Tuesday, 18 December 2012

What is needed is faithfulness, not better debating techniques


It is inevitable that the mass media, including blogs such as this (which is not really 'mass' - but still...) tends to focus on matters of rhetoric: of clear expression, effective persuasion.

Much gets written about how 'we' could more effectively 'get our points across', examples of gaffes and disasters when people were crude or inept at this, or were portrayed as such - hence lost public support of the cause. And so on.

The implication is that, if only we (our side) could package our views optimally, then people would recognize their rightness and would (en masse) convert to them.


For a Christian, hoping (as we all must) for a change of heart in society - a Great Awakening - this is a dangerous snare.

The most compelling counter-example is Jesus Christ himself.

The New Testament gives an account of the perfect life of the perfect Man - and one who was a master of rhetoric, never lost for a word: someone who had all the answers and could express himself unanswerably.


He had a gang of devoted helpers who had given up everything to follow him, by his miracles he sowed seeds of faith in the hearts of many more, and by the brilliance of rhetoric attract large crowds to hear him speak or debate with the religious authorities.

Yet, far more of the people Christ encountered failed to be persuaded by him, than became believers in him.

So God came to earth as the perfect Man - who got his message across perfectly - yet most people were unpersuaded. Indeed, they crucified him.


In a world of fallen Men who have chosen, and continue to choose evil - and where we ourselves are inevitably tainted and at times overwhelmed by evil, this is the most that can be expected.

Among the greatest Prophets and Patriarchs of the Bible - almost all succumbed to sin at some point, deliberately turned away from God: this will happen, it will happen to us.  Our best intentions (even those) will be defeated by original sin and by the unsleeping cunning of the enemy.

So - we will not 'stay on message' and we will make serious gaffes, and we will say and do things that are counter-productive.

We will, in fact, make things worse despite our best efforts; and we will not even be making our best efforts for most of the time. 


The teaching of the Old Testament seems particularly compelling on the question of what is required from us: and that seems not to be the kind of person who has a quick and convincing answer to every conceivable debating point; but to be patient and full of faith.

And these are precisely the qualities which are most lacking in the modern West, including among the Christian Right

The problem is ultimately not the lack of high status reactionary intellectuals, of writers and writers, nor the paucity of Christian artists and entertainers - nor our lack of access to the classrooms and mass media - nor the increasing constraints on our freedom of expression in these arenas.

Because even if we had all such things we would be ineffective in the cause of Good, because we lack patient faithfulness.


Hence even given the best of opportunities for modern reactionaries and the greatest rhetorical abilities and opportunities - very soon we are assimilated to the dark side, and become part of the problem - agents of evil, not of its only solution.

The solution lies outside the world of rhetoric; and we can only legitimately aspire to be channels for its operation.