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Sunday, November 28, 2004

Disagreements, Debates and Dissentions

I am currently in a grad program in philosophy at a the California State University, Long Beach. The other day, in one of my classes, a student, who is Cherokee, presented a paper in which in part he questioned the legitimacy of Western tradition of speciocentricity - the view that the human species is a higher form of life than any other animal and life forms. It was interesting, and while a few members of the class appreciated his call for tolerance and open-mindedness, the professor challenged us to think about the possibility of rationality in animals. According to the professor one measure of logical thinking and rational activity is playing chess, and challenged us to find an analogous mode of activity in any other animal species. While a few tried to suggest that there might be conceivable and possible analogous activities in the non-human animal kingdom, the professor doubted the plausibility of such analogies. Then, a member of the class, a retired man who has had quite a bit of learning and life experience, inpatiently disputed such "nonsense" by suggesting that if we were to maintain that "mere" animals are equal to us or even analogous to us in their mental capacity and rationality, then we are discounting the hundreds and thousands of years of collective cultural, literary and intelectual wisdom that human beings have accumulated which shows that clearly we are of a "higher intelligence" to "mere animals." He was angry and it showed, and it appeared to me that it could easily lead to an "Artest-esque confrontation." (Sorry, couldn't refrain myself!)

This post is not really about the pros and cons of thought or conceptual life in animals, interesting though it might be. It is really about the reaction of this gentleman to the call for open mindedness, possibility and tolerance. For usually it is a "liberal" person who often calls for such tolerance. Usually it is the more "conservative" among us who resists tolerance and open mindedness. (I am using those two terms "loosely" but given the current climate in our society and especially in blogosphere, I realize that those two terms are severely loaded and controversial. So be it, let's just go on...).

Conservatives sometimes shirk back from open mindedness because they prefer the status quo, they respect years of rich heritage and culture and bow to the traditions of the fathers, while liberals sometimes emphasize the need to be open-minded and consider other points of views. However, sometimes conservatives accuse liberals of being open-minded for the sake of open-mindedness, and liberals on the other hand accuse conservatives of being rigid and unwilling to change, preventing progress and development.

And that was what happened in my class. One group was encouraging the rest to be tolerant to other viewpoints, while the other was accusing the first group of debunking the years of collective human wisdom. It also reminds me of my earlier experience as a Christian fundamentalist.

I remember in my teenaged years, being aware of the fact that some of our friends were looking on bemusedly as we Christian boys (I went to an all-boys school) sat around debating, sometimes heatedly, about pre-trib, pre-mil, baptism (water, sprinkling), the Holy Spirit, tongues, and a host of all sorts of other doctrinal issues.

It never occured to us that our energy and passion might had better be saved to rally together, pray and work together to bring our friends to a better understanding of who their Creator is. We love this thing called
doctrinal purity, probably ingrained in us by our own pastors, Sunday School or Bible Class teachers, and elders.

In fact, the church I went to as a young fella had a ranking system. Our church were supposedly closest to the Bible, in terms of "New Testament practices" especially the "rules" (or traditions) laid out in 1 Corinthians about church polity. Then other churches were ranked according to whether or not they accepted certain doctrinal priorities.

As I grew up, I often got tired of this insistence on doctrinal purity and on theological correctness. I find this to be the case among some of the churches and church leaders that I know. It seems that people were willing to sacrifice relationships just so that they can be "right." It seems so important to them that they are "right."

I was thinking of this while blog-surfing the past few days, and reading some heat
inged exchanges that occur between people of opposing viewpoints. Usually these viewpoints have to do with politics, but sometimes ethical and moral issues also bring up the ire in people. For instance, the gay marriage issue has been a thorn in the side of the Church for a while now. I wonder why it is that Christians seem to appear to be some of the most disagreeable folk in the world.

Yet of course Christians are not alone in this. Recently I also observed a similar disquiet happen in an on-line forum. Someone, who is known to be a Christian, posted something about the ACLU and quoted from a source. Someone else in the group, who is not a Christian, responded by suggesting that the posted had an ulterior motive, although the original poster did not make any other remark. Names started to fly as the second poster decided that the first poster was trying to subvert the "open minded" discussion by offering a religious or ultra right-wing bent on the issues at hand. It got nasty rather quickly. This time, the supposedly "open minded" liberal was the culprit who quickly shut the "conservative" before a level headed discussion could take place. So, I supposed, the problem there was a perceived threat to a personal belief that led to heightened passions and emotional outbursts. Perhaps it is just because we all have this dire need to be right, or at least to be seen as being right.

I just popped over to, and found Tim vexing over the issue of negative feedback he had been getting at his site due to readers' disagreement with his views. Tim asked:

Is apologetics inherently negative? I doubt God would say so. There may be a negative aspect to apologetics, simply because to defend is to assume that there is something to defend against, but the practice in itself is not negative. On the contrary, apologetics should help people grow in their faith as they are warned against succumbing to Satan's infiltrations. I seek to make apologetics practical rather than abstract, uplifting rather than purely negative. If I take issue with a teaching, I seek to show the proper Biblical alternative. I know that I do not always succeed in this goal, but I do strive for it. When I fail, the community who reads this site generally lets me know, and I do appreciate their concern.

Tim went on to add an observation of human nature:

I would like to conclude with a brief reflection on human nature. Humans seem to be inherently critical and it is far easier for us to criticize than build up. In this regard I am the chief of sinners. However, I have seen that others are afflicted in the same way. When I write an article that is positive, that reflects joy in what God has taught me from His Word, it generally receives far less attention that those which challenge beliefs or teachers. A quick survey of the numbers of replies to various topics in the forum will prove this true. So for those who believe there is a slight negative tone to the discussions in the forums, I would encourage them to make an effort to discuss the positive and not merely the negative.

I guess whether or not you are a Christian, or whichever side of the conservative/liberal fence you fall on, there is just a human tendency to want to be counted among the "good guys" - those who are right, while all others are wrong.

I wonder if that is why Jesus asked the rich young ruler, "Why do you call me good? No one is good, except the Father!"