The moderation of fools

The Sizergate affair, about which I commented on Sunday, is an unpleasant business, and confirms me in my prejudice against Men of God who when scratched show themselves to be nasty little shits. The divinely saved are no better than the rest of us, and are in many cases a damn sight worse.

The latest episode in this sorry saga includes a response by Stephen Sizer’s friend and fellow “anti-Zionist” Christian theologian Anthony McRoy to Joseph Weissman (aka “Seismic Shock”). McRoy’s tortured argument is hosted on the blog of another evangelical writer, Roger Pearse.

Following McRoy’s essay there was earlier today a healthy debate which touched on matters of theology and religious history, and included perfectly civil but direct questions to McRoy about his (alleged) history as an activist in the neo-Nazi National Front. Pearse took objection to such questions, and at first demanded that commenters be “polite”.

My reaction to Pearse was as follows:

“We are all of us accountable for our actions, throughout our lives. To use the language of Christianity (though I am no longer a believer), we are all of us sinners, and while there is forgiveness, there is no forgetting the past. I did and said things in my youth which I now regret, but they inform what and who I am today. Every second of our lives is relevant.

“This business with Sizer and McRoy reflects very badly on these two individuals. Weissman certainly doesn’t come out of it squeeky clean, but at least he has had the courage to withdraw some of his previous remarks, and the honesty to lay his cards on the table for all to see. From the other parties in this dispute we get little more than intellectual squirm bordering on sophistry.

“But never mind the dodgy politics and theology, in calling in the police Sizer and McRoy acted impetuously, and thus made a very serious error of judgement. As did the police in responding to that legally unsound call.

“Justice demands apologies from Sizer, McRoy and the Surrey and West Yorkshire constabularies.”

This comment was published, and as I type is still there. That cannot be said for many others, which Pearse deleted after he announced that henceforth all comments would be moderated.

Like Pearse I consider my website to be a personal space and not a public forum. As such my policy is to moderate all first-time comments, and quarantine others which may be problematic, based on personal experience of the authors’ previous behaviour. But I never disallow or delete critical comments if they are substantive and free from personal abuse, no matter how uncomfortable they make me feel.

Pearse clearly doesn’t understand blogging, or possibly even the nature of free and open debate generally, for he is deleting comments willy nilly.

My second comment, which is also still on Pearse’s blog…

“Roger – I think you confuse politeness with sanctimony. And by deleting inoffensively worded comments about National Front membership – a matter of legitimate public interest – and even a scholarly comment from Zachary Esterson (submitted at 17:03 GMT), you have negated the whole point of this blog post, and done a great disservice to your friends McRoy and Sizer. You appear not to understand the blog medium. With the power of moderation comes responsibility, and you have manifestly failed to live up to yours.”

Pearse responded…

“Erm, I am under no obligation to allow a campaign of personal vilification by a group of unprincipled scoundrels to take place on my blog. Nor will I. They can run their hate on their own blogs. Free speech does not mean that I am obliged to host them.”

These “unprincipled scoundrels” include one Zachary Esterson, a Patristics scholar at Cardiff University in Wales. Here is an example of Esterson’s “personal vilification” of Sizer and McRoy…

“If you grant Lebanese Shi’a Islamic resistance quasi-Christian legitimacy, you must also to Jewish. Especially since Christian tradition holds ancient Jewish militant resistance as the antithesis to Christian self-sacrifice.

“You clearly grant Palestinian Muslim and Christian dispossession some measure of right of return and restoration, yet explicitly grant none to Jews. Logically, it seems to me, you must.

“Sizer has a similar problem. While he professes to stick to traditional Christian doctrines, he wholly avoids the inconsistency that arises when one holds to the New Testament and Patristic position that the Jews are dispossessed of temple, city and land as a punishment for their sins, but holds contrariwise when the same thing happens to Palestinian Muslims and Christians. Especially when Palestinian and other Arab Muslims and Christians historically attempted to exclude, dispossess then eliminate Palestinian and other Jews.

