Saturday, October 13, 2007


"Why don't I put you with the head of Iran? I mean, come on. You can't believe that."

Exclusivity is the key to a successful nightclub. The line is fine, you don't want to be so exclusive you keep out customers, but you want to be exclusive enough that people get the impression that the place is special and a wonderful place to get into. Lines out front is what you are looking for, so that clubgoers will know you have a hot place, but it keeps out the riff raff and lets in only the beautiful people. A man who exclusively dates blonde girls is missing out on exciting redheads and sultry brunettes, but he's got his standards.

There is a bad side of exclusivity as well; businesses that wouldn't allow Jews into them in Boston up in to the 1970s for example. This kind of exclusivity isn't an attempt to generate interest or limit the clientèle to the most handsome and hip, it's an ethnic slur, an attack on someone for their ancestry. Exclusivity becomes bigotry then.

There's another kind of exclusivity that is practiced by everyone, everywhere, and it has to do with how you think and approach life. This is the exclusivity of truth.

Unless you're a hardcore postmodern relativist, you will agree that truth is absolute, that something is either true or not true, it cannot be both at the same time. That woman is either pregnant or she's not, there's no blend of the two. That means two contradictory things cannot both be true at the same time and in the same context. A woman can be pregnant, then not pregnant, but she can't be both at the same time and in the same context.

The fancy name for this is the Law of non-contradiction and it is the rock solid basis of reason. Abandon this and you can't even communicate with other people. As I pointed out in the essay on relativism, Monty Python showed how confusing and baffling this would be with a humorous skit based around an interview:
Interviewer: Good evening. I have with me in the studio tonight Mr Norman St. John Polevaulter, who for the last few years has been contradicting people...Mr Polevaulter, why do you contradict people?
Polevaulter: I don't!
I: You told me that you did.
P: I most certainly did not!
I: Oh. I see. I'll start again.
P: No you won't!
I: Ssh! Mr Polevaulter I understand you don't contradict people.
P: Yes I do!
I: And when didn't you start contradicting people?
P: Well I did, in 1952.
I: 1952?
P: 1947!
I: Twenty-three years ago.
P: No!
So as you can see, truth is exclusive - it is true, and anything that disagrees with or contradicts that truth is false. By definition, truth is rude and snobbish, it will only embrace truth and reject all else. In the same way, belief tends to be as well. If you believe that SUV's are unsafe to drive, then you will reject the idea that SUVs are no more unsafe than any other car. Your position on this is exclusive: this is right, other ideas are wrong. This is true about any solid position people take on any issue:

Tomatoes are bad for you
Baseball is boring
NASCAR fans have cooties

and so on. If you hold one solid belief, you reject disagreement on that position, or you wouldn't hold it in the first place. If you hold an ambiguous position such as "I like taffy" or "I can't say for sure if God exists or not" then you're open to discussion because you aren't sure either way - the first isn't a value judgment (others might hate taffy) and the second is a statement of being unsure, it could go either way.

Dog matismIn modern society, the trend is to reject and oppose any dogmatic statements - or at least a class of them. If you say "God exists for certain" then some will leap to assure you that nobody can be sure and you should be more tolerant of those who disagree, your statement seems arrogant and even abusive to those who aren't sure. Holding to a belief strongly is viewed with suspicion, concern. Nobody can be that sure, you might be insane, or at least in need of some diversity training.

If you say you believe your faith is true and all others are false, you'll tend to face opposition - particularly if that faith is Christianity. Just ask Ann Coulter:
COULTER: No, we think -- we just want Jews to be perfected, as they say.

DEUTSCH: Wow, you didn't really say that, did you?

COULTER: Yes. That is what Christianity is. We believe the Old Testament, but ours is more like Federal Express. You have to obey laws. We know we're all sinners --

DEUTSCH: In my old days, I would have argued -- when you say something absurd like that, there's no --

COULTER: What's absurd?

