Slippery Slope Silliness

One of the most annoying things about online discussions is when "the slippery slope" is evoked to "prove" a point.

Slippery slopes often end up with the Nazis! Here is one recent example which circulated on the internet when gun control was discussed in the USA: "Any attempt to restrict access to semiautomatic weapons is a slippery slope toward a totalitarian government... the Nazi's began their reign of terror by taking guns off the populace!" (Indeed, democratic countries with the rule of law and a free press that have introduced tight gun controls in the past, like the UK and Australia, are now totalitarian states... NOT.)

When a "slippery slope" is evoked, nothing can be evaluated on its own merits: an imagined diabolical end point "proves" an idea is bad. Cory Bernardi's "gay marriage will lead to bestiality" comments were rather prominent on the news last year as an Australian parliamentarian was tripped up by his own "slippery slope" silliness.

The "slippery slope" can be evoked around the issue of women in ministry, even by intelligent people who really should know better. One minute you have women preaching, the next minute you'll have gay bishops. Because everyone knows the two things are related.

From this point onward on this post, I will do a cut and paste of Scot McKnight's response to Wayne Grudem's response to William Webb's book (is that complicated enough for you?) Scot teases out the issue with his usual brilliance:

I register my disagreement on Grudem’s “slippery slope” argument. I have said before on this blog that I think nearly always the slippery slope accusation is dangerous. It is rhetorically effective for many; it often successfully labels someone a liberal (or leaning in that direction); but it is rarely a logical course of action. It works like this for Grudem (p. 28):

1. Abandon inerrancy.
2. Endorse ordaining women.
3. Abandon headship of males.
4. Exclude clergy who are opposed to women’s ordination.
5. Approve homosexuality as morally valid in some cases.
6. Approve homosexual ordination.
7. Ordain homosexuals to high leadership in denominations.

This is a “predictable” sequence (28) though only the Epicopals have done so. (Which means to me it is not all that predictable, since there are plenty in #1 who aren’t in #7.)

I do not dispute this is the case for the Episcopalian Church in the USA; I don’t know that it is a logical process so much as an entire cluster of commitments, one of which would be a view of the Bible quite different than that of Grudem. I think, however, there is a lack of appreciation for (1) the many Episcopals who do not follow most (even any) of this and (2) for the lack of logical necessity between these steps. In other words, some don’t believe in inerrancy and still don’t endorse women’s ordination; some don’t believe in inerrancy and still believe in male headship. Conversely, some believe in inerrancy and still believe in some of the other numbers. There is no slippery slope here. Not all those in the Episcopal Church agree with women’s ordination. Some make these moves from step to step; some don’t. That the latter happens proves that this is actually not a slippery slope that once one gets on that person will fall headlong down the path into the pit.

This sort of slope is actually a mental construct that some choose to believe. I don’t. We could easily make one that leads from accepting male headship to male abuse of women — and I am loath to bring this up because I find it obnoxious and illogical. But, the slippery slope mentality needs to be debunked for what it is: at best a sometimes-slope, almost never slippery, never necessary, and always a path taken by people who have chosen to go down that road for any number of reasons.

I have mentioned Wayne Grudem here before, because he is really the only the top-shelf theologian defending Complementarianism (that I am aware of anyway... the other voices, like Mark Driscoll, are church pastors with a teaching platform). I'm not saying I'm smarter than Grudem... I have neither the intellect nor the concentration span to write volumes about Systematic Theology. However, the fact such a scholar uses the lame "slippery slope" argument speaks volumes to an intuitive person like me. What would make him fall for this?

Maybe, without even being fully cognisant of it, defending all the traditions of his church is a primal imperative for Grudem, driving him to seek out theological justfication for maintaining such traditions (such as "The Eternal Subordination of the Son" to justify Complementarianism). Maybe Grudem defends Complementarianism because he is defending the authority of the bible AND defending colleagues in the clergy who might lose their jobs if they don't accept women in ministry AND defending the church against homosexual leaders in senior positions. Maybe these traditions are all a "package deal" somewhere deep in his psyche.

This is not a theological critique of Grudem in any way, shape, or form. Nor am I saying my hunch is true... I'm not Gruden's therapist; indeed, I don't know him from Adam. But he is human, despite being a theologian :-). And this might explain how someone with a fine mind manages to fall headlong into a silly slippery slope argument... we human beings most often do this when we have strong feelings about something.

I'll leave my final "slippery slope" comment to none other than Mark Driscoll, who blogged after a woman was appointed bishop in the Episcopal church in the USA: "If Christian males do not man up soon, the Episcopalians may vote a fluffy baby bunny rabbit as their next bishop to lead God's men."

Not a bad quote for Easter time. It's a good time of year to think about fluffy baby bunny rabbits.

So... have you seen any good "slippery slope" quotes lately?


Lucy J said…
Teenagers also do something similar... I think it is related to absurdum ad infinitum
Janet Woodlock said…
I'm lucky if my teenagers communicate at all Lucy. :-)

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