How To Argue About Politics

The Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday called for a General Election on June 8th (despite saying she would do no such thing).  We will doubtless hear political discourse, expert or otherwise, reach for new levels of over-blown rhetoric, unattainable promises and outlandish threats that go beyond even apocalyptio-dystopio proportions.

Politics is necessary and sometimes interesting, but of late it is rather like trying to fit the glass shoe on the feet of one of the Ugly Sisters….even if it fits, it’ll be the wrong foot!

Having said that, arguing and getting your point of view across, is a dying art in a world of fake news, opinionated blatherers and general social media swampery.  In our current political system, we often have soundbites and slogans; character assassinations; ridicule and dismissive gesturing.  Who really wants to be the winner in all this?  Afterall, even if the Ugly Sister did manage to squeeze into the tiny glass shoes of another….she would still be ugly!!!

I am reading through Gary Gutting’s book What Philosophy Can Do, and right from page one, he outlines the sheer practical force of philosophy as it relates to many areas of life.  He starts with politics, hence the opening quote below, but he goes on to tackle Science, Capitalism, Education, Art, Religion, Economics and Agnosticism. 

I hope the quote below helps others to think more clearly about what we say and how we say it; what we know and what we don’t know; for example, there’s a world of difference between “freedom of thought” and “correctness of thought”.

20170419_092639“Taking examples from recent political debates, this chapter explains and illustrates important logical principles and distinctions needed for effective argumentation.  

We first distinguish between real and bogus arguments and then discuss and illustrate the Principle of Charity, which shows how fairness to opponents can make arguments more compelling.

Next, we examine the distinction between deductive and inductive arguments, and, regarding inductive arguments, explore the essential but often neglected Principle of Relevant Evidence.

The following section introduces the notion of convictions (and the related notions of pictures).  Both concepts will have major roles in later chapters.  Reflection on the part convictions play in arguments will lead to an important distinction between what is logical and what is rational.

Two further sections explore arguments between people who are equally competant on a given topic (epistemic peers), leading to a distinction between freedom of thought and correctness of thought, and an analysis of the logic of disagreement.

Finally, we consider the value of arguments that fail to convince anyone else, formulating a Principle of Self-Understanding.”

pg.1 (all italics original).

Getting Stupid:  Confessions of a (former) atheist Philosopher of Religion

Getting Stupid: Confessions of a (former) atheist Philosopher of Religion

“I have already noted in passing that everything goes wrong without God.  This is true even of the good things he has given us such as our minds.  One of the good things I’ve been given is a stronger than average mind.  I don’t make the observation to boast.  Human beings are given diverse gifts to serve Him in diverse ways.  The problem is that a strong mind that refuses the call to serve God has its own way of going wrong.  When some people flee from God, they rob and kill.  When others flee from God they do a lot of drugs and have a lot of (multiple-partner) sex.  When I fled from God I didn’t do any of these things.  My way of fleeing was to get stupid.  Though it always comes as a surprise to intellectuals, there are some forms of stupidity that one must be highly intelligent and educated to achieve.  God keeps them in His arsenal to pull down mulish pride, and I discovered them all.  That is how I ended up doing a doctoral dissertation to prove that we make up the difference between good and evil and that we aren’t responsible for what we do.  I remember now that I even taught these things to students.  Now that’s sin. 

It was also agony.  You cannot imagine what a person has to do to himself – well, if you’re like I was, maybe you can, what a person has to do to himself to go on believing such nonsense.  St Paul said that the knowledge of God’s law is written on our hearts, our consciences also bearing witness.  The way natural-law thinkers put this, is to say that they constitute the deep structure of our minds.  That means that so long as we have minds, we can’t not know them.  I was unusually determined not to know them, therefore I had to destroy my mind.  I resisted the temptation to believe in good with as much energy as some saints resist the temptation to neglect good.  For instance, I loved my wife and children, but I was determined to regard this love as merely subjective preference with really no objective value.  Think what this did to my very capacity to love them.  After all, love is a commitment to the will of the true good of another person, and how can one be committed to the true good of another person if he denies the reality of good, denies the reality of persons and denies that his commitments are in his control?

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Reduced Laughter: A Review

Reduced Laughter by Revd Dr Helen Paynter.

A Review by Richard Matcham

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Chapter 1 – Introduction

My title:  In Defense of the Comedic

Using Private Eye as a great introductory example, one thing is sure – humanity loves humour, and we love humour that subverts the way things are, the high-and-mighty, etc.  The Bible hasn’t had good fare in recent millennia regarding all things funny.  The Bible is a serious book, and is found to be read (when it is read at all), to be read by serious people.

 

Our Western rationalism in general, and 19th century German scholarship (p.5) in particular, riding on the back of Plato’s suspicion that humour is malicious; and Aristotle’s warning that while humour is necessary, it should be ‘kept in check’, is missing the point that humour can be ‘a route to truth’ (p.3).

 

On the contrary, humour is not the opposite of sadness or seriousness, a useful observation of what de Sousa calls a ‘category error’ (p.4).  Thank God!  I have come to realise that my own use of humour is directly related to my serious side.  They are two sides of the same coin.

 

All this is carried over into our Bible reading.  Our culture may ‘Think Bike – Think Safety’ but we certainly do not train ourselves or our churches to ‘Think Bible – Think Humour,’ and I for one would love to try.   Admittedly, this is not easy – the Bible is a very serious book(s), with lots of weighty, eternal, salvific images, multi-genre & theological categories, stories and truth claims.  Thus, as a default setting, we ‘are more likely to under diagnose humour than over-diagnose it’ (p.6), and this means we will likely miss it altogether.

 

A taster-example is offered via the Naboth narrative (1 Kings 21), and how the Hebrew word describing the sulky and vexed Ahab is related to the Deuteronomic stubborn and rebellious son (21:18-19).  Here, the son is the one killed, whilst in Kings, it is Ahab who kills.  ‘This subtle, darkly humorous, allusion will only be apparent to the attentive reader or listener’ (p.8).  I wish I’d been more attentive in my reading!

Helen then offers some ‘ground rules’ for textual interpretation.  The text itself assumes a ‘literary or aural competence’ (p.8), and this requires competent hard work.  Highlighting wordplays and ‘hidden polemics’, the careful reader is able to see the ‘subversive, and deliberate partial concealment’ (p.10) of the narrative, using the ‘useful guidelines’ for the ‘methodological criteria’ outlined by Yairah Amit on page 9.

 

Finally, Helen’s hermeneutical approach leans heavily on the Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin, someone who refers to seriocomic literature as ‘playful, irreverent, multi-voiced, subversive and outrageous’ (p.11).  I have already guessed in my own reading that the Bible is all of these things, but what I hadn’t reckoned with, is that it is more deliberately so, and far deeper than I gave credit.

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Extreme Metaphor: Salt and Dung

Extreme Metaphor: Salt and Dung

Luke 14:34-35

 

Salt and Vinegar;             Sea salt;                     Salted peanuts;

Salt and pepper;              Bath salt;                   Salted babies;

Ready salted;                    Table salt;                 Salted Pringles;

Salt tablets;                        Salted slugs;             Salted dung;

Saltless salt.                       Salted speech;         Road salt;

 

Salt is an amazing thing.  Very important to the human body.

We live in a high-salt culture which is not so good for us.

 

Matthew 5 –  “You are the salt of the earth; You are the light of the world.”

This is about shining out and spreading out.

The rest of the Sermon on the Mount explains what that looks like.

 

We know that salt serves different functions:  It preserves and flavours.

(Personally, I think my Cambodian pepper is better than salt):

(“You are the pepper of the earth!”)

So we know Jesus is calling us to flavour and light up a decaying and dark world.

Note that Jesus never challenges us to be these things, he just says we are.

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Gunton (via Thiselton) on Atonement

In chapter nine of Thiselton’s 2015 Systematic Theology, he asks the question, ‘Why Consider Historical Theologies of the Atonement?’  The section he covers on Colin Gunton’s 1988 work ‘The Actuality of the Atonement: A Study in Metaphor, Rationality, and the Christian Tradition’  is not only astonishingly concise but well worth popping into this blog:

ACT

Colin Gunton (1941-2003).  Gunton also contributed a classic modern study in his Actuality of the Atonement…He had two aims.  One was to show that interpretations of, and approaches to, atonement were complimentary, not alternatives.  The other was to exhibit the value and power of metaphors among images of atonement.  He regarded Kant, Schleiermacher, and Hegel as indirectly responsible for the “intellectual and cultural poverty” that characterizes much of our age.  He singled out especially Hegel’s devaluation of “images” (Vorstellungen) in religion, as against the critical “concept” (Begriff) in philosophy.  Metaphor, Gunton argued, was “an indispensable means for the advance of cognitive knowledge and understanding” (17).  Janet Martin Soskice and Paul Avis also argued this convincingly.  Metaphor and discovery occur together “with metaphor serving as the vehicle of discovery” (31).  He appealed for this explicitly to Paul Ricoeur, Eberhard Jungel, and Janet Martin Soskice, as well as to Coleridge.

actuality-of-atonementIn the course of more detailed theological argument, Gunton challenged the comprehensiveness of [Gustav] Aulen’s [Christus Victor) approach, and showed concern that he advocated “too triumphalist a view of the atonement” (58).  He valued the victory motif as a metaphor, rather than the “laws for a theory of the atonement” (61).  This approach also tended too readily to personify the devil, which seems to happen in Gregory of Nyssa.  “Evil powers” may includes “political, social, economic, and religious structures of power,” as George Caird, Oscar Cullmann, and others have maintained (65).

