Saturday, June 05, 2010

Matt 24 watch, 102: Stoking vs putting out the fires of polarising, blinding rage

In perhaps the first ever classic on rhetorical tactics, The Rhetoric, Bk 1 Ch 2, Aristotle writes:
Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker [ethos]; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind [pathos]; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself [logos]. 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 . . .
So, we have long been warned about the blinding power of rage, which congeals into hate. And, if we needed a more current case, Hitler's Mein Kampf and its ultimately murderous scapegoating of Jews should provide a more than adequate illustration. (Now, too, the rhetorically convenient dismissal that pointing to Hitler as an example to avoid is a fallacy is only appropriate where the evil of the Nazi dictator is irrelevant to the case. I am precisely pointing to the potentially murderous -- and sadly, increasingly all too relevant -- dangers of hateful scapegoating, especially in a heated, hysterical, propagandised atmosphere. If one refuses to learn from history, one may well be doomed to repeat it. )

These words have come back to my mind again and again in recent months; as I have watched how all too many topics are being discussed, once Bible-believing Christians, Jews and the Jewish state are connected in some way to the issue. For, there is now a consistently and commonly seen and not only uncivil but plainly potentially deadly rhetorical pattern I have now descriptively termed the trifecta fallacy:
willfully distractive red herrings dragged away from the track of truth and led out to caricatured strawmen soaked in (implicit or explicit) character-assassinating ad hominems and ignited to cloud, confuse, polarise and posion the atmosphere for discussion.
There are two major recent roots of this pattern: (a) the ill-informed, spiteful rants of the so-called New Atheists -- including in several recent unfortunately best selling books, and (b) the turnspeech immoral equivalency agit-prop commonly used by anti-semitic, anti-Israeli propagandists, and increasingly trumpeted or echoed by the internatio0nal media and even heads of state and international bodies. These in turn have been intensified by ongoing geopolitical and climate of opinion battles connected to the ongoing global war with Islamist terrorism.

As a result, there is now a very obvious alignment between left-leaning, Marxism-influenced mostly secularist or neo-pagan advocates within Western Culture [but also including a good slice of a wing of the Christian church deeply affected by the skepticism-influenced modernist theological movements that have spread since the 1700's], and islamist agendas. The former interpret the latter as manifestations of third-world resistance to the evil imperialist agendas of Western Civilisation, viewing -- and often openly denouncing -- Israel as an Apartheid-state, colonialist outpost imposed on the native peoples of the Middle East. For these, "fundamentalist" Christians are a backward, dangerously reactionary and potentially violent right-wing force in our civilisation, seeking to turn the clock back on "progress" by imposing a theocratic tyranny.

Radical Islamists are only too willing to go along with what they probably view as "useful idiots," as they know that a house divided cannot stand and proverbially hold that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. (It bears noting that the real agenda of many radical Islamists is religiously motivated global subjugation under Allah, Allah's prophet, law and warriors, as can be seen by simply reading the Quran, Surah 9: 5, 29 and 30 - 34 in light of an unfortunately major and sadly unfinished thread of religiously motivated conquest in Islamic history. The Muslim Brotherhood global subjugation plan of 1982 will make this plain, as will a reading between the lines of the Iranian Government's 2006 Christmas message to the world. [The very fact that this point has to be specifically underscored is itself telling on our willful denial and refusal to see the manifestly plain but unwelcome.])

The recent case of a claimed humanitarian mission to break the Israeli-Egyptian blockade against weapons smuggling to Gaza that ended in a bloody melee, is a clear demonstration of the pattern. However, the point of this blog post is not to rehash the already told story of that idealistic intended peace mission gone ever so sadly awry at the hands of jihadists exploiting what they plainly consider as naive, useful idiots.

Instead, the issue is how we can work to clear the atmosphere so that we may not only discuss political issues in a calmer, more civil and more reasonable atmosphere, but also, how we can find ways to address the trifecta fallacy pattern of distraction, distortion and demonisation-laced denigration and dismissal that is now increasingly the "standard" rebuttal offered to any attempt to present a biblical or gospel perspective.

That is very hard to do, but since not only policies and sound understanding of our times but souls are at stake, we must try:

1 --> The first point is that we must get Aristotle's point across: while appeals to stirred up emotions are persuasive, and while we are often tempted to simply blindly follow those we deem credible, only the relevant true facts and correct reasoning relative to those facts suffice to properly ground a conclusion.

