Intellectual Dishonesty

Nolan Ryan greets Ventura upon arrival

Nolan Ryan greets Ventura upon arrival

As a fan of baseball, there are certain divisive issues within the sport for which I support the minority viewpoint. One commonly-accepted truism, which I reject, is that there are acceptable reasons for a pitcher to intend to hit a batter.  That mindset is popular in my town of Arlington, TX, (where Nolan Ryan once showed that whippersnapper Robin Ventura a thing or two) and its popularity is pervasive throughout baseball.

Popular or not, it’s wrong. If you have to resort to throwing at the batter, it means you aren’t a good enough pitcher to get the guy out by throwing strikes.  If you are really a better pitcher than he is a hitter, then throw him your best stuff, and you’ll win. If he’s better than you, then he wins. You may not like that result, but it’s the right one. If you throw at him, you’re admitting you’re not equipped to handle him any other way.

Alas, I am in the minority on this one. Most fans feel that while some dirty baseball (i.e. steroids) is wrong, other dirty baseball, such as throwing at batters, is fine. The ends justifies the means.

Taking this observation outside of baseball, as I read and listen to pundits of various schools of thought argue about divisive issues of the day, it’s not hard to notice that many pundits and self-appointed experts shape the conversation by the equivalent of throwing a fastball at someone’s head. There are many ways they do this, but one that makes my blood boils is this: calling someone a coward.

Of course, nobody uses that word. “Coward” is old-school. It’s something right out of a John Wayne western, usually paired with “yellow-bellied” or “lily-livered”.   No, the people of whom I speak use more subtlety and variety while accusing those with whom they disagree of being afraid.

Let’s take a look at some specific examples:

1. I listened to audio of a sermon last week where the speaker said that those who teach a certain thing (intentionally leaving out the specifics here) do so because they are afraid.   Afraid of what, I am not sure exactly. If you don’t know why someone’s doing what they are doing, you shouldn’t be speculating and concluding that they are doing what they do out of fear. Assigning a motive with no evidence to back it up is nothing more than a false accusation.

2. A blog post from a popular author this week suggested entering a new relationship with a list of qualities you’d want in a future spouse. Most comments to the post were in agreement with the blogger, while a few did not concur. One commenter said “the reason we don’t want to make lists is because we’re afraid.”  Really?  I find that insulting, to say the least. But this person has convinced herself that someone who sees things differently than she does is doing so out of fear.  They can’t have formed their opinion by actually thinking about it and considering all the facts. They must be fraidy-cats.

Again, someone is assigning motives without proof. What a cop-out.

3. The prevalent misuse of the word “homophobia” (as well as related words such as “homophobic”.  I shouldn’t even have to say this. Just about everyone who speaks the English language knows that the suffix “phobia” means “an irrational fear of.”  Yet it’s used against anyone who makes hateful statements against gays (the most recent example being Tracy Morgan’s Nashville outburst).  Sometimes, it’s even used to describe comments by a person who simply states that homosexuality is sin.

Whether intentional or not, this is a dishonest use of “phobia”, employed in order to sway the conversation. Once branded as “phobic”, it is hard to bring common sense and a decent defense of your motives back into the conversation.

If you have a phobia of any other kind, everyone understands what that entails. If you are acrophobic (have an irrational fear of heights), everyone who hears this understands that you don’t make hateful statements about heights. They understand you have a morbid fear of them. Tracy Morgan didn’t sound to me like he was afraid of gays. He was hateful. He was a jerk. he was not phobic.

We don’t know where it started, but some years ago, an unknown person decided to employ intellectual dishonesty in defense of gay rights; he or she decided to throw that fastball right at the heads of millions of people who have theological, political, or personal perspectives which differed from theirs. He did it by asserting, as in example #2 above, that such a perspective must be fear-based. Not just fear, but irrational fear.

The fact is that, while there surely is someone, somewhere, who actually is afraid of gay people, such people are surely few and far between. But the mainstream press, supposedly made up of professionals for whom the ability to choose the correct words must be an essential tool of the profession, has decided to toss common sense and common decency out the window, and has embraced this  profoundly inaccurate term.  There is no evidence to suggest that Tracy Morgan has a psychotic tendency to fear gays. Why not simply describe his rant as “anti-gay”?  Why throw in the groundless accusation that Morgan is fearful (and irrationally so) of homosexuals?

In baseball, there are many who believe that throwing at a batter is an acceptable part of the game, and likewise some believe dishonesty is acceptable when casting one’s political opposers in as negative a light as possible.  When it comes to intellectual dishonesty in general, it all boils down to: do your ideas have merit or don’t they? If they do, then you don’t need to lie. You don’t need to play dirty.

Sadly, for every one person who strives to have legitimate and fair dialog, there is another who chooses to misdirect the conversation by employing the “fear” accusation, which is used so often because it’s effective and hard to defend against without sounding defensive. Like the pitcher who isn’t a good enough pitcher to jsut get the batter out, these folks unwisely and unfairly use the word “homophobe” because their actual arguments do not have merit, and their perspective cannot stand on its merits.

Note that, unlike many people, I am not calling for an end to debate, either within Christianity or outside of it. Debate will always be with us because theological differences will always be with us. The bible is ambiguous in places, and when we read it, we all bring our own presuppositions and prejudices, and want to fit the bible into what we already think.

What we should do is acknowledge the fact that we will differ and go from there. In the process, we should offer compelling arguments which are completely honest. Because if we have a legit point to make, that’s all we need. Leave the name-calling to kids.

