Blog arguments

Friends, way back on September 28–that’s last month, 16 days ago–I posted about our pastor’s sermon on a parable:  The Rich Man & Lazarus | Cranach: The Blog of Veith.  That innocent little post has now chalked up a record 422 comments at last count.  What happened is that a very heated debate broke out between Lutherans and non-Lutherans on the true meaning of John 20:23.  Before long, Luther was getting bashed, and non-Lutherans were getting bashed, and feelings were getting hurt on both sides.  Then, at about comment #359, people started talking about ME, taking me to task for allowing unkind things being said on my blog.  I should not allow certain things to be said.  I should establish a  code of conduct, require registration, moderate comments, monitor what people say, and delete negative remarks.

I actually do delete some comments when they go far over the line, but I can’t monitor everything that is said, especially what is said on posts from a month ago.  And in principle, I value open and free discussion.  That becomes impossible if people insist on silencing their opponents.  In general, this blog has the reputation of having a higher level of discourse than other blogs, a reputation I don’t want to lose.  At the same time, there seems to be some misunderstandings.  So I will offer some thoughts:

(1)  The word “argument” has become a synonym for “fight.”  (As in, “He had an argument with his wife.”)  That shows the decay of contemporary argumentation.  An argument is supposed to be a train of thought that leads to persuasion.  The goal of an argument is not to score points but to win over your opponent to your way of thinking.  An effective argument ends in agreement.

When you insult, mock, name call, or otherwise make your opponent angry, you will never win the argument.  That is, you will never persuade your opponent.  Instead, you will make him or her “defensive,” as we say, and from behind that defensive bunker, your opponent will never surrender, no matter how good your logic and evidence may be.   So mean and vicious and hurtful remarks are simply counterproductive.  I shouldn’t have to ban them.   They are the equivalent of an admission of defeat.

In the current case, both sides were giving as good as they got.  At the same time, it is unfair to zap your opponent, and then get all upset when you get zapped in return!  Again, both sides were doing that.

(2)  Ah, but Jesus called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers.”  If Jesus can call people names, I can too.  No, Jesus spoke as one with authority, and not as one of their scribes.  We are not Jesus and lack His authority.  We are scribes.

When I read that passage, I do confess and feel that I am a viper.  Some people do bear God’s authority by virtue of their vocation.  When I am castigated by my pastor, or parents, or boss, or the police officer who caught me breaking the law, they do have the calling to deal with me and I take their words to heart. When someone without that calling castigates me, it does not convict me but only makes me angry.

(3)  Ah, but we must proclaim the Law to convict people of sin!  First of all, not all disputes involve moral failure.  But, setting that aside, applying the Law is far more involved than just calling people bad  names or even saying they will go to Hell.  Applying the theological use of the Law means holding up God’s Law as a mirror so that people will see themselves and their sin, provoking repentance and then a turning to Christ, to the Gospel which also must be proclaimed.   But if the person you are attacking does not see his sin, but rather is provoked into self-righteous indignation, you have failed to apply the Law successfully.  Preaching the Law is more like surgery than beating with a blunt instrument, which is why Luther and Walther call the ability to apply and to distinguish Law and Gospel is the highest art.

(4)  It is good to hold discussions with people whom we do not agree with.  We have a tendency to only talk with people like ourselves (Lutherans with Lutherans, Christians with Christians, conservatives with conservatives, liberals with liberals).  But if we ever want to, again, win anyone over to our side, we need practice talking with those who do not believe as we do.

One of the great strengths of this blog is that it attracts–how, I don’t really know–people of many different views.  I loved it when that Muslim guy joined in recently, stating his objections to Christianity, which many of you–including diehard opponents usually–joined together to defend.  I’m glad to have the “spiritual but not religious” Bunnycatch3r here.  And the whole gamut of Christian theologies.  And the atheists who chime in.  Don’t you see how good that is?

The old record for most comments was held by a series of posts involving Michael the atheist.  You commenters, for the most part,  treated him with great gentleness.  And do you remember how he said, at one point, something to the effect that this blog was his support group!  I don’t think we came to an agreement with him before he stopped posting, but who knows what might have happened to him since then and what part some of you might have played in his life?  If I excluded him or deleted his negative comments about Christianity, or if you just resorted to calling him names or got all offended at his very presence, the opportunity to talk with him seriously about Christ would never have happened.

So, in conclusion, I’ve got to trust you, and I do.  Learn how to argue.  Don’t have a thin skin.  Talk with people you don’t agree with.  Try to win each other over.  Realize that we have in common both the wretchedness of our sin and the forgiveness of our Savior.