2 --> In short, we must insist on going to and focussing on the merits of the true facts that represent the truth, and correct reasoning relative to those facts. For, only such grounds are safe ones for well-warranted conclusions and wise action.

3 --> Also, angry, finger-pointing blame games only underscore the well known fact that we are all finite, fallible, morally fallen and too often ill-willed; which means that any significant movement in history will have its fair share of sins, outrages and crimes. (Thus, the issue is not that men, movements, institutions and civilisations are riddled with sins and hypocrisies, but that we need to repent and seek reformation and reconciliation.)

4 --> So, we all need to soberly face some sad truths about ourselves and our world, through listening to the wise counsel of the Sermon on the Mount to would-be reformers, in Matt 7:1 - 5:
Mt 7:1"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

5 --> In short, the first step to successfully reforming others is to address our own sinful, desperately wicked hearts. And, then, let us make a bonfire out of the planks we collect from our own eyes, and have a marshmallow roast while we learn to reach out to one another in true compassion and mutually upbuilding concern.

6 --> It is tempting to dismiss this as an impractical counsel of perfection, but instead unless we force ourselves to face such challenging counsel, we will all too predictably end up back in the futile game of rage-fuelled hypocritical finger-pointing. (And, unless this is done first, the work of trying to disentangle the thorny thickets of hostile, rage-soaked accusations and hostility piled up as tinder at the feet of strawmen and waiting for the touch of an angry fire that so often pass for public discussion or even news today, will be futile.)

7 --> So, the first few steps are those of calling us to balance, calmness and civility in light of Aristotle's warning; a warning given with the ghost of Socrates whispering in his ear about what all too easily happens when people sit in judgement in what has become a kangaroo court, having been blinded by artfully stirred up rage.

8 --> In some cases (sadly, increasingly, a minority . . . ), this will serve to calm down the heated atmosphere. So, we can then turn to forming a balanced two-sided (or more . . . ) view of particular issues of the day, or more importantly, the key warranting case that grounds the gospel and the Judaeo-Christian Scriptures. Namely, the resurrection of Jesus in light of the centuries old prophecies and the over five hundred eyewitnesses.

9 --> In that context, I now highly recommend that Christians seeking to bear witness to the gospel learn the minimal facts approach that has emerged in recent years; which has been tested successfully in world-class public debates.

10 --> Beyond that, it may be useful to deal with worldview level questions by using the warranted credible truths approach.

11 --> However, there are those who insistently divert to side-tracks, set up strawman caricatures and indulge in character-assassinating and atmosphere poisoning ad hominems or one-sided litanies of the real and imagined sins of Christendom or of the Jews.

12 --> Those who insistently use such diversionary and polarising tactics are implicitly acknowledging that they do not have a sound case on the merits. Which, we should point out, then focus attention on what they would divert from.

13 --> A sadly apt example of the sort of spite we are talking about here, can be seen from Comedy Central's spitefully disrespectful comedy animation on Jesus and other related themes in the following clip (warning, offensive):

14 --> This disgraceful incivility not only reflects a classic example of the planks in eye problem, but is based on the cynically manipulative Saul Alinsky rules for radicals that counsel subversives thusly:

4. "Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules. You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity."

5. "Ridicule is man's most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counteract ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage." . . . .

13. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. In conflict tactics there are certain rules that [should be regarded] as universalities. One is that the opposition must be singled out as the target and 'frozen.'...

"...any target can always say, 'Why do you center on me when there are others to blame as well?' When your 'freeze the target,' you disregard these [rational but distracting] arguments.... Then, as you zero in and freeze your target and carry out your attack, all the 'others' come out of the woodwork very soon. They become visible by their support of the target...'

"One acts decisively only in the conviction that all the angels are on one side and all the devils on the other."

15 --> Of course, this artfully side-steps the otherwise plainly and painfully obvious fact that ALL of us cannot consistently live up to sound moral principle -- what being morally fallen means -- and that as a result, the great Russian prophetic writer, Solzhenitsyn was apt: the line between good and evil passes not between classes and nations, but right through the individual human heart.

