In the West, we have a new coping mechanism for a guilty conscience. Just slander those who disagree with you. When anyone attempts to speak, even with courtesy, from a biblically informed perspective on morality, just shout them down and call them hateful.
I thought about this while preparing Darrow’s recent post, “Pagan Persecution of Christians: In Peter’s Day and Ours,” especially this excerpt.
Sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, lawless idolatry … these are typical behaviors in pagan culture throughout history. We can see these behaviors growing in Western societies today as a “neo-Paganism” (not actually new) grows in the soil of postmodernism. And what was the pagan response to the Christians in Asia Minor? They found it strange that Christ followers did not join in their pagan lifestyle. Thus did the Babylonian world malign the Christians.
Darrow is referencing 1 Peter 4:3-4, “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you,” (NIV). Note the two terms that capture the response of pagans to their Christian neighbors: they “think it strange” and they “malign.” Sounds like a guilty conscience at work.
No one can malign his way out of a guilty conscience
The ESV and NAS translate the word “strange” (xenizo) as “surprise.” Surprise can be moderate, as with the Athenians who responded to Paul, apparently without hostility, “You are bringing strange things to our ears” (Acts 17:20). But Peter pairs “surprised” with “malign” suggesting something more in keeping with today’s public-square exchange.
The word translated “malign” is “to speak against someone in such a way as to harm or injure his or her reputation … to revile, to defame, to blaspheme.”[i] In fact, the transliteration of this word is blasphemeo.
The interchange today goes something like this.
“We don’t have the privilege of redefining marriage. God established it.”
“That’s absurd. You’re weird. I hate you. You’re scum. You’re not worthy of respect.”
Surprised and malign. It happened then; it happens now. But why? Why are people surprised to discover Judeo-Christian morality? And having made that surprising discovery, why do they malign those who embrace such morality? Paul nails it: “They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them,” (Rom 2:15 ESV).
We don’t know it’s a guilty conscience at work. One’s conscience is invisible to all but God. But what we can see could certainly be explained as that. “They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth,” Amos 5:10 ESV.
You can watch this play out in a video of a Piers Morgan episode from 2013. Morgan invited Ryan Anderson, William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow in American Principles & Public Policy, to debate the subject of same-sex “marriage.” The episode was aired just before the Supreme Court of the US issued what turned out to be a disastrous finding on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a ruling that led later to the Obergfell finding legalizing same-sex “marriage” in the US.
[Go here to see the video online.]
The show was billed as a “debate” between Ryan Anderson and Suze Orman. Ms. Orman is an “American author, financial advisor, motivational speaker, and television host.”[ii] But the studio setting immediately revealed the host’s bias. Orman sat next to Morgan at the table, while Anderson was relegated to the audience, a symbolic stripping of his status as debate contestant and peer of Orman. Nevertheless, bereft of that proper footing, Anderson continued to engage with remarkable poise, responding with courtesy and patience to Morgan’s indignation and interruptions.
At one point Morgan turns to Orman beside him at the table, “This is a guy sitting a few feet away from you who says, ‘Nope, I don’t want people like you able to have the same right to get married as people like him!’”
In response, Orman belittles Anderson: “I feel compassion for you because … you are very, very uneducated about how it really works.” The crowd applauds for the first time.
Of all the terms to describe Ryan Anderson, “very, very uneducated” has to rank near the bottom. Mr. Anderson never attacked his opponent or defended himself. The fact is, he could have appealed to a remarkable scholarship that lay behind his words. He earned a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Notre Dame. He has published numerous articles in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, the Harvard Health Policy Review, The Weekly Standard, and National Review. His research was cited by two U.S. Supreme Court justices, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, in two separate cases. He is the author of Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom and co-author with Robert P. George and Sherif Girgis of What is Marriage? A Man and a Woman. His latest book, Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination, is set for release in June.
“Very, very uneducated about how it really works” is perhaps not quite accurate.
In fact, Anderson was everything Orman was not: composed, dispassionate, courteous and fair. She repeatedly resorted to drama in her voice inflection, her countenance and her gestures. The camera trained on her is placed well back behind the audience, while the camera man covering Anderson stands in front of him just a few feet away.
Near the end of the video, unable to refute his impeccable logic, she turns to the audience, “Audience, what do you say to him?” and they are quick to respond: “No! Boo!” Ryan’s position is made out to be “absurd,” obsolete and “offensive.” The apostle Peter’s words, surprised and malign, certainly fit the occasion. Is this the response of a guilty conscience?
“To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their conscience are defiled,” Titus 1:15 ESV.
Darrow has often said that no one is an atheist for metaphysical reasons. People profess atheism in an effort to cast off moral accountability to a divine Judge. They want to pursue the sinful desires of the flesh. Peter lists these sins, identifying them as “what pagans choose to do … debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.” Those who refuse to participate are considered strange.
Hans Bietenhard (1916-2008) taught theology and New Testament at the University of Berne. Dr. Bietenhard elaborates on xenoi (stranger).
Before their call to faith in Christ, the Gentile Christians were xenoi (strangers) and paroikoi (aliens). As heathen, they had no part in Israel’s call to be the people of God, and were excluded from the promises. But now in Christ they are fellow citizens with the saints, i.e. Jewish Christians, and members of the household of God (Eph 2:19; cf the whole argument of Ephesians 2:11 ff.). As Christians thus become citizens in God’s sight, they have their citizenship in heaven (Phil. 3:20; cf Gal. 4:26; Eph. 2:6; Heb. 11:15ff; 12:22; 13:14). The patriarchs already provide the pattern for this. They did not receive the promises but saw them from afar, thereby showing that they lived as xenoi (strangers) and parepidemoi (exiles) on the earth (Hebrews 11:13). Christians are thus put under a new divine law of life which shields them from the vices of the heathen who regard them as strange (xenizontai, 1st Peter 4:4).[iii]
- Gary Brumbelow
[i] Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd Edition, Edited by J. P. Louw and E. A. Nida. Copyright © 1988 by the United Bible Societies, New York, NY 10023. Used by permission.
[iii] Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol 1, p 689