Why Eusebius McKaiser’s “No need to treat God with kid gloves” article is a perfect example of Apologetics gone wrong

Well-known radio personality, political commentator, debater and philosophical lecturer Eusebius McKaiser published an article through The Star this morning entitled: “No need to treat God with kid gloves“. It’s the perfect example of apologetics gone wrong – atheist or Christian.

(In the article McKaiser advertises his upcoming debate with well-known Christian apologist John Lennox, which will be taking place this Thursday, 7pm, at WITS University JHB’s Great Hall. I’ll live-tweet the debate and blog about it on Friday. My Twitter handle is @RyanPeterWrites.)

McKaiser basically takes religious people apart in his article for being sensitive when their personal beliefs are questioned, especially publically. He is right that “too many religious believers think that debating their beliefs is intrinsically offensive” and that questions about our beliefs should turn us on. He is wrong about how this should be done – or at least he hasn’t explained his position too well.

On one hand, McKaiser states that he “doesn’t mean being offensive is acceptable” but on the other hand he says, “Why do many people who believe in some sort of higher power think that religious convictions are beyond lampooning, ridiculing, criticism or close intellectual scrutiny?”

Unfortunately, ‘close intellectual scrutiny’ and ‘lampooning’ and ‘ridiculing’ don’t really belong in the same sentence. McKaiser says that ideas should be engaged with a ‘mix of reason and ridicule’ but I fail to see how the latter has ever helped the former to take place. He uses Richard Dawkins as a prime example, but it runs against his point – Dawkins has, in recent years, decided that ridicule works better than reason, but all we’re seeing is a quick degrade into irrelevance and silliness.

Much like the comments section at McKaiser’s article. (Don’t read the comments – you’ll waste precious hours of your life.)

If he is talking about comedy, that’s fair and well, but he isn’t. Substitute all that he says about how ridicule and lampooning is perfectly acceptable with homosexuality or race and it all falls flat. In fact, all he would look like then is that wonderful debate-stirring word used for anything these days, ‘bigot’. Why should religious people have to grow thick skin but everyone else is the victim of some vicious hate speech crime if you disagree with their views?

McKaiser’s article represents all that can go wrong with apologetics because it encourages the wrong things. Respect should be encouraged. And so should love.

Respect doesn’t mean that everything is relative and there is no truth and facts fly out the window. Respect simply means that, regardless of your views, I still see you as a person of intrinsic value and treat you as such. Ridicule, however, never does that as it’s about attacking the person.

Unfortunately, anything McKaiser wants to say about morality (that’s what his debate with Lennox will be about on Thursday) is weakened when he says ridicule is a valid form of debate. Does McKaiser have any reason outside of his own relative and changing morality to respect or love someone despite their beliefs? Is that kind of morality something we can build our lives on?

This is the kind of question the debate on Thursday will probably cover. Should be a good one!

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27 thoughts on “Why Eusebius McKaiser’s “No need to treat God with kid gloves” article is a perfect example of Apologetics gone wrong”

  1. Yea I don’t think it matters what John Lennox has to say. McKaiser has picked his fight and he’s going after it. The article is testament to that. He has started the debate before it has even begun with a shot across the bow (the article).

    Its classic journo skulduggery and I don’t think the man has the capacity to backtrack on any holes Lennox exposes in his debate. He’s just gonna ask question after question without regard for the answer.

  2. Ryan I had quite a different experience of his article to you. I, on the whole, quite enjoyed the piece and thought he was basically on the money. I saw his main aim in the article to be exactly as the title suggests – a challenge to religious folk who treat God stuff with kid gloves. Concerning his comments about ridicule and lampooning, I really just took those as a call for strident debate – nothing more. I suspect he might have a reasoned explanation for how he believes ridicule can be appropriately utilized. And ridicule is not something that Christian apologists do not utilize (I’ve heard more than one instance in Lennox’s talks). I don’t think he believes in any way that one should lack civility in debate or treat one’s opponent as having less dignity. I saw it more as a call to robust debate. Having followed him for quite a long time now I feel he’s often a model of robust, yet civil debate – more so than some Christians I see. Maybe I missed something but I really didn’t have the reaction you did.

    1. Thanks Stephen. I could have missed what you saw as I don’t know him too well. Interesting that, don’t you think? It has so much to do with the person and less than what we see on the page? Tone is so important, and if you don’t know a guy, you don’t know his tone.

