Friday, April 28, 2006

The weakness of Harding's latest critique: Part I

Father Harding recently published a commentary on ECUSA's To Set our Hope on Christ (hence TSHC); it is worth a visit especially if you've asked yourself Well, what do the right-wingers find wrong with this effort? However, all things considered, I am afraid it is not a convincing critique. Harding does not give evidence of having a grasp of ECUSA's argument; a serious debate never gets going, and he ends up merely talking past TSHC's authors.

I. The Argument alluded to at TSHC 1.4
For instance, Harding understands the argument from fruits of the Spirit alluded to at 1.4 this way:

One of the key elements of the argument is set out, that people with same sex attraction and living in covenanted same-sex relationships show evidence of holiness in their lives including the virtues of patience, peace and self-control. If I am following the syllogism it goes like this: Mr. x who is in a committed same sex relationship gives evidence of possessing either a gift for ministry like being a pastor or teacher or a Christian virtue like patience or self-control. These are gifts given by the Holy Spirit. Therefore the Holy Spirit is blessing Mr. X. Therefore God is showing the church that the Holy Spirit blesses same-sex attraction and these covenanted relationships. This argument is a form of question begging and a spurious syllogism. [argument reconstruction in bold]

Harding is absolutely right to say the argument is a key element of ECUSA's case: all the more reason to get the argument right. Getting the argument right is partly a matter of seeing the form and stating the form clearly--something that Harding does not do above, or anywhere else in his commentary. Here is how I see ECUSA's argument (see TSHC, 2.0-1):

(1) Same-sex unions exhibiting effects of the Spirit are holy.

(2) There are same-sex unions exhibiting the effects of the Spirit.

Therefore, (3) There are holy same-sex unions.

As you can see, the argument--call it E1--is valid. Behind E1 there is a second argument, call it E2:

(1) The church is permitted to bless holy unions.

(2) Some same-sex unions are holy.

Therefore, (3) The church is permitted to bless some same-sex unions.

So, from E1 and E2, one may infer given that there are same-sex unions exhibiting effects of the Spirit, the church may bless them. In effect, one has a clear argument for ECUSA blessing same-sex unions. Now go back and read Harding's attempt to give ECUSA's argument--no wonder he has a problem with it--indeed, part of the problem, I suggest, stems from his own obscurity.

II. Evaluating ECUSA's argument
The neat thing about valid arguments, like the one given by ECUSA in TSHC, is that if their premises are true, then their conclusions must be true. If the premises of the argument above are true, then it is all over for Harding; regardless of gaffes and omissions made elsewhere in the report, ECUSA will have a sound argument for blessing gay unions.

Although Harding complains about both premises of E1 (call them E1(1) and E1(2)), I think he would be wise to grant E1(1). It rests on a hermeneutical principle seemingly given by Jesus himself: by their fruits you shall know them. Jesus has a decent point; if there are effects, E, that could only come from the presence of one cause, C, then given the presence of E, we may
infer the presence of C.Will he fault ECUSA for taking Jesus at his word? Harding omits any mention or discussion of Jesus' principle, the principle ECUSA employs.

Instead, he makes three criticisms, none of which work. First, he says,

The problem with the argument can be shown if any other condition besides same sex attraction is inserted as a place holder. The rector is a gifted communicator of the Gospel. The rector is engaged in an illicit affair with a member of the congregation. Communicating the Gospel is a Holy Spirit gift. Therefore the Holy Spirit is blessing the rector and therefore the Holy Spirit is blessing the illicit relationship.

Think reader, think--can you spot what is wrong with Harding's first criticism? Take a moment.

Time's up: ECUSA's argument does not concern finding gifts of the Spirit in an individual, but in a relationship; i.e. in same-sex relationships recognized as such within the Christian community. Harding's try at a counterexample misses this point--his case concerns an individual, a rector. Whether or not the rector is blessed by the presence of the Spirit, it is another matter to say his illicit relationship is blessed. Harding fails to explain why we should accept the passage from indiviudal to rector--a passage that ECUSA does not contemplate.

The sloppiness we found in Harding's attempted statement of ECUSA's argument is evident again in his "counterexample". Alas! Unclear about the structure of ECUSA's argument, he just cannot seem to mount a relevant counterexample.

Harding's second criticism:

We are all a mixture of holiness and sin. God surely blesses sinners and even uses them to advance His cause. To argue from this fact to a thorough-going revision of the sexual ethic of the church is to build a staircase with many missing steps. Of all the types of Christians that there are it seems to me that Reformation Christians should be the least surprised that great goodness and great human weakness, cupidity and sin can exist in the same person.

It is hard for me to see any evidence of disciplined thought for a conclusion in that mess of bromides--what is he trying so hard to say? He should be trying to address the truth of the premises in ECUSA's argument; none of those premises are contradicted by anything Harding says here.

