Saturday, July 31, 2004

LT # 9 Current Interest Commentary:

On Tickling Ears vs. Sound Instruction

GEM 04:07:25

In his final letter, written shortly before he was unjustly put to death by Nero Caesar in ~ AD 67 [Christians were falsely accused of setting the fire that burned Rome in AD 64], the Apostle Paul warned Timothy -- and through him, us:

". . . the time will come when men will not put up with sound [instruction]. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." [2 Ti 4:3 – 4]

In short, there has always been a temptation to turn away from spiritual and practical truth and instead follow sweet-sounding talk that tickles our itching ears with myths and lies that tell us what we want to hear. But scripture warns: “there is a way that seems right to a man, but the end of that way are the ways of death.” [Prov. 14:12]

So, if Montserrat is to be successfully rebuilt, we must learn the vital difference between ear-tickling rhetoric and sound thinking under God: “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labour in vain.” [Ps 127:1a] And that is what Let’s Talk is all about. Therefore, let us note Aristotle’s telling remarks in his The Rhetoric: “Persuasion is achieved by the speaker's personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible . . . Secondly, persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile . . . Thirdly, persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question.”

That is, as a rule, persuasion – and rhetoric is the art of persuasion; not proof – uses the ear-tickling words of a clever speaker, to appeal to sin-prone emotions (especially pride, greed, lusts, fear and anger). Only rarely does a public debate instead focus on actual proof: laying out the true facts and then correctly reasoning from those facts to sound conclusions and associated duties. For, the latter requires: (1) knowledge of the background context; (2) fearlessly facing the material facts -- those that make a difference to the conclusion; and, (3) patiently following a step by step chain of careful reasoning. That’s often quite hard, and can take a lot of time. But, if instead we base our decisions on sinful sweet-talk, we are headed for shipwreck – as literally happened to the people who rejected Paul’s advice on his first journey to Rome. [Cf. Acts 27.]

A few examples from last week’s somewhat boisterous call-in segment will make the point clear:

--> You are only talking about gambling.

Not so: over the past eight sessions, we have focused on the Official Montserrat SDP Vision Statement and so have highlighted issues ranging from (a) the need to develop our new Community College and foster business incubation as a foundation for re-development; to (b) the need for God-fearing just governance in our various social institutions; to (c) the vast potential for agriculture. Also, sadly, this false accusation can easily distract us from the vitally important ethical issues and facts raised by the crisis with the Attorney General!

--> You are speaking normatively, not interpretively.

Now, the key issue in view last week was the need to recognise a Civil Servant’s right and duty to act in light of conscience, as guided by sound reason under the SDP’s long-standing policy commitment to wholesome re-development; and the material fact that the gambling proposal seeks to legalise making money through promoting an addictive, personally and socially destructive habit. That is, the issues on the table were about what OUGHT to be [i.e. the normative/ETHICAL], rather than what IS so just now. In short, if we are to correct injustice and reject unsound policy proposals, we must deal with the normative/ethical!

--> You hypocrite!

The follow up meeting with this caller revealed a key fact that he did not state during his call last week: I had been called over to respond to several questions raised by his wife, and did so until I became late for a meeting; thus, there was no deliberate refusal to address questions that he had asked. On the broader question, as we discussed earlier tonight, we apologise for our clumsy handling of calls last week, and are reworking the call-in component to give people and issues a fair hearing while keeping the programme on track.

--> You are Fundamentalists!

This word, in the 1920’s, originally meant people that were concerned to stand up for -- and live by -- the authentic, historically sound core teachings of the Gospel. But it has now become little more than a prejudice-driven accusation that means something like: “you Christians are ignorant, hypocritical, backward, violent religious bigots who want to impose a Taliban-like religious dictatorship.” Now, the Let’s Talk Hosts stand by the central fact that God vindicated Jesus and his teachings by triumphantly raising him from the dead; with over 500 eyewitnesses. So, unless we rebuild our nation under the Lordship and wisdom of the risen Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom” [Col 2:3], our efforts will simply be in vain. We are also just as committed to the God-given right of all of our people to responsibly exercise their democratic freedoms. So, we invite you to speak to the issues and facts, on whatever side you happen to hold; but, let us all respect the facts and avoid abusive words that stir up heat rather than give forth the light we need to guide us to safe harbour. [Cf. Ac 27.]

So, now, let’s talk . . .


No comments: