Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Prevalence of Shoddy Argumentation in our Ethicizing

This political season has successfully stoked the flames of many hot potato issues in our society like abortion, war, and even the definition of marriage. In the midst of the firestorm of debates—official ones between candidates and unofficial ones in blogs and facebook and other communication mediums—it is disturbing to see such shallow thinking and hollow zingers displayed proudly by those on all sides of the debate. I realize that a witty zinger or a clever sound bite is often a tactical PR move, but too often what I see happening is just plain bad thinking and communication. Even more unfortunate is that people seem so proud of their asinine arguments. It pains me to see those representing Christ display such ill-thought-through statements.

The reality is that society has changed a lot over the years. The ground-lying assumptions about the world are not the same as they once were. There was a time when most people assumed there was a God. The views of God may have varied some, but there was an assumption that God existed and so did heaven and hell. Most recognized the authority of God and that the Bible conveyed God's message to people. These words from George Washington reveal the extent of the pervasiveness of this worldview: "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible. Do not ever let anyone claim to be a true American patriot if they ever attempt to separate Religion from politics."

These are NOT the working assumptions of people today. Even those that consider themselves to be Christians, may not have these cosmological assumptions. Thus we make a mistake when we presume the existence of God, heaven, and hell in our arguments. It is further futile to build an argument from the Bible without first reaching common ground about some degree of truthfulness of the Bible. In the New Testament when we see Paul speaking to a Jewish audience, he makes frequent reference to the Jewish scriptures. But when Paul's audience is primarily from a non-Jewish background, then he seeks to establish other common ground.

When we engage in conversations in the public square over these issues, we need to articulate our positions and convictions in ways that challenge those that don't share our worldview assumptions to consider our perspective. Whenever we ignore the context of those with whom we debate, we usually end up talking past each other. And a more subtle thing happens to us. We become less sure of our own worldview. When we are able to communicate to those around us the reasons we have taken the ethical stands we have, then it is a sign that we are more sure of those ethical stands. I would submit to you that the historical life of Christ is a starting point with which we can communicate to others. But I will develop this idea in another post.

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