Douglas Wilson & Serial Pedophile Steven Sitler



It is not my intent to start blogging again, at least not any time soon, certainly not of the kind necessitated in 2006. I have been writing two books since 2008, one of them a Memoir, and I have been able to do this largely in the comfortable privacy of my home, or, at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, minded by nothing more than a handful of seagulls. I plan to keep it this way. I find that this approach increases literary productivity. It also helps blunt the memories pastor Douglas Wilson has blessed me with. Please be assured that my last post was not an easy task.

However, I have been unable to put out of mind Douglas Wilson’s current bullying, shaming, threatening, and libeling of Natalie, a recent member of his flock. That alone I might have walked away from, but Wilson is offering all this as direct reprisal for Natalie’s public comments about the abuse she endured from one of his ministerial students – abuse that was just obliquely confirmed by a letter from Peter Leithart. So what to do?

I have decided to offer some of my experience with the other child rape scandal, involving pedophile Steven Sitler. In that case too, Wilson preached the protection of victims, while eagerly harming those victims most close at hand. Rob Dreher at The American Conservative gave Pastor Wilson a large space to respond to criticism regarding both instances of child rape, but regarding Sitler, Wilson’s response left Dreher confused,

Pastor Wilson married them, knowing that Steven Sitler, by the confession he made to the police at Wilson’s urging, was a serial pedophile. This is I do not understand. Nor do I understand the kind of church culture in which an elder of the church sets up a young woman who is anxious to get married with a convicted pedophile. And nothing Pastor Wilson wrote here makes it any more understandable.

The following events of summer, 2006, will certainly not offer a full explanation, but I think they will at least help make it all bit more understandable.

Simon [name changed] had been pursuing me for some time over a case of child rape.  Local critics of Doug Wilson were visiting the courthouse and building the best case they could, but molding Pooh was Simon’s most important work. He told me that Pooh’s Think was the best place for this news to first break. I explained that I wanted nothing to do with it. To this, Simon began his gentle bullying. Did I not understand the gravity of this?

To me, writing about this was not consistent with the purpose of Pooh’s Think. What I had accomplished was specific: I had remained a loyal member of Wilson’s community while protesting specific corruption from Wilson himself. And I protested the corruption primarily by defending those who Wilson was attacking – Brian McLaren, an X-elder, X-members – while simultaneously publicly defending Wilson and my fellow congregants where I thought public attacks were unjust or unsound.  I did not assume evil, but rather probed and investigated always in the hope that I had seen the extent of wrongdoing. The momentum building over this child rape case was different. It seemed to be little more than the search for anything capable of unleashing violent public sentiment. This was my explicit thinking at the time and the same reason I refused even a journalist student at the University in search of a story.

But Simon finally provided me an argument that grabbed my attention: This story was going to break no matter what, and if I broke the story, I would have more control over the backlash. Simon now had a draft of a public announcement that Evan Wilson, Doug Wilson’s brother, allegedly Okayed. Perhaps out of sheer exhaustion, I finally agreed to look at what Simon had written. After I read it, I was relieved to know that this huge headache could go away by simply posting a short Announcement that was actually meager in what it implied about Doug Wilson’s delinquency.

I forwarded the announcement to Wilson as soon as I posted it. Unexpectedly, Wilson began pelting my inbox with moral outrage and ridicule. I published this and my replies on Pooh’s Think as it proceeded, so our exchange amounted to a public debate. I promised Wilson I would immediately remove the Announcement and publicly apologize as soon as just one of the many gross errors he alleged were specifically pointed out, but Pastor Wilson refused to provide any specific information as the Announcement gained more traction on-line. It became obvious that Wilson wanted the Announcement up and he exited the debate only after he began the rhetorical attack he would maintain publically for months, years even: By posting this Announcement I had harmed the victims’ families. Precisely how I had harmed the victims’ families was never made clear, but as we will see, Wilson was determined to insure the victim’s families were harmed, even if he must accomplish this all on his own.

As I recall, the only person responsible for bringing the words “victims” or “victim’s family” into the public discourse was Wilson. As others pointed out, this was a brazen use of ‘human shields’ to divert attention from his own failure to communicate the presence of a serial predator to the larger community. I hated what was happening. I did not want Wilson and the foundations of the beautiful world of our ‘Kirk’ to be little more than pure evil.

Wilson published his own counter-announcement two days after the Announcement at Pooh’s Think. The public claim – it was a bit more than an insinuation – was that I was just as bad as this serial predator who had raped countless young children in multiple states. I was a “sick” enemy, locked in a psychological prison for which there were “no visiting hours.” The serial predator, however, was now a forgiven friend. What had this rapist done to earn approval?  He submitted to Wilson. Simon’s 40 part series addressing Wilson’s response to the Announcement was eventually hacked and destroyed, along with my entire original blog, but even this did not cause Wilson to remove his counter-announcement, with its incessant mention of the victim’s families.

The actual reason why Wilson and my friend Roy, the President of New St. Andrews, did not notify the public or the student body of the predation is obvious and banal. But the faux reason Wilson and Roy provided curiously paralleled the way Wilson was now seeking to ignite his next war:  “[W]e didn’t want the victims, who were children, to suffer,” Wilson told a reporter.

Recently, during a quick fact check, I happened upon a newspaper report of Roy’s claim that the publicizing of the local child rape and the criticizing of Wilson’s response to it “is almost as reprehensible as the act.”  I think Christopher Hitchens captures the more appropriate sentiment, one I hope is shared by Roy in his less defensive moments:  “[If] I was suspected of raping a child . . . I might consider committing suicide . . . If I had actually committed the offense, I would welcome death in any form that it might take. This revulsion is innate in any healthy person, and does not need to be taught.”

Soon, the phone call came that would complete my investigation of the person and work of Douglas Wilson.  A woman spoke with shaky voice, an almost hysterical voice, and yet, with strange firmness.

“I wanted to call you and ask you why you are doing this, why you would do this to us.”

