…his first criticism, that I don’t understand what an agonistic culture is, is a good example of bluster. I addressed this reality very clearly and straightforwardly in both my review of Copan and in HFG (on more than one occasion in each), and I showed why this move is a red herring. One can’t replace moral evaluation with historical description and expect that to solve the moral problem.
First of all, yes – Stark had no idea what an agonistic culture is; and he had no idea, not until I told him. He makes no reference to it anywhere in his work, nor does he ever refer to any scholar who has done work in that area. He shows no awareness of such concepts as honor and shame (he refers to honor only when quoting of it in the Biblical text), limited good, the role of envy, or the collectivist vs. individualist mindset. If he did know any of this, he would have used it in his work. He also would have recognized Susan Niditch’s profound error in attributing the origins of the “ban” (cherem) to the need to assuage guilt over killing people.
Second, yes, one CAN use historical description – as well as social and anthropological description – to solve the moral problem, or rather, show that it does not exist in the first place. The moral “problem” seen is rooted in the bigoted evaluation of critics like Stark who presume that their own modern, Western values are superior and that they are warranted in looking down their snot-encrusted noses at those bone in the nose heathens who would DARE violate their modern moral standards.
As it is, Stark has not done a whit better than any critic so far in presenting more than “argument by outrage” (link below). He never offers any serious, complex evaluation of the social settings of the OT world; such references are sparse, incomplete, and without reference to the most critical concepts of all (honor/shame, etc per above). It’s not hard to see why he doesn’t, either:
In HFG I cite Jeffrey Stout at length on just this issue. That I am called “bigoted” for making moral judgments about an agonistic culture is humorous. In the review itself I make a clear distinction between judging actions as moral or immoral and judging those who engage in them as moral or immoral. With human sacrifice, for example, I explained how its logic made great sense to the ancients, and I said that while we should judge the act of child sacrifice as immoral, that doesn’t necessarily mean that parents who practiced it were immoral people. We should give them the benefit of the doubt that they were doing the best they could with what they believed.
How nice. How irrelevant. I am not questioning whether Stark judges ancient people, although he clearly does so, yet in such a way as to maintain plausible deniability. The technique is one that allows the critic to maintain their air of condescending moral superiority while also not seeming to judge people as people. They’ve learned, in other words, the way to maintain the surface impression of “love the sinner, hate the sin,” an attitude that Stark certainly learned when he was a fundamentalist. But the moment Stark airs out his own hypocrisy (as when he lashes out at those who criticize him), the pretense is exposed. He may apologize later -- but by then it's too late. The one benefit here is that he doesn't have to apologize to dead people from the Bible when he insults them.
Even so, the question I raise IS about judging the acts as moral or immoral; and Stark’s judgments on these matters are informed by nothing more than his presumption that his own values and morals are superior and that he is competent to make judgments (and Stout offers nothing of any more substance). As it is, again, he provides little to no serious ethical analysis; his critique of Copan is rife with “arguments” that amount to, “oh, how horrible!” or “how would you feel if someone did this to you?” That’s probably as deep and as complex as his mental capacity allows him to go, but it won’t do the job for those who require more than an emotional high to be convinced.
In a comment elsewhere, Stark whines:
I’ve read Holding’s responses so far. I’ve attempted to have fruitful engagements with him in the past and it hasn’t worked, so I won’t be engaging him. If you do have any questions about particular criticisms, feel free voice them here and I’ll be more than happy to respond, but I’m not going to use my time trying to persuade Holding; that’s a bottomless pit.
Oh yes, that’s a microcosm all right, concerning Stark’s own moral turpitude. You see, if he’s telling the truth, there’s no way he could have read my responses to him so far, unless he’s stealing them. The response is part of an E-Block series, and he’s supposed to hit a “donate” button to get access to that. As it is, it is clear that he is not in the least disturbed about stealing others’ intellectual property, even when it is clear that he is supposed to be providing compensation. By the same token, whoever is giving him that copy is participating in the theft as well. So he’s stealing...or maybe lying about stealing. Either way, he and his twin Loftus seem to have this thing about trying to violate the Ten Commandments.
The stark reality is that Stark knows he is in over his head – he’s made multiple mistakes that he refuses to admit, even on the most trivial matters. (Link below.) Like Loftus – whose moral and intellectual twin he is – he won’t face me on an open forum like TheologyWeb, because the reality is that he knows he’s not prepared for it, and never will be. Do be prepared for this much, though: As a skilled rationalizer, he is very likely even now “cramming” on social science literature, so that he can say later on that he was familiar with it all along and throw around words like “agonistic” with the air of one who is doing more than just slurring them like a parrot who overheard it.
Yep. Thommy Stark is Anthony Weiner of liberal “Christianity” – except that it’s his mind that’s wearing no clothes.