In his chapter 4 Gunton considered the justice of God, and corrected misunderstandings of Anselm.  God governs the universe in a way analogous to the duty of the feudal ruler “to maintain the order of rights and obligations without which society would collapse” (89).  He affirmed the grace and love of God, but insisted on “some objective righting of the balance” in the governance of the universe (91).  Here he appealed to P. T. Forsyth, Balthasar, and Barth, as well as to Anselm and Luther.  This governance is “the central metaphor” (112).

In chapter 5 Gunton sought to rescue the concept of “sacrifice” from being regarded as an outworn, “dead” metaphor.  He carefully examined sacrifice in the OT, together with the work by Mary Douglas and Francis Young.  In this respect, he argued, Calvin was faithful to priesthood and sacrifice in Hebrews, and to the passage about “correct exchange” that we noted in the early Epistle to Diognetus.  He concluded, “There are in Calvin elements of a substitutionary understanding of the atonement; indeed it seems unlikely that any conception that remains true to the Bible can avoid it” (130).  The two final chapters return to Gunton’s regular theme of the Holy Trinity, and the need to reconcile the various approaches to the atonement.  He concluded:  Jesus is “our substitute because he does for us what we cannot do for ourselves” (165, italics mine).

Among Gunton’s eighteen or so books, this book is a masterpiece.  It seems to address a central nerve in the [atonement] debate, and should not be underestimated. “

Dodman Cross

 Dodman’s Point, Cornwall

They Ate Sausages

They Ate Sausages

flame“In Zurich they didn’t do revolts and rampages.  They ate sausages.  It was Lent of 1522, when twelve friends got together to hold a sausage-eating party.  Tradition had it that one was not supposed to eat meat during Lent.  These men wanted to defy human tradition.  Zwingli sat that one out: making gestures with sausages was not his way of reformation.  But he did publically defend his friends, for Lent, he argued, was just a human institution.  Christians are to worship only according to God’s command; to add human commands (about such things as what Christians can eat and when) was to add an unnecessary burden to people that Christ never asked his follwers to bear.”

Michael Reeves, The Unquenchable Flame, p.79-80

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Possible Pastoral Responses…hee hee

Possible Pastoral Responses…hee hee

A humously perceptive post from Stephen Cherry here. The book that has been linked in at the end if this post is also a very good resource.

We all get it.  Some of us look for it. Some of us long for it. Many of us hate it. None of us know what to say when we hear it: ‘This is your busy time, vicar.’

So – what should we say? Here are eight ideas to try.

  • Do you think I would be talking to you if I was busy’. Pro: Cathartic – could be a bit of stress-buster. Con: tbh it is a bit rude.
  • Inane laughter or wan smile.  Pro: easier than thinking of something to say. Con: Reinforces dozy vicar stereotype.
  • ‘Well there is rather a lot to do actually, but how are you?’ Pro: First bit is true. Con. Second bit now sounds disingenuous.
  • ‘No I don’t do busy. But I do have quite a full life at the moment’. Pro:   Honest and puzzling. Con: Just a tad too pompous.
  • Burst into tears. Pro: Cathartic and turns the pastoral tables.  Con: Risky –  they might not care.
  • ‘What do you think I do the rest of the year! I’ll tell you about busy’. Pro: Might make them think about the rest of the year. Con: No it won’t.
  • ‘Hey, the schools are closed, and no one is having meetings. I am doing the pastoral thing – and that’s why I’m talking to you just now so let’s move on to something worth talking about. How’s that knee of yours.’ Pro: It started well. Con: It ended badly.
  • ‘Nope, I’m not busy… ‘ and let them pick up the thread.  Pro: Countercultural and prophetic. Con: Suggests you really have no higher purpose than listening and stuff (Hang on, is this a con?)

Now there must be better answers than those…. If you are not too busy, please share.

For more on busyness and vicaring checkout my book  http://www.sacristy.co.uk/books/ministry-resources/beyond-busyness-time-wisdom-ministry

With thanks to ‘garybirchall1, @sadgrovem and @robertlawance for the tweets that inspired this blog. Glad you were not too busy to tweet today.