The Necessity of Debate

Many (most?) people will accept the following two principles:

  1. The truth matters.
  2. No one (except God) has a corner on the truth.

Therefore, debate is necessary.

Because of principle #2, humility is necessary, and continual engagement with others is necessary. We should not think, “I have obtained the truth, so there is no need for debate.”

Some people put so much emphasis on principle #2 that they are unwilling or uninterested in debating the truth. But this has the effect of negating principle #1. If we stop short of finding the truth, or declare that the truth is unobtainable, then we are essentially saying that the truth is not necessary. To believe that the truth matters, is also to believe that the truth is something that can be grasped (not exhaustively, or in every situation, but in general; see principle #2), and is worth fighting for.

Pity the Fool!

“if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.”  -1 Corinthians 15:19 (NLT)

Why? If Christians are wrong, and this life is all there is, then why should we be pitied? Is it just because we had our hopes set on something, and those hopes were not realized? (Proverbs 13:12 – “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”) But if we’re hoping for something more after this life, and then we die, and that’s it…how are our hopes dashed? What hopes? We no longer exist.

Or are we to be pitied, because the expectation is that Christians lead a life that is distinctly different from others? Keep reading in 1 Corinthians 15… Paul says in verses 30-32, “why should we ourselves risk our lives hour by hour? For I swear, dear brothers and sisters, that I face death daily. And what value was there in fighting wild beasts—those people of Ephesus—if there will be no resurrection from the dead? And if there is no resurrection, ‘Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!”food and drink

If we are not living for eternity, then we might as well find all the enjoyment we can in the pleasures that this world has to offer. But the implication is that we have forsaken these pleasures in the pursuit of something higher and better (Hebrews 11:26 – “[Moses] regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.”)

Not that we cannot or should not take pleasure in the enjoyment of food and drink and the material aspects of God’s creation. (Ecclesiastes 8:15 – “I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad.) However, our enjoyment of life is to be found in contentment with what God gives us, not the pursuit of these temporal pleasures.

So the question remains, if we were to reach the end of this life, and it were found that there is no resurrection to eternity, would an observer think, “What a pity! They gave up so much in life, and for what?” Or would the observer simply note, “Well, they were wrong about eternity, but at least they got to enjoy all the same worldly benefits as their neighbors.”

Strange Hair

What follows is an undated writing assignment I found in my collection of school papers. I’m guessing junior high.

I enjoy watching people. You sometimes see crazy people or see normal people doing things that seem crazy. I remember going into a supermarket and seeing a woman apparently talking to the dairy section of the store. I wasn’t sure if I was mistaken about her talking to the cheese, or if she was really crazy. Then a hand appeared from behind the cheese. At first this seemed very strange, but it didn’t take long to realize that there was a person behind the cheese display who was talking to the woman.

A mall is a good place to watch people, especially if you like seeing crazy people with weird hairstyles. I like to go to the mall. It is amazing the kind of hair you will see–it is often straight up, straight out, or so strange that it cannot be described.

Order From Disorder

“When will I ever use _________ in real life?”  Students (and sometimes their parents) ask this question about algebra, trigonometry, calculus, chemistry, grammatical parts of speech, literature, history, or other subjects that they find difficult to learn.

As human beings created in the image of God, one of the ways we reflect God’s image is by creating order from disorder.  Although God created ex nihilo (which we as humans cannot do), part of his creative effort was to create order from disorder.  Genesis 1:2 tells us that the initial state of the earth was “formless.”  The first thing God did was to separate light (day) from darkness (night).  Next he separated the waters above (sky) from the waters below, and finally he separated the waters below (sea) from the dry ground (land).

When humans “create,” we use our God-given faculties to put things in a meaningful order or structure.  Scientific and mathematical discoveries are all about discovering the order that God has instilled in the universe, and utilizing that order to discover yet more and harnessing that order in ways that benefit us.  Learning about, and helping to define the order of our world isn’t just useful for those considering STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers (although this is certainly a very good reason for learning these subjects).  It is also an exercise in understanding and reflecting our Creator.

It’s fairly easy to see how science is a means of discovering and utilizing the order that exists in the physical world around us, while mathematics may be described as a logical structure explaining and predicting what we observe in the physical world.  But this exercise in observing and creating order is not limited to just the fields of math and science.  Language and art is also about creating order and meaning.

Without organizing thoughts and meanings into words and language, our communication would be limited to pointing and grunting.  Assembling words with no regard for their order and structure is what we call “gibberish.”  This is why all students should welcome the opportunity to learn sentence structure, parts of speech, and how different ways of organizing words can enhance meaning.  A sonnet, a haiku, a pun, a limerick, etc., are different ways of organizing and structuring words and thoughts that may elicit a different response than if they were organized differently.  So, even if the language arts are not “your bag,” there is value in understanding how words are ordered and structured.  Again, putting random words into a meaningful order is a creative process that reflects our Creator and it gives Him glory when we follow Him in creating order from disorder.

It should be clear by now that the visual arts and musical arts are also creative outlets for producing order and structure in a way that reflects and glorifies our Creator.  A piece of artwork keeps colors and lines separated and ordered in a way that creates meaning.  A musical composition arranges notes and sounds in a certain order.  Whether someone finds that order “pleasing” or not, it’s still a creative effort that can be distinguished from random, unordered sounds (aka “noise”).

