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
Doug Wilson’s world is getting smaller and smaller as his own words are used to expose the grotesque caricature of a Christian man he represents.
His ego prevents him from shutting up and will be his undoing. About half of Proverbs (the wrong half) applies to him.
Curious – if lesbians aren’t women what are they? I think we can guess at the answer.
Looking through his eyes (granting homosexuality is a sin), what does dehumanizing them get you, as a pastor, other than creating an enemy – a whole group of people to marginalize, insult, ignore, or, if you ever get in power, eliminate? This totally spits in the face of Jesus’ words that we should love and be good to even our enemies, which in effect means we treat NO ONE as a classic enemy.
His words are not even Christian, much less pastoral. The fact that he is still in charge of his denomination is scary.
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Thanks for continuing to shine a light on the BS. His writing style works very well to just confuse me. I don’t want to spend an hour trying to figure out the words of someone who I know is full of himself.
Thank you for the clear definition and explanation of obfuscation. It’s helpful for me in understanding things I have experienced.
I’ll be honest and say that I’m not a RHE fan, but surely those who disagree with her can be respectful about it and actually address the issues. It depresses me that I live in the same state as this guy. Doug Wilson needs to go away. Far away.
“Observe which side resorts to the most vociferous name-calling, and you are likely to have identified the side with the weaker argument – and they know it.” -Charles R. Anderson
vociferous name-calling + shameless obfuscation = fragile ego
Thank you for your extensive unpacking of Doug’s endless blathering, which I no longer bother to read because so much of it is pointless drivel. But you could have saved yourself some time thus: “Bullshit is bullshit. And Doug Wilson is full of it.”
I could have said that, but part of Wilson’s power is having his followers convinced that he’s smart. An unpacking like this exposes just how weak his arguments are…and how he deceives people.
Your article is very well done, don’t get me wrong. I’m just heartily sick of Doug’s rhetoric. It’s tireless and tiresome. The mere fact that there exists a need for intelligent people like you to bother translating his bunk makes me want to scream in despair.
I feel you. I really do. It’s like when John Oliver did that segment on televangelists. After all that stuff involving colored oils and prayer cloths in the shape of mountains, I couldn’t help but think, “Who the heck would keep sending these charlatans their money?!”
Thank you for this careful and accurate dissection of DW’s argument. There were two “Dougs” popular in the homeschool community, Doug Phillips and Doug Wilson. After the events with Phillips, I remembered the difference by saying that Wilson was the “good one.” His recent statements and explanations are far from good. Very sad. And we thought of ourselves as “discerning.” Sometimes we were just deceived…
many of us! you’re not alone.
Thank you thank you thank you! That man disgusts me every time he opens his mouth. It’s helpful to see these points broken down bit by bit (although it’s also stomach-churning as usual).
I deal with many women every day as a college professor, and I can say the two extremes he foists upon undiscerning listeners has nothing to do with the women that I interact with.
We can expect hateful slander against others from someone who contradicts the Scriptures concerning the way of salvation. Doug Wilson is a heretic. He has deceived many by his so-called conservative stance, but he propagates grievous error by teaching baptismal regeneration.
Here’s the thing that confounds me. The Douglas Wilson publishing house used to publish a logic course that was popular with homeschoolers (although my astute oldest son, having read Credenda Agenda, said he preferred to learn “real” logic from someone who was actually logical. It just struck me that this parenthetical remark hits the crux of the issue. Out of the mouth of babes…)
Back to what confounds me. Perhaps the Englush language has changed more than I realized but, back in my day, the “either…or…” construction meant these were the only two possibilities. My children understood this from the tiniest age. When they heard, “Either you sit still through dinner or there will be no ice cream afterwards”, they sat still. They didn’t assume these were only two of many options along a continuum of possibilities.
EITHER the language has changed (and either/or no longer means what it used to mean) OR Douglas Wilson needs a refresher course in some basic writing skills OR he purposefully insulted many, many nonchristian women who are in neither of the two categories he describes.
I don’t understand why he fails to see this, and why his fans and followers fail to see this as well.
Is this how he evangelizes? How he wins a hearing with the lost? How he emulates our Savior in the way He treated women? Or is Wilson simply not concerned about such things?
I’m not so sure it’s a failure to see so much as a failure to acknowledge. Wilson says some really heinous things about women, but when confronted with it, he says feminism is destroying true femininity and he’s only “labeling things as they are.” He says in doing so, he’s actually defending women. But it’s interesting to note that he cannot say anything positive about women without a lot of caveats and distinctions on the front end. I don’t think Wilson cares about leading people to Jesus. He cares about consolidating power among his current followers.
And obviously Wilson doesn’t care a whole lot for logic either…
April, the only place I would differ with you is the use of the Scripture
“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”
One can’t pursue and active gay life and still be a Christian, no more than one can pursue alcoholism, murder, spousal abuse, routing for the University of Michigan, etc. To use this Scripture to say if you don’t “love your gay brother/sister” is “hate” is misapplication, IMHO. Being homosexual IS a sin that will keep the practitioner out of the Kingdom. Granted, using the terms “dyke”, “faggot”, etc IS distasteful, but, it’s not hate speech in the real sense of the word.
Interestingly enough though, when a Christian says they “love” or “accept” a homosexual/lesbian as a Christian, what the erring homosexual hears it to mean is the *acceptance of their life choices* and anything short of that is “hate speech”. So, what’s good for the Goose (Doug Wilson) is also good for the Gander (the homosexual community and their apologists).
Just another thought and opinion!
I find it curious that the conservative evangelical church (I was a member of several, including a recent 8 1/2 years in a NeoCal church) has an epidemic of sexual abuse of minors, one that exceeds that of the Catholic Church according to insurance companies like Church Mutual (the largest insurer of churches in the US) and attorneys like Richard Hammer at Church Law & Tax, and yet constantly harps about gays.
It gets so very, very, very old. Doug Wilson’s church is yet another example of that: An ardent defense of predatory pedophiles, vicious attacks on victims and their families, and attacks on gays.
Oh and Doug Wilson advocates slavery. He has NOTHING to tell any of us about The Gospel.
Velour, I agree. Curious thing though, I didn’t look into your assertion that most abuses of minors is happening under our noses in conservative Evangelical/Neo-Calvinist churches; while thinking about it, I’m not surprised in the least. That said, sin is sin is sin whether it’s homosexuality (no one is dealing in the least with the rampant gay-on-gay abuse) but to be sure, the pathology of defending the abuser (whether the abuser is in the pulpit or the pew) by self-professed “Bible believing” people is outright amazing (and not in a good way) to me.
As for Doug Wilson, he has no higher authority to answer too except “God” and since there is no chain-of-command above Wilson himself, everything is abstract, from his own “pastoral authority” to his building programs”.