16 --> We are neither angels nor devils, but instead fallen men who may listen to either or both. And who, if we are wise, will seek to repent and reform ourselves in light of the counsel of the angels.

17 --> A deeper problem lurks, the challenge of rampant amorality driven by the is-ought gap of the atheistical or agnostic secular humanist evolutionary materialism that haunts our culture today. For, in his 1739 A Treatise of Human nature, David Hume argued:
In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark'd, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surpriz'd to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, 'tis necessary that it shou'd be observ'd and explain'd; and at the same time that a reason should be given; for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.
18 --> What Hume has artfully side-stepped [for, sadly, he full well knew or should have known the teachings of the relevant major theologians and the scriptures], is that -- contrary to the dilemma the Greeks faced with their multitude of too-small and quarreling, capricious gods -- the essentially good and wise Creator God is an IS who can ground all oughts. In his unchanging, holy character. So, ought is not arbitrary, nor is it independent of God; indeed, to do the right, loving, just and fair is our reasonable service to God. (Also cf here and the onward linked William Lane Craig podcast on the grounding of objective morality in God)

19 --> Summed up:
Rom 2:2Now we know that God's judgment . . . is based on truth. 3So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on [others] and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment? . . . .

13:8 . . . he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
20 --> By contrast, once we strip away the intimidating aura of scientific pretensions, evolutionary materialism falls apart intellectually and morally. For instance , here is historian of biology, professor William Provine of Cornell, at the University of Tennessee [Shades of the Scopes Monkey trial!] Darwin Day, in 1998:
Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent. . . . . The first 4 implications are so obvious to modern naturalistic evolutionists that I will spend little time defending them . . .
21 --> But, if humans have no true power of choice, we cannot choose to reason correctly or decide to act morally; and so, not only does the foundation for ethics vanish, but also that for reason itself. Manipulation then replaces a sense of duty to think clearly, correctly and ethically soundly. Thus, all too soon, we arrive at the sort of cynically poisonous incivility that we are addressing.

22 --> In rebuttal, we may point out that:
. . . [evolutionary] materialism [a worldview that often likes to wear the mantle of "science"] . . . argues that the cosmos is the product of chance interactions of matter and energy, within the constraint of the laws of nature. Therefore, all phenomena in the universe, without residue, are determined by the working of purposeless laws acting on material objects, under the direct or indirect control of chance.

But human thought, clearly a phenomenon in the universe, must now fit into this picture. Thus, what we subjectively experience as "thoughts" and "conclusions" can only be understood materialistically as unintended by-products of the natural forces which cause and control the electro-chemical events going on in neural networks in our brains. (These forces are viewed as ultimately physical, but are taken to be partly mediated through a complex pattern of genetic inheritance ["nature"] and psycho-social conditioning ["nurture"], within the framework of human culture [i.e. socio-cultural conditioning and resulting/associated relativism].)

Therefore, if materialism is true, the "thoughts" we have and the "conclusions" we reach, without residue, are produced and controlled by forces that are irrelevant to purpose, truth, or validity . . . .

In Law, Government, and Public Policy, the same bitter seed has shot up the idea that "Right" and "Wrong" are simply arbitrary social conventions. This has often led to the adoption of hypocritical, inconsistent, futile and self-destructive public policies.

"Truth is dead," so Education has become a power struggle; the victors have the right to propagandise the next generation as they please. Media power games simply extend this cynical manipulation from the school and the campus to the street, the office, the factory, the church and the home. Further, since family structures and rules of sexual morality are "simply accidents of history," one is free to force society to redefine family values and principles of sexual morality to suit one's preferences.

Finally, life itself is meaningless and valueless . . .
23 --> The resulting chaos brings us full circle to the sobering counsel of Scripture in Romans 1:
Rom 1:18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised . . ..

28Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless . . .
24 --> So, it becomes clear that the root of the breakdown of reasonableness and civility in our day is ingratitude-driven rebellion against our good Creator God, who has given us more than adequate signs within our hearts and minds, and in the world without that would lead us to him, if we would but listen.

25 --> But that's exactly the problem. For, as Jesus warned us in John 3:
Jn 3:19This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."

So, if we are to be effective witnesses to God in today's world, we must understand, then effectively and cogently address some strident challenges. I trust that the above will be of help in that process. END

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