Lessons in Moral Epistemology for Philosophers By Steve Schlissel
Rev. Steve Schlissel - February 5, 2008
Are Curves and Straight Lines Interchangeable?
Brilliance, Perception, Lenses, and the Christian Reformed Church
Having come across an article I found to be a true treat, intellectually, I asked Craig, the Go-To-Man at Messiah’s, if he would mind calling Alvin Plantinga to get permission for us to post it on the Net, or perhaps reprint it. While Dr. Plantinga graciously granted permission, for his part (there are other parties who must also grant permission), he brought back unpleasant memories of days in the Christian Reformed Church. It was the late eighties when the spin doctors luxuriated in their power, not only in national and international media, but also in small editorial positions, like that enjoyed by Andy Kuyvenhoven as editor of the Banner, the denominational magazine of the CRC.
Andy was as charming a Dutchman as you were likely to meet; I always found him winsome in person, quick, clever, able to do repartee with most Jews of my acquaintance (a serious compliment). I recall talking with him once outside Calvin College auditorium about feminism or some such. He said, “Communism, Plagiarism, the only -ism we should be concerned with preserving is Calvinism.” I think it can be explained by his having spent too many freezing nights working the oil fields in Alberta, but his deadpan left me lost as to whether he was serious or about to wink. It’s probably that which keeps him in a pleasant file cabinet in my mind, despite the fact that his editorship often infuriated me (and many others).
Andy was of that school of journalism that thinks editors are missionaries, but their mission is to stir. This could be a welcome blessing, or just as easily a disposition Satan would very much like to recruit in his service. To challenge the mostly Dutch immigrant churches of the CRC to think seriously about the meaning of their American past and future, his most infamous cover was a pair of wooden shoes–on fire. That was a pretty hostile swipe at a mere cultural expression. Was he serious, or was he going over the top so that the point could be made without daring to take him seriously? God knows, and Andy knew. I didn’t.
Anyway, as I was saying, he loved to stir the pot and get everyone riled and talking. He was the Banner editor during most of my 15 minutes. It was 1987 and I had just delivered a very well received speech to Concerned Members of the CRC, gathered in a large convention in South Holland, IL. During that speech, I sought to make a point using an illustration. Suppose there is a wayward child, always daring God and parents to discipline him, if for no other reason than to protect the child from himself. The child so frequently provoked disciplinary instincts that at last the parent could not envision continuing the struggle. I compared that child to the CRC’s bureaucrats who were determined to take her down a latitudinarian and death-tempting trail. Envisioning the point where the parent (in this case, the weary conservatives in the CRC) just gives up, I had them saying, “Go ahead. Go ahead. Have your whores at the seminary, your evolutionists at Calvin College. I don’t care anymore. Just leave me alone.”
I’d have to listen to that speech to tell you exactly how, but I can tell you that it sure seemed clear to me that I was talking about executives and teachers at the seminary (and college and at 2850 Kalamazoo Avenue Headquarters) who dared to defy the confessional integrity of Calvin Sem (and other agencies) in a full, frontal assault on the treasured convictions of the money-base in the CRC, flagrantly revising the confessional understanding of Creationâ€”and Scripture’s testimony to the same, as well as the Bible’s general character as a conveyor of God’s will, Word and wonders. This they were doing without benefit of discussion or synodical vote. Rather, they introduced their poison surreptitiously, by means of mere political positioning, and that done dishonestly. They would flatly deny to inquiring supporters that any such changes or revisions had ever been discussed, let alone promulgated, and these denials were issued while they were getting themselves and their cronies into place. After securing those power positionsâ€”from which they could not be easily movedâ€” they would suddenly, freely and aggressively confess their agenda, always implying that they undertook the entire subterfuge “for love of our denomination.” I despised them then, and I cannot but despise them now. They were marked by an utter lack of integrityâ€”or brains. I had trouble deciding which accounting would be less offensive, but I was sure it was one or the other: they are too stupid to understand how the devil is using them, or they were being quite deliberate in their plan to seize control of the denominational infrastructure.
Since I always knew what I meant when I mentioned the “whores at the seminary,” I confess to being more than a little shocked when the Banner covered the Concerned Members assembly by declaring in a headline that Schlissel had called all “female seminarians” whores! WHAT!? Where did they get that from? Not content to allow Andy Spinhoven have the last lying word, I called the seminary president and told him of the false report. I asked for the names of every female seminarian so that I might send a personal, handwritten explanation of the truth, along with a humble apology for any grief they may have suffered properly attributable to me. Of course, since I said no such thing, that apology should have come from Andy. Ha!
So why is all this whirring around my brain just now? Because when Craig asked Alvin if we could use his great essay, Dr. Plantinga said he was inclined to allow it “even though Schlissel had called his daughters whores.” There are several instructive lessons in this occurrence. The one that interests me the most is how even an epistemologist could be so unaware of the flimsy basis of what he thought he knew. “But,” you’ll say, “it was simply because he operated on the news he had received.”
Perhaps. But I don’t think so. I think it can be traced to Plantinga’s own feminist inclinations and a choice he made, on some level or other, to remember the events the way he did. Now whether or not that is the accounting for his misperception, I still find it fascinating how even the most aware and brilliant people on the planet, even devout, brilliant Christians, can be so sadly mistaken about realities in front of their noses. When epistemologists can’t sort out what they know from what they think they know, we’d do well to consider the power of the delusion that is at work in feminism. God willing, I’ll give more details in the next turn of the wheel.