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Nonsense on Stilts: Non-Discrimination Rights

March 29th, 2014 by Matt

When the Human Rights Act was passed in 1993 I supported the writing of non-discrimination rights into law. At that time I, like many New Zealanders, believed that people had a right to not be discriminated against that the government should protect. Since then, reflecting on the issue has lead me to change my mind. I am now inclined to think that non-discrimination rights do not exist, they are “nonsense on stilts”. Laws which purport to recognise and protect them are recognising and protecting something that does not exist.

My position now is that discrimination is not wrong, it is morally neutral. It is justified and reasonable to discriminate on certain grounds in certain contexts, and it is unjustified to do so in other contexts. When it is unjustified, what makes it so are factors that have nothing to do with discrimination; these factors would be problematic if applied equally.

Jake the muss: not a skinny asian womanBefore elaborating my reasons for being sceptical about such rights, let us be clear as to what denying non-discrimination rights does not mean. It does not mean I believe that it is permissible for people to refuse to serve ethnic minorities because one holds to false sterotypes and has unwarranted hatred towards those minorities. Nor does it mean I support depriving women or African Americans of the vote. Likewise I do not support racist lynchings or gay bashings.

A sceptic about anti-discrimination rights can oppose all these things and still not be committed to supporting the existence of anti-discrimination rights. All that is entailed by my scepticism is that these thing are not wrong because they violate a right to not discriminate, and its clear to me that this is true; they are wrong for other reasons.

Discriminating against minorities in the manner suggested above is wrong because we have duties to not stereotype and treat people with contempt. If we treated everyone equally in this way it would still be wrong. Similarly, racist lynchings are wrong because they involve kidnapping, assault and homicide. If people were equal-opportunity lynchers who indiscriminately lynched people of all races, sexes, lifestyles and degrees of ability, it would still be wrong for them to do so. Depriving people of the vote is wrong because people have a right to vote, the right is not attached to sex or race, and so on. The point is that the wrongness of these sorts of practices can be adequately explained, and I think is more plausibly explained, without recourse to an alleged right to not be discriminated against. An appeal to “discrimination” misdiagnoses the moral problems with the action complained of.

Why Discrimination is Not Wrong
It is not wrong to discriminate. To discriminate against one person in favour of another is to treat the former less favourably than the latter. The problem is that, so defined, discrimination is clearly not wrong. In fact, discrimination is essential to any moral thinking at all.

To make a moral judgement condemning a particular action involves adopting a less favourable stance towards those who perform that action. We condemn particular actions, and if a person doing those actions lacks an adequate excuse we blame and censure that person for what he or she did. We expect the person to feel guilty and to make appropriate apology and reparations. On the other hand to judge an action is right [Read more →]

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Dialogue with Randal Rauser

March 13th, 2014 by Matt

When I was in Baltimore last November I caught up with fellow theologian and blogger Randal Rauser. Randal is professor of Theology at Taylor Seminary in Edmonton Canada.

Randal and I have had some spirited but cordial exchanges in the past, including a panel discussion at the Society of Biblical Literature in 2010.While we do not always agree I find him to be a very astute critic of my work.

Randal Rauser and Matthew Flannagan

Randal asked to interview me in Baltimore on the topic “Matthew Flannagan on God, ethics, and divine commands” so the readers of his blog could get a take on the positions I have staked out. The interview is now available at the link above.

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Religious Freedom and Non-Discrimination

March 10th, 2014 by Matt

Currently I am working on a post on the issue of non-discrimination rights and the morality of discrimination. In the mean-time  I thought I would highlight the thoughtful commentary from James-Michael Smith in this video.

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Talks from Baltimore Available

February 13th, 2014 by Matt

For those who are interested, the Evangelical Theological Society has put recordings of all the papers presented in Baltimore online for a price of $4 each. My 2 presentations are available here. The talks include the Q&A so during the second presentation Professor Swinburne from Oxford University can be heard offering critical comments on my paper.

I found that the website says that most people who bought recordings of my talks also bought recordings of a paper by Gordon Otese, Associate Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Heritage Theological Seminary, Cambridge, Ontario, who presented a paper in the old testament narrative session at the ETS, entitled “The Use of 1 Samuel 15 as a Critique of Holy War Hyperbole“. I purchased a recording of Otese’s paper and found that it discusses, critiques and expands upon some of my work on the existence of hyperbole in 1 Samuel 15.

UPDATE: My third talk “Morality and Gods Commands: Answering Common Objections” presented at  the  Annual Apologetics Conference of the Evangelical Philosophical Society  is  now available.

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Dialogue on Unbelievable? Now Online

February 10th, 2014 by Matt

Click to Listen to Matt on Unbelievable!I recently participated in a dialogue on the UK radio show Unbelievable?, which is hosted by Justin Brierley. The dialogue was with Ryan Bell, a former Seventh Day Adventist pastor who made headlines recently when he announced that he is trying atheism for a year . The show aired in the UK on Saturday and is now online here.

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Back from Baltimore

February 9th, 2014 by Matt

The following is a belated report of my recent trip to Baltimore. I began writing the post in December, but Christmas, New Year, the holidays, and various other things got in the way of me finally completing it.

On Tuesday 26 November 2013 I flew back to New Zealand having attended the annual conference of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS), and Evangelical Philosophical Society Apologetics (Apologetics) conferences in Baltimore. My trip year was shorter than my month long tour the previous year and a lot more intense, but it was still very rewarding.