“I am not sure I know what you mean.”

“What you are doing on your blog. That you would use other members of the church like this.”

“I have tried to be very careful the last six months about what private information I released. No one knows who you are. But I would be happy to remove any reference from my blog for you. I am sorry this has upset you. Have you discussed this with anyone else, like your elders?”

“Yes, we met with Doug Wilson this afternoon,” she replied.

I did what I could to control my anger.

“Listen,” I began, still gently but firmer, “Nobody is discussing details about you or your particular case. Everyone is only thinking about their own children. But now that I realize your anguish over this, I would be happy to remove the public announcement. I will remove anything, everything . . .”

“No, you do not have to do that,” she interrupted.  She now spoke slowly.  She seemed disoriented and the anger was gone from her voice.

“Well, then would you be willing to tell me what you would like me to do different and what to change in what has been posted?  Anything you say.”

“I am not sure.  I would have to read it again.”

“Ok.  Please read it again and call me back anytime, and let me know.”

“Ok, I will do that” she said.  But these words seemed hollow; I did not anticipate I would hear from her again, and I did not, even though Wilson continued to publicly reference the new plight of the “victims’ families” living in Moscow because of what I was “doing.”

Wilson had this mother of some of the victims into his office not to comfort her, but to outrage her.  This was his sole argument he had committed himself to publicly.  The families of the victims were now on the public stage in so far as Wilson daily put them there, but now he needed to make sure they keenly felt it.

Wilson started writing to the local discussion board Vision 2020 again, and he publicly referenced this phone conversation. Wilson addresses me:

And you were then asked by someone directly harmed by your action to take them down, which you have not, as of five minutes ago. Michael, you are the emotional equivalent of a sucking chest wound . . .

In another post to all “Visionaries,” Wilson revealed, accidently it seems, what his intentions were in meeting with this woman. He wanted to inform her about what I had “done.”  “When I talked to the victims’ parents about what Michael Metzler had done on his blog, and what was being done here, do you think the response from them was more like, ‘Oh, good,’ or ‘Oh, no’?” (my emphasis). Again, I was the one privileged to know the immediate result of the pastoral care this woman received during that meeting.

Curious details started to surface, such as Wilson’s letter to the judge requesting the judgment be measured and limited. The Southern Poverty Law Center would later take this up, noting the monstrous incoherence of wishing the death penalty for adulterers and homosexuals but asking for a limited ruling based on already very limited non-Mosaic laws regarding serial child rape.  A parent of one of the victims, whether local or from one of the other states where this rapist preyed I do not know, wrote the Judge about what was really causing them ‘harm’:

. . . she was only two years old . . . It was painful enough to be told of the perversion that [he] committed against [our daughter] yet now we have watched for the last six months as an admitted child molester has been living in the comforts of his parent’s home, whiling away the days that should be spent in jail.

Wilson never notified the larger community or the student body of New St. Andrews of the predation, but it was also confirmed that the insufficient communication to the Kirk congregations – I, a father with young children, was not informed – was itself postponed for eight months. But for me, Wilson’s chosen response to the Announcement was the real scandal. He was not only willing, but eager, to trample underfoot the weakest within his care for only a small amount of his own political gain.

A few years later, the Kirk encouraged and facilitated the courtship and eventual marriage (permitted by the Judge after debate) between this paroled serial predator and a young woman connected to the Kirk.  When visiting Leithart’s church during our visit to Moscow in 2011, we witnessed an elder, Patch, standing before the congregation, beseeching God to bless this new happy union. Walking down the aisle later, Patch darted a snarling glance at me.

I will not offer here an analysis of Wilson’s intentions and motivations, or the social-psychological mechanisms that he co-opted with astounding success – this was when the majority of the Kirk community was finally steered to fear and abhor me. But I will at least give you a clue, or that is to say, pass along the same clue Wilson provided me offline: Girard. “It is all in Girard.”

 

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Dr. Peter J. Leithart Buries Sapphira



A couple people have asked for my thoughts on Pastor Douglas Wilson’s latest platform-building success. The current buzz regards Jamin Wight’s and Steven Sitler’s inclination to rape young children in Pastor Wilson’s care. One of the victims, Natalie, has taken a remarkable public stand about the care she received from Pastor Wilson after the abuse was revealed. In 2006, I refused to mention Natalie’s story on Pooh’s Think, and I have so far left Natalie and her abuser Mr. Wight out of my Memoir altogether. After all, Pastor Wilson might have had a point about Natalie the Seductress – as her pastor, he would know – and not too much blame can be given a young man allegedly thrown a-top a virgin by her own parents. I had my doubts about this narrative, but I was too embattled and too weak to investigate and risk further reprisal from Pastor Wilson.

Natalie was Sapphira, dead and buried, forgotten by the world, and I was one of the many fools that helped shovel the dirt. But somehow, Natalie managed to resurrect herself, taking on the pain and the remembering, demanding the world to listen. As of two days ago, my wife having mentioned this post of Natalie’s, I am finally listening too.

I will never fully understand the perverse, meaningless horror that Natalie had to endure, but thankfully, Natalie has, as necessary, worked to give her readers at least a glimpse. Her story is about surviving the long-term physical and psychological torture of a predator, but it is also a story about her community’s response to the revelation of that abuse. She was refused normal empathy and in fact shamed for tempting the rapist – the rapist, in turn, received exorbitant defense – and even now, her very own pastor, Douglas Wilson, is publicly lying about her in the hopes to trivialize her suffering and silence her dissent. Still, I do not think anyone in this discussion has so far considered how deep the roots of this social violence go. This was evidenced by the approval Dr. Peter J. Leithart has just procured by his one-time participation in the public conversation. Leithart moved one commenter “to tears” by his “honesty, sincerity, and humility.” Even Natalie and her parents have apparently accepted Leithart’s ‘apology.’ In what follows, I ask you to take a second look at Leithart’s short letter.

