This blog may seem untimely, but it really is not. I’ve been mulling over this for some time and recent events just served to highlight what I’ve been thinking. As I have stated before in this forum, Americans do not know how to formulate a logical argument. This is a sad state of affairs for our country; but even worse is the fact that American Christians are no better at it. Americans of all religions, races, and educational levels seem to believe that personal opinions and feelings are arguments in and of themselves. I am certainly not saying that having opinions is wrong or that I don’t care about anyone’s feelings! I am saying that unsubstantiated opinions and emotions have no place in public debate. Give the public proven facts and cite authoritative texts!
The problem with stating personal opinion or feeling as proof of any stance on any given issue is that opinions can be wrong and feelings can be manipulated. They can be based on misinformation or even based on no information at all. Even opinions based upon past personal experiences can be wrong, because experiences can be misinterpreted. Before stating an opinion in a public forum, one should do one’s homework. Read authoritative texts; talk with people who have some expertise in the field in which you wish to comment; do some research! I may, for example, have an opinion about what BP should have done to stop the oil spill. But I have no engineering knowledge whatsoever; therefore I have nothing on which to base my opinion. I can read the opinions of engineers and other experts in the field and then cite their opinions in a public debate on the subject, but I have no business trying to formulate an opinion based on my own personal feelings in the matter. Feelings cannot change facts and emotions do not constitute knowledge.
Christians are as bad at this as any other American. The recent controversy concerning the nut-case “preacher” in Florida who was threatening to burn the Koran brought this to my attention on no uncertain terms. Plenty of Christians were denouncing the lunatic, and so they should have. But no one, (except my own husband!) in all the articles and comments I read about the subject, cited any other authority than his own opinion or feelings. “It’s not nice.” “It’ll get people killed.” “Jesus wouldn’t have done it.” These things are all true, but why? Because I say so? Because you say so? As People of the Book, we should never enter a public forum and cite our own opinions. If we cannot back our statements up with Scripture, we should keep silent until we can.
In keeping with that assertion, I will now cite Scripture to back up my opinion on this matter! Jesus says in John 8:28, “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” Reading through the Gospels proves that He is speaking the truth: Jesus constantly quotes Scripture as proof of what He is saying. In John 5:31-40, and again in John 8: 13-18, Jesus acknowledges that if He only testifies about Himself, His testimony is invalid. The Law requires at least two witnesses to validate any truth (Deuteronomy 19:15-19). Jesus claims John the Baptist and the Scriptures themselves as two of the witnesses that validate the authority of His teachings. If Jesus acknowledges the need to cite authority other than Himself to validate what He says, how can we do otherwise? Are we better than He is?
Read through the epistles and you will find that Paul, James, Peter, John, and Jude also constantly quote Scripture to back up what they are writing. If they need outside authority to validate their teachings, so does everyone! They were, after all, writing Scripture themselves; and yet, they cited previous Scripture to give authority to their own writings.
Psalm 119:130 says, “the unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” I could go on and on, but I hope my point has been made. We are the People of the Book. We should know that Book well enough to quote it as our authority on all spiritually-related (and many other) subjects, just as I would quote the Dictionary to defend my spelling of a word. Here is what I would have liked to have seen in an argument against the lunatic preacher in Florida: in Acts 17, Paul preaches to the pagans in Athens. Actually, before he speaks, he does his homework. He studies their religious beliefs, memorizes their poetry and acquaints himself with their philosophers so thoroughly that he can use their own words as his authoritative text to back up what he says. He begins addressing these heathen unbelievers by complimenting them on their great spiritual interest. He then uses the spiritual knowledge they already possess and builds on it, adding the truth of the Gospel to the truth they already had. He never spoke down to them; he never insulted them. He never trashed their temples or burned their religious texts. In fact, later in Ephesus (Acts 19), when the silversmiths start a riot against Paul because he is converting enough people to cut into their idol-making trade, the mayor of the city defends Paul by saying that Paul has never blasphemed their goddess Diana. By citing Paul’s example, we could have defended the Christian faith in an authoritative manner. We could have started an enlightening discussion about how to approach persons of other faiths with the truth. Instead, the whole sorry incident turned into a “nice versus not-nice” slug-fest. It’s true that the “preacher” in Florida was “not nice”. But what kind of argument is that?