Russell and Duenes

Polemics Out the Window

with 7 comments

We no longer tolerate truely polemical speech. You know, the kind where two people engage in tenacious verbal broadsides against the other. We’ve become emotionally fragile and “sensitive” to the point where milquetoast is the soup de jour, as it were. As my colleague has quipped, we lack “steel in our spines.”

Being a product of my age, I suffer that same fragility. We haven’t been brought up with “thick skins,” and one of the great casualties has been the loss of true polemics. Certainly the Bible counsels Christians who oppose false teachers to do so with gentleness and respect. But I think about how some of the biblical persons carried on arguments, and I wonder how their statements would be characterized were they to be uttered in a public forum today. For example: John the Baptist spoke to the religious authorities thus: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Jesus said to the religious leaders, “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil?” and “Isn’t this the reason you are wrong, because you don’t know either the scriptures or God’s power?” and “You judge according to the flesh…You know neither me nor my Father” and “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Telling people that they’re wrong, that they don’t know God, that their father is Satan, a murderer and a liar, is rather impertinent, don’t you think? And lest you say to yourself, “Well, of course, Jesus spoke that way. He’s God,” consider the words of others.

The apostle Paul, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” said to a certain magician: “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?” He also said in his letter to Titus: “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply.” In the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah taunted the prophets of Baal with sarcasm.

Calling someone an “enemy of righteousness” and implying that certain people are “evil beasts and lazy gluttons” is rather insensitive. Yet we can hardly say that Jesus and Paul were being “unloving” in the way they spoke to certain people. Of course we have to add all the caveats about Jesus not speaking to all people this way. But the point remains: We mistake robust polemics, which surely need to find their place in a morally robust culture, for “meanness” and “disrespect.” I wonder what this loss means, and what it points to. We certainly could do with a lot less “hurt feelings,” not by avoiding polemics, but by de-sentimentalizing our lives, and by rolling back the notion that true human flourishing is found in our not being offended.



Written by Michael Duenes

March 15, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Posted in Duenes, Reflections

7 Responses

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  1. We’re getting a little closer. Perhaps in a few thousand years, you and I will reach consensus. Of course, you are likely to say we will have lots of time to discuss this in the next life. Even such a speculation is dubious. It’s quite likely there will be no means of communication between the pleasant (if boring) place where you will be and the hot and painful (if interesting) place where I will be.

    It’s a lot simpler to conclude as I do , that once I am gone, and once you are gone, there will be no “there, there.”


    March 16, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    • Simpler, yes. Massively more frightful, also yes, which of course is why you continue to NOT own up to the gaping abyss that is atheism.


      russell and duenes

      March 16, 2012 at 6:11 pm

  2. I don’t look forward to dying, but it’s clearly inevitable, so I come to terms with it as well as I can. Hidden in your post is a realization that people are different from each other. Hence what is massively more frightful to one person is not to another. What is (I am inferring the opposite side of your statement) massively consoling to another person is not to another. Think about it. Some people (quite a few, in fact) think and feel the same way as you do. Amazing as it must be, quite a few people GENUINELY think and feel differently than you do. Realizing this, I suspect, is called growing up. (However, I have my doubts that any human beings ever actually grow up. Perhaps if we ever met a grown up, the experience would be so frightening we would hang him on a cross and then worship him. However, such an occurrence would not provide “proof” or even a likelihood that the victim was born of a virgin or rose from the dead. Now believing that is really childish, in my opinion.)


    March 16, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    • Modesty, there’s no question that people believe different things, and believe them truly and utterly. I’ve never denied that. Indeed, my comment had zero to do with that. The point was simply this: Death seems not so frightful when contemplating the absence of God because virtually nobody truly contemplates it. They all end up smuggling in some kind of sentimentalized thought that helps them not truly gaze into the cold, silent, gaping abyss that is atheism. It’s not a question of different beliefs, it’s a question of consistency.


      russell and duenes

      March 17, 2012 at 3:58 pm

  3. I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before. The amount of human suffering there is (both from the point of view of geography and from a historical perspective) staggers the mind. My life has turned out better than I thought it would, so this is not a comment inspired by personal bitterness and disappointment. However, I prefer to believe that there is no God because such a creature would be the worst monster imaginable.

    There is an old expression, “Follow the money.” This means, “Follow the payoff.”

    Religious believers make a big deal about “obedience to God.” As there is no clear evidence of the existence of God, and no clear evidence of what this mythical being wants, “obedience to God” means “obey the people who claim to know what God wants.” That is, the self-appointed religious leaders, whether Christian or Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist, or Jewish or any of the other people who are conveniently sure they know what God wants, “That is, ‘obey me.’

    How convenient.


    March 17, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    • And I’ve said this before, but you keep ignoring it: Suffering? What suffering? You don’t think there’s a God, and what necessarily follows from that is that there is no suffering. You can keep SAYING that there’s suffering, which is fine, but all that means is that you won’t own up to what a godless, material universe amounts to, which is that everything is just an agglomeration of chemicals. Chemicals do not suffer, they just react. That’s what consistent atheism requires, but why be consistent when you can smuggle in truths from a Christian worldview.


      russell and duenes

      March 17, 2012 at 6:57 pm

  4. Obviously, I am deluded. I imagine I exist. I imagine I am reading your comment on my computer screen. I imagine that the baby chicks my wife is raising are peeping and pecking in the next room. I imagine that I am thinking about going downstairs to have lunch. I imagine that I will then go to the gym and exercise my tired old 68-year old body to keep it alive for another day or week or year.

    I also imagine that I will die someday. I imagine that I have killed rabbits and squirrels and ill chickens and they did not come back to life. Perhaps I should imagine that I will not die if I believe what you believe.

    After all, think about the difference in what you have to promise me and to threaten me compared to the difference in what I have to promise and threaten you with. You can promise me Heaven (whatever that is, and assuming it won’t become boring and tiresome after a billion or so years), and you can threaten me with Hell (whatever that is). All I have to promise you … is … nothing. All I have to threaten you with … is … nothing.

    It’s amazing that anyone ever becomes an atheist. I think this is what is known as Pascal’s Wager. Unfortunately, Pascal’s Wager is a full of holes as a sieve. After all, if I become a Christian, then I have to choose the right brand. Catholic? Protestant? Or one of the splinter sects, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses?

    Then there are all the other religious beliefs. Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and the thousands of other beliefs. Maybe, just maybe, one or the other of them have a clue?

    Well, I imagine a lot of things.


    March 18, 2012 at 1:26 pm

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