The first session I attended was a panel involving Micheal Bird, Al Mohler and Peter Enns and Van Hoozer on inerrancy. There were no surprises here. Al Mohler took the line that inerrancy, as defined by the Chicago statement, must be retained and that denying it was a kind of slippery slope to all sorts of doctrinal error. Peter Enns asserted a whole lot of alleged problems with inerrancy; he assumed that the issues he raised were a fait accompli, ignored any critical responses to them and dismissed theological arguments as a priori without engaging the premises. Van Hoozer spelt out his own position in terms of speech act theory.

Michael Bird was perhaps the exception in terms of stating the expected; he pointed out correctly, in my view, that the debate on inerrancy tended to presuppose a North American context. He argued that the kinds of cultural battles which contributed to the American debate had not played out the same way in evangelicalism outside the USA. This, I think, is entirely correct. Unfortunately there was little engagement between speakers. I would have liked to heard how each responded to the premises and arguments of their opponents.

The next session of note was David Baggett speaking on “the vices of virtue theory”. Baggett is working on a sequel to the book Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality which he co-wrote with Jerry Walls. In this paper Baggett raised some trenchant criticisms of Philippa Foot’s book Natural Goodness. Foot defends a naturalistic account of goodness in terms of the natural flourishing of a species. The gist of Baggett’s criticism was that Foot is unable to really rise above amoral accounts of goodness, such as when we say that a good tiger tears apart its prey well.

In the afternoon I attended an interesting paper by Christian Milhut about whether resentment can be a virtue. Milhut was critical of the idea that our feelings of resentment and anger at perceived injustices are reliable. This paper elicited an interesting discussion about when such emotions are and are not appropriate in morality.

The evening saw the EPS reception, where Gary DeWeese gave a thoughtful address on the role of fellowship in Christian philosophy. This was followed by nibbles, socialising and mingling.

On the Wednesday I began at 8:30 am by attending a paper by Peter Payne on “Objectivity in debates over whether Ethics needs God”. This was followed by a paper by Harry Bunting entitled “Divine Authority A Kantian Perspective”. Bunting’s paper was excellent. He noted that while Immanuel Kant viewed morality’s content as dependent on reason, but maintained Kant believed the moral law was only obligatory on humans because God held human beings accountable to the standards reason laid down. Bunting brought this perspective of God’s authority being linked to him holding humans accountable into dialogue with Mark Murphy’s celebrated position on divine authority in “an essay on divine authority”. Bunting’s paper was extremely interesting and I hope to get a copy of this paper in the future as [Read more →]

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Leaving on a Jet Plane

November 18th, 2013 by Matt

At 7.15pm New Zealand time today I will depart New Zealand for Baltimore, Maryland, USA. I am going for a week where I will give 3 talks on the following topics:

Feticide: “Boonin’s Defense of the Sentience Criterion: A Critique” to the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society

God and Morality: “Divine Commands and Biblical Authority: The Problem of Gen 22″ to the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Philosophical Society

God and Morality: “Morality and God’s Commands” to the EPS Apologetics Conference

This Friday morning Madeleine will fly to Wellington to do 1 talk and 1 panel discussion for the ACTIV8 Pro-Life Training Day:

“How to Refute Pro-Choice Arguments”

“Abortion Apologetics Q&A” (with Brendan Malone)

Will give Apologetics, Law and Philosophy papers for food, lodging & transportBoth of us will miss opportunities to work, Madeleine will take Friday off (being self-employed that will mean she will not be earning but will still need to pay her staff), I will not be preaching this Sunday. Our younger children will have to cared for by their older sister who lives in another part of Auckland. Logistics for Madeleine will be extra difficult since she developed epilepsy this year and is not allowed to drive due to her condition.

I say these things not to complain, both of us are very much looking forward to doing these talks, we have both had a passion for defending the faith since we met some 17 years ago, but to simply draw attention to the reality that doing these things costs a little more than we can handle.

While my wife might be a practicing lawyer, she does a fair amount of legal aid work as well as some pro-bono work – she has a heart for those facing injustice who lack means to do anything about it. I work part-time as a teaching pastor and a researcher. I assume primary care for our two children still at home, one of who has autistic spectrum disorder and pervasive developmental disorder and cannot go to school (I home educate both children). We have a mortgage. Bearing the costs of taking time off work and travelling away from home to teach others how to defend the faith/life is pushing things for us. Any donations, small is welcome, would be gratefully appreciated.

I have been given most of my accomodation in the USA for free, Madeleine’s flights have been paid for by the organisers of her engagements, we can cover the various transport to and from the airports, accomodation and speaking venues, we can cover our food and personal expenses, we can cover a shortfall, if it is not too big. This means we have Madeleine’s trip covered but aspects of mine are not.

Now that we have booked everything for my trip, my costs (excluding meals and within US transport) are:

ETS and EPS Registration $73.93
US Customs ESTA $17.25
Flypark – parking for 8 days $40
Air NZ flights to USA $1,709.98
Air America flights LAX to BWI and BWI to LAX $368.40
Hostel – Accomodation 18-19 November $41.30
Air BnB – Accomodation (hostel booked out) 22-23 November $83.00
TOTAL: $2333.86
- $1115.00 (amount donated at the time of this post)
Shortfall: $1218.86 (not including food, transport on arrival, personal expenses)

If you are minded to donate the information is in our sidebar. Thankyou. Thankyou to all those who have donated time, money, practical assistance and other means already. Please pray for our endeavours that we might reach hearts and minds and make a difference and that all will run smoothly on our children, home and respective work fronts.

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