Weaponized ambiguity in defense of adultery

June 5, 2016 § 34 Comments

Reader GJ uses the term “weaponized ambiguity” in the comments below, as a cognate of what I have called weaponized nihilism and of what others have referred to as the motte-and-bailey strategy.  These are of course all forms of the venerable bait and switch, with the psychological feature that the person doing the arguing may be unaware of his equivocation.

Weaponized ambiguity strikes me, not without irony, as a very clarifying term.  It captures and clarifies the way in which the execrable hides behind the banal and tautological.

Examples are always helpful.

Feminism is just the acknowledgment that women are people too … when it isn’t instigating mass murder.

Murder is unjust killing, and not all killing is unjust … so pay no attention to this particular mass murder of innocents by ‘the good guys’, or this particular group of murderesses.

Game is a toolbox of techniques which empower a man to be socially dominant … so pay no attention to the fact that the reason you will only learn it from the male equivalent of sluts is that it is the male equivalent of sluttiness.

Usury is charging unjust interest on loans … pay no attention to the fact that usury is any contractual profit at all on mutuum loans, and that even unjust interest charged on non recourse loans is not usury strictly speaking.  The main thing we need to do is to avoid moral clarity.

More subtly, usury is selling what does not exist; but because there are many ways to sell what does not exist which are not usury, clarity on usury specifically can be avoided.

Contraception involves a purely subjective feeling that you want sex but do not want a baby right now. Pay no attention to the minor matter of choosing objectively mutilated sexual behaviors versus abstinence.

And adultery is sex outside of marriage.  But of course you can marry whomever or whatever you want whenever you want, and marriage lasts only as long as you want it to last.

Which is how Humanae Vitae becomes Vix Pervenit.

§ 34 Responses to Weaponized ambiguity in defense of adultery

  • Avraham rosenblum says:

    Adultery is sex with a married woman. It is not any sex outside of marriage. In Chronicles I 2 :46 we find the friend of Joshua, Calev Ben Yefuna had girl friends and wives. If the act of sex outside of marriage is adultery then this would have been adultery. Many people in the Old Testament even after the Law was given had both girl friends and wives.

  • Zippy says:

    To be more accurate, adultery is sex when one or both parties are married, but not to each other.

    And to be unambiguous, fornication – sex between unmarried people – is also an execrable moral wrong.

  • Avraham rosenblum says:

    I fail to see how King David could have had concubines then since he was married at the time. Also Calev ben Yefuna, or Yiftach. They were having sex with concubine at the time they were married. Calev ben Yefuna gets praised in the Five books of Moses as walking completely with God. Was he then transgressing the Law though the Law itself praises him?

  • Zippy says:

    Why do people who want to justify sexual incontinence, polygamy, etc (by invoking the Old Testament or otherwise) even comment here?

    Christian marriage is sacramental.

    Merely natural marriage (including Old Testament marriage) is different, and arguably leaves “room” for things like polygamy. But if you aren’t Christian in the first place then you have much bigger moral and eternal problems than merely your advocacy of sexual incontinence. And if you are Christian but do not recognize the sacramental nature of Christian marriage you are a heretic, and again have bigger problems than merely your advocacy of incontinence.

  • Avraham rosenblum says:

    Thank you for clarifying your point

  • Zippy says:

    No problem. Whores and heathens are gonna whore and heathen; and Christians should help them to see the errors of their ways, sometimes gently and other times more firmly.
    But we should not accept their premises or framing. Christ the King reigns supreme in all things, and illusions to the contrary must all eventually die.

  • Zippy says:

    Avraham rosenblum:
    Also, you are right on the editorial point that the OP needed clarifying, since where I use the term “adultery” I should have used the conjunction “adultery and fornication”.

    I will leave the OP as it stands, to keep the context of your comments.

  • Scott W. says:

    I should have used the conjunction “adultery and fornication”

    I suppose it is helpful to people with not much experience with correct teachings, but appealing to finer detail didn’t even occur to me in light of:

    CCC 2336

    “The tradition of the Church has understood the sixth commandment as encompassing the whole of human sexuality.”

