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*REVISED* Tickling One’s Own Ears, Part Two (or The Art of Intellectual Contortionism)

Scott on January 17, 2007 at 9:54 am

SPECIAL NOTE: I have added a small addendum at the end titled “A NOTE OF CLARIFICATION.” Please be sure to read that section as well, as it attempts to clarify my motivation behind writing this 2-part post.

In Part I of “Tickling One’s Own Ears,” I tried to address some of the possible problems with watch dogging, watch doggies and discernment ministries those people and organizations who feel as though they have been called by God to keep an eye on the rest of us. After finishing Part I, it hit me that in the case of many of these “discernment ministries,” a more accurate term and frame of reference might be “watch bloggies” and “watch blogging.” For the sake of continuity in Part II, I will use my original terms; but at the same time the “blogging” factor is probably in the forefront of this issue.

In Part I, I suggested an alternate reading of II Timothy 4:2-4:

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

Many of those in the “discernment business” would apply this passage to others that they disagree with as proof that we are nearing the end of the time leading up to the “last days” (a Dispensationalist / Left Behind / Pre-Millennial / Pre-Tribulation perspective). However, I propose a different (or at least alternate) application. I suggest that this passage applies to any person or group who has a “pet” belief system that they want to promote and don’t want threatened by others who might disagree with it. In fact, spiritually speaking this is how all of us operate to one degree or another. People or groups with particular paradigms attempt to draw others to them who are of like mind and purpose, feeding off each other and using each other as validation and verification of their system of beliefs. The more excessive of the discernment ministries in particular take this to an extreme, going so far as to shun all others who don’t fall in line with what they believe to be true.

At its root this type of behavior is connected to a desire to feel as though we are special and/or significant and/or have something that most people don’t have. It is a natural inclination. We ALL want to be unique and to have a special insight into things. The danger comes when this desire is combined with a dose of pride and arrogance. The need to be “special,” the need to be “better than others” and a sense of “superiority” morph together and become a new creature.

For lack of a better analogy, the watch doggies and the discerning watch doggers who train them become possessed by this strange, new, hybrid creature. Like a spider exposed to nuclear radiation in a B horror movie, this new creature gets bigger and uglier and meaner. It thrives on being on the “inside” while also thriving on keeping others on the “outside” (to maintain its unique sense of “specialness”). It urges the watch doggies and the discernment ministries they operate to seek out and crucify anything that threatens the ideals that make it feel special. The only way to win this creature’s approval is to submit to its view of the world. It does not accept partial submission. Without full agreement, this hybridized creature of prideful arrogance will become combative and vicious, attempting to bully those around it into full compliance with its paradigm. Those who refuse to comply are excommunicated and condemned into the outer darkness.

This insecure hybrid creature also thrives from being around others of its kind, leading the watch doggies to surround themselves with others who agree with and support them in their beliefs a 21st Century “Amen Corner.” Their websites and blogs are filled with references and links back and forth between them, creating a web of “discernment” that securely connects them all together and insulates them from outside criticism.

And this is where the II Timothy passage comes to play once again. We are told that, “ suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” Watch doggies surround themselves with other watch doggies, and discernment ministries partner with like-minded discernment ministries. Why? Becaus they love nothing more than to hear their ideas echoed back to them.

Once the ears of a watch dogger or a discernment ministry have been tickled by words of agreement and praise from others, it is difficult for them to stop seeking out this pleasurable experience. The hybrid creature inside them yearns for the approval while it longs for the challenge of showing others how they don’t measure up to the standards that it believes to be of utmost importance. And once a person or group has tickled their own ears, it is nearly impossible for them to resist the urge to do it again, and again, and again. The creature inside won’t let them.

Case in point the “apprising ministry” of the “Reverend” Ken Silva. It is no secret that “Reverend Ken” is chief among the remnant-based, conspiracy-hunting, judgment-pronouncing watch-doggies. It is also no secret that though Ken has his supporters, there are also a great many people who have problems with Ken and nearly every aspect of his “ministry.” The charges against Ken include:

- Creating inaccurate characterizations of people and their positions on key issues
- Blatantly misquoting many of those same people
- Presenting false information in his articles and “missives”
- Proof-texting and generally “pretzelizing” the Word (meaning to twist scripture)
- Frequent Isogesis (ignoring scriptural context in order to fit a desired interpretation)
- Claiming inappropriate authority for himself, authority that is reserved for God
- Making unsubstantiated claims and charges
- Spiritual pride and arrogance

Though these charges on their own aren’t necessarily an indictment of Ken or his “ministry” of “discernment,” most of them have been proven fairly conclusively on several blogs including Verum Serum, Fishing the Abyss and Emergent No (to name a few).