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“He’s One Of Us”–The Art of Self-Delusion

Subtitle: What does Kirk Cameron have in common with Ollie North and Rob Bell?

I recently became re-acquainted with “The Emperor’s New Clothes”–a story I hadn’t heard in decades. You are surely familiar with it: As an emperor makes a public appearance, all the adults are pretending to admire his non-existent new clothes. They’re all willing to participate in the delusion because others around them are doing so. To admit the truth would be to go against the grain. Better to bow to peer pressure than to rock the boat and get branded as an oddball in the process.

Some recent discussions I have participated in recently have convinced me that not much has changed since the story about the nude king was written. There remains a strong tendency within human nature to delude ourselves in order to support someone–athlete, entertainer, preacher–who we decided long-ago that we really liked. We pretend his flaws, his bad performance, his teaching are not problematic in any way.

Of course, the Rob Bell “Love Wins” debate is the most obvious recent example, but there are other instances of well-meaning people putting on rose-colored glasses and refusing to truthfully examine what needs to be examined.

My observation is that much of the time, this happens as the result of people putting their faith in people, institutions, political parties, or denominations.

So am I saying that most people defending Bell are among his biggest fans before the new book? Of course. They have been touched by his previous books, and he has cemented in their heads that he is a good guy. And in fact, I still think he is. I don’t see a conflict in seeing him as a good guy and in disagreeing with what he says in “Love Wins”, though.

Ironically, one of the more vocal defenders of Bell since this mess started in February is Derek Webb. I say it’s ironic in light of what he said in this video clip (beginning at the 3:35 mark):

Speaking about another book by another author, Webb says:

“We will just take anything that comes down the pike in the church culture.  We don’t discern anything. We don’t discern teaching. We don’t discern music. We don’t discern anything to see if what it’s teaching is right. If we call ourselves people who believe in the bible, we should be taking things that are taught to us back to the bible, seeing if they line up as truth. And when things don’t, we should be bold enough and not be afraid to call them wrong, and to warn our fellow believers about them.”

I am not singling out Bell, though. I am calling out all of us, myself included, who are willing to open the door to self-delusion when it comes to someone we perceive as “one of us.” It happens with conservatives and liberals. It happens across the board.

Some non-Bell examples which come to mind:
Politics: my fellow Republicans are embracing the likes of Newt Gingrich, who was unfaithful to his wife, as was John McCain, the most recent GOP presidential nominee.  Then there are those who embrace Oliver North even as they denounce government corruption. It’s OK, because Ollie is “one of us”.

Sanctity of marriage: Republicans are the only party to have nominated (McCain) and elected (Reagan) a man running for president who has been divorced. It’s OK, because Reagan was “one of us.”

Entertainment: I’m amazed at how many within the Christian community think of Kirk Cameron as a good actor. Again, Kirk is “one of us.”

A few years ago, evangelicals, who are vehemently anti-porn, were embracing Mel Gibson, conveniently forgetting the amount of gratuitous nudity in his previous movies. Because of “The Passion of the Christ,” he appeared to be “one of us”.    How’d that work out for you?

I am sorry if you are a Newt or Gingrich fan, or you think Fireproof is a good movie. You are entitled to that. But my point is that many people will be more forgiving of less quality if they perceive that said politician/actor/whatever is “one of us”.

When you read or consider “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, what do you think of?

Censor Now, Pay later

Although 3 decades have passed, I remember it like it was yesterday: I was in the 7th grade at Agnew Middle school, and my English teacher inexplicably chose me to read out loud when we got to the part of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” which contained the N-word.  I was surprised when I saw it, but didn’t have time to think, so I simply read it. Then I laughed. Uncontrollably. I couldn’t even finish the sentence. Other kids looked at me like I was weird. Thankfully, Mrs. Cohn recognized that I could no longer read comfortably, and she quickly asked another student to take up reading where I left off.

I’m not sure why I laughed. I certainly don’t think “N” is a funny word. But my reaction to was the worst case of nervous laughter I have ever experienced before or since.

It turns out I’m not the only person made nervous by the appearance of the N-word in Mark Twain’s classic. In fact, a publisher named New South has decided that the discomfort caused by the presence of that word warrants a radical reaction: they’re going to publish the book without the offending word.  Someone please set the author’s grave on the Spin Cycle when the mangled version of this book is unleashed on the world.

While I understand that “N—-r” is without equal in the way it touches nerves, its removal from “Huckleberry Finn” is a terrible idea. Any published work, especially such a well-known one, needs to stay intact, for at least three reasons: (a) the words belong to the author, period;  (b) the words as written are a reflection of life at the time and place it was written. Finally, (c) the novel is not racist at all. In fact, Twain had a very anti-racist agenda when he wrote it. The black characters are portrayed as more human, more intelligent, and more valuable to others than just about any other fictional black characters up until that time.  In real life, the author was friends with Booker T Washington, and helped fund the education of at least one African-American college student, a feat that hardly raises an eyebrow now, but was very bold at the time. Twain had a purpose in mind when he peppered the story with the N-word, and his purpose was a good one. To remove the word from this story is to remove the meat of the story.

To allow ourselves changes to Twain’s words can only lead to making revisionist history an acceptable idea. Language is ever-evolving. What was an OK word to use a few years ago is not acceptable today.  Let us not fall into the trap of catering to hypersensitive people and neutering the powerful message in a great book in the process.

The book is a snapshot of what it was like at that time, in that place, in history. To change it to fit modern preferences is akin to changing the hairstyle of the Mona Lisa every few years.

We have two choices: leave all published works intact, or change them all freely and continuously. The potential result of the latter is scary and sad.