Even limiting ourselves to the evidence internal to the letter, we have good reason to think that Leithart is offering little more than preemptive defense, not an expression of genuine contrition:  He didn’t know about the abuse when it happened; he did not really ‘side’ with the rapist; it was his ‘duty’ to sit with the rapist in court (instead of the victim); he did not ignore or excuse anything; and it was good that the rapist remained a “member in good standing.” At the end of the letter, when Leithart finally gets to his own wrongdoing, he confesses only “misjudgment,” specifically, the sin of believing the best of a repentant sinner, a sin that looks awfully similar to saintly behavior. “I thought he was a godly young man who had fallen into sin. That was wrong.” No, it wasn’t wrong, not according to the context Leithart provides.  Leithart has given us no reason to think he actually did anything wrong here – we all have untrue (‘wrong’) beliefs we are not culpable for. Perhaps the praise Leithart procured is not too surprising. That was the point of writing the letter, was it not? I think we’ll know when Leithart is ready to tell the truth when his words have at least the potential to damage his ability to make money as a spiritual guide. Leithart is on record saying false things in the rapist’s defense, and for that, he says he is “ashamed,” but given his complicity in his community’s violence towards dissenters, coupled with pathological protection of submissive pedophiles, I do not believe him. I think ‘embarrassed’ and ‘worried’ are probably more apt.

Leithart also offers sweeping concern about our ability to publicly discuss the evil done to little children. He emphasizes his reluctance to say anything online – his friends had to tell him to do this – since his words could give “fuel” to irresponsible people, presumably those who falsely attack religious leader Douglas Wilson, with whom Leithart is still politically aligned. Implied is that all current debate on this is “overheated.”  “The internet” is probably not a good place to “expose evil,” since using the internet leaves those most damaged without a voice – an absurd claim. If Leithart’s claims were true, then he has simply given us reason to think that Natalie is simply wrong to take her story to the internet in the first place. In fact, Leithart followed up elsewhere with the argument that all such matters should be adjudicated by church leadership and never by broader society, a quite perverse stance to take after the global child rape scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. And when Leithart does get around to forthrightly defending the integrity of another person, other than himself, it is not the victim, and certainly not the victim’s right to have a voice. Leithart defends the victim’s abusive pastor, Douglas Wilson.

The primary problem here is the abuse from Leithart’s and Wilson’s community in Moscow towards Natalie after the rape was finally revealed, especially from those in social power (i.e. leadership).  Leithart saves this for the end: “I disbelieved the victim’s parents.” He does not admit that this positive action from him caused anyone further harm. Just the opposite, since he had “no direct contact with the victim.” He further adds, in a way sure to mislead anyone not very familiar with his religious community in Moscow, that the victim was the member of a different congregation. Actually, so I claim, Leithart was at that time helping Pastor Wilson silence and harm Natalie’s father while keeping control of his crucial Main Street business, Bucer’s Coffee House and Pub.

I still have a few questions. Was not Leithart at the court proceedings? Did he not hear any testimony, see any evidence? And why does he say he disbelieved only the parents? They were not witnesses to the crimes. Is not it Natalie he disbelieved?

A little over a year ago, I finally asked Leithart to consider the harm he did to me during that same 2005/2006 period. He refused to listen, and the irresponsible internet had nothing to do with it: I approached him off-line, and to my current knowledge, what you are reading here is the first time I have ever posted something critical of him – a painful thing to do since I love him.

(On this general topic of abusing the victim after the abuse, please see my post here. And I would recommend some pages in Liar’s Club as a way to further communicate a young girl’s experience of oral rape.)

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The Violence of Faith, Part 1: The Islamic State



Making use of hidden cell phones, the Islamic State’s sex slaves have made contact with the outside world. There are thousands of them – young Muslim women, some just over 12 years old, snatched from the lifeless arms of their butchered mothers. The brutality and disorientation they continue to suffer – between beatings and rape they hear sermons on why God does this to vile unbelievers – requires removal of all means of suicide. Stealing a moment for a private call, one of the women begs for the merciful bombs of American fighter jets. She does not want to hear that beautiful rumble from high to see her captors punished or that she may once again be free. She begs for the bombs simply so that she and the other women may die. Envious of the 41 women she knew who were successful at suicide, she pleaded, “Please call the plane, we want them [to] kill us, we want to kill ourselves.”

After spending time with refuges Angelina Jolie asks, “What do you say to the 13-year-old girl who describes the warehouses where she and the others lived and would be pulled out, three at a time, to be raped by the men? When her brother found out, he killed himself.”

Even after months of now a billion dollar air campaign by the U.S. military has had little impact on the Islamic State’s control over its people and it ability to recruit and grow. Michael K. Nagata, commander of American Special Operations forces in the Middle East, has sought unconventional sources of expertise in trying to understand the Islamic State’s social power. “We do not understand the movement, and until we do, we are not going to defeat it.” Confidential minutes of phone conferences reveal that the three dozen experts consulted cannot agree on “whether [the Islamic State’s] main objective is ideological or territorial.” In response, General Nagata said he wanted “one hell of a debate.” After six weeks of debate, he explained that he still did “not understand the intangible power of [the Islamic State].” (See Eric Schmitt’s report here.)

Is the intangible power of the Islamic State the power of faith? Is this religious violence we are dealing with? If so, is the culprit Islam, or is this just one more iteration of a violence intrinsic to all monotheism? Is simply ‘religion’ the problem? I think George Packer is getting close to the beginning of an answer. In the New Yorker yesterday:

There’s an undeniable attraction in this horror for a number of young people . . . who want to leave behind the comfort and safety of normal life for the exaltation of the caliphate. The level of its violence hasn’t discouraged new recruits—the numbers keep growing, because extreme violence is part of what makes ISIS so compelling.

Even closer still is Packer’s elaboration today, while interviewed on NPR (I do not yet see any transcript): The Islamic State burned to death Jordanian pilot Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh as a sacrifice to unite and excite the group. This was an act of total purification.

 

*photo from here

 

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Vaccination, Measles, and Freedom



There was nothing too disturbing about my little girl’s new cough, until we found her, late one night, with blood in her mouth. We are able to romanticize much of the evil we see in the world – a natural part of our repertoire of self-delusion – but no storyline made sense of the soft, subtle horror as I held in my arms this beautiful, frail, blood-stained girl.

My older son clung to his mother with all his strength as nature ruthlessly forced from him that hideous whooping sound. It was not enough for nature to devise a cough worse in extent, ripping up the insides like a hook in a fish’s throat.  A special torment was needed, one differing in kind, although to this day I do not know what it is about this particular form of biological war that makes a young child literally cling to a parent for dear life – groping, squeezing, as if trying to survive an act of torture.  “Like a common cold,” said one of the defensive California mothers this week.

We were an under-immunized family – young fundamentalists, enjoying life in a small farming and University town in North Idaho. That’s right, we were yokels, the usual Scopes trial hillbilly suspects. My wife had been talking to folks and reading up at the Center for Disease Control. I asked my doctor and he simply explained the math: so long as enough people are vaccinated, there is little risk for everyone. So everything was fine . . . until it wasn’t (thankfully, no one died).

But in case you have not heard, we yokels are not really responsible for this new measles epidemic in America. If over half of a bible-belt community had filed personal-belief exemptions from child vaccinations, we might have heard about it before now. As it is, the culprits live in some of the wealthiest communities in America – Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Orange County.

York Times Frank Bruni explains it this way: “You can be so privileged that you’re underprivileged, so blessed with choices that you choose to be a fool, so ‘informed’ that you’re misinformed.” This is such an enjoyable piece of prose that I almost wish it was true, but certainly the yuppies of coastal SoCal know at least as much as us foothill bumpkins did. As long as the lower ninety-percenters are cajoled into sending their children into the laboratory to get zapped, the wealthy can cruise their Tesla down the 101 with little concern about the underworld of violent disease. The new epidemic? All forms of oppression carry a risk. I would not be surprised if many of my wealthy American neighbors were uncultured fools, but I have a hard time believing that, as a general rule, they are underprivileged fools. I would place my bets on the hypothesis that these are rather shrewd over-privileged folks not lacking in knowledge of how our world really works.

Yes, pseudo-science is still a problem here, but given our new post-journalism age, this is not a problem with its own two feet to stand on; anti-science on the internet is attached to a larger dilemma.  Besides, some skepticism is good, given all the irresponsible and arrogant rationalistic naturalism running loose today (more on that later). You cannot legislate appreciation for science. I no longer believe in the giraffe heads poking up out of Noah’s ark, but I needed some space to warm up to a more diverse medley of empirical method.

So this is the question that interests me the most on this issue: What of our freedom to choose? Can society or the government see to it that wild concoctions are injected into your very own children against your will? In some cases, the answer will probably be yes. As a free born American, I need these kinds of reminders: there really is no such thing as the pure Freedom I so desperately need and hope for. Total freedom is impossible. So the real question is this: Just how far is genuine Freedom from our grasp?

. . .  off for a business meeting at Disneyland Hotel. Wish me luck.

*(note on image: A quick search for a picture brought me to the most disturbing group of images I have ever seen, and right in the middle of the horror was this little girl, who looks a bit like my youngest – from this blog.)

 

 

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Vision Forum’s Doug Phillips



More than one person has approached me about Doug Wilson’s commentary on the scandal surrounding Vision Forum’s Doug Phillips.  I had no desire to visit Wilson’s blog, but I was curious enough about the scandal to google ‘Doug Phillips.’  At the very top of the search results was a precarious blogger I knew from years ago.  Second on the list was a recent Huffington Post series.  A little further down, I found a hard-hitting, albeit tardy, article from the evangelical World Magazine.

This is what Wilson is talking about?’ I thought to myself.

So I read Wilson’s blog too.  I was not disappointed.

After briefly acknowledging Phillips’ misconduct with three words, “tragic, sad, and humbling,” Wilson goes on at some length praising Phillips for the way he resigned from Vision Forum Ministries.  More than a few words are also spent castigating Phillips’ public critics.  God’s thoughts about them are obvious: “the enemies of the Lord can be readily identified.”

Because of my investigative endeavors while on my way out of Wilson’s inner ring (2005), I do not find this response surprising, or even curious.  Yet, there is something about this new scandal, which is now partially constituted by Wilson’s chosen response to it, that finds important intersection with some of my current writing – ‘the book’ in particular.

My interest regards foremost the extent of incoherence in the person and work of Doug Phillips.  Phillips was not your average down-the-street preacher.  He was passionate about a highly specific cultural vision of chastity and marital fidelity, and this vision defined his core identity, both public and private.  Further, his recently exposed naughtiness was not a ‘two ships passing in the night’ affair.  The relevant rendezvous, many not explicitly sexual, spanned over a decade, often in the broad light of a Sabbath day.  Please see Julie Ingersoll’s reporting at the Huffington Post for an introduction to Phillips’ alleged long-term oppression of the young lady that here concerns us.  I would also recommend this site as a credible and comprehensive reference.   What I want to better understand – I think I have made some progress already – is why it is so common for religious leaders to brazenly disregard precisely that good they passionately identify with.

Some of you might not be aware of my unique qualifications for speaking to this scandal.  I was the one who was best poised to help ‘take down’ Doug Phillips back in 2006, but after an analysis of the evidence put forward, I decided to instead defend him.  I eventually teamed with one of Phillips’ friends in the efforts to do so.  This decision came at a personal cost.  The aforementioned ‘precarious blogger I knew from years ago’ was the anonymous source of the evidence I refused to endorse.  This blogger might be harmless enough, but she was then writing anonymously for Ministry Watchman, which was linked to a racist movement known as ‘kinism.’ It was to all appearances a kinist internet war that was launched against me in retaliation, a war that still lingers today.

