Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Insulting your opponent's intelligence

I see this a lot, and I suppose I have been guilty of it too. I am not talking about generic insults, but the one that goes something like this:

The reason you don't agree and become Lutheran/Orthodox/RC/Buddhist is because you are too dense to see the awesome subtlety of why I believe like I do. If only you were as intelligent and sensitive to nuance as my coreligionists and me, you would see the light immediately.

This takes many forms, and these kinds of arguments are rarely if ever persuasive. What usually happened is not that your opponent didn't understand the subtlety of your argument, but that for him it passed by being subtile a while ago and has morphed into sophistry.

Here are some examples that people have used against me:

RC annulments really mean that no marriage occurred but any children born into the non-marriage aren't bastard children.

EOs are apophatic, and yet they speak of God having an ousia.

Baptists insist on Scripture alone, and yet have no problem asserting that no matter what Christ and the Apostles say, Jesus cannot have meant the bread is his body because he just cannot do that--we know this from science.

We are the church, you are not. So why don't you join the real church?

Is it really the best argument to say that your opponent is too dumb to understand what he s supposed to believe? Sharp disagreement is OK and even to be expected. But there is a lot of sophistry and posturing which passes for argument.


Steve Martin said...

I think you are exactly right, Ed.

I'm sorry to say that I have been guilty of such on occassion.

Thanks for a good reminder to not go there.

Anonymous said...

Didn't understand your problem with Orthodoxy.

-- Lucian.

Anonymous said...

An edifying and provocative reflection; I'm glad that I stumbled on it.

It seems that we inherit traditions instead of engaging in some individualistic quest of forming worldviews and forever interpret reality through these traditions- whether our lives stand in accord with them or in reaction to them (maybe why the former Catholics, Orthodox, and Baptists turned irreligious or anti-religious nevertheless have an awful habit of bad mouthing their former traditions).

Regarding, "EOs are apophatic, and yet they speak of God having an ousia": this assertion is a straw man and quite misleading. I don't fault you though; since EOs tend to appeal to mystery so much, it is difficult to figure them out.

Of course, they'll tell you that you won't learn a thing from 'studying' theology; this is especially the case with ideas such as the essence/energies distinction when one approaches them without 'doing' theology. I must admit, they are consistent and seem most in accord with the early Church's approach to theology (e.g. in the 4th century, Evagrius of Pontus writes, "A theologian is one who prays, and one who prays is a theologian). Such an understanding then presents a universal call to theology- one that even the mentally handicapped can answer.

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