Tuesday, 18 December 2012

What is needed is faithfulness, not better debating techniques

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It is inevitable that the mass media, including blogs such as this (which is not really 'mass' - but still...) tends to focus on matters of rhetoric: of clear expression, effective persuasion.

Much gets written about how 'we' could more effectively 'get our points across', examples of gaffes and disasters when people were crude or inept at this, or were portrayed as such - hence lost public support of the cause. And so on.

The implication is that, if only we (our side) could package our views optimally, then people would recognize their rightness and would (en masse) convert to them.

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For a Christian, hoping (as we all must) for a change of heart in society - a Great Awakening - this is a dangerous snare.

The most compelling counter-example is Jesus Christ himself.

The New Testament gives an account of the perfect life of the perfect Man - and one who was a master of rhetoric, never lost for a word: someone who had all the answers and could express himself unanswerably.

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He had a gang of devoted helpers who had given up everything to follow him, by his miracles he sowed seeds of faith in the hearts of many more, and by the brilliance of rhetoric attract large crowds to hear him speak or debate with the religious authorities.

Yet, far more of the people Christ encountered failed to be persuaded by him, than became believers in him.

So God came to earth as the perfect Man - who got his message across perfectly - yet most people were unpersuaded. Indeed, they crucified him.

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In a world of fallen Men who have chosen, and continue to choose evil - and where we ourselves are inevitably tainted and at times overwhelmed by evil, this is the most that can be expected.

Among the greatest Prophets and Patriarchs of the Bible - almost all succumbed to sin at some point, deliberately turned away from God: this will happen, it will happen to us.  Our best intentions (even those) will be defeated by original sin and by the unsleeping cunning of the enemy.

So - we will not 'stay on message' and we will make serious gaffes, and we will say and do things that are counter-productive.

We will, in fact, make things worse despite our best efforts; and we will not even be making our best efforts for most of the time. 

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The teaching of the Old Testament seems particularly compelling on the question of what is required from us: and that seems not to be the kind of person who has a quick and convincing answer to every conceivable debating point; but to be patient and full of faith.

And these are precisely the qualities which are most lacking in the modern West, including among the Christian Right

The problem is ultimately not the lack of high status reactionary intellectuals, of writers and writers, nor the paucity of Christian artists and entertainers - nor our lack of access to the classrooms and mass media - nor the increasing constraints on our freedom of expression in these arenas.

Because even if we had all such things we would be ineffective in the cause of Good, because we lack patient faithfulness.

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Hence even given the best of opportunities for modern reactionaries and the greatest rhetorical abilities and opportunities - very soon we are assimilated to the dark side, and become part of the problem - agents of evil, not of its only solution.

The solution lies outside the world of rhetoric; and we can only legitimately aspire to be channels for its operation. 

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12 comments:

  1. It's not easy when evil is dressed up as good.
    It's not easy when your taxes are used as a prop to support a form of society you do not agree with.
    It's not easy when "equality" is continually forced down your throat but you find you won't get your state pension for a few more years because you happen to be male!
    It's not easy when you may be forced to comply with so called "Diversity" and be assessed on it as a "behaviour" as part of your work. To feel forced to accept something that led to Gloucester Police being fined for discriminating against applicants on the colour of their skin, their excuse we were trying to increase "Diversity."
    It's not easy to stay calm for lots of reasons nowadays, too many to mention.
    However, it's at the times I am most outraged that I feel most distant from God.
    In that respect I feel this particular blog is very relevant to me.

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  2. The best you can do is be stubborn enough that if someone hears you and disagrees, but comes back later, maybe years later, and says "maybe you had a point," you haven't sold out by then.

    Most people have.

    Often by trying to be persuasive. The road to ruin goes, "we have to make (harmless) concessions on X to show we are reasonable people so that we can be listened to on Y." After Y comes Z, and soon you're endorsing human sacrifice but only with anesthetics supervised by a doctor.

    I see this regarding homosexual marriage. To show that the people who are against it are right wing fanatics and not credible, supporters of gay marriage challenge its opponents on whether they want to go back to the dark times when women couldn't get a divorce (or only by humiliating means like showing unfaithfulness). To maintain their credibility opponents of gay marriage give up on divorce on demand, and thus on traditional (also known as Christian) marriage.

    One cannot see a line that they would not abandon if they were pushed hard and long enough.

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  3. supporters of gay marriage challenge its opponents on whether they want to go back to the dark times when women couldn't get a divorce (or only by humiliating means like showing unfaithfulness).

    Ha! To that I'd shrug and say, "Yes, so what?"

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  4. JP: "Ha! To that I'd shrug and say, "Yes, so what?""

