Justice and the Red Herring

Image taken from: Regulation Red Herring


Doug Wilson has recently posted a follow up to his Jezehellsbells article with a defense on why linking Natalie’s husband’s videos was a solid blow across the bow and not engaging in dishonest logical fallacies. He first follows up with a confirmation of what I was most fearful of in my original ‘Red Herrings’ article. In that I wrote:

Wilson’s defenestration of the Greenfields will be persuasive to his followers. It will be persuasive to people who are just now learning about what is happening, read his post, say “ick” and thus trust Wilson’s handling of the whole fiasco entirely.

And in his followup Wilson confirms:

This was a game changer for a number of people in the middle, but there were also some die-hards who objected. In addition, some folks in the middle had questions about the propriety of me doing something like that, with others having questions about the relevance of it.

That’s exactly what I was fearful of, but I am glad that there are some who did have the wisdom to question both the propriety and relevance of Wilson posting these videos. Wilson then goes on to defend why posting these videos was not an ad hominem attack (which, to be certain, he is still guilty of), using a defense against this fallacy as a red herring to draw attention away from his original use of the red herring fallacy.

Wilson grants, cheerfully even, that “the future performance art of Wes was certainly irrelevant to what we did or did not do ten years ago.” which is a huge thing to admit. As far as I know and can tell, wrongdoing and mishandling of the case 10 years ago is what people primarily want Wilson to acknowledge. Of course it’s phrased in such a way that he does not admit that any mistakes were made back then and it’s quickly brushed aside for the real focus of Wilson’s attack:

But Natalie’s view of such performance art is not irrelevant at all. She approves of the videos now, and she is accusing us of certain things now. How reliable is she now? What is her worldview about all such matters now? What kind of paradigm is producing her assessments?

So apparently, even if the videos are irrelevant to the discussion of what happened 10 years ago, as Wilson will “cheerfully” grant, they are somehow entirely relevant to Natalie when she talks about what happened ten years ago? If they truly are irrelevant, shouldn’t she be able to speak about her experience from back then without those videos coming into the picture at all?

Wilson draws up a hypothetical for BozT to answer that’s similarly irrelevant. It asks that IF Natalie and her husband were professing Christians and IF his ministry was asked to review that church’s work, what he’d have to say if her husband had created those videos and also happened to coach a church sponsored wrestling club. That’s just enough What Ifs to draw attention away from the So What’s? What does this idealistic hypothetical that has been constructed have to do with what actually happened? This is a blatant red herring, it’s a distraction from the true crimes that were committed.

A man made naked videos for school projects, why is that a red flag for BozT and his ministry? What is Wilson implying by saying this should make a man unfit to coach a wrestling club? Wilson writes: “none of this is intended to say or to imply that Wes or Natalie are abusers of children. It is to say that they would not be my go-to witnesses for an accurate assessment of abuse.”  Why is that? What do any of those videos have to do with abuse, or children, that would discredit them, especially Natalie, who has actually experienced it, to speak on it? Wilson is trying to make Christian parents squirm about their kids being coached by a man who has made videos for his coursework of questionable taste vs. sending their kids to a school or “seminary” that has actively defended and taken the side of pedophiles and rapists. That is the ultimate red herring.

But Natalie has mounted a strong challenge to us and our ministry, saying that a sexual abuse case (hers) was mishandled by us. She has made this case in such a way as to appeal to a large number of Christians, who have simply believed her account while assuming that her definition of what is sexually normal lines up with theirs. But it doesn’t. She stands by the videos, and says that they are perfectly fine, nothing to be ashamed of.

The charge is that Natalie has an abnormal view of what is sexually normal, and this makes her testimony suspect. This assertion naturally  makes us ask how it makes her testimony suspect. If you haven’t already, please familiarize yourself with her account and then ask if her “abnormal” view of sexuality makes her a bad witness for her own experience. The other side of the coin is that if her “abnormal” view of sexuality means she cannot properly assess her own case, what is it about what happened to her that Wilson considers normal? It’s an inescapable question. If Natalie’s “Portlandia” worldview means she does not know what is abuse and what is not, what exactly is Wilson implying? By implying that Natalie is unable to properly judge her own abuse as abuse, Wilson is justifying and defending everything Jamin did. Should we expect anything less from the man whose juvenile worldview of sex boils down to “A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts”?