I use the “Reverend” Ken and his “ministry” in this particular post because he illustrates so clearly the dangers of “watch dogging,” “discerning,” “itching one’s own ears,” etc.

We have dealt with Ken Silva many times before on this blog. Unlike his site at Apprising Ministries (which allows for no discussion) and the site for the Christian Research Network (formerly Slice of Laodicea, which allows discussion on occasion but filters what is posted to slant the discussions in the light most favorable to them), Verum Serum has an open comment policy. This policy applies to Ken just as it does to everyone else. If the “Reverend” wants to voice his opinion, add to the discussion or dispute something that has been said (which he has done on many occasions), he has been and will continue to be welcomed here.

I don’t intend on covering all aspects of Ken Silva’s ministry in “discernment.” That would take a LONG time and would cover a lot of ground. Don’t believe me? Check out the posts and the related discussions that we have already hosted in the last 8-10 months:

- A Self-Serving Testament to an Apprising Ministry

- A Letter to Reverend Ken Silva

- What Was the Error of the Pharisees?

- They’re Talking about Me on SliceCast

- Rev. Ken Declares Holy War on Emergent Church

- Who Can Seek God, Part 2

- Who Can Seek God, Part 1

- Slice Goes After Rob Bell

Instead of looking at Ken’s whole operation, I want to focus on one aspect of Ken’s ministry, namely his articles and/or “missives” as he likes to call them. His website has a huge number of these articles and missives in its archives. It is upon these articles that I want to focus in an effort to illustrate the self-gratification of “itching one’s own ears.”

If one were to spend any time at Ken’s site and read his writings, one immediately notices his liberal use of hyperlinks. In any given piece, the “Reverend” will use anywhere from 5 to 20 and even up to 40 links embedded within the text of a single article. One who is familiar with the internet and blogging would assume that these “hot” links would lead a reader towards information that supports whatever assertion “Reverend” Ken is making at the time. The large number of links gives the impression of well-documented research and well thought out argumentation.

Alas, for the most part this is not so.

(Side Note: Hyperlinks in this case are the equivalent of sources listed in a bibliography -or- footnotes when one writes a research paper for school. The difference is that rather than being just a list of sources that were used to gain information, these “hot” hyperlinks can actually take the reader directly to a primary source of information so the reader can see it for themselves.)

When “Reverend” Silva embeds these links into his articles, rarely do they route a reader to primary sources of information. There is very little attempt on his part to allow his readers to verify what he has alleged or to look over the proof of a point he has made. Instead, these links typically refer a reader to other articles that Ken has written. These articles are, in turn, filled with more embedded hot links that take a reader to other articles written by “Reverend” Ken. Going deeper, THESE articles are ALSO filled with hot links that take the reader to EVEN MORE articles written by “Reverend” Ken. It is nearly impossible to track the layer upon layer of links within the articles and “missives” that Ken has written, though in a moment you will see that I have made an effort to do just that. In the vast majority of Ken’s writings, these links within each layer refer back to other links and other layers all found within the articles written by Ken’s own hand.

In essence, Ken has used himself to prove himself.

To be fair, there are times when Ken does use links to other sites, but even then there are problems. Typically these other sites and outside sources are other watchdog/discernment groups that agree with some point he is trying to make. Rarely does he bother to point the reader in the direction of actual primary source documentation.

For the most part Ken Silva has created an intellectually dishonest cycle of using himself to build up well himself. He makes a statement about X and Y, and then to prove the statement he refers a reader to other articles that he has penned dealing with X and Y. These articles are then also filled with other links to other articles he has written dealing with X and Y. Little if any primary research. Very few quotes or authoritative summaries from primary or secondary resources. Hardly any verification or proof to back up his accusations and outrageous claims.

Just his words.