  • Jill says:

    Weaponized ambiguity has been essential to making what is heinous sound moral. Re Motte and Bailey, there is a similar strategy (or perhaps it’s the same thing) that involves saying something traumatizing to an audience, and then calming them down. The audience, being put on the defensive, is no longer thinking rationally and can’t easily parse what is calmly spoken. All they know is that they’ve been calmed down and hence feel better. When The Shack became the big thing in Christianity, I called this process The Shacking because the author relies on it. He traumatizes his audience with the abduction of a child, and then “heals” his audience with reasonable sounding, but heretical doctrine.

  • Avraham rosenblum says:

    The command in the Ten Commandments is not what I was thinking about when I made a distinction between adultery and the act of sex outside of marriage. I was thinking more along the lines of severity. For adultery sex with a married woman there is a death penalty in Leviticus. If The Catholic Church wants to expand the definition of ניאוף to include any sex outside of marriage that would be more like being extra strict. But surely they are not thinking of imp song a death penalty. It is common in the Old Testament to judge how severe something is by looking at its penalty.

  • Zippy says:

    Avraham rosenblum:
    Given that the penalty for both is eternity in Hell, I don’t know that I’d split hairs.

  • Avraham rosenblum says:

    That is to say the many people consider religion a matter of personal preference. And in some ways that is true. But there are different areas of law in the Law of Moses. One area is public law. That area is not subject to personal preference. There are however areas of personal service towards God. But these are other areas. The law of Moses includes both.

  • Mike T says:


    One thing to bear in mind about the Law is that according to Paul, the purpose of the Law was not to guide men to God through obedience to it, but to teach men they are sinners who are trapped in sin apart from God (Book of Romans). According to Paul, no man has ever been righteous in the sight of God for his obedience to the Law and as James said:

    For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.

    The point of such teachings is that man cannot rely on the Law for righteousness because its purpose is to be a constant reminder of our sinful nature and inability to seek our righteousness.

    The law may tolerate polygamy and concubinage, but that should not be taken as a thing that pleases God because the purpose of the Law is to lead a man to the conclusion he cannot be righteous before God on his own.

  • Mike T says:

    to seek our righteousness

    That should have said “our own righteousness.”

    In case you are Jewish, it would be helpful to understand that the New Testament teaches that we receive righteousness through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ and our faith in Him. That includes seeking God (particularly God’s preferred will) and repentance.

    Because man is incapable of atoning for his own sin and living perfectly, it was necessary for Jesus to perform the atoning sacrifice because without that, even the most venial sin would separate man from God.

  • CJ says:

    The natural/sacramental distinction looks like fertile ground for a “compromise” that leaves the Catholic teaching on divorce and remarriage “intact.” All you married Catholics are just modern day OT patriarchs. Serial monogamy isn’t much worse than polygamy.

  • Zippy says:

    We can keep all of our doctrines up in the clouds, as decorations which have no implications for everyday “pastoral” life.

  • CJ says:

    If “Fat Pope/Skinny Pope” holds true, Francis’ successor will come in like “I came to convalidate marriages and chew bubblegum. And I’m all out of bubblegum.”

  • Mike T says:

    The natural/sacramental distinction looks like fertile ground for a “compromise” that leaves the Catholic teaching on divorce and remarriage “intact.”

    Someone who consistently seeks a way out of following what they know God really wants of them should not be surprised when God judges their legalism according to the Law, not grace.

  • That is to say the many people consider religion a matter of personal preference

    And some consider their marriage vows aught but pro forma politeness but the truth is religion means Bond with God and it was God who established that Bond, not man; thus, there has always been only one true religion – Mosaic Judaism that reached its full flowering in Catholicism – and one objective universal morality.

  • For reference, Aquinas held that monogamy is of natural law, and heathens who purport to have multiple natural marriages are guilty of adultery. He held that the Israelites had special permission from God to practice polygamy.

    Concubinage he holds to have never been licit.

  • Avraham rosenblum says:

    Thanks for the reference to Aquinas. That is good to know

  • Step2 says:

    I dislike being that guy who only shows up to bother you when Lydia shuts down comments. Unfortunately that seems to be my role of late so I was wondering if you would consider writing a post on the Brock Turner case and expanding upon your own comment at W4. If you decide it isn’t worth the trouble or that the subject matter is too vulgar I would certainly be sympathetic to that as well. Thank you.

  • Zippy says:

    I doubt I will have anything to say on the particular matter. Doing so would require more due diligence on the particulars than I am likely to do, especially with summer in full swing.

    I was struck by (what appeared to me to be) people reading their own biases into a very factually underdetermined case: that is, a case where actual established facts seem pretty scarce, with folks making all sorts of claims without documenting their putative factual basis.

