Skip to comments.Reformational Times Require Rational Debate
Posted on 08/23/2006 7:32:11 PM PDT by sionnsar
What passes for debate in these tragic times is a sorry business. Indeed, if my experience of the last months and years is anything to go by, there is almost nothing going on that could be called a meeting of minds as we wrestle with substantial ideas and their inevitable consequences. There are, no doubt, many reasons for this, among them the reality that we live in a polarized culture where screaming at one another without listening to what the other side of an argument (or a worldview) is saying is now normative. To a greater or lesser extent, it sometimes seems, Jerry Springer's approach to a meeting of minds has won.
Just listen to the puerile contentiousness that passes for political dialogue in the secular arena, for abundant evidence of this. We no longer are prepared to cut our minds on one another, testing ideas for their veracity and ultimate acceptance, instead we cling tenaciously to our position and seek a strategy and the resources to impose it on the whole. This means that debate of crucial notions is essentially stillborn, and surrenders to the task of gaining power and influence so that our notions, whether true, false, or somewhere in between, win the day.
The outcome of such a mentality is that groups within the culture or institutions that are part of that culture bristle at one another from behind their heavily defended positions, exchanging blows, insults, or soundbites, but never attempting to get inside the head of the other in order to discover whether any of their ideas are good, or the manner in which they are flawed. The fact is that we have all fallen in love with the prejucides and preconceptions that we have come to treasure, and woe betide if anyone comes up with solid evidence that questions or deflates our illusions. While I do not see the present generation able to reach beyond these polarizations, I sincerely hope and pray that the rising generations finds a creative way beyond this for if they do not, we are all in trouble.
Within this environment is not only an unwillingness and inability to hear and listen to the other, but more worrying still, an absence of the capacity to understand the basic principles of intellectual engagement. Whether these have been abandoned, forgotten, or never taught, is hard to tell, possibly a mixture of all three, but their absence intensifies our problems. In western culture down through the centuries, building upon the philosophical and rhetorical insights that have come down from antiquity, there has been an engagement of minds that has borne rich fruit. In our present climate this does not (and possibly cannot) happen.
I have noticed increasingly when I try to engage in debate with others over the issues that have divided the church, seldom do I receive a response that actually answers questions I have raised or points at issue that I have drawn attention to. Now I understand the game of diversion in discussion or argument because I have done it myself, but it appears that much of the responses I receive at the moment are more diversion than actually answering what I have put on the table for discussion. Sometimes I wonder if my opponent knows how to answer me.
In addition, as I have stated so many times before, the basic principles of reason and elementary logic are nowhere to be seen in the discussion that is rending the church, and while both sides of the divide are guilty of such abandonment, it does seem that reason and logical process are a total mystery to those on the reappraising side of the ethical and ecclesiastical equation.
The outcome is that conjecture is presented as fact, and objections to what then is perceived to be "fact" are brushed impatiently aside. When, as is sometimes the case, I press the issue the person with whom I am in discussion flies off at a tangent with a whole trail of red herrings that have little or nothing to do with the item in hand.
This is often where story is brought in to make the point the other person thinks they are pressing, believing that story is the trump card up their sleeve. In wider forums where the basic principles of discussion and argument seem lost forever story is the trump, but, for example, it never seems to cross anyone's mind that it is irrational and illogical to argue from the particular to the general. Special cases are neither now nor ever have been a good basis governing principles.
All of this frustrates because eventually it seems as if we are wrestling with an eel rather than attempting to explore together the realities and how the People of God should respond to those realities in a manner that is worthy of their calling. We are, I believe, at a reformational moment in the development of western Christianity, and it could well be that if we are determined to wallow in this intellectual and spiritual mudbath which lacks any hope of discovering clarity, the benefits of this moment will be lost.
The time is well past, I believe, for all engaged in the discussion first to know the facts, and this means attempting to master the viewpoint and mindset of those with whom we disagree. Woefully, neither side seems willing to do this. The second is to be prepared to grasp, understand, and use the basic principles of rational debate, which means learning a little fundamental logic. The third is to begin to find ways of respecting those with whom we disagree, because a genuine interchange of ideas cannot take place without decency, civility, and respect. The fourth is to be willing to listen to what is being said by our adversary and respond to what they are saying rather than resorting to personal inuendo, diversionary tactics, or story as trump card rather than illustration.
While there is more to careful conversation and debate than this, just to put these simple rules in place would make a tremendous difference.
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