Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sophistry in the Guise of Punditry

In the course of complaining about his old bugaboo, the former Archbishop of Nigeria, Jim Naughton lets fly an assertion that discloses all one needs to know about why the Church's activists will never be able to meet on common ground with its traditionalists (bold emphasis is mine):

Old bigots never die . . .

. . . they just keep running their mouths.

It will come as a shock to no one that Archbishop Peter Akinola, retired primate of the Church of Nigeria, supports a bill currently under consideration in that country that would criminalize same-sex marriage . . .

It can't be said often enough, that most of the members of the Anglican Church in North America left the Episcopal Church because they could not abide its teachings on same-sex relationships, and chose to join a movement led by Akinola, whose opinions on such matters were apparently more to their liking. Anti-gay bigotry is deep in ACNA's bones, and no amount of obfuscation from its apologists who would have you believe that their dispute with the Episcopal Church is all about scriptural interpretation can camouflage that fact. "Scriptural authority" is to the debate over sexuality as "states' rights" was to the debate over slavery.
Oh my, oh my. I could not at first believe my eyes, but yes -- that is what Jim Naughton wrote, and published for all to read on the Internet. "'Scriptural authority' is to the debate over sexuality as 'states' rights' was to the debate over slavery."

Here are some of the most obvious points in rebuttal -- which fairly cry out for expression -- but which merely scratch the surface of all that could -- and should -- be said in response to such monumental ignorance.
  • "States' rights", Mr. Naughton, had nothing to do with the issue of whether this country should go forward upon an economic foundation where some men were legally permitted to enslave others.
  • The States of these United States had no more political power to authorize slavery within their borders (as opposed to absorbing it without question, thereby "grandfathering" it into their political structure) than Egypt had to keep the Jews in bondage.
  • Your statement first and foremost exhibits a profound confusion about what is a "right", which properly speaking, in a legal sense, entails a corresponding obligation upon the liberty of others to do as they like -- a "duty" on their part, if you will, to "recognize" my "right."
  • For example, you have a legal duty not to hinder or obstruct my right to vote. And the several States have an obligation to protect my right to vote against your attempt to hinder or obstruct it. That is what it means to have a "right."
  • But to authorize the legal ownership of one human being by another is to create no legal "right" to own slaves at all, since it is meaningless, under our system of government, to talk of "ownership" of any fellow being made in God's image. The laws about slaves were inherited from the colonial governments, and were carried into Southern society after the Revolution. Eventually, both the British and American governments came to realize that slavery could never be legitimized by any political authority.
  • The "States' rights" of which you speak, Mr. Naughton, were claimed by those who denied the right of the national government to interfere in local affairs, regardless of their nature.
  • First and foremost, the concept of "States' rights" had to do with the right of States to secede from the Union, in order to prevent -- if that was the only way possible -- the national government from "interfering" in their local affairs.
  • Secondarily, "States' rights" was a rallying cry by which to resist the authority of Congress to pass legislation binding upon the States. Certain southern States, led by John C. Calhoun, claimed the power to "nullify" acts of Congress within their borders, notwithstanding the Supremacy Clause in the Constitution.
  • "Ownership" of human beings by other human beings, however, was never a "right" that could be "reserved" to the people under the Tenth Amendment, because its very assertion negated another right indisputably reserved to the people, namely the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
  • Those rights were not, as the Declaration of Independence acknowledged, "reserved to the people" by the people themselves, in forming a national government, but were rather pre-existing and unalienable rights conferred by the Creator upon all men equally, by virtue of their birth.
  • As an unalienable and natural right, the right to one's liberty could not be signed away in the course of any political process, no matter how democratic. As any neutral observer was forced to conclude (in agreement with William Wilberforce), the status of slavehood was never the result of a contractual bargain, but rather the product of subjugation by kidnapping and force.
  • It followed, from the concept of natural rights, that slavery was incompatible with the Declaration of Independence, and could not lawfully be imposed, or recognized, as a legitimate status upon any human being. The Supreme Court's Dred Scott v. Sandford decision to the contrary was repudiated, and it stands today as a monument to colossal judicial arrogance.
The authority of Scripture within the Church is thus a parallel, not to the rights secured to the States by the Tenth Amendment, but rather to the natural rights of all humans recognized, and expressed, in the Declaration of Independence. The point is that neither -- the natural rights so acknowledged, nor the authority of Scripture -- can be surrendered, nullified, compromised, or taken away, by any earthly authority whatsoever. They are God-given, and thus are not for man to interfere with, dabble in, or temporize in any way, shape or form.

Your nonsensical claim, Mr. Naughton, purporting to equate "States' rights" with "the authority of Scripture," thus gets the truth exactly backward. States have "rights" only insofar as the people have granted them in the first place -- there are no "natural" rights of States, which are not created in God's image, after all. The people themselves are the source of all rights which may be granted to the several States.

But the people also, as we have just seen, possess certain rights which are unalienable: which is to say, they may not be granted, sold, or bartered away in exchange for anything else whatsoever.

Likewise the authority of Scripture inheres in Scripture itself, as the Word of God, and may not be compromised, bargained away, minimized or contradicted in any way, shape or form whatsoever.

You thus play a very foolish game, Mr. Naughton, when you try to equate "States' rights" with "the authority of Scripture." Your parallel attempts to match that which comes from God alone to that which comes from mere man. As such, it confuses categories which are fundamental. Hence your analogy is no "parallel" at all, but a desperate attempt to reduce that which is divine to a level of human control, and thus subject to human manipulation.

Man is no more the final arbiter of what Scripture commands than were Southern politicians the final authority on what the Declaration of Independence meant, in saying that "all men are created equal." A terrible war had to be fought to establish that simple truth, Mr. Naughton, and your lame attempt at analogy insults the very ideals that were vindicated in that horrendous sacrifice.


  1. Please note: comments on this post which attempt to play on the authority of the Old Testament purity laws, and citing shellfish, clothes made of two different kinds of fiber, stoning for adultery or blasphemy, and so on and so on, will be severely moderated, if not banned altogether. We've all been there before, and there are no new points to be made.

  2. Yeah, I picked up on the error too. An equation using imaginary numbers that only adds up to one thing. Mr. Naughton obviously does not believe that scripture has anything to say about sexuality.

    Of course we knew that already.

    Unfortunately, from what I have seen, his views are commonly held.