“McRoy has not, it seems, commented on this issue specifically, but he often refers to Israel by the Arab and Islamic nationalist code of ‘Zionist regime’, and the tenor of his discourse is highly anti-Zionist i.e. opposed to any Jewish national notion of right of restoration and return. Particularly vicious, as I have observed, is his misrepresenting the martyred saints of Rev 6, 9 as calling for revenge on Jerusalem, as opposed to Rome, for the reasons I state above, and then equating modern Jerusalem i.e. the modern state of Israel with the crucifiers of Christ.

“That is a very primitive and unsophisticated recapitulation of gospel anti-Judaism as anti-Zionism, with the modern state of Israel playing the role of neo-crucifiers, like the Jews of the gospels.

“The New Testament and Patristic forebears of Sizer and McRoy manifestly did not respect Judaism, and held the Jews to be justly dispossessed as a punishment for their rejection of Christ. One consequence of that is that, even in the 19th and 20th centuries, Jews were regarded as more nationally Judean than European or Arab, most being either killed or driven out, before 1914 mostly to America, after 1914 mostly to Palestine or what became Israel. Palestinian Muslims and Christians were among those in the world who most believed Jews to have been dispossessed for their rejection of Jesus and the prophets. Yet they denied Jews a refuge, even from genocide, never mind any kind of right of return or restoration. In addition to their traditional apartheid against Palestinian Jews, they then sought to halt all immigration in the late 19th and early 20th century, then sought to dispossess or eliminate Palestinian (and other) Jews.

“None of this finds mention in Sizer or McRoy, who consistently fail to subject their adopted charges, Palestinian Muslims and Christians, to the same standards they do Palestinian, Israeli and other Jews. There is no acknowledgment in their writings that Jews have been regarded as a nation dispossessed for most of Christian history, making the assertion or implication that Jewish attempts at national return and restoration is illegimate, while the Palestinian Muslim and Christian is wholly just, itself a rather grave injustice. The contrast in attitude between these two national movements is obviously unequal and unfair. How they reconcile this with their notion of Christian justice, I do not know.

“Indeed, as I said, there is rarely an indication in Sizer or McRoy that Palestinian Muslims and Christians have ever had any nationalists or national movement which has has an active role in the choices that have led to their plight e.g. rejecting partition and making war on Palestinian Jews, least of all a moral critique of it. All their moral criticism, usually to rigorous criteria, is reserved almosts soley for Jewish nationalism, nationalists and the Jewish state of Israel.

“This is an obvious bias, where Palestinian Christians and Muslims are let practically off the hook, while only Zionist, Palestinian or Israeli Jews are treated as moral adults with active agency in their and Palestinian Muslims’ and Christians’ fate. This omission resembles certain forms of Orientalism, where Arab Mulism and Christians are treated as moral infants, with no real agency of their own.

“Manifestly McRoy and Sizer do not subject both or all parties to the same moral criteria, which is clearly an act of injustice in and of itself, hardly in accord with the absolute justice they claim to observe.”

This lengthy comment, on which Esterson must have spent a considerable amount of time, was deleted without warning or comment by Pearse.

I defer to Esterson’s undoubted expertise in this area, but I must say that I find his argument convincing, and his words chime with my understanding of Sizer and McRoy’s anti-Zionist ‘theopolitics’. I hope Esterson doesn’t mind me reposting his comment in full. It was after all in the public domain, but is no longer owing to an act of unbelievably crass censorship by Pearse. If Esterson objects then I will of course delete the comment, as its republication goes beyond ‘fair use’ legal provisions.

My final comment on Pearse’s blog…

“Roger – the deleted comments are still in cyberspace, for all to see who have a modicum of technical nous. I’m looking now at the supposedly offensive comments, and in no way do they amount to a campaign of personal vilification. You will find such personal vilification now and then in the comments over at Harry’s Place and the like, but the kind of language used there is of a completely different order to that posted on your website earlier today. You’re digging a mighty great hole for yourself and your friends when you should instead be building above ground.”

This was marked by Pearse for pre-moderation, and deleted.

Roger Pearse is clearly not a gentleman.