On to Harding's third criticism:

[1]An additional problem with the claim to have seen evidence of the gifts of the Spirit is that no reference is made to the Ten Commandments but only to gifts of ministry and lists of virtue. [2]But the whole sweep of the Bible is that holiness consists in keeping the Word and Law of God. [3]Neither lists of gifts of ministry nor Christian virtues can be an adequate definition of holiness apart from God’s foundational holiness code revealed at Sinai. [4]When Paul writes to the Corinthians to complain about their lack of holiness, he points to their violation of the natural law and the law of Moses by virtue of sexual immorality. [5]The approach here again begs the question. [my brackets above]

Again, note the lack of discipline in Harding's writing. Just what is he criticizing? Ostensibly premise E1(2) above. Well let's see how he does. In [1], is he implying that a statement X which claims to find evidence of fruits of the Spirit but does not refer to the Decalogue is false? I do not want to read him that way, because such a reading is obviously mistaken--but then what is the point of [1]? [2] is right, but how is this at issue? All sides would agree with Harding's [2]. Struggling to make a relevant point, he seems to say in [3] ECUSA is mistaken for thinking virtue lists define Sinai holiness. An insipid point: who is saying virtue lists define holiness? Neither E1 nor E2 rest on such an assumption. Likewise, [4] says nothing to contradict any point in ECUSA's argument--ECUSA nowhere denies natural law or the Decalogue. Finally, I would love to know exactly what question Harding alludes to as begged in [5]--can you find a statement of the question he means?

I conclude Harding has no case against E1 and E2. We get a faulty attempt at a counterargument and alot of heavy gesturing without much serious cognitive content.


At 3:43 PM, Anonymous leander harding said...

With regard to critique of my commentary. I do think it is important to get the argument of the opponent correct and I do not think you have gotten mine correct. I explicitly state that I stipulate that homosexual relationships can show signs of proximate moral goods such as loyalty, charity, self-sacrifice etc. Indeed I have witnessed this in my parish ministry. To argue from signs of moral goodness that the relationships themselves are an unabiguous moral good and part of God's intention for male and female is exactly a form of question begging and spurious syllogism. The question being begged is whether homosexuality is intended by God in the creation and represents a proper end or telos for human sexuality.

At 1:21 PM, Anonymous William Witt said...

Knowing Fr. Harding personally, I find it a hoot that you caricature him as a "right-winger." I find the application of political categories in the current debate to be a category mistake anyway, but in Fr. Harding's case, it is so far off as to be downright funny.

Also, Fr. Harding's summary of the syllogism as it usually appears is correct. Your version, while not fallacious, is not the case that is argued.

In your case, the minor premise simply begs the question. After all, if there are same-sex unions exhibiting the effects of the Spirit, then there are same-sex unions exhibiting the effects of the Spirit. But that's really the question, isn't it? Are there same-sex unions exhibiting the effects of the Spirit insofar as they are same-sex unions, and not by some other accidental accompaniment?

At 3:16 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Dr. Witt,

As you know, Harding chose to associate himself with CaNN; one could use the term "classical", but a perusal of CaNN's main news site shows a pronounced slant in the direction of a broad, political affiliation, indeed, a right-wing affiliation. What would your word for its rather acerbic slant be?

More importantly, I suspect neither Harding nor you would believe politics and religion should be sealed off from one another; neither of you, to my knowledge, have ever advocated the naked public square. Or have you? If Harding is a Rawlsian, say,I will rush in with apologies.

Do you mean to say that no effects of the Spirit imply holiness? Surely not; if a same-sex union participates in the ministry of reconciliation, it exhibits an effect of the Spirit implying holiness--would you deny the conditional? Yet this is exactly what To Set Our Hope on Christ claims. Somehow, you and Harding miss this.

At 7:49 PM, Anonymous William Witt said...

To your first point: I'm sorry, but I don't view the political alternatives as Rawlsian liberalism or (what is called) "Right-wing" liberalism. As Alasdair McIntyre has noted, the current political choices are between "conservative liberalism," "moderate liberalism," and "liberal liberalism." I (and I think Dr. Harding) choose "none of the above."

to your second: I think your thesis implies a kind of "unity of the virtues" that is not consistent with real life. It is quite possible for people to exercise virtue in one area without having all the virtues. Someone involved in an illicit activity (not necessarily sexual) may well exercise at least apparent goodness in other areas of his or her life. Indeed, there may even be incidental virtuous comcommitants attached to the vice-ious activity. Despite the proverb, there can indeed be honor among thieves. But it is simply a non sequitur to insist that because Person A involved in Activity B exhibits character C of which I approve, that character C is a direct consequence of Activity B, and that, therefore, Activity B is to be approved.

ECUSA is engaging in a classic post hoc propter hoc fallacy.

At 7:49 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Granted, there are more options than right and left wing liberalism; there are at least right and left wing forms of communitarianism, as you allude to, and other options besides. And I will yield to your knowledge of Dr. Harding's political affilaitions; I should not have brought that up at all.

You are right to say that I hold to a unity of the virtues thesis--but I find it defensible in this context. What you refer to as "at least apparent goodness" is insufficient, not necessarily rising to the status or genuine goodness.

As for incidental virtuous concomitants, like theives who tell the truth to each other, this is no genuine virtue. No virtuous person would be honest in the midst of a band of robbers, because such a one would not be amoing them to begin with.

I am not sure where your non seq comes from.


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