August 20, 2016
College football season is just around the corner. In fact, I think this is the last weekend without a game until January. While I don’t seem to be able to watch as many games as I used to – I just don’t seem to have the endurace; my interest wanes – I still feel the excitement this time of year. In many ways it’s like my New Years – everything is starting new, anything is possible. And this year my Tennessee Volunteers are back!
July 20, 2016
The rhetoric of this political season is dizzying. Remarks by candidates and supporters alike have reminded me of Arthur Schopenhaur and his 38 Stratagems. Schopenhaur was a brilliant German philosopher of the early to mid 19th century (1788-1860) who, while analyzing both rhetoric and debate, discerned 38 different tactics to win a debate or argument.
I have decided to make a game of this campaign cycle, if for no other reason than a diversion to keep me from exasperation. I am using Schopenhaur’s Strategems to analyze the candidates. While watching the debates, the conventions, and even the attack ads, I am seeing how many of the stratagems I can identify. It’s sort of like the Licence Plate game, or Road Trip Bingo, families play on long road trips; except, sadly, ultimately the end results are not a game.
Schopenhaur’s 38 ways to win an argument are below. See how many you can identify.
- Carry your opponent’s proposition beyond its natural limits; exaggerate it. The more general your opponent’s statement becomes, the more objections you can find against it. The more restricted and narrow his or her propositions remain, the easier they are to defend by him or her.
- Use different meanings of your opponent’s words to refute his or her argument.
- Ignore your opponent’s proposition, which was intended to refer to a particular thing. Rather, understand it in some quite different sense, and then refute it. Attack something different than that which was asserted.
- Hide your conclusion from your opponent till the end. Mingle your premises here and there in your talk. Get your opponent to agree to them in no definite order. By this circuitous route you conceal your game until you have obtained all the admissions that are necessary to reach your goal.
- Use your opponent’s beliefs against him. If the opponent refuses to accept your premises, use his own premises to your advantage.
- Another plan is to confuse the issue by changing your opponent’s words or what he or she seeks to prove.
- State your proposition and show the truth of it by asking the opponent many questions. By asking many wide-reaching questions at once, you may hide what you want to get admitted. Then you quickly propound the argument resulting from the opponent’s admissions.
- Make your opponent angry. An angry person is less capable of using judgement or perceiving where his or her advantage lies.
- Use your opponent’s answers to your questions to reach different or even opposite conclusions.
- If your opponent answers all your questions negatively and refuses to grant any points, ask him or her to concede the opposite of your premises. This may confuse the opponent as to which point you actually seek them to concede.
- If the opponent grants you the truth of some of your premises, refrain from asking him or her to agree to your conclusion. Later, introduce your conclusion as a settled and admitted fact. Your opponent may come to believe that your conclusion was admitted.
- If the argument turns upon general ideas with no particular names, you must use language or a metaphor that is favorable in your proposition.
- To make your opponent accept a proposition, you must give him or her an opposite, counter-proposition as well. If the contrast is glaring, the opponent will accept your proposition to avoid being paradoxical.
- Try to bluff your opponent. If he or she has answered several of your questions without the answers turning out in favor of your conclusion, advance your conclusion triumphantly, even if it does not follow. If your opponent is shy or stupid, and you yourself possess a great deal of impudence and a good voice, the trick may easily succeed.
- If you wish to advance a proposition that is difficult to prove, put it aside for the moment. Instead, submit for your opponent’s acceptance or rejection some true poposition, as thoug you wished to draw your proof from it. Should the opponent reject it because he or she suspects a trick, you can obtain your triumph by showing how absurd the opponent is to reject a true proposition. Should the opponent accept it, you now have reason on your own for the moment. You can either try to prove your original proposition or maintain that your original proposition is proved by what the opponent accepted. For this, an extreme degree of impudence is required.
- When your opponent puts forth a proposition, find it inconsistent with his or her other statements, beliefs, actions, or lack of action.
- If your opponent presses you with a counter proof, you will often be able to save yourself by advancing some subtle distinction. Try to find a second meaning or an ambiguous sense for your opponent’s idea.
- If your opponent has taken up a line of argument that will end in your defeat, you must not allow him or her to carry it to its conclusion. Interrupt the dispute, break it off altogether, or lead the opponent to a different subject.
- Should your opponent expressly challenge you to produce any objection to some definite point in his or her argument, and you have nothing much to say, try to make the argument less specific.
- If your opponent has admitted to all or most of your premises, do not ask him or her directly to accept your conclusion. Rather draw the conclusion yourself as if it too had been admitted.
- When your opponent uses an argument that is superficial, refute it by setting forth its superficial character. But it is better to meet the opponent with a counter argument that is just as superficial, and so dispose of him or her. For it is with victory that your are concerned, and not with truth.
- If your opponent asks you to admit something from which the point in dispute will immediately follow, you must refuse to do so, declaring that it begs the question.
- Contradiction and contention irritate a person into exaggerating his or her statements. By contractiong your opponent you may drive him or her into extending the statement beyond its natural limit. When you then contradict the exaggerated form of it, you look as though you had refuted the orginal statement your opponent tries to extend your own statement further than you intended, redefine your statement’s limits.
- This trick consists in stating a false syllogism. Your opponent makes a proposition and by false inference and distortion of his or her ideas you force from the proposition other propositions that are not intended and that appear absurd. It then appears the opponent’s proposition gave rise to these inconsistencies, and so appears to be indirectly refuted.
- If your opponent is making a generalization, find an instance to the contrary. Only one valid contradiction is needed to overthrow the opponent’s proposition.
- A brilliant move is to turn the tables and use your opponent’s arguments against him or herself.
- Should your opponent surprise you by becoming particularly angry at an argument, you must urge it with all the more zeal. Not only will this make the opponent angry, it may be presumed that you put your finger on the weak side of his or her case, and that the opponent is more open to attack on this point than you expected.
- This trick is chiefly practicable in a dispute if there is an audience who is not an expert on the subject. You make an invalid objection to your opponent who seems to be defeated in the eyes of the audience. This strategy is particularly effective if your objection makes the opponent look ridiculous or if the audience laughs. If the opponent must make a long, complicated explanation to correct you, the audience will not be disposed to listen.
- If you find that you are being beaten, you can create a diversion that is, you can suddenly begin to talk of something else, as though it had bearing on the matter in dispose. This may be done without presumption if the diversion has some general bearing on the matter.
- Make an appeal to authority rather than reason. If your opponent respects an authority or an expert, quote that authority to further your case. If needed, quote what the authority said in some other sense or circumstance. Authorities that your opponent fails to understand are those which he or she generally admires the most. You may also, should it be necessary, not only twist your authorities, but actually falsify them, or quote something that you have invented entirely yourself.
- If you know that you have no reply to an argument that your opponent advances, you may, by a fine stroke of irony, declare yourself to be an incompetent judge.
- A quick way of getting rid of an opponent’s assertion, or throwing suspicion on it, is by putting it into some odious category.
- You admit your opponent’s premises but deny the conclusion.
- When you state a question or an argument, and your opponent gives you no direct answer, or evades it with a counter question, or tries to change the subject, it is a sure sign you have touched a weak spot, sometimes without knowing it. You have as it were, reduced the opponent to silence. You must, therefore, urge the point all the more, and not let your opponent evade it, even when you do not know where the weakness that you have hit upon really lies.
- This trick makes all unnecessary if it works. Instead of working on an opponent’s intellect, work on his or her motive. If you succeed in making your opponent’s opinion, should it prove true, seem distinctly to his or her own interest, the opponent will drop it like a hot potato.
- You may also puzzle and bewilder your opponent by mere bombast. If the opponent is weak or does not wish to appear as if he or she has no idea what you are talking about, you can easily impose upon him or her some argument that sounds very deep or learned, or that sounds indisputable.
- Should your opponent be in the right but, luckily for you, choose a faulty proof, you can easily refute it and then claim that you have refuted the whole position. This is the way which bad advocates lose a good case. If no accurate proof occurs to the opponent or the bystanders, you have won the day.
- A last trick is to become personal, insulting and rude as soon as you perceive that your opponent has the upper hand. In becoming personal you leave the subject altogether, and turn your attack on the person by remarks of an offensive and spiteful character. This is a very popular trick, because everyone is able to carry it into effect.
Oh, by the way, while I wish it could go without saying, nevertheless it probably needs to be said: all of these are counter to God’s way of communication. The way and the wisdom of God would be better summarized:
- Recognize the value and dignity of the person with whom you are speaking/debating. Disagree with a position or an argument, but do not demonize an opponent.
- Seek wisdom for discernment. As Stephen Covey urges in his 7 Habits of Highly effective People: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
- Do not bear false witness. This means our words must be an honest reflection of our convictions and positions. Simply, let your yes be yes, and your no be no. And we should not intentionally distort the statements of our opponent. Such tactics obscure and violate Truth. And the 9th Commandment forbids anything that gets in the way of the truth, or injures anyone’s reputation.