If you will pardon the analogy (and believe me, I tried as hard as I could to find a different one), it’s as if his ministry website is filled with multi-layered incidents of intellectual incest. One article begets a second article and then these two articles combine to create a third. The third article then combines with the first article to prove a forth article. And on and on and on and on. These overlapping circles of intellectually incestuous rhetoric build layer upon layer until I’m pretty sure that even Ken must get confused over what he has said that can actually be SUPPORTED and what he has said that is just stuff that comes out of his head that he thinks sounds important.

As I have worked on both parts of this post, I have come to understand (at least partially) why it is that when someone challenges Ken on a subject, he can’t do anything but point someone to an article/missive on his website. It has become apparent over the months that Ken places a considerable amount of stock/weight in his own words and views. Now I fully appreciate why this is the case. He has gotten caught up in the intellectual dishonesty of his own site, which has led him to believe that everything he says is reliable. In his mind, the proof of his reliability is the fact that other articles on his site agree with him.

I have tried to create a real-time example of what I am talking about. If you look at this example and think, “Wow, that must have taken a lot of time,” you are right. I intended to do a quick analysis of only one Ken Silva article and the circle of embedded links and incestuous intellectualism, but I couldn’t just do a single article. Instead, I took that article and looked at the embedded links that took me to other articles, and then I traced/followed the embedded links in each of THOSE articles to even more articles filled with links. I basically went three layers deep into Ken’s self-induced ear itching.

It wasn’t pretty.

Initially I intended to use this post to identify each article and each hotlink by name, creating a family tree of sorts to trace the pathways established in Ken’s overlapping maze of self-referencing, but then I realized that to do so I would need WAY too much space for this post. My blogging partner John might be able to help me think of a way to map this whole thing out in a more efficient manner, but he’s gone on vacation with his wife for a few days, so I can’t ask for his help right now. For the time being, I will present a general overview along with a summary.

I began with a single article. I then traced and labeled all links and articles that were presented by Ken as sources within this primary article. As I made notes, I labeled each level of articles and links as primary, secondary, and tertiary (denoting the three levels that I followed through stemming from the one article). Articles are listed by the names given them by Ken Silva. Embedded/Hot links are listed according to the name that Ken used when listing them within the given article.

(NOTE: The following breakdown may be tedious to some though not nearly as tedious as creating it, I assure you! If you don’t want to read over all the details, skip down and read the summary. Also, please don’t just take my word for any of this. If any of this seems odd or far fetched to you, retrace my steps. Begin at the same place that I did, with the same primary article, and trace the links into the deeper layers. If you do, you will come to the same appauling conclusion that I did.)

The Primary Article that I began with was “Rob Bell and the Cult of Personality.” Within this initial article, Ken used 13 primary links. The first three primary links led to outside sources (all three were conservative affiliates of his) while the other 10 primary links led to other articles written by him or to archives of articles which were written by Ken.

- Primary Link #1 (labeled as “Slice of Laodicea”) leads to a dead link, which makes sense since Slice packed up shop and moved across the blog superhighway to Christian Research Network.

- Primary Link #2 (labeled as “Why Many Evangelical Pastors Today are Cult-Like”) links to an article from the semi-watch blog/uber conservative (spiritually speaking) Christian World View Network.

- Primary Link #3 (labeled as “Christian World View Network”) leads to the front page of the Christian World View Network.

-Primary Link #4 (labeled as “Emergent Church”) leads to an archive of articles written by Ken dealing with what he calls the “Emergent Heresy”

-Primary Link #5 (labeled as “Neo-Orthodox”) leads to the article “Neo-Orthodoxy: An Emergent Overview.” This article links to 7 secondary articles, 6 of which lead to other Apprising Ministries articles or archives. The 6 secondary articles contain links to 37 tertiary articles or archives. Of the 37 tertiary articles, 28 of them are ones contained on Ken’s site and written by Ken.

- Primary Link #6 (labeled as “Contemplative Mysticism”) leads to an archive of articles written by Ken dealing with Contemplative Mysticism.

- Primary Link #7 (labeled as “Roman Catholic”) leads to the article “Has the Roman Catholic Church Really Changed?” This article links to 5 secondary articles, 1 of which leads to another Apprising Ministries article archive. The other 4 articles are on other “discernment” sites.

