“Oh. Oh, I see. Running away, eh?”


King Arthur and the Black Knight:
A funny scene, but, in a sense, all too familiar


Many years ago, when I was still doing graduate studies in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, I became involved in a snail-mail back-and-forth discussion with a zealous Evangelical lady in southern California, a representative of some Protestant ministry or other, who insisted that Mormons aren’t Christian.  (I suppose that this conversation was the starting point for the book Offenders for a Word.)  At one stage of the conversation, I tried to help her understand what genuine non-Christianity looked like (e.g., in the case of Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims).  When her reply came, it was clear that she was absolutely exhilarated by my comments.  She had, she plainly thought, caught me in a hypocritical, brazenly obvious self-contradiction.  “You insist that you’re a Christian,” she triumphantly wrote, “while you deny Muslims their right to be Christians!”


More and more, I try to avoid debates with people who aren’t equipped (whether by education or training, by temperament, or by sheer capacity) to engage in serious discussion, to construct sound arguments or to properly understand a sound argument when when they see it.  Such encounters remind me too much of a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail – which is, of course, one of the greatest films ever made:


BLACK KNIGHT:  None shall pass.
ARTHUR:  What?
BLACK KNIGHT:  None shall pass.
ARTHUR:  I have no quarrel with you, good Sir Knight, but I must cross this 
BLACK KNIGHT:  Then you shall die.
ARTHUR:  I command you, as King of the Britons, to stand aside!
BLACK KNIGHT:  I move for no man.
ARTHUR:  So be it!
ARTHUR and BLACK KNIGHT:  Aaah!, hiyaah!, etc.
    [ARTHUR chops the BLACK KNIGHT's left arm off]
ARTHUR:  Now stand aside, worthy adversary.
BLACK KNIGHT:  'Tis but a scratch.
ARTHUR:  A scratch?  Your arm's off!
BLACK KNIGHT:  No, it isn't.
ARTHUR:  Well, what's that then?
BLACK KNIGHT:  I've had worse.
ARTHUR:  You liar!
BLACK KNIGHT:  Come on, you pansy!
    [ARTHUR chops the BLACK KNIGHT's right arm off]
ARTHUR:  Victory is mine!
    We thank Thee Lord, that in Thy mer--
    Come on then.
ARTHUR:  What?
BLACK KNIGHT:  Have at you!
ARTHUR:  Eh.  You are indeed brave, Sir Knight, but the fight is mine.
BLACK KNIGHT:  Oh, had enough, eh?
ARTHUR:  Look, you stupid bastard.  You've got no arms left.
BLACK KNIGHT:  Yes I have.
ARTHUR:  Look!
BLACK KNIGHT:  Just a flesh wound.
ARTHUR:  Look, stop that.
ARTHUR:  Look, I'll have your leg.
    [ARTHUR chops the BLACK KNIGHT's right leg off]
BLACK KNIGHT:  Right.  I'll do you for that!
ARTHUR:  You'll what?
BLACK KNIGHT:  Come here!
ARTHUR:  What are you going to do, bleed on me?
BLACK KNIGHT:  I'm invincible!
ARTHUR:  You're a looney.
BLACK KNIGHT:  The Black Knight always triumphs!  Have at you!  Come on then.
    [ARTHUR chops the BLACK KNIGHT's last leg off]
BLACK KNIGHT:  Ooh.  All right, we'll call it a draw.
ARTHUR:  Come, Patsy.
BLACK KNIGHT:  Oh.  Oh, I see.  Running away, eh?  You yellow bastards!  Come
    back here and take what's coming to you.  I'll bite your legs off!


Unfortunately, I still get sucked into such discussions from time to time.  It’s difficult to extricate oneself from them gracefully, without seeming to be elitist or arrogant, without hurting feelings.  Sometimes, though, it’s best simply to withdraw from these encounters and to wish the best for your would-be opponent.  I don’t believe that salvation depends upon scholarly acumen or intellectual ability or education.  There are much more important things, and I expect the Lord to be gracious and merciful.  But not everybody was a top student in school, and people don’t become better scholars or more rigorous thinkers merely by virtue of growing older.  There are, in other words, still plenty of B, C, D, and F students out there.  Their souls are of infinite worth, and they may well be — and, in many cases (I’m very serious here), certainly are — far better people than the A students.  But that still doesn’t mean that they’re good at the particular more-or-less academic work of framing and evaluating arguments.



  • Markk

    LoL, I understand, I will leave you with this one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPw-3e_pzqU

    Your op is classic Dan and says far more that you could ever understand.

    I would suggest this book or alike…http://www.amazon.com/They-Call-Coach-John-Wooden/dp/0071424911/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1378570214&sr=1-8

    • DanielPeterson

      I wish you all the best, Markk. Please feel free to attempt conversation again sometime in the future. But please, also, try to make sure that you actually understand the issue on which you comment, and make a real effort to follow the argument thereafter. This would make the exchange much more useful and enjoyable.

  • http://nathanrichardson.com/ Nathan

    I had that kind of conversation once. She said Mormonism lacked the kind of hard physical proof that Christianity had, “considering most the physical evidence that was left behind. Why is there no body of Jesus that can’t be found? I’ll tell you why. It’s because Jesus ascended into heaven and left earth.”

    I replied, “Do you mean that because we cannot find the body of Jesus, this is proof that he ascended to heaven?”

    She answered, “Yes to your question, this is evidence that it happened. … Now with the book of Mormon, … these plates were only seen by Joseph Smith.”

    I said, “If you see the absence of Jesus’s body as evidence that he ascended to heaven, then would the absence of the gold plates today be evidence that Moroni took them back?”
    I didn’t get a response to that. The conversation ended amicably enough, but it was hard to keep the reasoning process going in a straight line.

  • Eric Larson

    My history dept. Chair at Utah State, Dr. Norm Jones, presents an annual lecture on this greatest of films. Norm’s specialty is medieval European and Christian history. It was always a festive occasion: He enters the room in his doctoral robes (in doing so, he says, “Evening everyone.” and we all shout enthusiastically, “NORM!” because back then, we had all seen every episode of “Cheers”), whereupon he declares, with a perfectly straight face, “The first thing you have to understand is that this is not a funny movie,” and he thoroughly discusses the medieval symbolism and imagery (and anachronistic anarco-syndicalist philosophy) that pervades this mockery of Bullfinch, Julie Andrews and “Camelot.” He also noted that John Cleese (or was it Graham Chapman?) was the only person who ever made any money with a history degree.

    • DanielPeterson

      This should be an annual academic tradition at every university with any pretense of being legitimate.

  • Doug Ealy

    So I’ve gone round and round on this issue. I don’t like arguing. I don’t like testy electronic exchanges. I read this the other day as I was studying “The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow”:

    “The Savior has commanded not to cast pearls before swine. I am sorry to say that this instruction is not always sufficiently regarded by those whom our Lord has given, though the Everlasting Covenant. His pearls of wisdom, knowledge, and precious gifts. The consequence is, we lose blessings instead of retaining them — a decrease of the Holy Spirit follows, instead of increase, and our minds become darkened.
    What I allude to is this: we too frequently engage in conversation concerning thing of the kingdom of God, with persons of a wrong spirit; and feeling over anxious to make them see, understand and acknowledge the light presented, we urge on, and persist in the conversation until we partake of the spirit of those with whom we are conversing. We ought to be particularly guarded against falling into errors of this kind.
    It is very easy to understand when conversation is attended with profit. We then feel our minds enlightened, and the power of God resting upon us through the Holy Spirit — ideas flow into our minds, and we express them with ease freedom, and calmness.
    Conversation conducted in this spirit proves highly profitable, not only to ourselves, but also to those with whom we converse; and after its close, our hearts are drawn out in gratitude to the Most High for the privilege of imparting the glorious truths of the Gospel to the children of men. (In Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow, p.59)” Teachings of Lorenzo Snow Edited by Clyde J. Williams Pubilished by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 2012 pp. 95-96

    I thought that perhaps I can get out of these exchanges under the guise of not wanting to partake in the wrong spirit, but then I read the following:

    Lectures on Faith, Lecture 6, 11.
    “… through the knowledge thus obtained their faith became sufficiently strong to lay hold upon the promise of eternal life, and to endure as seeing Him who is invisible; and were enabled, through faith, to combat the powers of darkness, contend against the wiles of the adversary, overcome the world, and obtain the end of their faith, even the salvation of their souls.”

    Lest I think that this was the only counsel from a Prophet on this issue:

    Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 3:56.
    “This is a day when we are in grave danger — danger because of the teachings of men, danger because of the lack of faith in the hearts of men, because the philosophies of the world have a tendency to undermine the fundamental things of the gospel of Jesus Christ. These are things we must contend against.”

    What I’ve gathered is that we are to content against the teachings of men and the philosophies of the world, but not partake in the same spirit. This is something that is unpleasant for me but, the promise is that salvation comes from striving to help teach those who feel differently than I do. I don’t think this means engaging in endless debates. It seems entirely appropriate to me to cut off a discussion once the spirit of the discussion has turned to something that doesn’t edify.