Archive | August, 2015

Don’t argue with someone until you’ve done this!

26 Aug

It’s been a ‘good’ summer for some advocacy groups.  There have been victories in areas ranging from local to national to international.  Therefore, lots of folks have been declaring progress in their pet area and calling GOOD what another might actually find BAD.

But before you lament privately or push back publicly and in person with a representative of the ‘winning’ side, you need to take a thought-filled first step. Here’s an example from recent headlines:

The awarding of the US Army ranger tab to the first women graduates of the 60+ day grueling course brought to mind this need to pause before speaking. Many are calling this ‘historic first’ a GOOD move.  A ranger graduate and I were talking about the event and why some label it GOOD.  I mentioned that I could understand why some would think that. At his surprised expression, I continued and

Women Rangers

pointed out that depending on one’s presupposition, this achievement could be viewed as a long-awaited positive change.

Let’s brainstorm why some people both in and out of the military consider this a promising step forward.

If you believe that:

  • All women should have the same training opportunities as men
  • Earning a Ranger tab is necessary for career development in the Army
  • All barriers based on gender are harmful

then, it follows that allowing women to try out for and complete the Army’s ranger course is GOOD.

Let’s look at another issue in the news, the recently released videos about Planned Parenthood’s complicity in marketing fetal body parts.

Planned Parenthood

Many call bringing such negotiations to the public eye a GOOD development.  How can that be? That’s not difficult to see if one’s pre-suppositions are akin to:

  • Publicizing all the dealings of Planned Parenthood might cause funding to decline, thus decreasing abortions
  • In a democracy, the public has the right to know the details about where their federal tax dollars go
  • Deliberately killing unborn babies for their fetal body parts is evil

How do you know what someone’s underlying value or assumption is?  You ask them!  BEFORE you start to argue/discuss. Questions are your best friend.  Don’t you think that it is better NOT to risk coming across as arrogant or even mean-spirited by plunging directly into the debate without taking the time to learn more about the other side?  Asking background questions with a kindly and NEUTRAL tone puts the other person at ease.  And while you’re investing in this verbal research, don’t forget to seek clarity of terms.  It might help steer your conversation if you know what the other side means by even such an innocuous concept as GOOD.

Logical Gal asks: What ‘grounds’ or provides a rational basis for what we do?

19 Aug

I often argue with myself.  I split into two contrary views and dialogue back and forth in my thoughts.  Al Mohler prompted a recent mental workout.

Besides serving as president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, this thinking and articulate man offers a daily worldview analysis about leading news headlines and cultural conversations.

The topic he picked up last week dealt with assisted suicide and euthanasia.  Turns out that the assumptions of secular society and those of Christians are completely different.  More and more countries are basing their policy decisions on the presupposition that we are in essence just ‘autonomous accidents’, whose dignity derives from this autonomy and the freedom to choose what WE decide is good for our human flourishing.

As I listened and discoursed internally, I asked this question: So what if a non-Christian government decides to permit suicide with dignity?  Should Christians ‘impose’ their Biblically based views on the wider culture?  Drawing a blank about how to begin thinking through this crucial issue, I recalled that the Apostle Paul explicitly addressed this matter in a letter to the Corinthian church:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church  whom you are to judge? 13 God judges  those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”  1 Corinthians 5:9-13

With his argument in view, my other side answered this ‘So what’ question:

William Wilburforce

  • What about Wilberforce?  This 19th-century Christian parliamentarian worked years in that British legislative body to end the slave trade.  Should he not have tried to influence government and society?
  • What about the issue of slavery in the US?  or 20th and 21st century legalized abortion? Should citizens not petition their representatives and try to work within the system to change laws?

But where do we look for grounding or fundamental guidance on how to interact with society outside of our church family? God evidently wanted to guide His children, so He provided the inspired Bible.  And in the book of Jeremiah, God through His prophet, specifically calls us to work for the good of those in our community:

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7

And lest we think that God only addresses Christians’ interactions with the wider society in the Old Testament, the New Testament ‘boils down’ the Christian’s ‘marching orders’ to two: Love God and Neighbor.

Matthew 22: 37-40 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

So, after only a few minutes of rational debate within myself, I concluded that as Christian citizens and neighbors, God does call us to work for what honors God and helps our neighbor flourish as His image-bearer.

God gave you a brain, so use it!

12 Aug

Confession:  I find it challenging to exercise patience with Christians who don’t know why they believe something.  Unable to articulate reasons, they feel put on the spot.  Their reaction is predictable – they tend to retreat behind a weak excuse: “I just have faith!”

One doesn’t have to study deeply in the Bible to notice that not only Jesus himself but many of the inspired writers used logical argumentation and evidence to support their claims.

Paul, the New Testament apostle who encountered and was transformed by the resurrected Jesus, was skilled in good debate.  A clear argument to showcase why God expects us to be rational comes from Paul’s instruction to the Christians of Corinth. They were plagued with some incertitude and fears, which came from the ambient Greek philosophy of the times that devalued the body.  These sincere but baby Christians were beginning themselves to doubt the possibility of resurrection. Paul took on their argument with full-square directness and articulated the consequences of their fear:

1 Corinthians 15:16  For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.

It’s easy to take Paul’s argument and render it into logical form.  If we just address his first thought, we arrive at this syllogism:

Premise 1: No human beings are raised from the dead

Premise 2: Christ was a human being

Conclusion:  Therefore, Christ was not raised from the dead

In his letter to them, Paul has set up the Corinthians intentionally so that they can NOT argue in this manner.  The first fifteen verses of Chapter 15 of his letter have already laid out the case for the historicity of the resurrection.  In fact, Paul’s strongest card is the fact that more than 500 people saw the newly risen Jesus during the 40 days between the resurrection and His ascension. So even though the syllogism above is in a valid form, as we see here below,

No M is P

All S is M

Therefore, No S is P

..the argument STILL fails the ‘soundness’ test.  Remember that all we have to do is show that one premise is false and the argument comes apart.  Since Jesus was fully human AND fully God, we have to accept Premise 2 as true.  We then turn to Premise 1, which states that No human beings are raised from the dead. Not so!

resurrected Jesus

The Bible recounts at least 5 or 6 people raised from the dead.  See link here for explanation of each

Therefore, by virtue of discrediting the truth of Premise # 2, the entire argument falls apart. And an argument, however valid it might be, is not sound if it is not true.  But a valid, true argument is airtight, hence unbeatable.

Do you see how logic is useful?  Being a thinking, rational Christian is NOT a contradiction in terms.  God is Himself a reason-based rational being.  Yes, He is far more multi-dimensional than us, to include being supernatural and immaterial. But we are made in His image.  Should we not expect Him to endow us with some measure of logical thinking?

Change the category, change everything!

5 Aug

He might have missed his greatest retirement project!

This professor learned first hand how hidden treasures can come to light by changing what you focus on and what you don’t include.

Catacombs art

Gregory Athnos (in what turned out to be a major theme of his retirement after a career teaching music at the college level) has written about the wall paintings in the Roman Catacombs.  Link to his book

When he researched and examined the frescos himself, he intended to write a 20-page paper.  His original focus pinpointed the quality of the art.  However, when he actually visited the underground graves of early Christians and studied the paintings, he was taken with the symbols. Not one cross was depicted on these burial sites, but God’s many-faceted deliverances were.

So he shifted his research question away from the quality of the art (which was probably not worth more than the 20-page paper he planned to write) onto the theology of the art.   And that shift made all the difference.  His casual study turned into a multiple-year project that birthed a book, a lecture series and DVD on the theological worldview of early Christians in the first 3 centuries.

When I listened to the interview, I was struck by this fact:

The content/subject matter of the paintings was the same – whether the context was art or theology.

But when one re-categorized the content away from art onto theology, EVERYTHING shifted.   That’s it – a change in categories changed the research goal which led to entirely different results.

That should come as no surprise.  Hasn’t that happened to you before?  When you reframe something, you react differently to it?  I recall the anecdote of a distracted father on a big city subway riding with his 2 high-energy small children whose antics were bothering the other passengers.  One irate lady apparently said something curtly to the dad about controlling his kids.  He wearily and humbly apologized and explained that they had just come from the hospital where the children’s mom and his wife had died.  Instantly a different mood and mindset descended on those around this small family.

Changing the context from: “things that annoy me” to “things that I find tragic” completely altered the sentiments of the others. The content or circumstances didn’t change, though.

I often reframe other drivers’ possible circumstances when they drive in a manner I find rude.  If I imagine that their spouse has just left them or that they are habitual drug users, I treat them differently.  The first scenario elicits a ‘let it go’ response in me and the latter a ‘let me stay out their way!‘ behavior.

Along the same line, I’ve been helped most on a daily basis through category shifting by the conviction that God is sovereign over every single event that occurs.  So when I’m delayed or when a door shuts I’m LEARNING (a work in progress!) to drop my complaining and instead wonder about what God might be up to in my life.  Helps with the stress!

Question:  What happens when YOU change the context or category around some content in your life?