The Huffington Post implies that the deviant relationship Phillips fostered was a partial result of his extreme patriarchalism.  The young woman was under Phillips’ authority in his small church from the time she was fifteen, for example – a fact that Texas law, in its wisdom, is well poised to address.  Wilson offers the counter-argument: the immorality was, rather, in spite of Phillips’ professed patriarchalism, and the feminist in this debate is caught in a contradiction: the woman should be treated as a responsible, independent adult while also defended as a dependent girl, incapable of simply packing her bags and leaving as soon as Phillips’ intentions became clear.

Such a simplistic construal of ‘freewill’ can be very useful for those enjoying social power.  Part of the evil lurking behind this particular argument is that Wilson knows very well the reach of his own social power and the difficulty or even impossibility of someone simply ‘leaving’ relationships and institutions that have come to form a core part of their identity.  Three men who had been close to Phillips for years perhaps revealed a bit more truth than intended when they expressed their dismay over the role that authority played in the aberrant relationship:  “ . . . church leaders have a weighty obligation regarding the power they hold over congregants in their care.” [World Magazine, my emphasis]

Focusing on individual psychology, independent of social situation, does nothing to help Wilson’s argument.  All heightening of Phillips’ advances would have likely been extreme violations of social expectation and trust and therefore, I would argue, should be seen as at least mild forms of rape.   Please consider then the following confession of Halee Gray Scott, raped at age 21 by her church’s youth pastor:

Why did I let him in? Why did I not fight harder? Why did I just lay there, crying like that? Guilt fell on me like a bucket of hot ash. I wouldn’t know until years later the neurobiology of the assault response [see link in article] or tonic immobility [see link in article].  (From Christianity Today’s How I Beat Back the Darkness after Rape)

Wilson’s eldest daughter might not disagree that Phillips is responsible for something like rape.  The entire thing, for example, “grosses [her] out.”    But for her, the call to action is to think more deeply about how she can train her daughters to be the kind of women that can stand up to bad men. (Thankfully, this issue has more recently motivated her to try to empathize with abused women – an encouraging thing to hear from such an arrogance-drenched community.)

Back to the central point: Wilson, not at all happy about folks calling Phillips’ object of domination a ‘victim,’ thinks we ought to be wondering, instead, why this young woman and the entire family “wasn’t gassing up the car the next morning [after first obvious advance?] to head down the road to find a place where the spiritual leader wasn’t a toad” ( from this post).  Again, the real trouble here is that Wilson knows why.

He did seem to slip at one point, when arguing that the ‘right kind’ of patriarchalism would have offered this young woman “insistance” that she “be moved to safety” (This point is made here) Yet, the only real victim, according to Wilson, is Phillips’ wife, even though she has taken up the same arrogant defense as her husband – as testified to by five of Phillips prior associates and friends, according to World.

What motivates Wilson to comment in this way? One motive seems undeniable to me: One of Wilson’s main competitors has just gone, quite literally, out of business.  This rhetorical strategy is sure to provide some profitable market penetration.

I think it was early 2005 when one of my fellow ministerial students offered pastor Wilson the following question:  “I saw that World Magazine did comment about the local controversy.  Did they contact you about this?”  Wilson said that he called the editor to explain that World was “missing the real story here in Moscow”.  But this did not help.  As Wilson explained, there is a growing void in evangelical leadership.  All the old stand-ins are near retirement—John Macarthur, RC Sproul, Billy Graham, Pat Robertson.  “World would like to fill that void and sees me as a competitor.”

That is all I have for now.  Another topic that I think should be discussed, in relation to everything above, is the prevalence of covering up the sexual abuse of children within conservative communities.

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To Surf or to Blog . . .



I do actually intend to blog again.  It’s just that the surfing keeps getting in the way. . . . perhaps if I blog about the poetics  and philosophy of surfing?   It has been a watery world for our household: reading through Moby Dick,  inching through the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and 10 hours over Cardiff Reef each week (dolphins, seals, whale spouts . . .).

I do happen to have news regarding the events of 2005, the same events that gave birth to the original Pooh’s Think of 2006 (hacked and destroyed by the opposition a while ago, sorry).  I have just completed a letter to my friends: an introduction to the American Kirk and the story behind the story — some of you might recall I promised this some years ago.  If you do not receive this and are interested, please shoot me a note.

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Book Update



I am still writing my book.  I have been writing it for about five years. If you have no idea what book I refer to, this post might not be intended for you.  This is a friendly update for those who periodically check in.

The five classes I now teach (Philosophy and Humanities) have permitted me a day each week to continue the book steadily, although this might change with my firmer commitment to philosophy and cognitive science research.  I hope to have at least a rough-draft proposal by July 2012.  I do not, by the way, begin addressing The Kirk until Chapter 7.

The book has taken on different forms and sizes and purposes—in my imagination, in my notes and outlines, in the actual drafts spanning a number of genres. Last summer, after wrapping up some research on cognitive neuroscience, metaphor, and philosophy of freewill, I had some time to work on the book at Steamboat Springs’ public library, which provided me a more than sufficient setting of geography and architectural space – river rolling down from the last bit of melting snow, just outside the library window . . .   We also made it back to Moscow, Idaho for the first time (May/June) and our five weeks there was important. I enjoyed daily liturgical progressions through University of Idaho’s beautiful campus (running into The Beast on one occasion – ‘good to see you’, etc.).  I spent some time in Evan Wilson’s library, of course (and in the home of some Kirkers), and I regularly walked to Bucers for some note-taking time as the northern winter came to an unusually slow halt.

