Arguing

It’s a difficult business to argue as a Christian, not least because, when one argues with non-Christians, one is sometimes the only person attempting to fulfill a standard.

There are a few dozen ways I might already be misunderstood.  Most obviously, for those in general society, which is largely not interested in being rational, arguing usually means “shouting angrily at each other.”  Or at least in involves angry opposition.  By “arguing” I mean “rationally explaining, supporting, and discussing a conclusion.”  An “argument,” in this sense, is just an explanation of why one believes a thing.

Which brings me to the second possible misunderstanding. I’m not saying that it’s difficult to argue as a Christian because perhaps Christianity is irrational, or because perhaps we don’t have reasons for believing what we believe.  Christianity is actually rational, and Christians have reasons for believing what we believe. In fact it bothers me whenever people suggest that their religion is somehow separate from reason.  (e.g. “I don’t need reasons, I just believe it.”)

Nor is it the case that Christianity depends upon either particularly few arguments or particularly weak arguments.  In fact, the arguments for Christianity are significantly more numerous than those against it, and are at least as strong.

So what in the world do I mean?  I mean that arguing with a person has to be an expression of love for that person.  That is how one argues as a Christian.  We reason with people in such a way that our words and our bearing and our motives are Christ-like.  (Or, as necessary, when we are wrong we admit it so that we may become more Christ-like through correction.)  That’s a difficult business.

It isn’t made easier by people who seem intent on being obnoxious.  I should probably find that particularly “convicting,” to use the cliché Christian language, because I am precisely the sort of person who has spent most of my life trying to be obnoxious.  Or at least I was obnoxious, whether or not I tried.

There’s a certain failure made evident by expressing my frustration in a public forum.  I would delete it, but, you know, the rules.  (What a terrible and silly attempt at a sentence.  One should not try to type using colloquial spoken syntax.)

Either way, this is something with which I struggle: how do I best love those with whom I argue?  (Or debate, if that word is clearer.)

Also, let me say again in praise of William (if he is reading this), that he is a charming interlocutor.  I thanked him for his patience before, and have sadly given him significant chances to continue displaying it, but he has been nothing but gracious and thoughtful.

I am nearly out of time.  This seems an entirely trivial reflection, and I’m not sure why anyone is interested in it, but if you have made it this far and are thinking of leaving comments on my blog or writing to me or whatever, here is a bit of advice or a few requests:

1.) Being angry and inflammatory is most likely not going to help you make your point.  Also, it’s going to hurt my feelings and confuse me.  I won’t know how to respond to you and will worry about it.

2.) My wife will notice that I’m worried and she’ll tell me to delete your comment.  I’ll realize that she has a good point, because she’s awesome, and then your comment won’t be posted.  (Admittedly, this isn’t really a second item on the list.  Now I just have numbered paragraphs.)

3.) Be patient.  I will respond, but it will take a long time.  Partially this is because I’m busy.  The rest is that I’m taking your comment probably more seriously than you are, and am trying to treat you with respect.

4.)  In the background, my son is crying.  This means my time is cut short.

Advertisements

Against the Inevitable

When I started this little exercise, I knew that there would be times (perhaps frequent) when I would be in the position of regretting a post.  More than a little, I mean.  I regret every post a little.  But I knew there would be times when I would be a strange blend of stupefied and frustrated that I had published something.

Like yesterday’s post.  (Why yes, I made it three whole days.)  I wrote it and even I’m not always sure what I’m saying.  A lot of it is awkward disorganized gibberish.  Some of it is rudely oversimplified.  And yet none of it is simple.  My wife read it and said that perhaps she didn’t understand it because it was too complicated.  In this way–as in so many others–my wife was being generous.  She didn’t understand it because it was trash.

(Which is not to say that I recant the position I so awkwardly espoused, just to be clear about that.)

I find that my regret focuses on a few things.  First and most prominently, it focuses on some of my former professors having been associated with my folly.  When I posted the link to the post on facebook, as I am wont to do–here I could use the word vainglory again–I thanked a few of my former professors for their influence.

Whenever I try to think about… well, anything, I’m reminded of the many people who have helped me learn to think, and who, when my own ability failed me (as it frequently does), nudged me back onto better ground.  The older I get, the more I’m reminded of the debt I owe to the many people who have come before me.

I’m ashamed because yesterday’s post does not seem to respect that debt, and certainly not to repay it.  (If repayment is possible.  The metaphor of debt is pretty stretched.)  That I alerted the people to whom I had tried to express gratitude, and that at least one of them read yesterday’s minimum opus…. Well, it’s the sort of thing that I’ll remember until I die, the way that my brain remembers nearly every instance of shame in my life.

More on that in a moment.

I also regret being a publicly inarticulate Christian.  This goes beyond the lesser but associated regret of not having espoused the Christian position effectively.  Our society is awash with people who claim the label “Christian” and then do questionable things with it, like become terrorists.  I have in mind people who blow up abortion clinics, but also people who do cooky things like belittle education, support oppression, and espouse gibberish.  The sort of people who inspire other people to avoid the label “Christian” at all costs, because of what it connotes.  (Granted, these avoiders are cowards who become part of the problem by not illustrating that Christians can be anywise other than cooky, but that’s a discussion for another time.)

I don’t want to be one of those people who bring shame on the label, and who thus indirectly bring shame on Christ.

And of course there’s the lesser but associated regret of having not espoused the Christian position effectively.  I happen to think the Christian position is the most compelling option available, and I’ve explored other options so as to know of what I speak.  Even more, I’m the sort of person who thinks that even nitpicking is nitpicking for joy, that all the details of Christianity are like the details of a lover–to be appreciated–rather than like the details of the tax code, to be followed grudgingly.  And I would very much like to share that particular joy, because I think other people would also enjoy it.

I suspect that people enjoy less my unfriendly tirades.

Now as it happens, I don’t at the moment regret having been wrong.  Perhaps someone wiser and more faithful than me will tell me that my position is wrong in addition to being badly conveyed, and then I’ll have that regret too.

All of these things I anticipated, in a sense, and I can tell you that I anticipated pretty accurately how much I would dislike them.

Which is why I usually don’t write things in half an hour, and why I usually spend so much time deleting what I’ve written, and why for the most part I don’t say anything, and then because saying is a large part of what I was created to do, I don’t do anything either.

I had a similar experience a while back, which followers of my erstwhile Usual Poll might remember.  (My Usual Poll introductions were actually something of a prototype of this current exercise; I wrote them quickly and was deliberately careless.)  I wrote a quick and angry dismissal of a particular piece of music, which prompted rebuke from nearly everyone, including subtle rebukes from people whose opinions matter to me tremendously.

I had one professor, who was always the scariest of my seminary days, reduce me almost to tears with a simple sentence about not wanting me to use her term.  In my experience seminary professors are a gracious lot, and I suspect they could have leveled far more damaging criticism against me had they not been so steadily determined to build me up.

In fact, one of my other professors, who was always among the most gracious, in amidst arguing with me, comforted me with the suggestion that it’s very difficult to say anything right if one isn’t willing to risk saying something wrong.

Those are my words not his, a paraphrase of a more eloquent original.  (A disclaimer I add because I’m afraid of being wrong.  The irony is not lost on me.)

And I’m out of time again.  I don’t like saying things badly anymore than I like being wrong.  I suspect my dread of failing is one of the many reasons I have no success to speak of.  Ergo, this bizarre exercise, which I will try to respect, though it make me end abruptly.

It Would Be Vainglorious to Call It A Beginning (But Not To Use The Word Vainglory, Which Is Just Good Diction)

I had an idea.

It started with a thought about how little time I’m able to give to my blog.  There was probably some jealousy in there about the success of other people’s blogs. That was fomented in a growing awareness of my advancing age and proportionally increasing history of accomplishing mostly nothing.

I do have a collection of excuses though.  There’s a decently old song (aged as songs age) by the Barenaked Ladies called “Never Do Anything.”  It’s pretty clever and applicable; you should look it up.  The Barenaked Ladies are one of my favorite bands.  Most of the songs that earned them fame are well-written and plucky.  The rest of the songs on their albums are similarly well written.  Some are better written.  Many are plucky.  Some are so poignant and earnest as to make me cry.  All of this information is provided for free, and will be explained in a moment.

One of the most common excuses I have is that writing takes so much time and is so difficult.  I deftly combine the Romantic Movement’s “Agony of Influence,” Luther’s anfechtungen, an affinity for classical literature, and perfectionism bordering on obsessive compulsive disorder.  When my wife and I used to exchange e-mails while dating, I would spend twelve hours on a three paragraph message to which she would respond with one paragraph written in twelve seconds.  I sometimes think that the world and I relate in roughly the same way.

And so to break the habit of spending three weeks on each post but remaining unsatisfied with it, I’ve decided to spend thirty minutes on each post, and post every day.  At least for a while.  Perhaps this will be good and healthy.  Likely not.  In my mind I’m seeing the look my wife will give me when she reads this.

Her many expressions are one of the joys of being married to her.

Either way, I’m speeding up my writing process by the general expedient of not deleting things.  Oh, I’ll fix such typos as I find them–for example I just misspelled “typos” as “types”–but that’s not what I mean.  An example of what I mean is that bit about the Barenaked Ladies above.  After I had written it, I thought to myself, “Self, why would you include all this?”

And then I answered, “Because I’ve already typed it.”

Hopefully I will not go down in history with the sort of infamy earned by the man who said, “What I have written, I have written.”

When I originally thought of this idea, I thought it might be fun to provide a list of topics I thought might come up as I wrote hastily in the coming weeks and months.  (There are only so many things I can discuss quickly.)  Then after I decide I’ve had enough of this project, I could look back on the list and see how accurate it was.  I suspect this is the sort of game that only I find entertaining.

In any event, I don’t really have that list anymore.  I can’t even think of it.  What I have is a list of heresies that I’ve recently encountered and that I would like somehow to combat.  I suspect that this sounds even less entertaining to most people.  Alas, if I were to write from my heart, disputation with heresy is bound to emerge.  And somewhere in there I would dispute about the utter nonsense of the phrase “if I were to write from my heart.”

Not deleting things is difficult.  See earlier mention of perfectionism.

Let me end this with a quote from G. K. Chesterton, one that I just discovered on the internet.  I’m usually suspicious of the internet, and am slightly suspicious about this quote.  I’ve read most of Chesterton, or at least I think I have.  (The man was so prolific as to require a better word than prolific; there may yet be vast libraries of his material which I haven’t discovered.)  I can’t place this particular quote though.  (This may be a fault with my memory, too).  Nevertheless it sounds like something he would say.

Strike that, it’s apparently from an essay in a collection of his called On Lying In Bed and Other Essays.  (See, perfectionist.)  Here’s the quote, which is apparently about Samuel Johnson:

“[Johnson] understood (what so many faultlessly polite people do not understand) that a stiff apology is a second insult.  He understood that the injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt.”

Ideas Mine

Too often when I think I’m leaving notes for myself, I’m actually leaving mysteries.  I’ve mentioned before how my handwritten notes produce this effect, but my typed notes are no better.  They’re more legible of course, but incomprehensible nevertheless.  For example, at some point I typed the following to myself as reminder of a post idea I had Continue reading