    1. Would be interesting πŸ™‚ I suspect that it’s the wrong word to use – there must be a better word that means what he might be trying to say (although, I’m still suspicious of what he was trying to say).

  3. Ryan you’re utterly presumptuous about me as are some of your buddies. Cheers Stephen for the generous defence in my absence. Let me unapologetically say a few things and leave it there Ryan. Come say hi in person on Thursday. And as an aside: it’s a privilege for me that someone takes me sufficiently seriously to needlessly give up time to come see me in a debate. Thanks, sincerely. The tweet and blogging offers in relation to the debate are kind. Much appreciated.

    That said a few blunt responses to this thread are needed:

    1. Let’s leave even implied disses for iol readers and news 24 readers. It’s cheap. Not brave. And merely enabled by anonymity or when names are provided by likelihood you’d never meet someone. In person I find ‘brave’ online characters shrink. They never sustain their views when we meet.

    Unsurprisingly. So stick to being agnostic about a character till you know enough of their work or meet them. Sharing a ‘LOL’ with a chum on your blog proves…..that you’re chums. It’s not refutation or argument.

    2. Second I’m not a journo out to ask silly questions. I’m not a journalist at all. Real journos report. I’m a talk show host. You don’t know me. I have three philosophy degrees all with distinction including an MA thesis in moral epistemology that offered a non-theistic account of moral objectivity.

    Disabuse yourselves of thinking a talk show host has no other skills or careers or qualifications. I have lectured in this area and know moral epistemology well. It’s very South African to assume journalists or talk show hosts are not analytically skilled or knowledgeable beyond how you know them publicly. It’s the very reason I chose a media career over full time academic work. To challenge the public on public debates that are often needlessly poor.But it means a reader like you will not get away with pot shots – sorry. Hence this entry from me.

    I say this because you casually think I thoughtlessly used concepts like ‘ridicule’ and ‘lampoon’ while still saying offensive behaviour doesn’t help. You thought you’d spotted an inconsistency. Not so. Way too hasty as Stephen pointed out (oh and not because he knows me better than you. YOU imputed intolerant tonality to me as a writer. Check your assumption that one tone only exists in my column text as if readers bring nothing to the reading process. Stephen differed because he chose to read with a view to taking me seriously. Take reader responsibility for getting the central point wrong. You responded to Stephen as if the tone you experienced is inherent in the text. Not so. That’s why we routinely differ as readers of texts. )

    Um…no on the substantive issue: There is serious literature in philosophy of argument and moral philosophy about ridicule, about when it might even be morally dubious to debate someone etc. These are serious subjects of deep and interesting academic philosophy debate.

    You’re using a folk conception of ridicule and think that you found a fatal problem in my use of it.

    To answer your one question: of course I can both ridicule you and reason with you. They’re not mutually exclusive and in daily speech acts we do that all the time.


    “Ryan that’s an absurd view dude about the Bokke. You should be ashamed to believe that. Sies! Played too much netball at school and not enough rugby? But…hear me out. On a more serious note. Three reasons why you’re not convincing me….One…Two…Three…”

    You’re both asserting without proof that ridiculing undermines evidence based reasoning and good logical engagement. And more importantly you’ve not reflected on the dialogical value of lampooning or ridiculing.

    Aside: Rebecca Davis and I once explored a related topic — when it is morally permissible in argument to say ‘Fuck off’. And halt engagement. If you want to convince me apartheid was morally acceptable for example it may be self-harming to engage you as a bona fide interlocutor while you undermine my dignity with such an offensive claim. Such views aren’t just beyond the pale. They’re morally odious and deserve both ridicule and counter-argument.

    3. Ironically after implying I did not make fine-grained distinctions you go on to assert huge philosophy concepts casually – ‘love’ and ‘respect’ opponents. Love? Weird. I need not love John to engage him rationally and respectfully. You’re taking philosophical liberties here.

    Final thought: Mr Whitford are you a sangoma or just an ass? How on earth do you know what I will say to John?

    Luckily John is much more respectful of his opponents and interlocutors so we’ll have a great time in conversation regardless your trolling remark.