 

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Update



Even with the six dependents of spouse and children, I attempted the life of a gypsy after moving from Cardiff-By-The-Sea a couple months ago. After only two weeks of camping the attempt failed. There have been so far too many ‘house sitting’ opportunities in residences that outdo what had been my own. As I write, I sit with windows to my left that overlook rolling hills and a meadow with a winding stream. A darker mountain ridge stands further up, backgrounded by storm clouds. We are in the mountains of Colorado, ten miles out of what is already a fairly small town.  As I pause and look now, cattle roam, a green tractor mows a large field at a distance, and two horses graze nearby at the foot of the hill on which I am perched.   To my front is a view of a barren hill that towers just above the house roof on which I see the three horses of this household—brown, white, gray—walking casually side by side. Two friendly dogs, at all times on this acreage somehow omnipresent, are still felt and seen in the abstract.  On the way here, we passed through what a sign labeled ‘open range’, a phrase I understood only after swerving to the left of the paved road so as not to rudely disturb the cows grazing on the road’s edge and for fear that a cow’s lazy decision over what side of the street to munch could end in its instantaneous death.

For some days or some weeks I had forgotten that I ‘have a blog’. Remembering caused a faint but irremediable twinge far on the periphery of what seems my background experience of agency and personhood.   Nothing remedies such feelings like swift action in the pseudo-social world of the internet and so I was not surprised by my quick resolve to provide those still checking on progress here in the Wood with something like an ‘update’.  This is the strange result.

As for things more academic or otherwise philosophical or scientific or literary: ‘my book’ was simmering in a crock pot that had eventually been unplugged. The unplugging came about for a variety of reasons. I will mention one: I was finding non-fiction too meager for my purposes and I had no alternative set of tools in my pouch.  Then, around January, independent of any book writing efforts or plans, I began reading fiction. I first read Melville’s Moby Dick for no specific reason I am aware of outside of having a copy at hand; yet a number of classics later, I still consider Moby Dick to be my favorite, and more than a favorite; I consider the work sui generis.  I then read Dostoevsky’s The Idiot.  By the time I was half way through with this second classic a thought flashed: why not make my own use of the literary craft? On further thought, and a couple classics later, I determined that building from my first book attempt would require just this sort of retooling. With the art of literature, I could do almost everything I had set out to do with my first book and much more.

In March and April I invested time on mirror neurons, grounded cognition, conceptual blending, metaphor, vision, and the N400 ERP component (EEG)—not to be confused with my thoughts   from last year. By June I switched gears in my reading with the switch in living situation. While living out of a tent, I gave a start to a work of fiction. I have so far found the task sufficiently rewarding and productive. A number of chapters are close to rough draft form and the outline is fairly settled: 45 to 55 chapters for a total of 400 to 500 pages. Even with the change of genre, the title could remain the same, which has been The Kirk: Mother of War.

In order to compare notes: some of my recent reading also includes Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities and Oliver Twist, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Hemmingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, Yate’s Revolutionary Road, and for read-alouds to the kids: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth. I have started Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past and Tom Sawyer and Gone With The Wind (a better mix is hard to imagine, no?), and due to familial relatedness to the author, I am winding through the new thriller The Radix  (written by a psychology instructor; the best thing since ’24′ and only eight bucks at a fine book store near you). Recommendations for further reading from those who are familiar with the Kirk are welcomed.

As for non-fiction, I found Burns’ Goddess of the Market (Oxford 2009) vital explanation of Rand’s secondary world of Atlas. Damasio’s Descartes’ Error, an international best seller I discovered in the footnotes of the cognitive neuroscience literature, was excellent and I have started his The Feeling of What Happens. I also began Kennaelly’s The First Word, a laymen’s guide recommended by Pinker introducing the new field of the origins of language.  Curiously, Burns documents Rand’s cultish life and Kennaelly hints in this same direction for Chomsky.  I am also enjoying Hitchens’ Hitch-22 (of course!), in which he curiously details his own ‘cult’ experiences in prep school. I have just now finally started to read Nietzsche—a cult all to himself—beginning with Beyond Good and Evil and the collection The Will to Power. I hope to begin the two volumes I have here of Langacker’s Cognitive Grammar.

For your ongoing internet viewing I continue to recommend Harvard Law’s The Situationist.   They still ‘have a blog’ over there without question.  

Without ‘job’ and homeless and still responsible for six dependents, I am now accepting donations for a trip to Washington DC, Philadelphia, NYC, MIT, and Harvard. Donors decide what I blog on during and one month after my trip (you know that’s gotta be worth big bucks). My point of departure will be Florida. After that, the plan is Miami and Key West. At any point in time I would be happy to be dropped into any contested area elsewhere in the world.

Be back later with some book excerpts and further thoughts on semantics, meaning generally construed, and the ERP N400.

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‘The Kirk: Mother of War’ & 7 New Books At UCSD



The sociology contained in my book ( The Kirk: Mother of War ) is thus far of folk origin. I began writing to chronicle my personal experience within the Kirk and to continue the social analysis I had already began promulgating for Pooh’s Think, Part 1. But I originally had little to guide me as I sought to understand my eventual expurgation. Fairly cloistered from the news media, I was influenced largely by bits and pieces of my philosophy education over the years – notably from graduate education at the University of Idaho, which began soon after the launch of Pooh’s Think, Part 1. I received highly concentrated help towards the end of my expurgation from the new start up of Harvard Law’s The Situationist, which remains an important resource for me.

More recently, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and George Lakoff have been highly influential – although Dennett’s intentional stance has been a thorn in my side since 1997. I am shy to begin enumerating the others, fearing I will mistakenly leave someone out, but I will here venture what comes immediately to mind: H.L. Menken, George Orwell, Barbara Ehrenreich, Michael O’Rourke, John Bargh, Onora O’Neill, Phillip Zimbardo, Patrick Hogan, and my were-local discussion partners at Moscow’s Vision 2020  list.

