Friday, February 18, 2011

Is the "Controversies" series immoral?

I have wanted to say a few words about the "Controversies" series for awhile now: there is a way in which it's the most immoral series I've ever written. Sure, I hope it is helpful; and yes, I'm writing it to promote understanding. But that doesn't change the fact that I play devil's advocate. I put serious effort into presenting both sides of an argument at full strength. I have argued positions that I believe are wrong, and have done my best to present them in a good light as seen from the eyes of someone who holds that belief. I have criticized positions that I believe are right, and have done my best to spend as much energy and polish on arguments that I believe are incorrect as on the ones I believe are correct.

The problem I'm talking about here is not just the fact that I'm over my head trying to cover that much material; we've already established that. The problem is that, whether I am personally right about which side of an argument is right, that's no defense to me at all; I have argued both sides.

For the record, I think it is the right thing to do to present both sides, and to question whether each view is right or wrong before deciding. As one proverb says, "The first one to present his case seems right, until someone comes forward to question him." (Proverbs 18:17) And again, "Does our law judge any man without first hearing him and knowing what he does?" (John 7:51) But in our disagreements we have often judged without hearing an answer first, based on the word of their sworn enemies.

It still means that, sometimes knowingly and sometimes not, I have taken the wrong side, and have done it to the best of my ability. I am writing a series in which "right" and "wrong" and "orthodoxy" and "heresy" are set side by side as if the differences didn't matter. But of course the differences matter. So even reading this material is something that should be done with some caution.

Why do I write it? I write it because so often we're not even talking to each other across our divides. We're not even trying to get along, or to see what the other side has to say, or to see if they have anything worth hearing. I wonder what the Lord thinks as he sees us in our little bunkers lobbing verbal grenades at each other. Even the time that we spend attacking each other, we spend avoiding each other: we never actually engage the other side except in these hostilities at a distance. After the exchange is done, we have usually not learned one thing about what the other side believes -- and why -- than we did at the beginning. After all, we face an enemy who is certainly "wrong" and "heretical" (or stupid and irrational), while we are certainly "right" and "orthodox" (or bright and reasonable). This only works if each group gets to define right and wrong, orthodox and heretical, and what counts as "rational" and "smart" in their own terms.

I write this series because generations of Christians have accepted infighting as just the way things are, because calls for civility are too often met with fury, disdain, or (most fatal) a condescending amusement. I write because we have become cynical about ever coming to any kind of fellowship in this world, and timid about confronting our own groups about their role in the problem. I know there are Protestants who point the finger at Rome, thinking: if only they didn't believe themselves to be infallible they could fix their problems and reconciliation might be possible. But that's too easy; most other groups believe themselves to be infallible as well. If you don't believe a group thinks they're infallible, see if they will say they are currently wrong about anything that matters -- or find out who is their arch-enemy among their brothers in Christ, and ask whether they have anything to learn from them.

The point of this series is: Yes, we do have something to learn from our arch-enemy, even if it's as simple as this: he's our brother, and we have no business treating each other with contempt. We're not infallible. And learning humility about ourselves is preparing the way for the Lord.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

I think it's a wonderful thing you're doing, but to ease your qualms, here's a suggestion. You could simply state, at the end of each post or even at various places in the body of it, where you personally stand. Then everybody will know.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Anastasia

That's kind of you. But my real concerns are: 1) the big picture - acting as if both sides of every imaginable argument are equally valid, at least for the space of the post, and 2) the poor stray reader who comes along and thinks, "She's arguing for WHAT!!!?" and understands, intuitively, that there's a basic problem with the approach, a problem that I've never discussed.

I'm glad you're enjoying the series. I'm really pleased with some of the things that I've discovered along the way as I tried to think through and articulate all the different angles.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

I guess I just don't see the problem, then. You are helping people think for themselves. You are reporting facts, data, information: this is where some people stand, for the following reasons, and here is where others stand, for these reasons. People may as well know.

And you can add, "Here's why I think THIS set of arguments is best."

Martin LaBar said...

You could state your opinion, or the orthodox view, in another post, and link to it.

Or you could just keep on as you have done . . .

Good work.

Craig said...

I'm not sure I see the problem either. You're not doing anything different than a journalist would do for these topics. Presenting the facts of both sides of an argument. As you said, too few people do this as they scream past each other's hardened, calcified positions.

Weekend Fisher said...

You all are great, I really do appreciate the support. And I know that *you all* understand what I'm doing.

Sooner or later, someone will be angry and wonder, "Did she really give equal time to View (X)!?" That's not going to be you all, I know that. Still, it deserves addressing.

The fact that you all don't see why it needs to be addressed is just a sign that a lot of people are ready to take the next step, ready to go beyond just arguing. And that's the most encouraging thing yet.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF