lies. The advantage to writing this way is that when a reader arrives at unfavorable conclusions, you can accuse them of misunderstanding your words and spin the narrative to your benefit.
Because we’re trained to give people the benefit of the doubt, it takes practice to recognize obfuscation. But it’s an important skill to have if we, as Christians, are to rightly divide the word of truth. There are far too many abusers and false teachers in the world, and obfuscation helps keep them in power.
Today, I want to go back and revisit Wilson’s rant on Evans to show you what I mean. Because what Wilson says at the end is truly horrifying, evil, and anti-Christian.
To set the context, Wilson is referencing this statement that he made in his post on beautiful women:
Unbelieving women either compete for the attention of men through outlandish messages that communicate some variation of “easy lay,” or in the grip of resentment they give up the endeavor entirely, which is how we get lumberjack dykes. The former is an avid reader of Cosmopolitan and thinks she knows 15K ways to please a man in bed. The latter is just plain surly about the fact that there even are any men.
Here is where he begins addressing Evans’ objection to that comment:
Now this captures the demolition job that is being run on Western civilization, and it does so in a nutshell. How so? There are two things to remember here. One is the legitimacy of generalizations, and how generalizations are not falsified by a smattering of counterexamples.
Obsfucation #1: Misleading readers on how generalizations work
What Wilson did in his first quote was commit a logical fallacy. If you believe most women fall into those two categories, it was a “sweeping generalization.” If you think few women fall into those categories, then it was a “hasty generalization.” Not to mention that both categories are hyperbolic to the point of silliness. They don’t represent the norm; therefore, it’s not a valid generalization.
Generalizations exist to help us quickly categorize information. They are rules of thumb. They become harmful when we distort them and use them to disparage and discriminate against large groups of people.
To explain his point further, Wilson then invents a comparable generalization about men:
The unbelieving world is at war with the concept of a biblical masculinity, a masculinity which gladly sacrifices for others. But when this option is rejected, two remaining options offered by the world are either that of the metrosexual pantywaist or the testosteronic rapist.
Obsfucation #2: Redirecting
Evans complaint was that Wilson was using anti-gay slurs to disparage people he doesn’t agree with. Here, Wilson does it AGAIN. Instead of addressing Evans’ grievance, he distracts his audience with this new line of thinking that allows him to recommit the offense. Many readers will let him off the hook, since this new statement “balances the sexism equation” by doing the same thing to men.
It’s still wrong.
But suppose we get past that, and suppose a male equivalent of [Evans] objects to the language itself, saying that I demean men by calling them rapists. To use the term rapist like that is an attack on men. Wait a minute. To be a rapist is an attack on women, and an assault on masculinity. The rapist is at war with masculinity, not the person who calls the rapist a rapist. To call a rapist a rapist says nothing about men generally, one way or the other.
Obsfucation #3: Switching terms
Notice: at the beginning of the statement, Wilson is talking about calling men rapists. By the end, he’s talking about calling a rapist a rapist. See the difference?
It’s true: to call a rapist a rapist says nothing about men generally. But calling a large segment of the male population rapists when they might not actually be rapists does. Doing so IS an attack on men. And that was Evans’ point in the first place. Wilson used an anti-gay slur to demean half of all non-Christian women–even when it wouldn’t have applied to their sexual orientation.
Wilson sets up this obfuscation using a series of statements that, taken individually, anyone would agree with. By the time readers have reached the end, they have failed to notice the switch in terms because they are too busy nodding along.
And all of this distracts from the broader objection that a pastor shouldn’t have said such things in the first place.
In the same way, to say that a dyke is a dyke is not to attack women. Being a dyke is an attack on women.
Obsfucation #4: False comparison and redefining terms
Wilson just equated women with a homosexual orientation (lesbians) to men who consciously violate the sexual consent of others (rapists). He is literally stripping gay women of their humanity, thereby justifying his use of an anti-gay slur.
Notice, too, that Wilson has redefined what a woman is to make this argument. Because lesbians are an attack on women, they cannot also be women.
And this is why [Evans’] approach to these things is so toxic. “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; That put darkness for light, and light for darkness; That put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Is. 5:20).
Obsfucation #5: The tu quoque fallacy
Wilson knows that Evans is accepting of LGBT folks, and that is what he’s appealing to here. Evans is painted as the one in the wrong because she doesn’t think that homosexuality is a sin. Wilson knows this appeal will discredit her position in the eyes of his supporters and get them onto the anti-Evans bandwagon. This is yet another way to deflect attention from Evans’ criticism, which was Wilson’s use of a hateful, derogatory word–not his disagreement with homosexuality.
That Evans is the one being called “toxic” in this context would be laughable if it weren’t so sick.
Here’s where it gets really terrifying:
In our new order, women must be allowed to insult the very concept of femininity, and they must be allowed to do so ad libitum. They must have complete freedom to do this, and if anyone comes to the defense of women, [Evans] will summarily describe it as an attack on women.
Obsfucation #6: The final twist
By now, the reader’s head is spinning from navigating all the leaps in logic, so the raw meaning behind these words is missed. But with a little translation, it becomes clear:
“In our new order, lesbians must be allowed to insult the very concept of femininity, and they must be allowed to do so by existing and asking to be treated with respect. They must have complete freedom to do this, and if anyone comes to the defense of legitimate women by disparaging lesbians with anti-gay slurs, Evans will summarily describe it as an attack on women.”
That is what Doug Wilson is saying.
With this final twist, Wilson turns the tables on Evans, making it appear that he is the defender of women and that she is the attacker. But Wilson is the attacker. And with these statements, he actually increases his original attack. He goes further in the offense. He goes from disparaging non-Christian women to redefining womanhood to dehumanizing an entire group of women.
This is his response to correction.
This should frighten even the most cynical among us. Wilson is not an unknown creep on the Web typing these things from a basement apartment. He is head of his own denomination of 70+ churches, as well as a college, a school and a seminary. He has an international audience.
Dehumanizing attitudes like this started the Holocaust. “Theological” teachings like this got the “Kill the Gays” bill passed in Uganda. Hate on this scale gets people killed.
So we ask again: Are these words and this attitude appropriate for a pastor? I’ll let scripture answer that one:
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. ~ 1 John 4:8,20-21