Likely, my folksy sociology will remain largely in tact, as it so far seems consistent with my new explorations. Yet, more research is in order. In many ways, the first inchoate version of my book was the completion of a vigorous, painful research experiment that lasted 15 years. But now I find myself at the beginning of an exciting new project that was given birth through the death of that first book. As time allows, I hope to investigate the new academic and journalistic work on religion, power, violence, communitarianism, and war. This is what I hope to accomplish on the side of still other work that is likewise already on the side: work in consciousness, the sophistication of the unconscious mind, cognitive science, metaphor, narrative, and neurobiology.

I am inclined to begin with some books on the ‘new book’ shelves at the University of California down the road (San Diego). The following is a short introduction to 7 of these books. Perhaps I can at some point actually read them cover to cover!

 

1) Timothy Longman’s Christianity and Genocide in Rwanda (Cambridge, 2010).

Longman lived in Rwanda from 1991 to 1993 while working on his dissertation regarding church-state relations in Africa. He returned in 1995 to work in the field office of Human Rights Watch, the year after the infamous three month genocide infiltrated Rwanda. He has finally published his findings after comparing two local Presbyterian parishes in Kibuye. On page 312, Longman writes:

Ultimately, church leaders embraced ethnic chauvinism not only because they supported political authorities who adopted an anti-Tutsi ideology but because it was a means of co-opting people back into the patrimonial network. By defining Tutsi as a threat, church leaders were able to appeal to their members along lines of ethnic solidarity and shatter the emerging class solidarity that was challenging their control.

The introduction page explains that “Although Rwanda is among the most Christian countries in Africa, in the 1994 genocide, church buildings became the primary killing ground.” My Kirk brethren might be inclined to see my interest in this book as just more whining. I am after all the ‘sucking chest wound’ version of the bleeding heart and the reports about what happened in Rwanda sound very much like the glorious routs of the Old Testament. Take for example Philip Zimbardo’s report in The Lucifer Effect (2007): “One of the young men told a translator that they couldn’t rape them because ‘we had been killing all day and we were tired. We just put the gasoline in bottles and scattered it among the women, then started burning’”.

Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, a Tutsi and “former social worker who lectured on women’s empowerment” could have helped her people, but she instead led the village of Butare into a trap, promising help from the Red Cross. “They were machine-gunned, grenades were thrown into the unsuspecting throngs, and survivors were sliced apart with machetes. Pauline gave the order that ‘Before you kill the women, you need to rape them’.” According to Zimbardo, the U.N. reported that at least 200,000 women were raped during the three month massacre.

 

2) William Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence (Oxford, 2009).

Cavanaugh challenges the social-political research of the majority, arguing that “there is no transhistorical and transcultural essence of religion and that essentialist attempts to separate religious violence from secular violence are incoherent.” The prevailing concept of religion “that is essentially prone to violence is one of the foundational legitimating myths of the liberal nation-state.” Cavanaugh challenges as incoherent “the argument that there is something called religion . . . which is necessarily more inclined toward violence than are ideologies and institutions that are identified as secular” (4-5). While I will likely take issue with the more provocative features of this thesis, I would be surprised if I do not find a wealth of wisdom to be gained in taking issue with essentialist and timeless concepts contracted for ideological and political purposes (such as the timeless notion of ‘covenant’ in reformed theology, a thesis still unique to me as far as I know). Canvanaugh notes that the religious-secular distinction was not established through argument, but “through violence” (7).

 

3) Marc Hetherington & Jonathon Weiler, Authoritarianism & Polarization in American Politics (Cambridge, 2009).

Front, introductory material reads:

Although politics at the elite level has been polarized for some time, a scholarly controversy has raged over whether ordinary Americans are polarized. This book argues that they are and that the reason is growing polarization of worldviews – what guides people’s view of right and wrong and good and evil. These differences in worldview are rooted in . . . authoritarianism. . . . [D]ifferences of opinion concerning the most provocative issues. . . reflect differences in individuals’ level of authoritarianism.

After reading the first few pages, I suspected that Lakoff (2008) influenced this thesis. While not acknowledging influence, Hetherington and Weiler note on page 192 the correspondence:

George Lakoff’s (1996) treatment of morality in contemporary American politics tracks helpfully with our analysis in this regard . . . His conception of conservatism, which is premised on a ‘strict father morality,’ is closely related to our conception of authoritarianism.

 

4) Brett Whalen, Dominion of God (Harvard, 2009).

On page 6:

Ambivalence characterized the idea of Christendom, which formed a limitless community of the faithful, a cosmic congregation, but also an earthly society of believers in the here-and-now. Christendom had borders and was universal. It could be spread by the righteous power of the sword or by the spiritual grace of God . . . Within this apocalyptic ethnography, both Christian and non-Christian peoples had roles to play in the realization of history. The expectation of Christian world order relied – somewhat paradoxically – on mutually reinforcing languages of exclusion and inclusion, on the identification of God’s enemies and the promise of their ultimate redemption, or at least their opportunity to be redeemed . . . The pursuit of Christendom . . . engaged . . . the sensibilities of medieval Europe’s ecclesiastical elite, sometimes including popes themselves, who anticipated the ultimate triumph of their sacerdotal authority on the grandest of scales.

 

5) Michael Ryan & Les Switzer, God in the Corridors of Power (ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara, 2009).

My introduction: This book’s 500 pages appear to be a thorough analysis of the role that conservative religion has played in the religious and non-religious political Right. Ryan and Switzer, together representing American Protestantism and Catholicism, offer an abundant set of tools, from demographics to American history. Topics include media, conservative conceptual worlds, the constitution, abortion, sex, gender, science, Darwinianism, terrorism, militarism, and the contemporary Christian life.

 

6) Bayne, Cleeremans, & Wilken, The Oxford Companion to Consciousness (Oxford, 2009).

My introduction: This 700 page tome looks to be an excellent long-term resource. I see a good deal of mind science, and the selection of entries reveals an unusual interdisciplinary flavor. Bayne, Cleeremans, and Wilken have included an entry on ‘wine,’ and I found the latest answer we have to the question my son posed the other day: “why can I not tickle myself?” Recent experiments are detailed in an entry titled ‘tickling’.

 

7) David Thompson, Daniel Dennett (Continuum Publishing Group, 2009).

My introduction: Although not important research material for my book, I recommend this to the average visitor of the Wood. This appears to be an excellent introduction to the work of Daniel Dennett, written by a retired Canadian philosophy professor. I even noted a subtle play between the epistemic and phenomenal use of the word ‘seems’  in the section on Heterophenomenology.

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A Picture



MRPhoto (8 of 47)

It has not been my habit to post pictures of my family, a consequence, in part, of a veiled threat from a racist kinist (see Mathew Chancey’s work  for a sampling of the journalistic exposure that generated this kinist backlash). But all that seems well settled, and although Douglas Wilson is much more plodding and patient, he gives me little worry now that I am far removed from north Idaho’s Geneva. Wilson has been of the opinion that John Calvin was wrong in casting the vote for the torturing to death of Servetus, which he likens to the attempt at “killing ants with a baseball bat” (talk at U of I campus, November, 2005). Wilson has bigger plans for Enlightenment and Cosmopolitan Civilization and just recently has been beside himself in smiles and polite giggles while dining with the arch-blasphemer Christopher Hitchens, the thongs of whose sandals Servetus is not worthy to untie. Wilson, in fact, refuses to state that Hitchens’ belief and life is at all immoral. The censure – or more accurately, the rape and maiming – is reserved for the weak and powerless directly under Wilson’s pastoral care. So here’s a picture – a couple years old.

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An Email From An Old Friend – Who Now Sees Me As Human



This is a wonderful and insightful note from one of my original opponents during the days of Pooh’s Think, Part 1. (For contrast, also note the recent comments  from a current Kirker.)

Michael,

I’m not sure if you remember who I am, but I left several comments on Doug Wilson’s blog when the whole Saint Peter thing was going down, defending Saint Peter’s session and (often personally) attacking you. As an ex-member of Saint Peter (you know the drill: started reading Eastern Orthodox writers, started discussing the possible validity of Orthodoxy with friends of mine in the church including Laurence Windham, eventually left, was shunned and “excommunicated” by those whom I considered dear friends), I wanted to apologize for my ignorance and insensitivity towards you and your views. It’s easy to attack someone when you’ve never been in their position. Frank Schaeffer was right when he said, “The only answer to who you are is, ‘When?’” Now that I have gone through an experience comparable to yours, I wish I had listened to some of your comments and insights. The pain my wife and I went through was considerable (it nearly destroyed our marriage) and it was astonishing to see people that we thought we would be friends with forever abandon us overnight. The most painful for me was Laurence’s public denouncements (both of me and of Orthodoxy), which were so ill-informed as to be regarded stupid. He and I were astonishingly close for many years. Being, as a Saint Peter member once described it, “viewed as two faces of one body,” and having him lash out the way he did was a blindside to say the least. A big one.

So, you were right and I was wrong. But you knew that already. And, to be honest, that isn’t what this email is about. I ought to have empathized with your position rather than springing to the blind defense of those who, in the scheme of things, didn’t need defending. Regardless of what I thought, I should have regarded you as a fellow human being rather than disregarding you as the abstract proposition of, “These guys who I love are douche-bags.” But, hindsight, 20/20, clarity, and all that. My comments toward you were belittling. For that I ask your forgiveness.

Ultimately, I don’t blame these guys. I believe that they think what they did (and are doing) is right, and they did it because of that conviction. I don’t believe there was any intentional malice (though what was done was malicious). There’s no bitterness here. However, there is a deep hurt which I don’t anticipate will be resolved any time soon. Thanks for your work.

On a radically different note I was wondering about the Bayly post you made a couple days ago. You had mentioned that you tried to Google some of the quotes that Bayly used from the article concerning Calvin College and homosexuality and were unable to find results. I’m not sure if Bayly updated his post due to your comments, but I was able to find the article quickly using Google. I’m not defending him in any respect (one of them wears a bow-tie, for heaven’s sake — the very definition of douche-bag), but was just asking for the sake of clarification. In case you haven’t found the link to the article it’s from Christianity Today and can be found here.

Thanks again for your work. Knock out that book. Looking forward to reading it.

Cheers and all the best,
Matt Clement

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The New Enlightenment, Part 10: The Presbyterian Patriarch Tim Bayly



This evening (Friday) I was working toward finishing an entry titled ‘The Southern Poverty Law Center, Harpers, & The Nation: Corruption at the Top Does Not Entail Corruption at the Bottom’. However, this will have to wait for Part 11 now that I have received an email from the notorious patriarchist Tim Bayly. This email provides some late and conclusive evidence for Bayly’s exceptional delusion or brazen deceit or, perhaps, a combination of both.

My goal here is not to inform the general public of Tim and David Bayly’s authoritarian, arrogant, censorious, and misogynist patriarchicalism. The general public – those who have had the least bit of exposure – already know this. Tim and David Bayly are also known as meek and mild ministers in the Presbyterian Church in America, but as I have discovered with Patriarch Wilson, this is often just the other side of the same spin-scum coin.

In what follows, I aim to offer updated evidence for the blatant deceit (or delusion) of Tim Bayly by way of introduction, since he appears well associated with the historic reconstructionist movement – including a somewhat recent, mutually-benefiting political association with Douglas Wilson. This entry is intended as background context for Part 11, which addresses the Southern Poverty Law Center’s new commitment to expose the reconstructionist movement and its children.  A bit laborious, but here it is for the record.

This is what happened: Today (Friday), I was led to Bayly’s popular blog for the first time in a few years. Once there, I found an unnamed magazine quoted and ridiculed on the issue of Calvin College, academic freedom, and homosexuality. The entry began, “A prominent evangelical magazine just did a piece on the complaint by Calvin College faculty reps that Calvin’s board has issued policy barring members of their faculty from promoting sodomy.” I was generally curious about this article, but I also wondered if the quotations were given in proper context. (more…)

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