March 17, 2016
On Saturday morning January 30, scores of church leaders, along with a smathering of parishioners, gathered in the basement of an old department-store-turned-church in Richmond, Virginia for a discussion on Race and the Church. The invited primary speaker was Dr. Sean Lucas, pastor of historic First Presbyterian Church of Hattiesburg, Mississippi; adjunct professor at Reformed Theological Seminary; and author of the recently released For A Continuing Church. I considered it a privilege to be among those gathered, though participation was an open invitation.
My primary takeaway from that morning meeting is that much of our current racial rifts, and the prevailing voluntary segregation of Sunday mornings, is due in large part to a history that has barely been openly acknowledged, much less genuinely and transparently repented. Dr. Lucas provided ample examples, as the video above reveals (and his book expands upon). And while in many respects progress has been made, and reconciliation is occuring, there is still work to be done for the church in America to truly be one, as Jesus prayed for us to be. (John 17) A large part of what is left to be done is for White Christians – the “White” church – to go back in time, to understand and to own our sins, and our forefathers’ sins, related to racism.
Some may balk. Perhaps understandably.
“How many times must we say we are sorry?”
“I was not even born during the period of the Civil Rights Movement, so how can I be responsible?”
While such rebuttals may be honest and true, they have not proven effective to bridge the reconciliation gap. The desire and demand of Jesus is not that we merely go through the motions, but that we be “One” just as he is one with the Father, and with the Holy Spirit. No doubt that in many cases there is forgiveness that has been withheld. But even where this is the case, there is still a need for those of us who were born into the majority side to repent – to take steps back, to come to understand what was done in the name of the Church bur for the cause of bigotry. And we do not go alone, but rather we go there with our brothers and sisters of color. We go together that we may walk together, retracing the ways we have failed – failed one another, and failed our God – moving together in repentance and faith.
Take some time to watch the video. If you are in the Richmond area, join us for a future event.
February 19, 2016
Forget the groundhog a couple weeks ago, the real sign of the coming of Spring takes place today: Pitchers and Catchers report to Major League Baseball Spring Training. Baseball may not hold the hearts of American culture like it once did but, for those of us who still enjoy the game, this is one of the dates to look forward to on the calendar.
Many who are still fans of baseball today can trace their love for the game back to their own childhood playing days. Whether playing for organized teams or in the backyard, many young boys dreamed of one day playing in the big leagues. What could be better than spending afternoons (or now mostly evenings) in the green grass outfields or the combed dirt infields? While dreams of fortune and fame were probably prevalent, it is not difficult to understand why some old timers said they would have played for free. Just the thought of playing, and of being considered among the best, was tantalizing enough.
I suspect this is why what Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) said in Field of Dreams resonates with so many of us:
“Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”
I never got to live that dream. My baseball career got shelved after junior high school, when I put my attention to other games: tennis, track, and mostly football. But I did get a little taste of the dream, as I have had the privilege over the years to serve at different times as a chaplain in the Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox organizations – for their minor league affiliates. There I saw gifted young men pursuing the dream. Several made it to The Show, a few of my chapel regulars even made names for themselves. They achieved the dream.
But as baseball begins anew today, prepping for the 2016 MLB season, I am reminded of an article I recently read by Rachel Balkovec, the first strength and conditioning coach in professional baseball, titled: Lost Boys. Rachel reveals a side of professional baseball that few see. It is the harsh reality associated with the dream. She does not diminish the allure of baseball for those who adore the game, but after reading her brief piece baseball fans may have a greater appreciation of the cost of achieving the dream – a dream that few really experience. And for those who, like I once did, dreamt of careers with seeming numberless innings, perhaps it can also help us to appreciate a little more the lives we now do have, away from the playing fields.
February 11, 2016
February 9, 2016
Os Guinness, in his excellent book, Renaissance, concerning the church in midst of the present challenges unprecedented in Western Culture, notes the culture changing and culture shaping power of the gospel, when the gospel is both declared by God’s People and is actively shaping God’s People. When many of our churches are caving in pursuit of “relevance”, which is hoped will cause people to “like” the church, so we can keep our numbers up, I think Guinness offers a both prophetic and strategic word:
What we have here in the teaching of Jesus and the Scriptures, and amplified in Augustine, is the very heart of the secret of the culture-shaping power of the gospel in the church. When the church goes to either of two extremes, and is so “in the world” that it is of the world and worldly, or so “not of the world” that it is otherworldly and might as well be out of the world altogether, it is powerless and utterly irrelevant. But when the church, through its faithfulness and its discernment of the times, lives truly “in” but “not of” the world, and is therefore the City of God engaging the City of Man, it touches off the secret of its culture-shaping power. For the intellectual and social tension of being “in” but “not of” the world provides the engagement-with-the-critical-distance that is the source of the church’s culture-shaping power.