- Primary Link #8 (labeled as “Richard Foster”) leads to the article “Richard Foster and the Quaker Inner Light.” This article links to 15 secondary articles, 14 of which lead to other Apprising Ministries articles or archives. The 14 secondary articles contain links to 188 tertiary articles or archives. Of the 188 tertiary articles, 116 of them are ones contained on Ken’s site and written by Ken.

- Primary Link #9 (labeled as “Chuck Swindoll”) leads to the article “Chuck Swindoll: What Are You Thinking?” This article links to 12 secondary articles, 6 of which lead to other Apprising Ministries articles or archives. The 6 secondary articles contain links to 55 tertiary articles or archives. Of the 55 tertiary articles, 37 of them are ones contained on Ken’s site and written by Ken.

- Primary Link #10 (labeled as “Rick Warren”) leads to an archive of articles written by Ken dealing with Rick Warren.

- Primary Link #11 (labeled as “Emergent Church”) leads to the article “Dr. Walter Martin on the Emergent Church.” This article links to 6 secondary articles, 5 of which lead to other Apprising Ministries articles or archives. The 5 secondary articles contain links to 50 tertiary articles or archives. Of the 55 tertiary articles, 36 of them are ones contained on Ken’s site and written by Ken.

- Primary Link #12 (labeled as “Rob Bell”) leads to an archive of articles written by Ken dealing with Rob Bell.

- Primary Link #13 (labeled as “Apprising Ministries”) leads to an archive of all of the articles written by “Reverend” Ken.

SUMMARY: Using just one article as a primary source/starting point, I tracked back the embedded links three levels deep. As one moves from the primary to the secondary and the tertiary, the results are clear. Within the three levels of interwoven confusion, the “Reverend” Ken used a grand total of 394 embedded links to support his contentions. Of these 394 links, 264 of them were references to articles written by his own hand.

CONCLUSION: By a 2 to 1 margin, “Reverend Ken” is his own best proof and support! Why bother to try and prove or support anything using scripture and logic and reason when you can just write another article that can become the proof of the first one, while the first article can be the proof for the second.

And this doesn’t even take into account the fact that at least half of the links to outside sources were to “discernment-friendly” sites similar to his own!

Metaphysically speaking, Ken Silva must be spiritually double-jointed to be able to scratch and tickle and itch his own ears the way he does.

Ear tickling in action.

Intellectual incest and academic dishonesty.

Now I need to go take a shower.

This whole thing makes me feel dirty.









One of our regular readers made an observation about both parts of this “Itching One’s Own Ears” series. She challenged me, saying that it appeared that I was “knocking” all discernment ministries. I must admit that though that was not my intention, I can see how it could have come across this way. Thank you, Amy, for your critique and your recommendation.

Let me be clear. It was never my intent to broad-brush all discernment ministries. There are discernment ministries out there that focus on all aspects of life and many of these organizations do great work. They focus on a wide range of topics including: cults and counter-cult facilitation, science and faith, countering the influences of popular culture and society, the role of faith in politics, etc.

Many of these discernment organizations demonstrate keen insight and judgment, using the Bible, logic and reason, research and investigation, etc. These ministries are able to analyze the obscure, the suspicious and the obvious, their perceptions honed by years of study. They demonstrate wisdom in how they apply their knowledge and perceptions to various situations, individuals and organizations. They demonstrate restraint in how they proceed in dealing with matters of style and substance. They are transparent in their operations and in how they arrive at their conclusions.

At the same time, these discernment ministries are open to critique and criticism. They engage in dialogue. They don’t engage in demagoguery aimed at those who voice disagreement or concerns. Their approach is methodical and measured. From my experience, a few of these effective discernment ministries include:

- Reasons to Believe

- Ravi Zacharias International Ministries

- The Christian Research Institute

- Stand to Reason

- Walter Martin’s Religious Info Net

As I said, there are MANY discernment ministries out there who discern responsibly and who interact with the Church and the World responsibly. My concern is with the other brand/style of discernment ministries whose approach is far more aggressive and far less reasoned and thought-out, far more knee jerk and far less logical, far more perception-based and far less Biblically-based. These types of discernment ministries have good intentions but in my experience they do far more damage and harm than they do good. In particular, many of those discernment groups who feel called to focus most of their attention internally within the Church place themselves in the position of not only questioning suspect beliefs and/or doctrines but questioning the motivations and the very salvation of others within the Church with whom they disagree.

It is these groups that I had in mind when writing these two posts.

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