Wednesday, March 16, 2011

John Piper in the Bedroom and Propaganda from the Pulpit: Another Fine Example of the Induction of Cognitive Dissonance

A few weeks ago, Jocelyn Andersen asked me to join her as co-host on her new Blog Talk Radio (BTR) show. Though you can always catch the earlier archives which remain online and can be explored at the BTR website, Jocelyn and I will meet every Saturday morning at 10 AM Central to discuss the topics of both Spiritual Abuse and what Jocelyn has titled “The Complementarian Cult.” We will alternate the subject of the discussions every week to keep things interesting! Because complementarianism does utilize so many tricks of rhetoric and social psychology, Jocelyn chose to add the term “cult” to the title of the biweekly discussion.

This coming Saturday, March 19, 2011, we've scheduled a show to discuss “John Piper in the Bedroom,” a subject with which I am not familiar. Apparently, he has established standards regarding how married couples should approach intimacy through even more social anthropology and social engineering under the guise of religion. I will learn about this subject along with the BTR listeners.

19Mar11 edit:  Listen to the show now:
Listen to internet radio with jocelyn andersen on Blog Talk Radio

I believe that while patriarchy and complementartianism oppose overt sexual sin, their leaders' obsession with gender differs little from obsession with sex. Though they decry our sexualized secular society, the Church appears to have it's own comparable version of the same, but by way of gender. It is not that such topics are taboo, but complementarian leaders' primary focus on gender as essential Christian doctrine displaces the significance of Christ Himself. Paul's admonishment to preach Christ and Him crucified becomes secondary to the legalistic message that their particular intramural preferences are an eternal salvation requirement for all Believers.

In preparation for the upcoming BTR show, I searched for online references about John Piper concerning the bedroom. I found the this video on the topic. Please note the following definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary before you view the video so that you can approach the topic with a strong frame of reference and understanding of the words that Piper discusses. Scientia potentia est (Proverbs 24:5).
   1 (chiefly with reference to people) sexual activity, including specifically sexual intercourse
   2 either of the two main categories (male and female) into which humans and many other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive functions
   Origin: late Middle English (denoting the two categories, male and female): from Old French sexe or Latin sexus
   Usage: On the difference in use between the words sex (in sense 2 above) and gender, see gender (usage)

   1 the state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones)
   2 Grammar(in languages such as Latin, Greek, Russian, and German) each of the classes (typically masculine, feminine, common, neuter) of nouns and pronouns distinguished by the different inflections that they have and require in words syntactically associated with them. Grammatical gender is only very loosely associated with natural distinctions of sex.
   Origin: late Middle English: from Old French gendre (modern genre), based on Latin genus 'birth, family, nation'. The earliest meanings were 'kind, sort, genus' and 'type or class of noun, etc.' (which was also a sense of Latin genus)
   Usage: The word gender has been used since the 14th century as a grammatical term , referring to classes of noun designated as masculine, feminine, or neuter in some languages. The sense ‘the state of being male or female’ has also been used since the 14th century, but this did not become common until the mid 20th century. Although the words gender and sex both have the sense ‘the state of being male or female,’ they are typically used in slightly different ways: sex tends to refer to biological differences, while gender refers to cultural or social ones (emphasis added by blog host)

In this video, John Piper reads a quote from a social historian, Jerry Muller, regarding how the academics in women's studies programs use words “sex” and “gender” in order to support complementarianism. Note that the opinion of the writer is never challenged, nor is the source of the quote noted specifically, though the author's credentials are cited. (The 1993 article appears in the First Things journal, the publication of a Catholic/eccumenical influenced “interreligious, nonpartisan research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society.” To his credit, Piper does at least note the specific source on his website in a discussion of “complementarity,” the term that Catholics use for their version of patriarchy.) Piper does not make known to the audience that the author he quotes is likely comparable to someone like Bruce Ware in terms of belief. I find it interesting that Piper puts a copy of the actual text that he's quoting on the screen behind him. Piper appeals to someone noteworthy who appears to be outside the usual CBMW affiliated experts to reinforce his premise, utilizing the powerful fallacy of appeal to authority. Why does he put an actual copy of the reference on an overhead? If it's in print, it must be more reliable?

He's also just made his second major logical leap into error by presuming that common people in society use the same language and share the same concepts about gender as the most liberal of academics. He's wrongfully employed the slippery slope fallacy, presuming that A (extremes of liberal academia) leads to B (common definitions and speech in society) which leads to C (corruption of Christians with lesbianism), which eventually leads to Z (the demise of all society) with no stops or significant processes in between. If it's present in a limited academic field that defines the ultimate in things liberal, it is present in the conservative Church?

