Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Friday, July 10, 2009

Without Objectivity, What is There?

What makes you respect someone; Honesty, thoughtfulness, compassion, wisdom, knowledge? Do your respect someone who gives a sermon which you know is factually incorrect? Perhaps you can always say he/she just did not know the facts. What happens when you talk to that person and point out the error and they say no, I stand by my statement completely? I can tell you what happens to me I lose all respect for their positions.

In life there are a vast array of opinions and feeling and speculations, more than enough to constantly stimulate our minds. Which is why when someone tells you something untrue and then when pointed out that it is untrue they refuse to acknowledge the error or change their position what does one have left to listen to in that person. They have taken the position that fact and truth are unimportant to them. There is no point in discussion with them because for whatever reason they have lost their objectivity. The strange thing is this so often happens in the area of religion and politics. It seems to not even matter what end of the spectrum one falls on either, liberal or conservative. Some of the most precious ideas are held without any regard for the truth, the facts or reality and reason.

This was brought home to me this last week on the Spectrum blog, which is frequently Progressive Adventist and liberal politically oriented. In a comment under the article entitled A Horrendous Betrayal of the Gospel By Charles Scriven. The article is titled rather like the National Enquirer as the article is really just a criticism of singing the National Anthem during a church service on the 4th of July. The reason being that Christianity is for everyone not any one country or people. He might have a point if he were referring to the singing of the The Star-Spangled Banner in Canada or China. But it does not make a lot of sense in a church where the majority if not all the people at the church are actually citizens of the United States or Permanent Residents. But that is not the problem.

The problem comes when Chris Blake who is apparently a minister someplace wrote this comment, here is the first two paragraphs:

Last year I preached a sermon in College View Church about the virtue of non-combatancy: our great need for creativity and imagination and resilience when fighting evil; our tendency to believe in the myth of redemptive violence; the penchant when you own the biggest hammer in the world to see everything as a nail; the odd presence of the American flag in front of the sanctuary; and the non-violent model of Jesus. Normally CVC sermons are televised the following week. Mine was not. (Smile.)

The myth of redemptive violence is easily swallowed in a culture that force-feeds the myth every second with every dollar. Thankfully, some still do not buy it, will never buy it.

To which I responded:

By myth I take it you mean fiction, what is the myth of redemptive violence?

To test your definition: If it is really a fiction (myth) then we should be able to demonstrate that no one has ever been saved from the hands of threatening or evil or violent people by the acts of violence by people trying to save the threatened people.

I won't ask you to support the statement about the culture that force feeds the myth every second with every dollar because I am sure even you realize that that statement is a gross exaggeration.

The funny thing is that even after pointing out that the statement is a gross exaggeration in the next comment he said he stood by the comment completely.

He writes:

Redemptive means deliverance or rescue from whatever ails or threatens us. So if we're threatened by violence, we should be able to redeem that threat by, for example:

Overthrowing the democratically elected head of Iran in 1951.
Forcing Ho Chi Minh to retreat from 1955-1975.
Arming Saddam Hussein in his fight against
Arming Osama bin Laden in his fight against the
Training Timothy McVeigh to kill.
Creating terms like "collateral damage" to minimize war horrors
Arming the world with military weapons; in fact, making more in weapon sales than we give in foreign aid.

Here I could list 500 more examples of how redemptive violence "pays off" ultimately in more violence and mayhem. (You could counter with Adolph Hitler and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but that's the exception.)

The first thing you will notice is that he puts World War II as an exception. Which means he is saying that Redemptive violence is a myth (a fiction that violence saves anyone except in certain exceptions) Which of course means it is not a myth, that at least some of time it is a reality. The second thing you note is that his list of examples does not include the Gulf war, fought to free Kuwait, The Grenada war etc. In other words ignoring the times when people were freed by violence. You would also note he references where the US is involved, ignoring where doing nothing has resulting in horrible consequences such as Darfur and Rwanda. In the case of Vietnam War where communist North Vietnam attacked South Vietnam when we ended our support of South Vietnam (“Forcing Ho Chi Minh to retreat from 1955-1975”) When we left millions were killed and nearly a million fled the country, hundreds of thousands in boats (boat people). Hopefully the best one can say is that if the US ever gets into a war it may not be best to end with a stalemate.

