• Keith Mathison

We've Found a Witch!


There is a scene in the old movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail that reminds me of a number of arguments I’ve witnessed online in recent months and years. In this scene, a group of angry peasants drag a woman before the knight Bedevere claiming that she is a witch and demanding that she be burned. They know she is a witch, they say, because she looks like a witch, but she only looks like a witch because they dressed her up to look like one.

Bedevere tells the mob that there are ways to discover whether she is a witch or not. Essentially, it boils down to this. We burn witches, and the reason witches burn is because they are made of wood. If she is made of wood, she is a witch. Because wood floats, we can tell whether something is made of wood by determining whether or not it floats. Ducks also float in water, so if the woman weighs the same as a duck, she must be made of wood and is, therefore, a witch. Despite the complete lack of anything resembling logic or real evidence (which is part of the joke), the mob remains insistent that the woman be burned. The entire scene is obviously intended as a not so subtle criticism of the medieval idea of the trial by ordeal.

If the film had not been made in 1975, I would be convinced that the filmmakers were also deliberately parodying the way the Twitter mob functions in today’s world. Almost every day, the Twitter mob drags someone forward screaming, “We have found a monster! Burn her!” “How do you know she is a monster?” someone responds. “She looks like one!” Ultimately, the accused is burned by the mob because the accused weighed the same as a duck, and the person who questioned the mob is probably next.

Sadly, this level of irrationality is sometimes found in Christian discussions too. It takes a number of forms, but the one I have noticed occurring more and more frequently in recent years is a guilt by association accusation in which the “association” is grounded on insignificant correspondences. Something like this happened to me several years ago when an author said I was a theonomist. What were the grounds for this claim? Well, I have published a number of books with P&R Publishing Company. P&R Publishing Company has also published books written by theonomists. Therefore, I must be a theonomist. In other words, I weigh the same as a duck.

There are Christians online who think they are helping others discern false teachings, but because they have not taken the time to understand either the Scriptures or the false teachings they want to fight, all they end up doing is firing blindly into the flock, wounding and killing sheep while the wolves over at the edge of the field wonder what all the ruckus is about. All they can hear is someone yelling, "He turned me into a newt!"

The fact that this is going on in the Christian world makes me hope that no one ever discovers that the atheist Richard Dawkins believes that 2+2=4. I believe that 2+2=4. If we compare my weight to that of a duck, someone is almost certain to conclude that I'm an atheist too.


Years ago, Nicholas Carr wrote an article entitled "Is Google Making Us Stoopid?" He expanded on this theme in his book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains. Based on what I see becoming more and more common, he was essentially correct. The levels of irrationality and dishonesty in online discourse is astounding. If we continue allowing Twitter to teach us how to think and communicate, we better build some scales and buy some ducks.

Image by Dighini from Pixabay

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