Just like Piper is himself, all Christians are accountable to God, commanded to bring every thought captive to Christ, and conform their hearts and minds to the standard of the Word, though Piper does not make any such acknowledgment. Piper fails to validate the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word in the life of the Believer as a break in the link of his created chain of causality. In support of his concept of “evangelical feminism,” he uses the black and white informal logical fallacy to lump the most radical and offensive examples of secular feminism together with any and all Christians who reject or even question his theology of gender. But he seems so polite in the communication of it, so it becomes more difficult to identify. Piper's soft tone does not match the offensiveness of his statements, another manipulative technique which triggers a suspension of critical thinking.

The way in which Piper uses Muller's reference to lesbianism and repeats the word to emphasize it also employs another powerful propaganda technique. The word is thought-stopping. Piper's primary audience will identify lesbianism, whether it is rightfully or wrongfully introduced into the topic, as something repugnant. Many listening will stop thinking critically just because of the emotional weight of the word itself, something that is quite pejorative to them. They will not process anything that's spoken after Piper emphasizes this word. He's used the propaganda technique of reducteo ad Hitlerum, a particular type of red herring that triggers an appeal to emotion and an appeal to fear.

It's very confusing, because he's actually appropriating the definition of his adversary, agreeing with the language and thoughts of radical feminists to prove his premise that they're wrong. In so doing, he's actually giving God's power away to the feminists. He's letting them define the terms then uses the term to instil fear to bring his audience back to his way of thinking.

Using the fallacy of ambiguity, Piper fails to point out that the word “gender” which derives from genus (kind or the subtype of a species) has been used since the 14th Century. He also suggests indirectly through some very fuzzy logic that the word “gender” itself is somehow sub-standard because it's status as a mere grammatical term implies a loss of personhood. By doing so, he's using the fallacy of poisoning the well to sully the term “gender” with his audience. He also challenges the word by noting several times that “gender” is a mere artificial cultural construction. Any Christian in his audience will understand and experience an automatic resistance to the word “gender” as Piper defines it because Christianity teaches that God designed the sexes to communicate something of His transcendent love for His people. Piper is thus utilizing both intentional vagueness and unstated assumption. This red herring logical fallacy will disrupt the critical thinking processes of his audience.

Piper fails to correctly define usage of the word “gender” as a banal and pragmatic term in common speech by spiritualizing it (a fallacy of transference) and creating a false dilemma that does not exist outside of the construct he's created in his argument. He creates an artificial conflict between common speech and religious meaning, all in order to arouse the audience and to create doubt. It is another emotional hook through the use of the black and white fallacy that causes people to stop thinking critically about the message, a red herring that distracts the listener from the problems in his premise. He has, in fact, demonized the word “gender” by employing argumentum ad hominem.

Piper fails to note the benefits of the word “gender” and the difficulties in using the word “sex” as an alternative. In this context he's dissembling to prevent the listener from making an informed choice about his premise. When he states that he prefers the word “sex” over “gender,” he never mentions that “gender” is a more polite term because “sex” often connotes and is confused with coitus. The term “gender” spares embarrassment and confusion, particularly in religious settings where it might be understood as provocative. But I believe he wants to be provocative. It sells books and gets attention. How postmodern of him.

These are examples of the linguistic tricks and very insidious techniques which manipulate the greater discussion of complementarianism by inducing cognitive dissonance. People understand that they can't even rely on the meanings of the words they use, and they are very likely untrue, though they never had a clue. This is a way of causing the listener to doubt themselves, and this allows Piper an inroad to dominate the conversation and the thoughts of his listeners.If I don't even know how to use the right words, I'm likely wrong about what I already know about the subject because this expert clearly knows more about it than I do.”

After so many successive fallacies piled on in rapid succession (a dozen major ones in three minutes), the listener either tunes out or becomes weary of thinking critically. Those who continue to listen will usually stop questioning and will just passively agree with what they are told. They will finally accept Piper's opinion and premise because they become weary and stressed by the inconsistencies. Their emotions, thoughts, behaviors and the information they're given is tightly controlled, and it is hard to resist conversion under these conditions.

These contradictions also make the learner dependent on the high priests of complementarianism, because they cannot trust themselves. All of these inconsistencies that I've listed here were crammed into only three minutes. After several of these contradictions and appeals to a person to doubt themselves, and especially when you listen to a sermon of this type, the listener/reader has no ability to slow down the process to think critically about each item said to them. In those stressful situations and given the social context of homiletic in a group setting, most people will start taking in what the speaker says without weighing what is said and whether they agree with it or not. “Piper must be right, and I can't keep up. He must really be smart and talking right over my head.” (It's not acceptable for those in the audience to stand up and shout, “Hey, can you go back and explain that because it doesn't make sense to me.”)

I'm also troubled at the paternalism that assumes that a high priest is needed by the masses. The Holy Spirit and the discernment of the individual must be rendered as something drastically limited.


I invite you to tune in to hear Jocelyn and me explore this and other aspects of the topic this Saturday on Blog Talk Radio at 10 AM Central.