  4. Mr M, there does not appear to be common cause here. There is another lesser used philosophical instrument, “methinks he protesteth too much”, which seems somewhat apposite here. If suitably convinced of your high ground, why engage in street fighting, it just doesn’t add up? Yesterday I read the original article and felt I could live with what was at least elegantly said and not evidently offensive. Its interesting that DIY morality is so cool up to the point it is put on trial, as in facing a life defining moment that either breaks or confirms such moral character. What I see in history, and it is a major line of argument in apologetics, is that souls were willing to die and not move their position by one inch when truly tried. They did not reveal an iota of misgiving at the scaffold nor betray their faith by turning to undignified behavior, rather they ran their course and stood with all noble bearing, right to the end. When self-morality descends to the gutter after one rebuttal, I am left a little skeptical. Its one thing to claim you know all about moral epistemology, which I fully respect, but knowing about something is never the same as knowing something. I can sing Handel’s “I know that my Redeemer lives”, at a professional level, with detachment, where another might sing it with less excellence, yet mean every word – that performance will yield tears because it is not rooted in learning, but in experience. It marks the difference between wisdom and knowledge, law and principle, theory and practice, science and art. It is intriguing that the bible actually made that very shift, from hard-wired legalism, through interpretive oral traditions, to the inclusive life values of “love God and your fellow man” – about which it seems rather academic to dispute. If we got that, the world would need no other reference – instead, we are inundated with laws that compensate for deficiencies in our moral intuition.

  5. Hi Eusebius,

    Firstly, thanks for taking the time to respond – and in such detail, too. I appreciate that.

    I’ll just try and say a few things – I don’t know if you’ll have the time to read this, and I know online discussion like this has its limits, so I’ll keep it as short as possible.

    Firstly, you’re also being a wee bit presumptious yourself. I felt my blog wasn’t a critique of you but a critique of the method I felt you were supporting – namely the method of ridicule. I didn’t feel I was attacking your character, I was making a point about *method*. I see what you say about ridicule and if I’m using it in a populist (folk) sense and that’s different to the sense you’re using, that’s fair and well – but most of your readers and listeners are going to think of it in this populist sense as well and that leaves you with some responsibility to perhaps think of a better word to use. Satire is a different story and if satire is more what you’re getting at, then your point is valid IMO (as I said to a friend on Facebook as well who brought up the same point).

    To speak to your points directly:

    1. I chuckled about the IOL readers and News24 readers comment πŸ™‚ My lol with my chum was actually about journalism – I am a journalist and know what we’re like, and I know how we can sometimes do nothing but just ask questions and make ourselves look intelligent when we pretty much know zip. I’m sorry if you felt it was a laugh at your expense, I can see why you would think that. I was laughing more at journalists, like myself.

    2. Which leads me to talk about your second point. Reporters report and journos report and do other things too, like write and formulate opinion. I don’t know you and you don’t know me either πŸ™‚ (Isn’t it interesting how important relationship is, even in this kind of discussion? Some theological / philosophical stuff to think about there IMO.)

    I have a huge respect for journalists and talk show hosts. I don’t think your impression of what the public think of a talk show host is on target, either. My personal impression and the impression I know many of my friends have (since, yes, we do talk about what guys like you said on your show) is that talk show hosts are highly intelligent and knowledgeable and in general have one or several areas of expertise outside of their usual work. I’m not surprised at all by your qualifications, in fact, and I’m highly intrigued by what you’re going to say on Thursday – as are many of my friends.

    3. I did assert huge philosophical concepts, but I did this in a theological sense. I suppose I assumed too much and there is a certain irony here!

    Lastly, Mr Whitford is a sangoma on Mondays (Sorry Steve, couldn’t resist!)

    Ok, one last comment – it would be great to meet in person on Thursday. I hope I’ll be able to and you won’t be surrounded by the Paparazzi or something along those lines!

  6. Hey Eusebius,

    I think it is fantastic that you took time to reply to Ryan. For the sake of disclosure, Ryan worked for me for a number of years and we are both Christians.

    Let me briefly respond to your points and then get onto whether I am an ass or a sangoma.

    1) Agreed. News24 and IOL comments are a quagmire.

    2) “You don’t know me.” That is a fair point. I don’t know you. I have made assumptions about you. I’ll get onto why I’ve made them shortly.

    However, this concept of not knowing someone is what makes your position when it comes to God and Jesus so flawed. You don’t know him. And so you make all kinds of judgments/assumptions/statements/classifications about God and you don’t know Him.

    It makes your position on Him just as flawed as your claim ours is on you.

    Still just as you skirt around God without actually engaging with him, so we skirt around each other online and hopefully some benefit comes form it.

    For the rest of point 2: I am going to leave the philosophical classifications to you and Ryan.