In the above Chris Blake is just selectively choosing his examples, it is an example of subjective reasoning, choosing what is important and listing that while ignoring what goes against your theory. It is merely an attempt at being persuasive by hoping that others don’t know history enough to doubt your rendition of the facts. The real violation of logic comes when he acknowledges the exception to his thesis that redemptive violence is a myth. When someone acknowledges in their own words that their thesis is wrong because it has exceptions how can they continue to stand by that thesis. Something then is very wrong.

But there was still the very gross exaggeration comment made. Most people realize that words like all, and every are often indicators that a logical fallacy is being used. So when Chris Blake says: “every second with every dollar” most of us would think there is an exaggeration here. I would hope most of us would see through such statements but as you will see that is not the case. Chris Blake then tries to use some statistics from “Stockholm International Peace Research Institute” to back up his statement. I could go into the numbers statistics but even here Chris Blake in his own words shows that his assertion is false. He writes:

More than half of all discretionary spending of the U.S. government goes toward military expenditures.

He has falsified his own statement that every dollar is used to forced feed the myth of redemptive violence. (Again most should realize that our culture spends lots on other things also, healthcare, education, entertainment, food etc)

What bothers me most is that Charles Scriven commented on Chris Blake’s posts:

Chris Blake:

You are gift to us all. Thanks for the Sassoon and Owens poetry. Thanks for the history and numbers you cite. Your passion is seismic.

That sounds like it is meant as praise, praise for history and numbers which are inaccurate and used to defend a thesis of redemptive violence that Chris Blake’s own words show is untrue. But yet Chris Blake concluded:

And you think I'm exaggerating?

I stand sadly by every word of the previous post.

The question then becomes why do some lose all objectivity when certain of their cherished beliefs are shown to be incorrect; Going so far as ignoring their irrationality and the irrationality of others. Being wrong is understandable standing by your error when it is revealed is irrational. I don’t really know the reason but I am sure that it damages us all and is not something that we should ignore when it occurs.


Henk said...

It seems to me that the words "redemptive violence" are as much a euphemism as "collateral damage". Personally I think that there has never been an altruistic war. Outright stupidity; greed for commodities, power and money; megalomania; vanity... the ways of the world. You would give your blood of course? Or the blood of your children, if you have any? Statistically, for every dead soldier there are more than 200 dead civilians. But, as I understand now, they died prematurely in the struggle for their redemption. Too bad.

Anonymous said...

Is “redemptive violence” that which God does when He performs his final cleansing of this earth?

Anonymous said...

Ron: maybe read up on Walter Wink to grasp the meaning of the myth of redemptive violence... It's a powerful concept, though I agree Blake uses it incorrectly.

Elaine Nelson said...

We should "call" pastors on the lack of factual honesty in their preaching.

John McClarty's blog (linked from here) has one posted this month where he implies that since Creation, Sabbath has been observed through the ages.

This, without a single supporting text, but merely an Adventist assumption, is so frequently used that it should not pass without question.

Ron Corson said...

Elaine, McClarty's reference to the sabbath from creation is an interpretation. As such it is not something that we can simply say is wrong. Far different from saying all time and money spent by the US is money spent on redemptive violence.

When someone is clearly wrong and denies that they are wrong that is completely irrational and displays a severe problem with their character or mind. Interpretations on the other hand may involve presupposition which ultimately may be wrong but which are not objectively wrong unless they actually go counter to what the person is actually saying themselves. For example if someone says God is Love and God will torture wicked people for eternity then not only is the interpretation questionable but they have made their statement wrong and nonsensical by saying that love is God torturing the wicked for eternity. They have defined loved in a way that goes against the very meaning of love. It may be conceivable that in some situation the most loving thing to do is to kill someone. But there is no way that torturing someone for eternity could fit in the definition of love.

Elaine Nelson said...

Ron,yes, interpretation is not the same as good exegesis, IMO. To state something as factual leaves no room for private interpretation.
This goes for all scripture: all is an individual interpretation.
Since the subject was "objectivity"
it did seem appropo to differentiate between subjectivity (which is an interpretation) and objectivity--where there is almost unanimity.