By the way, as far as Portlandia goes as a smear, about half the skits of that show remind me of any yuppie or nearly retired Church couple I can think of. Like this one.

So the gulf has widened. But not everyone was aware of this gulf. The Christian community here in Moscow was aware of it because Wes and Natalie moved to Portland, and were very public in their embrace of that town’s vibe, and all that goes with it. Many of us have seen how she presented herself over the years — but in addition to that we have also noticed how she has recently been carefully curating her persona, her profile, in order to make it more palatable to Christians elsewhere. She grew up in a Christian home, and so knows the language. But she has nevertheless fallen away from the faith, and has been very much a daughter of Portlandia. I would link to some examples — as egregious as the videos — but she has taken them down. She has scrubbed a number of things from her online presence, and that was done for a reason. But for some reason, they neglected to take down the videos.

I’ll just say, I took a look at her blog and online presence through various internet archives and caches and the vast majority of it is no more offensive than your average homeschool mama blog. Wilson has been doing this for a while, saying there’s something out there but never quite delivering. I don’t know what he expects will shock us at this point. I know I’d be a bit embarrassed if he pulled up my old Livejournal entries, but at this point we know that if Wilson has dirt he’s going to spill it. At this point he’s just reaching out further to those in the middle he spoke of above that the videos were a game changer for. It’s shoring his defenses.

Now let’s get to the meat of this:

The end result of all this is that you can see Natalie’s supporters online trying to crowd-source a coherent response, and they are having trouble. They are completely at odds with each other. One group, the conservative Christian part, says that the videos are appalling and disgusting, but that they have nothing to do with the case. The other half says that the videos really “are too” performance art, and that I am a dirty bird for seeing anything wrong with them. These two groups cannot work together so long as this is on the table, and that is why I put it on the table. Their previous cooperation depended on the Christian side of the room not knowing what was actually going on.

Reviewing the comments I’ve had for my Red Herring article, the thorough analysis of Ulysses, Kbotkin’s articles, and my twitter feed, I don’t really see the discord that Wilson is claiming or at least hoping to see. As I said before, I don’t really like the videos but I have no understanding about what they have to do about anything and I don’t see why that puts me at odds with those who do understand them (maybe they know more about Classical Education than I do) when we agree that what the actual subject of what we’re talking about, Natalie’s abuse and Christ Church/Doug Wilson’s mishandling of it has to do with our take on those videos. When I described Wilson’s Jezzehellsbells post to my wife and told her about the videos she said “gross”, when I told her about the point Wilson was trying to prove she said “what the hell does that have to do with anything?” No matter what you think about the videos, the question rings true, “What the hell does that have to do with anything?” Wilson admits that this is exactly why he leaked these pirated videos. Sorry Doug, I’m a Christian on the side of the room that knows what is actually going on and as a Christian, I’m most concerned with you, a Christian pastor who holds sway in the Reformed community, and what you are doing.


11 thoughts on “Justice and the Red Herring

  1. Commenters at Mablog & Darren Doane keep saying “so you’re ok with Wesleys videos being shown to children??” Why do they keep saying this?


    1. I suspect it’s because they don’t understand the difference between adult content in adult forums and pedophilia, as borne out in Doug Wilson’s willingness to marry Steven Sitler who wanted to have children.


  2. Are we getting to the point where Wilson will soon be saying “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” like Bill Clinton back in the day? It sure looks like it from here.


      1. I take it that the two of you have read it?
        Or are you just going by who the author is and assume (with good reason) that it’s going to be bad?


      2. Mara, I’ve read wide swaths of it, though I don’t think I’ve read cover to cover. My parents have a whole shelf of Dougie. I skimmed most of them at one time or another.


  3. One more thought having reread Doug’s comments: he is brazen in his willingness to divide and conquer. There are in fact Christians and not who will not play that polarization game. I’m not seeing the division he wants anywhere outside of his own divisiveness. He needs to stop deflecting; it is beneath a Christian let alone a purported minister.


  4. NOT saying this is the case, but couldn’t Natalie’s sense of what is “sexually normal” have been affected by her abuse as a child? It is often true in cases of child molestation that the child have will have difficulty figuring out what is “sexually normal.” Some women who have been raped have PTSD and have difficulty functioning or trusting men in any situation. I would think that a pastor would be careful of this line of inquiry as it might turn back on him. After all, if Natalie’s worldview is suspect, couldn’t her abuse have had something to do with it?


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