    3) With regards to what I think Ryan is trying to say here: Its the way you say things that often counts more than what you actually say.

    Ryan’s reference to love is in my opinion about the how of your approach.

    So on Thursday night I have a weekly LifeGroup meeting at church (fellowship/biblestudy etc) and I have to make a decision on whether I leave that and come and listen to you.

    Interestingly the focus of LifeGroup at the moment is a book by Danny Silk called Keep Your Love On. The focus of the book is exactly this point: how we interact with others in a way that strengthens human interaction and relationships and does not break it down.

    So to my assumption. As a former journalist, PR practitioner and communicator and as a Christian, when I evaluate the way in which you communicate, I have a pre-meeting you opinion that you’re not going to have a lot of capacity to hear about God and your incorrect thinking towards him (that’s of course my opinion) but will be more interested in tearing down the argument of a man who attempts to explain this God you have never met to you.

    Now I may be completely wrong in my assumption. In fact it would be a delight to be wrong in this case about you.

    However when I way up the way you present yourself and the encouragement and support I get from LifeGroup right now, I’m going to forego meeting you because I think LifeGroup will be more beneficial to me right now.

    That may make me an ass, but I am certainly not a sangoma.

    If you’d like to see some of the things God has done for me, you can read about how he restored my sense of smell and saved me from anaphylactic shock here:

    Thank you once again for your willingness to engage. I will follow Ryan’s tweets and call him afterwards to find out what he thought of the event.

  7. Method goes right to my own point about science vs art, theory vs practice, etc. Its fine to be knowledgeable, but another thing to apply such learning to a real world that daily questions the validity of a relative standard. Its not helping. I will say no more, but I felt a need to stand with my friend in what I thought was a thoughtful and reflective rebuttal. I am sure he doesn’t need my support, he is more seasoned at this than I am, but to stand on the sidelines in mute indifference, is not me. Thanks anyway for both sides of this debate, just hope Mr M can see it less subjectively as I think Ryan is playing a ball, not a man.

    1. Peter,

      This is how the interaction went on Twitter.

      Steve Whitford ‏@stevewhit 40m @Eusebius thank you for your reply to @RyanPeterWrites and I. I have replied to your comment here:

      Eusebius McKaiser ‏@Eusebius 34m @stevewhit @RyanPeterWrites You essentially slandered me with gay, unexamined reflexiveness. I’ll engage Ryan. Give me reason to engage you?

      Steve Whitford ‏@stevewhit 29m @Eusebius @RyanPeterWrites I’d rather not thanks. I don’t think it would achieve anything. Good luck for your debate.

      Eusebius McKaiser ‏@Eusebius 28m @stevewhit @RyanPeterWrites Agreed. Phew – one less ad hominem to ignore. But thanks for the polite exchange here today. Cheers.

      I removed myself because I don’t see it going anywhere and in Eusebius’ mind I don’t think he sees it going anywhere from his point of view either.

      We’re far apart on the issue let just get on with our lives and hope that John can bring the issue more constructively to a point of impact.

    2. Hey Peter – thanks for the kind words :). A relative standard is, as you say, highly questionable. I can’t imagine trying to be my own anchor, to be honest! I’m perfectly happy with admitting such weakness, too.

  8. Steve, you are so right. Paul said of such contentious spirits, avoid. I am all for constructive engagement with opposing viewpoints, but when it gets this debased – well lets just say “I rest my case” ….

  9. Cheers Ryan. Meet you on Thursday.

    No Mr Whitford I’m not interested in surprising you by not being recalcitrant or by not merely posing questions to John or by not not listening to John.

    I don’t care for disrupting your presumptions about my skill as a public speaker and debater.

    Since you and Ryan both work and/or worked in the spaces I do you know it is an egotistical impossibility to set out to be liked by every reader, viewer or listener.

    Indeed if anyone achieves that feat they must be uttering utterly innocuous truisms like 1 plus 1 is 2.

    If I was liked by everyone I’d quit! The intrinsic nature of writing about, and broadcasting on, issues that people are deeply emotionally wedded to is that you won’t please everyone. Neither your tone nor your methods let alone the content of your views.

    So I’m unfazed by your not coming on Thursday.

    What I advise new journos is what I imperfectly try to apply to myself: never respond to EITHER an individual remark about you or your work sucking NOR pat yourself on the back after one individual hyperbolic bit of love someone shows you for one bit of your work.

    Instead assess your tone and quality and impact of your work by gauging PATTERNS OF RESPONSES *OVER TIME*

    And I’m sorry to disappoint but on the whole I’m humbled by undeserved positive patterns so far over time.

    To Ryan: We have found each other tonally. That’s more important for now than substantive debate on the issues. Thank you. You too showed generosity in your lengthy last entry or second last one. I appreciate that. Cheers.

    On my tweets: I choose them with full awareness they can be screengrabbed. I make no apologies Mr Whitford for being annoyed. I own both my ignorances – science for example – and my achievements: I didn’t win a national universities title and then a world masters title in debate by asking ‘annoying questions’ to opponents about motions.

    I did it by doing research, doing university courses in argumentation theory and formal logic and putting in the proverbial 10 000 hours of practise.

    Why on earth must I not be irritated by a person ascribing vicious intellectual traits to me based on thin evidence, conjecture and assuming their limited experience of me suffices to say so publicly with confidence?

    So I don’t retract that.

    But I’d be perfectly happy – keen even – to both forget about that episode and engage you too, respectfully, on the substantive philosophucal issues if we ever meet in person.

    For example I think you have a LOT of justification to do philosophically to be compelling on the idea that acquaintance with God isn’t epistemologically or metaphysically queer.



    1. Hi Eusebius,

      You continued engagement on this blog really is commendable. I never expected you to reply. And your responses have been well thought out and well presented as is fitting of a man of your position.

      With regards to your comments to me in paragraph one and two, no problem, I really don’t care. I’m not going to be there bud and I have not expectation that you change anything about yourself just for me, or anyone else for that matter. The only way to live is by your convictions. I just cope that if your convictions are ever proven to be wrong to your own conscience, that you’ll be big enough to change.

      You’re a public figure and a journalist (yes used intentionally. If you’re produce content the way you do you’re a journalist as well as a talk show host.) and as you’ve pointed out, in this space you’ve got to be prepared to allow your content to be pulled apart by your boss/piers and your readers. I learnt that very quickly in my first job at Sapa.

      So yes I comment on your position but it doesn’t bother me that you don’t agree with my responses or care for my attendance on Thursday.

      We’re all good here. We know exactly where we stand with each other and in our fantastic democracy that’s completely ok.

      Ryan’s post was good wan’t it? And he’s much better at this than I am. We’re of a similar mind, but you’ll get a better quality of philosophical interaction over the issue than you will from me. So I hope you guys get time to chat.

      On a different day, in a different season of my life, I would have loved to be there on Thursday and would find the debate stimulating and interesting, but I just don’t have the space for it now.

      With regards to your Twitter post, there is no criticism on my part of it. I was demonstrating to Peter as shared point over your tone and method, which we have already established I don’t care much for. But its a free country, say what you like.

      Oh and I wouldn’t call my post vicious, good sir. We’re all three writers here and if I wanted to be vitriolic I most certainly could have been.

      But to what end? The point I’ve made is I don’t like your tone and don’t care much for your literal methods. I’ve made my point and have no need to pursue it any further.

      As mentioned, in another season, I’d be happy, even keen to meet you and to discuss such matters. You have a keen, intelligent mind and an impressive resume. This is after all online and I think we’re all far enough away from being keyboard heroes to have constructive human interaction in person.

      With regards to your last paragraph, I don’t really have much inclination right now to describe my relationship with God in a epistemological (spelling?) or metaphysical way.

      Within 15 minutes I went from being fine to near dead on my driveway and but for Jesus I would be dead. So you can throw as many big words at me that I have to look up in the dictionary as you want, but without God I would be dead right now, spiritually and physically.

      And lastly, with the all the proving that we have to do, I don’t interact with my wife in a philosophical way, I am relational with her.

      Its a gazillion times more important to take the relational route with God as opposed to trying to figure him out philosophically.

      He is the God who created the galaxies and the earth, breaks laws of nature at will to reveal himself to people and aid those who are for him and did the most counter-intuitive thing of coming to earth as a servant despite being the most powerful and knowledgeable lifeform (can’t think of a better word here) in existence.

      Ryan and I know God and he blows our minds all the time and you want to figure him out philosophically? Good luck with that. Better yet listen to John because I am sure he can articulate God far more eloquently that I ever will be able to.

      Lastly I really wish you no harm or ill in anyway. I simply exercise my right to not like your methods and you have done with mine.

      Good luck with your debate, I hope it is meaningful for everyone who attends and/or listens to it.

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