    That is what you have to do, but most people won't do it.

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  5. @Daybreaker,

    A very common leftist argument for gay marriage is that hetero marriage is so broken that gay marriage can't hurt it. Long ago I equipped myself with the counterargument that therefore, the answer is to fix hetero marriage (e.g., by eliminating no-fault divorce) not by breaking it even more with gay marriage.

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  6. One of the most profound posts on this web site, thank you. So many people dismiss Christians and Christianity because we fail to live up to the ideals we pine for. Of course we do, we are sinners. This article puts it so succinctly "So - we will not 'stay on message' and we will make serious gaffes, and we will say and do things that are counter-productive.

    We will, in fact, make things worse despite our best efforts; and we will not even be making our best efforts for most of the time."

    To those without ideals, without limits, without values or modesty we are as easy as shooting fish in a barrel when we come up for a gulp of imperfect air.

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  7. The roar on their side seems to be becoming increasingly deafening, relentless, almost unstoppable. Is the monster really growing, or does our relatively newfound ability to communicate globally, instantly, just give that impression?

    The urge to bury my head and pretend I don't care anymore is almost irresistible some days. Perhaps just finding the ability on those days to stand and say, "no, no, no" in the face of lies and darkness, is a service in the cause of Good…

    This blog is a treasure. Thank you.

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  8. >The implication is that, if only we (our side) could package our views optimally, then people would recognize their rightness and would (en masse) convert to them.

    The people who need this sort of packaging don't ever believe something because it's right, but instead because it tickles them in the right way.

    Pity.

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  9. @Daybreaker:

    The road to ruin goes, "we have to make (harmless) concessions on X to show we are reasonable people so that we can be listened to on Y." After Y comes Z, and soon you're endorsing human sacrifice but only with anesthetics supervised by a doctor.

    This is definitely true, and I'd like to see our host comment on it. Unlike folks adhering to a dominant position (which, because so pervasive, requires no real thought to maintain), those of us subscribing to a minority worldview find that worldview constantly under attack and thus we're accustomed to mounting bone-grinding apologetic arguments - so we tend to think that others will be receptive to those arguments. The truth is they rarely are.

    The problem is compounded by the fact that most of us are fairly peaceable people, and our religion teaches us to "live at peace with all men, so far as that is possible" - so we tend to believe (whether warranted or not) that we have an obligation to be "fair" in discussion and avoid over-wrought rhetoric.

    @Mr. StaticNoise:

    So many people dismiss Christians and Christianity because we fail to live up to the ideals we pine for. Of course we do, we are sinners.

    Yes, they say the number one factor keeping people out of the church is "hypocrisy". This has never made sense to me, since the entire premise of this religion is that everyone is a failure

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  10. @SJ - "The road to ruin goes, "we have to make (harmless) concessions on X to show we are reasonable people so that we can be listened to on Y." After Y comes Z, and soon you're endorsing human sacrifice but only with anesthetics supervised by a doctor. -- This is definitely true, and I'd like to see our host comment on it."

    In a sense much of this blog is a comment on it. I don't think we should argue; just state our position and the reason. Something like:

    [Shake of head, downcast eyes, but no apology] "I can't do that, my religion forbids it." [Stop at that point and say no more]

    Willingness to engage in arguments implies you are open to changing your mind that you - it also implies arguing from the same premises as the opposition.

    If we must argue it must be explicitly from the true premises, which are Christian: e.g. "I am a Christian. That is forbidden in the Bible as it has been understood by the Holiest Saints and fathers of the Church for many hundreds of years.

    "Nothing that a non-Christian living in these corrupt times could ever say on the subject could ever make me change my mind on it."

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  11. @anon anon - "Perhaps just finding the ability on those days to stand and say, "no, no, no" in the face of lies and darkness, is a service in the cause of Good…"

    It is.

    I think we sometimes let ourselves be trapped by the idea that an action is only significant if it can objectively proven causally to effect lots of other things in some kind of big way. But the fact is that every action is permanent and significant and known and recorded - nothing goes for nothing.

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  12. In a sense much of this blog is a comment on it. I don't think we should argue; just state our position and the reason. Something like:

    Thanks for responding - I know the thread is dead, but I really do feel it's a point worth emphasizing and re-emphasizing: people do convert based on arguments, but it's not our primary purpose and not *that* many people convert through arguments. Growth of the Christian counter-culture really will come through child-rearing.

    So that, for instance, one of the very real issues I've been working through over the past year or so is the question of whether it's worth it to spend time online arguing for the Christian worldview. I used to think it clear was worthwhile: "Look how many people I can reach through the internet!" Now I think my God-given time is better spent with my family.

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