Proverbs 25:2 says, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.”  Even those of us who are not kings can partake in the glory of kings and the glory of God by seeking to find and create order in the world around us.  Keep this in mind the next time you are struggling to solve a quadratic equation or remember what a dangling gerund is.

Neither a Pragmatist nor an Idealist be

For Christians who are politically conservative, this year’s Presidential election presents a dilemma.  As political conservatives, most in this group tend to vote Republican, since the Republican Party is more conservative than the Democratic Party.  In the past, even when the Republican Presidential nominee has been a squishy moderate, they have still been a much better option than the Democratic nominee, so the choice has not been that difficult.  This year, the Republican nominee is truly atrocious, forcing many to reconsider their approach to choosing between two less than ideal options.

Some take the approach that “the lesser of two evils is still evil,” and refuse to vote for either major party candidate (either not voting at all, or voting for a third party).  Those in this camp may be considered Idealists.  Not only will they not vote for Donald Trump, they likely would not have voted for Mitt Romney, John McCain, George Bush (either W or HW), or Bob Dole.  They will only vote for a candidate who substantially aligns with their vision of an ideal candidate, regardless of whether their preferred candidate has any possibility of winning the election.  The stronger their idealism, the more closely aligned the candidate must be with their ideal, and the fewer potential candidates there are to select from.

The problem with Idealism is that no two people share the same set of ideals, so it actually becomes very individualistic.  Although Christians must stand firm in their core principles, some of those principles include unity, submission, and humility, which means we must also be willing to prioritize which ideals are most important and seek compromise in other areas.  While it is true that “the lesser of two evils is still evil,” Christians know that “There is no one who does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:12, Ps. 53:3), so demanding a candidate free from “evil” is basically saying that Christians should not vote at all.  This is not to say that we shouldn’t bother to evaluate a candidate’s morality.  To excuse a candidate’s moral failings based on the fact that there are “no perfect candidates” or that “every candidate is flawed” is just foolish.

To answer the idealist objection that “the lesser of two evils is still evil,” it can be countered that given a situation where the only options all have bad outcomes, it is morally right to seek the outcome that minimizes evil and maximizes good (even if the potential good is quite limited, it’s still better than the alternative).  I think this is a valid principle, if applied properly.  The problem I see, at least in the context of this year’s Presidential election and the rationale being used by Christians to justify support for Donald Trump, is that there seems to be little difference between this “greater good” principle and pragmatism.

The pragmatist does not ask, “what is right?” but instead asks, “what will have the better outcome?”  The pragmatist does not evaluate the options themselves, but the perceived consequences of the options.  Pragmatism as a guiding principle is not a biblical method of decision making.  For one, it requires that we actually know the outcome in order to judge the right decision.  But even if we do know the outcome, or even the likely outcome, the only person who really knows the ultimate greater good is God.  God has said, “obedience is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22).  Righteousness defies logic (1 Cor. 1:18-31).  We are to act with wisdom, and plan for the future, but determining outcomes is God’s business, not ours (James 4:14, Matt. 6:34).

If I were a pragmatist, I would vote for Donald Trump.  The things that he says he will do (appoint judges who will uphold the Constitution, defend life, scale back government overreach) are on the whole, better than the things Hillary Clinton promises to do.  Even assuming (as I do) that Trump will entirely renege on every promise he had made, the things he is likely to do might not be as bad (at least in the short term) as what Clinton will do.  I don’t believe that Trump has any real core values other than self-promotion, but his opinions about what our country should do may align more closely with mine than do Clinton’s.  As Doug Wilson has said, “I would rather fight Trump than to fight Hillary.”

But I am not a pragmatist.  I am a “values voter.”  Actually, although this label is generally applied to those on the Christian Right, everyone is a “values voter.”  It’s just a matter of which values they prioritize.  I prioritize virtue over political ideology.  I prioritize truth and righteousness over Supreme Court vacancies, government regulations, and tax code.  I do not believe that Donald Trump is any more virtuous, honest, or righteous than Hillary Clinton.  Therefore, he is no more closely aligned with my values than is Clinton.  Given the lack of difference between the two individuals, I am perfectly content to “throw my vote away” this year by writing in a third party candidate.

It would be different if we were simply voting for a Party.  The Republican Party Platform is much more closely aligned with my values than the Democratic Party Platform.  All else equal, I would much rather see a Republican in power than a Democrat.  I plan to vote for Republican candidates in other races.  If we were only voting for a party, I would gladly pull the lever for the Republican party.  But we’re not voting for a party*, we’re voting for a candidate.  And character matters too much for me to “hold my nose” and vote for Trump.  Political policies hold no value if morality is simply cast aside.  It saddens me to see those on the Christian Right valuing the political outcome of voting for Trump over the moral defeat of voting for a man so devoid of character.

(*You might argue that, in fact, we are voting for a party, and the electors of each party are the ones who then select the President.  While that may technically be how the Electoral College works, for all practical purposes a vote for Trump is just that: a vote for Trump.)