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.


Watching Death Happen

I’ve never been in the same room as a person as they died. Once, as a military policeman, I worked an accident and saw the lifeless expression on a young driver’s face just a few minutes after his carelessness resulted in his early exit from this life. In July 2006, I visited a relative in the hospital, only to find that an hour later he had passed on.

21st-Century Americans tend to be protected from the realities of our mortality, for the most part. While that’s mostly a good thing, it probably puts us in the minority when compared to people in different places or times throughout history. As I write this, I am less than 24 hours removed from watching “True Grit”, which features a public execution near the beginning of the movie. As the criminals are hanged, the crowd–composed of men, women, and children–applauds.  Can you imagine taking a 7-year-old child to an execution today?

The reality, of course, is that people have almost always had a front-row seat to death. But for a short period of time, roughly a hundred years, we’ve been insulated. And when something happened where many people watched a death occur on television, an outcry was the result.

Many of these historical deathly events are now available for public viewing. Thanks to Youtube, you can see hundreds of thousands of Japanese get vaporized, see 67 people die as the Hindenberg explodes, watch JFK get assassinated, or watch his killer die.

But watching someone die via electronic means is not new, and it’s not unique to Youtube. During the Vietnam war, millions watched news footage of a South Vietnamese general shooting a Viet Cong fighter in the head while his hands were tied.

What does this mean? Are we really getting more desensitized to death, as some claim? Are we getting more bloodthirsty? Or are we returning back to where we have been for most of human history, willing to watch as humans pass from this life into the next?  Is it a good or a bad thing to be faced with the harsh reality that this world can be dangerous, and death happens?  Can any of us who have grown up during a “safe” time even able to make an objective assessment of this question?