Out of the depths

As the 33 Chilean miners are finally being rescued, one at a time, from their 68 days being trapped 2,000 feet below the surface, Christianity Today has an interesting report:

Jimmy Sanchez, one of the 33 Chilean miners who have been trapped for over two months in the San Jose copper-gold mine in the Atacama Desert, would like to make one small correction to all the stories about life in the mine:

“There are actually 34 of us,” the nineteen-year-old miner wrote in a letter sent up from the mine on Tuesday, “because God has never left us down here.”

Amid reports of squabbling on the surface among families of the trapped miners, some say things are much calmer underground as everyone prepares for this week’s attempt to bring them back up. The men have worked hard to keep their spirits buoyant during the ordeal, organizing themselves into a community and dividing up their living-room-sized space. Early on, they set aside a space to pray daily, and religious groups have converged on the mine to serve the miners’ spiritual needs. Once a supply line was established, Seventh-Day Adventists sent down mini-Bibles with magnifying glasses; the Jesus Film Project loaded 33 MP3 players with an audio adaptation of the famous JESUS film. A crucifix was sent down in August, and it’s said that miners also requested statues of Mary and the saints. The miners signed a flag which was presented to Pope Benedict this weekend.

Christian leaders of various denominations have come to the San Jose mine; the Guardian is rather bemused by all the activity, describing a “surge in religious fervor” as the rescue operation takes shape.

Baptist Press reports that two miners have “made professions of faith” since their entombment started. Pastors are also ministering to the families of the miners, who have camped out nearby. . . .

Spirits are so high that the miners are fighting among themselves about who will be the last to ascend—too many men are volunteering to stay down till the end.

The Four Gods

Baylor sociologists Paul Froese and Christopher Bader have conducted research into people’s conception of God. They published their findings in a new book America’s Four Gods: What We Say About God — And What That Says About Us. They found that Americans have four different assumptions about what God is like. They also found correlations between the kind of God someone believes in and their political and moral beliefs. Here are America’s four Gods:

The Authoritative God. When conservatives Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck proclaim that America will lose God’s favor unless we get right with him, they’re rallying believers in what Froese and Bader call an Authoritative God, one engaged in history and meting out harsh punishment to those who do not follow him. About 28% of the nation shares this view, according to Baylor’s 2008 findings.

“They divide the world by good and evil and appeal to people who are worried, concerned and scared,” Froese says. “They respond to a powerful God guiding this country, and if we don’t explicitly talk about (that) God, then we have the wrong God or no God at all.”

The Benevolent God. When President Obama says he is driven to live out his Christian faith in public service, or political satirist Stephen Colbert mentions God while testifying to Congress in favor of changing immigration laws, they’re speaking of what the Baylor researchers call a Benevolent God. This God is engaged in our world and loves and supports us in caring for others, a vision shared by 22% of Americans, according to Baylor’s findings.

“Rhetoric that talks about the righteous vs. the heathen doesn’t appeal to them,” Froese says. “Their God is a force for good who cares for all people, weeps at all conflicts and will comfort all.”

Asked about the Baylor findings, Philip Yancey, author of What Good Is God?, says he moved from the Authoritative God of his youth — “a scowling, super-policeman in the sky, waiting to smash someone having a good time” — to a “God like a doctor who has my best interest at heart, even if sometimes I don’t like his diagnosis or prescriptions.”

The Critical God. The poor, the suffering and the exploited in this world often believe in a Critical God who keeps an eye on this world but delivers justice in the next, Bader says.

Bader says this view of God — held by 21% of Americans — was reflected in a sermon at a working-class neighborhood church the researchers visited in Rifle, Colo., in 2008. Pastor Del Whittington’s theme at Open Door Church was ” ‘Wait until heaven, and accounts will be settled.’ ”

Bader says Whittington described how ” ‘our cars that are breaking down here will be chariots in heaven. Our empty bank accounts will be storehouses with the Lord.’ ”

•The Distant God. Though about 5% of Americans are atheists or agnostics, Baylor found that nearly one in four (24%) see a Distant God that booted up the universe, then left humanity alone.

via Americans’ views of God shape attitudes on key issues – USATODAY.com.

