On this blog I usually steer clear of personal feuds, but I’m going to make an exception for the spat between Chris Heard and Jim West. I should note that I’ve met neither of these guys in person, and have enjoyed my blog-interactions with them over the past two years.
It all started when a blogger named Michael Westmoreland-White took a swipe at Jim:
“When is the last time any of us have seen Jim actually make a careful exegetical argument? For a guy who rants about dillentantes constantly, he doesn’t show any of the exegetical skills of the scholars he admires.”
“Jim, if you want us to balance your ‘exegetical work’ on the cessationist question against Michael’s arguments, where would you like for us to look? As far as I can tell, the only thing you’ve ‘published’ that could even be remotely relevant is … well … nothing … So here is my challenge: either show us where you have previously published your ‘exegetical work’ on the topic at hand (in this case, cessationism, but it could be anything), or stop ranting and start arguing.”
Jim responded to Chris as he often does — with a non-response — and Chris rightly pointed out how he refused to answer the question. Jim then countered with another non-response, and Chris noted how he simply changed the subject. Readers of this blog know my abiding interest in the debate-strategies used in shame-based cultures, and under Chris’ posts I commented that Jim’s non-answers are offensively honorable (acceptable) in these societies. To those of us raised in the west, however, they point to a lack of integrity.
Jim’s online debate tactics are indeed very similar to those of Jesus. In my art of flaming post (found on the sidebar) I explained:
“Jesus was skilled in the art of challenge-riposte, the game of verbal one-upsmanship played by men in many Mediterranean cultures… Such men don’t respond directly to public taunts and challenges. They escalate the conflict by firing back counter-questions, counter-accusations, scriptural one-upsmanship, and insults. The more you can dodge flame and stay on top of your opponent with counter-flame, the more honorable you are.”
There are other examples of honorable flaming besides Mediterranean challenge-riposte, such as Norse/Anglo-Saxon flyting and Black American sounding. The fascinating thing is that internet culture mirrors these oral cultures in so many ways, the art of flaming being just one of them.
So in his favor, Jim West appears to have more honor than the rest of us combined! I suppose he could be considered a good Christian in this sense. (Whenever I hear the tiresome interrogative, “WWJD?” — usually posed by those assuming Jesus was a sweetie-pie — I give an honest answer: “Probably call you an asshole.”) But Jim needs to work on integrity. It’s been saddening to watch his online behavior over the past two years: the habitual diatribes, rhetorical evasions, and removing people from his blogroll on a whim. His behavior may also bespeak a level of insecurity.
The problem is that honor and integrity frequently oppose each other. Jim’s online persona is very honor-based: he easily takes affront, readily goes on the offensive, and evades challenges in turn. I don’t know what he’s like in person, but I would guess that he’s more western in the flesh. Remember: the internet lends itself to behavior patterns found in oral cultures, even for those raised otherwise. Once offline, people often revert to their western being.
I hope I have played fair ball here. In my sidebar-post I stressed the positive role to flaming: insults and invective can be fun (and safe) alternatives to physical confrontation; and when used judiciously, there’s a certain art to diatribe — not least of which is seen today in Black American sounding (“playing the dozens”). We can learn from Jim West, just as we can learn from Obadiah, Nahum, II Peter, and Jude. The problem is knowing the time and place for it. Academic venues like biblioblogs are probably not the place for too much flame. Rants and evasions simply won’t impress for long in this context. That, I think, was the source of Chris Heard’s frustration.
UPDATE: On Chris’ blog Joe Cathey says in comments:
“What do we know of Jim West?
(1) We know that Jim gets in a snit anytime he is challenged.
(2) We know that he wants more than anything to be academic but does not have the degree to do so.
(3) We know that he is a master of changing the topic in mid-debate.”
Again, these are characteristics of someone operating out of an honor-shame code:
(1) The honorable person is particularly concerned about saving face, so any challenge is an affront and will not be appreciated.
(2) When challenged especially about a suspect degree, the honorable person sidesteps the challenge and claims the higher ground by railroading everyone else as amateurs/dilettantes.
(3) In general, the honorable person never allows himself to be put on the defensive; he goes on the offensive, and changing the topic is the best way to do this — by firing back counter-challenges, counter-questions, counter-accusations, insults, or some kind of clever one-upsmanship.
But this is how someone would operate out of an integrity-guilt code:
(1) The person of integrity is concerned about authenticity and doing the right thing regardless of public perception, and so will generally welcome challenges.
(2) Such a person will be upfront about the nature of his credentials, and likewise will consider it beneath himself to bash amateurs so habitually.
(3) The person of integrity responds directly to questions, on the premise that evasions and counter-questions are the tactics of juveniles.
That’s really a good illustration of the difference between the two codes.