I’m not really very confrontational in person. Usually, only get into a shouting match if I like my interlocutor. This is not because I’m brave or smart or anything, just chicken and slow on the uptake. Probably half my waking hours are spent imagining the witty and devastating things I should have said. You probably think I’m kidding. So I mostly stay out of it, exercising the wisdom of rabbits.
For about a year, I’ve been anticipating a confrontation that hinges on the habit of certain people – OK, liberals – to project their own attitudes and goals onto their enemies. On the national stage at the moment, people who see no problem in having the government seize control of all major businesses and throwing all ‘climate change deniers’ into prison claim to fear that a politician(1) who mentions Jesus in any positive light is going to impose a theocracy and do Bad Things, things that, historically in fact have ever been done by lefties. Sarah Hoyt is on it today.
Also, add in that my interest in primaries lies somewhere between ‘watching grass grow’ and ‘watching paint dry’, and I’m pretty disinclined to get worked up over the current meshugas. Living in California, I have even less say in who the parties run than even the tiny amount people in earlier primary states have, so I save whatever blood-pressure raising attention I’m going to spare on this until the elections themselves.
While avoiding politics when possible largely spares me from one type of dispute, other types are not so easily avoided. I almost always stay out of inter-Christian arguments, if possible. I try not to get into it with Evangelicals or more traditional Protestants in person, only because a.) they are my brothers in Christ, and b.) it almost never works, unless they are motivated by real curiosity. Unfortunately, my experience is that while I can (and have) read books by, say, Presbyterians defending Presbyterianism, and by Luther himself describing Lutheranism, and am quite willing to talk about ideas as found and expressed by the proponents of the ideas themselves, my interlocutors seem only willing to discuss what they understand to be Catholicism, and will not brook correction, even when all that is being offered is the official, stated, publically available position of the Church. Nope, they will tell you what they believe – and what you believe, too.
Of course, this is a generalization, and reflects not much on the personal sanctity and worth of the people involved, just on what I consider bad habits of thought. And of course there are exception – not that I’ve ever met any. But perhaps I just need to get out more?
There is a great mystery here. (At least, mysterious until one examines the logic and history of various positions. I touch upon this here.) in general (not always, there are exceptions.) arguments by our separated brethren and by liberals take the same form, and use the same approach. Namely – and this is my personal experience, and I hear it echoed by many, many people and see it in comm boxes, Twitter and That Ap That Shall Not Be Named (Facebook) All. The. Time. – that:
- I will tell you what your position is. If you dispute it, you are ignorant, lying or both;
- I completely understand your position so that I don’t need to incorporate anything you say into my understanding;
- If any bad people, as I understand bad, have ever supported your position, that’s conclusive proof you’re wrong. You pointing out bad things done by people who hold my positions just shows how stupid you are;
- Factual items that support your position are invalid, and I don’t have to tell you why;
- You have to defend every single act or word ever performed or uttered by anyone that I say shares your position, while my position is gloriously beyond such petty concerns, and represents a final state of enlightenment;
- Source materials say what I say they say.
Harsh? Maybe – but true. I could point to numerous examples. For example, no matter what you say about why you oppose abortion, no mater how many hours and resources you expend to take care of women in challenging pregnancies, no matter your ongoing friendship and care for those women and their children, you are TOLD that you oppose abortion because you hate women and want to keep them down. Right? That’s points 1 and 2 both. Or if you point out that the communists history has actually given us, as opposed to armchair communists who rail against Capitalism on their iPads over lattes, have been power-hungry sociopathic mass murderers, this point is immediately dismissed as irrelevant, as some sort of accident – or, worse, disputed! And they never offer any real reason why it’s not a logical inevitability that a system that seeks to concentrate all power and explicitly condemns its enemies to death (read Marx! Oh, yea, forgot about #5…) results in, you know, the concentration of power and the deaths of millions. Or why the Catholic child abuse scandal or the Church’s treatment of Galileo disprove Catholicism, but only an idiot would ask if Josef Mengele or the use of modern technology to slaughter hundreds of millions of people over the last century or so doesn’t likewise disprove science.