Isn’t it true that none of these, in isolation, is anything like the Christian God?  Surely Christians believe that God has ALL of these qualities.  Christians believe that God is a Trinity, that He is complex and a mystery.  (And if natural laws, such as we are seeing with quantum physics are complex and mysterious, shouldn’t God be far more so?  And yet people insist on these simplistic, anthropomorphic, unitarian deities.)  While each of these deities can be adapted into an ecumenical paradigm in which all religions “have the same God,” the Christian God is completely different from these four, each of which is some variation of a transcendent deity looking down on the creation.  Notice that there is no category for God Incarnate.

No wonder churches are so weak and Christians’ faith is so anemic, if they don’t have the right God.

The reverse Okie syndrome

During the Great Depression, thousands of Okies left the dust bowl that was the Sooner State for brighter prospects in California, as well as other states.  Now, during the Not-So-Great Depression, thousands of Californians, as well as denizens of other states, are flowing to Oklahoma.  Here the economy is much better, there are lots of jobs, and housing costs are astonishingly low (with the median homes in Oklahoma City selling for $150,000).  This article details why Oklahoma is flourishing and what turned the state around: More Californians reverse course and head to Oklahoma – USATODAY.com.

I was born in Oklahoma and grew up there.  I too left the state to find work, but I do miss it.  One factor the article cites in the state’s growth is people who left the state moving back.  A good line from the article:  “Oklahoma is one of those places you have to come from to think it’s beautiful.”

But here is something to discuss:  One of the reasons Oklahoma City has become cool all of a sudden is that the local government pushed a number of new initiatives.  Voters imposed upon themselves a sales tax, which, among other things, developed “Bricktown,” a fun downtown entertainment district, including a river walk, music venues, good restaurants, lively bars, a minor league baseball stadium, and (a short distance away) the home of the new NBA team the Oklahoma Thunder.  Reasons the state has been attracting businesses is that the state and local governments have been promising tax breaks, subsidies, and other sweeteners.

In other words, it isn’t just the free market that has brought prosperity to Oklahoma.  Do you think these government programs are legitimate?  (Take into consideration the difference between local governments and federal governments.)

TV preachers

I’m on the road, down south. Saturday night in my motel room I surfed channel after channel of TV preachers. I became weirdly fascinated and watched them to get a sense of what they were teaching. I heard an evangelist of the prosperity gospel (using the text in which Jesus calls Peter to launch out into the deep, whereupon he caught so many fish his net broke and his fish started to sink), a female Methodist minister preaching against bullying, and an end-times preacher urging us to get ready for the impending disasters.

Are there any TV preachers who are closer to being orthodox? Is there something about the medium that encourages these kinds of sensationalist preachers to dominate the airwaves (or cable)?

Anti-colonialism

What do you think of Dinesh D’Souza’s thesis–developed in his new book The Roots of Obama’s Rage–that Barack Obama and his convictions can best be explained in terms of his father’s anti-colonialism?  Here Mr. D’Souza summarizes his argument:

But who was Barack Obama Sr., and what did he want? Do the views of the senior Obama help clarify what the junior Obama is doing in the Oval Office? Lets begin with President Obama, who routinely castigates investment banks and large corporations, accusing them of greed and exploitation. Obamas policies have established the heavy hand of government control over Wall Street and the health-care, auto and energy industries.President Obama also regularly flays the rich, whom he accuses of not paying their “fair share.” This seems odd, given that the top 10 percent of earners pay about 70 percent of all income taxes. Yet the president would like this group to pay more.Some have described the president as being a conventional liberal or even a socialist. But liberals and socialists are typically focused on poverty and social equality; Obama rarely addresses these issues, and when he does so, it is without passion. Pretty much the only time Obama raises his voice is when he is expressing antagonism toward the big, bad corporations and toward those earning more than $250,000 a year. I believe the most compelling explanation of Obamas actions is that he is, just like his father, an anti-colonialist. Anti-colonialism is the idea that the rich countries got rich by looting the poor countries, and that within the rich countries, plutocratic and corporate elites continue to exploit ordinary citizens.I know about anti-colonialism because I grew up in India in the decades after that country gained its independence from Britain. And Barack Obama Sr. became an anti-colonialist as a consequence of growing up in Kenya during that countrys struggle for independence from European rule. Obama Sr. also became an economist and embraced a form of socialism that fit in well with his anti-colonialism. All of this is relevant and helpful in understanding his sons policies.

via Dinesh DSouza – Why Barack Obama is an anti-colonialist.

First, virtually all liberal Democrats hold to these views.  As for anti-colonialism as such, I am aware that the concept has a certain leftist use, but is there any argument FOR colonialism? Shouldn’t conservatives as well as liberals oppose countries moving in on another country and taking it over?


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