In short, the decisive power is always God’s, through his Word and Spirit. But on her side the church contributes three distinct human factors to the equation: engagement, discernment, and refusal.
First, the church is called to engage and to stay engaged, to be faithful and obedient in that it puts aside all other preferences of its own and engages purposefully with the world as the Lord commands.
Second, the church is called to discern, to exercise its spiritual and cultural discernment of the best and worst of the world of its day, in order to see clearly where it is to be “in” and where it is to be “not of” that world.
Third, the church is called to refuse, a grand refusal to conform to or comply with anything and everything in the world that is against the way of Jesus and his kingdom.
January 29, 2016
I don’t do politics on social media (nor in the pulpit), but I feel an exception is warranted – on social media, anyway. With the exception that I don’t really care that Donald Trump has not previously held public office, nor do I care that neither Ben Carson nor Carly Fiorina have ever held public office, pretty much everything else Peter Wehner writes in his Op Ed for the New York Times, Why I Will Never Vote for Donald Trump, reflects my sentiments. I am disturbed by Trump’s behavior, and even more so by some of his supporters who have compromised core values and beliefs to empower him.
I know. This is politics. And Trump’s supporters have every right to support him, for whatever the reasons. For a time I was open to the possibility, despite questions about the basis of his present positions. I accept that people change. But with no history, or substantive rationale for changes in convictions, I can only wonder how long it will be, or what circumstances might arise, before we see some of these key convictions shift back.
More disturbing to me than Trump are some of his supporters. Here I do not mean the rank-and-file Trump supporters, who enjoy the bravado, and with whom the simple catch phrase “Make America Great Again” resonates. I too am entertained, or at least I have been, to a degree. And I appreciate the vision of restoring the greatness of the USA – even if I am a little unclear whether Trump’s definition of what would make America great and my definition are similar; and even if Trump’s specific plans to usher in such restoration seem a little fuzzy to me. I am disturbed most by those who are endorsing Trump, even when Trump clearly does not represent their core values and beliefs. In other words, I am most chagrined by Christians – especially those claiming to be Evangelicals – who are compromising their faith to endorse Trump.
Now let me be clear here. Every citizen of the USA has a right to support whatever candidate they want. I do not believe Christians have a responsibility to restrict their vote to only Christian candidates. Therefore, I support the right of my fellow Christians, even fellow Evangelicals, to support Trump, if they believe he would be the best leader for our country. (Check out Mark Tooley’s thoughtful piece: Trump, Evangelicals & Security.) What I do not accept are Christians – especially Evangelicals – who will rewrite the Faith to justify their support.
The poster boy of my ire is Jerry Falwell, Jr.
In recent months Falwell has made some asinine statements and decisions. Among them was to invite Trump to speak at Liberty University, where Falwell is currently president, on Martin Luther King Day. Again, I need to be clear. I support Liberty University’s decision to have Trump speak, just as I appreciated them inviting Bernie Sanders to speak. A university is a place of ideas, where a variety of viewpoints should be allowed to be expressed. So as long as a clear distinction is made between a chapel service (during which any speakers should intelligently and faithfully exalt the One True God) and a convocation (where any variety of ideas could be expressed) I have no problem. But given Trump’s history, or at least his reputation, of bigoted statements, it seems more wisdom could have been exercised about the date when Trump would be invited to speak. A day that is designated to highlight efforts to bring about racial reconciliation does not seem the most sensitive or appropriate. Of course that is just a judgment call. (For anyone interested, my friend Marc Corbett, a Liberty University alumnus, wrote an excellent piece for The Gospel Coalition. Take a moment to listen to Marc’s lament: Why I Will Protest a School I Love.)
Most disturbing to me is Falwell’s recent total redefinition of Christianity in his justification for inviting Trump to speak on MLK Day, and in his subsequent official endorsement of Trump. Again, I believe Falwell has the right to support, and even endorse, whoever he wants. In his formal endorsement Falwell said only that:
“[Trump is] a successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father and a man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again.”
But Falwell’s previous justification and reasoning was this:
“I have seen firsthand that his staff loves him and is loyal to him because of his servant leadership. In my opinion Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment.”
Falwell has since offered an explanation, an Op Ed in the Washington Post. And I concur with much of his reasoning, even if I would not land on the same candidate. Nevertheless, his reasoning and his freedom – both as an American and as a Christian – to endorse Trump does not negate Falwell’s compromise of the gospel, and his misuse of the scripture.