The last point about source documents is very interesting. I recently read someplace someone make the aside that the references Marx put into Capital are consistently wrong – that, when you look up the items in the sources Marx references, they don’t say what he says they say. Now, I’m unlikely to live long enough to perform this exercise myself, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if it were true. Be that as it may, here is a fan of Luther doing the same thing to an entry in the old Catholic Encyclopedia – railing against a position the writer of an article in an encyclopedia is asserted to hold, when a simple glance at the text shows that he didn’t actually say anything of the sort.
Last spring, I tried to talk down a young, enthusiastic Evangelical at a school campout who was doing, more or less politely, all of the things above. He was a nice kid, I liked him. But my attempts revealed one more aspect of such arguments: it’s sniper against city. What I mean is that I was having to defend an entire massive edifice of knowledge and history against an opponent who declares victory any time he can pick off a pedestrian from his lofty, hidden perch from *inside* one of *my* buildings, so to speak. For example, he had a whole bunch of zinger responses to any attempt to use Scripture to call his claims into question – just one sentence explanations of how one must read a passage. Compare that to making the case that any number of interpretations could be defended just as well using exactly the same sort of argument, and you see a one-sentence zinger on one side, and what would prove to be a fairly detailed (by modern standards) argument on the other. In other words, it takes many sentences to show why his one sentence isn’t the whole story – and by then, the argument will have moved on, particularly since any other Scripture I might call to my aide will more likely than not get the same zinger treatment.
Just a couple days ago I fell into an argument as I was walking out the door after work. Bad move. A couple of my coworkers were commiserating over how doomed the country was is certain candidates got elected, with the usual ‘impose a theocracy & lock people up’ doom seriously predicted. I had to pipe in that that’s just what people said about Reagan, and I believed them (hey, I was young, stupid and still in college) and voted against him, but that none of those things came true once he got elected. One of my coworkers brought up the covert war in Guatemala, and I responded that nobody at the time was talking about that, but rather how Reagan was going to destroy the world by provoking a nuclear war with the soviet Union – and that didn’t remotely happen, and so I learned my lesson and since then ignore political fearmongering.
It was like a small pebble had been tossed into a small pond – after a brief moment, there was no evidence the pebble ever existed, let alone made a ripple. We moved on from their to the claim that the Republicans would get us into wars like they always do. I pointed out that, maybe you could say Republican Lincoln got us into the Civil War, and the other co-worker jumped in and said no, it was the South! So I amended the story on the fly, and continued: So the Civil War, WWI – Wilson, who promised to keep us out of it – WWII – FDR – Korea – Truman – Vietnam – Kennedy and LBJ – were all started or entered into by Democratic Presidents.
Then, my most enthusiastically liberal coworker, my friend for almost 40 years, pointed out the stupid Republicans get all worked up over Communism, when it’s not so bad. I managed to not puke, but instead said: Kennedy was a rabid anti-Communist.
Tiny rock hits water and vanishes.
I then ventured that we anti-Communists are thinking of the mountains of the dead bodies of their own citizens racked up by Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Che, which more than offsets for us any theoretical good theoretical Communists might achieve.
At that point the subject got changed. A minute later I was out the door.
Let’s just say that recent experiences have not emboldened me to leap into the breach if I can help it. But, alas! My strategy of cowardice masquerading as meek reserve and wise silence is, most likely, going to fail me, and I will soon be honor bound to speak up, among long-time friends and acquaintances to keep creeping Orwellian Newspeak from poisoning our joint project. While I would hope for at least a polite hearing, I fear it won’t go as well.
Nobody ever said defending the truth would be easy or fun.
- Unless that politician is Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton or even Barack Obama and every other Democratic president back to the founding of the party. I guess it is simply understood that their guys don’t really mean it? Or something?