    There is a very subjectivist trend in television wherein all sorts of conclusions are drawn from “profiles” as opposed to real evidence. I wonder if that isn’t infecting folks’ minds even when it comes to criminal cases which require proof beyond reasonable doubt. Reasonable doubt is always there (in my view, though of course I am not a lawyer) when a reasonable construal of the actually established facts can lead to a conclusion of innocence.

    Prima facie they got drunk together, got sexual together, and at some point she passed out. None of that adds up to proof of rape beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Most of the time, human beings project their own worldview onto situations where facts are thin on the ground. That is all fun and games until it comes to sending someone away to be buggered by his cell mate Grossburger for the next decade.

  • Mike T says:

    The comment I found most telling was Meredith’s comment that it effectively beggars belief that a woman would consent to having sex behind a dumpster. Now I know a lot of decent religious folks actively work to be innocent of worldly things, but there comes a point where you are both as wise and innocent as a dove and that is not our calling. To suggest that it is inconceivable that a woman would have dirty sex behind a dumpster is to be willfully ignorant of all of the skanks out there today.

    Heck, I’m surprised we haven’t heard a few stories of people doing it INSIDE a dumpster knowing the state of our culture.

  • Zippy says:

    As I consider it further, it seems to me that “profiles” as used in modern TV shows are similar to stereotypes — except that they are not employed where stereotypes have the most epistemic validity (in screening/understanding populations without imputation of individual guilt): they are employed almost exclusively where stereotypes carry the least epistemic weight (imputing guilt in individual cases, finding individual perpetrators).

    As usual, modernity finds a way to eliminate the good in things (in this case stereotypes) and carry forward with just what is residually bad about them. So we get ruling oligarchies but we can’t give them the personal accountability associated with formal titles of nobility; and we can de-facto stereotype but only as a way of imputing individual guilt; etc etc.

    Truth is distilled away, leaving us with 80-proof insanity. The perpetual Opposite Day of modernity carries on.

  • Mike T says:

    Profiling is mainly a pseudo-scientific veneer over our tendency to stereotype. It’s really just a form of stereotyping that is socially acceptable because it’s rooted in ¡Science! rather than conventional wisdom and common sense. The one thing it has going for it is that, done by someone who cares about the truth, it does tend to apply a more rigorous logic filter to that natural tendency.

  • […] Studiously avoiding clarity on the essential differences between mutuum loans for profit and other contracts is like studiously avoiding the essential differences between marriage and other sexual relationships. […]

  • […] This has all already happened with usury: the progressive victory was complete before any of us were born. Doctrine was banished into a vault behind an impregnable translucent glass wall, where it remains as a kind of barely visible decoration which is not permitted to touch on practical real-life ‘pastoral’ matters.  And the most traditional of traditionalists will often argue that the nature of money has changed, that contractual profit from mutuum loans is at least sometimes morally permissible, and that in any event it is impossible to avoid interest on ‘loans’ (understood equivocally). […]

  • […] [3] And oddly.  It seems more than a little strange for a Catholic scholar recounting the history of usury to avoid even mentioning Vix Pervenit.  That would be like a Catholic scholar recounting the history of contraception avoiding all mention of Humane Vitae.  But I suppose that is how the memory hole works. […]

  • GJ says:

    Weaponized ambiguity strikes me, not without irony, as a very clarifying term. It captures and clarifies the way in which the execrable hides behind the banal and tautological.

    Examples are always helpful.

    Voting in mass elections is just responsibly exercising the power that each ordinary citizens possesses…

  • […] sex, adultery, sodomy, masturbation, and skipping Mass on Sunday without good reason are all grave matter. […]

  • […] But we don’t live in that society. We live in a society where Wondie the eunuch is being celebrated as a role model for women to aspire to, and the helpmeet role of women is being continually denigrated. Then there’s a movie out with a message that’s ambiguous enough that feminists, SJW’s, and even neutral non-conservative-but-not-radical mainstream folks watch and see exactly that, because they are being told – when the message isn’t explicitly stated otherwise –  that it *is exactly what they’re supposed to see*. Hence you get Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins staring in awe at burly man-women rushing into battle as feminists burst into tears, walk out of the theater with strange feelings of ferociousness, and girly men cry over it with their girlfriend. It’s another case of weaponized ambiguity. […]

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