DEUTSCH: Jews are going to be perfected. I'm going to go off and try to perfect myself --

COULTER: Well, that's what the New Testament says.

DEUTSCH: Ann Coulter, author of If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans, and if Ann Coulter had any brains, she would not say Jews need to be perfected. I'm offended by that personally.
Now, I was hesitant to give this any press because the Big Idea is mostly unknown and Donny Deutsch wallows in obscurity on CNBC, so this is his big attempt to vault up to Kieth Olbermann numbers - such as they are. Yet it illustrates my point rather well. This exchange is fairly long and includes a raft of fallacies by the host.

His rejection of what Ann Coulter says stems from two things: the first is basic confusion and ignorance of what Christians teach, and the second is a kneejerk rejection of exclusivity.

His ignorance of Christianity I'll deal with later, but the second part is key to this essay. He's reacting to the statement that Christianity is true and all other religions false - and thus people should reject the other faiths and become Christians - as offensive. He even goes so far as to compare this to Ahamedinejad (with no small amount of calculation to reduce the damage he did last week to leftists defending him). Echoing this position was commenter Libliever on Right Wing News, who said this, among other things:
She is categorically out of her mind imho.
I know, I know that's what you Christians, who take your faith seriously, believe...
Ann Coulter's arrogance hurts the Christian image.
Arrogance was a common theme across the Sinestrosphere (left leaning blogosphere), the cry that Miss Coulter's comments were condemned as bigoted and arrogant. Jews in particular tended to take offense, as if converting to Christianity was akin to a holocaust, murdering Jews worldwide. The statement "I believe this is right and thus believing otherwise is wrong" was met with dismay and even anger.

Yet there's a fascinating effect going on here. Look at what both Mr Deutsch and Libliever did above. They are arguing strenuously that Ann Coulter's position is wrong, that she's in error. They disagree with her position and are trying to argue their own - in fact Libliever also said this:
But it is a belief not a fact.
In fact I'm right and you Christians are just plain WRONG.
This is a statement of belief about the truth that rejects the opposite. Libliever is more specific and obvious about it, but that's exactly what Mr Deutsch is doing, he's arguing that Ann Coulter is wrong and thus ought to change her mind to what he believes. He's not arguing for the Judaism he says he's a practicing member of, but he's arguing that she must abandon her position for his position: Christianity isn't the only way. Liblieiver goes even further by arguing that everyone must believe in secular humanism or they are flat out wrong.

GLCIt doesn't stop there. Consider this statement by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-UT):
Reid also told reporters the Republican Party has been driven by evangelical Christians for 20 years. "They are the most anti-Christian people I can imagine, the people from the Christian far right."
Reid condemns Christians for not being anti-Christian because they are opposed to abortion and homosexual marriage - those are specific issues he lists earlier. Now granted, Senator Reid is a small wretch of a man, but this is not uncommon in the present attempt by the Democrats to seize the "values vote" because they recognize that it demolished them in the 2004 elections. Insulting people for their faith doesn't seem like the best way to go about it, but Reid is not known for his statesmanship and great leadership abilities.

if you look closely here, you can see a consistent patter: these people are doing exactly what they condemn Ann Coulter of doing: holding an exclusive position and claiming what they believe is true while all contrary beliefs are false. Is the mere assertion that this is true and the contrary is false arrogant? Is it arrogant to say Christians are wrong, or just to say Christians are right?

Ann Coulter's statements were theologically infantile, she's a poor spokesman for the Christian faith, but she's bold enough to stand up and say "this is right and you ought to believe it" where other evangelical "leaders" have not had the courage. This is not limited to Christianity, standing for what you believe and opposing the contrary is considered arrogant in any setting - if you aren't left leaning. Look at the heat President Bush takes for beleiving on way and rejecting the opposite. Inflexible, cowboy, idiot, arrogant, dangerous, tyrannical, and more words all thrown at him like grenades. How dare he hold to a position and reject the opposite! He should hold to our position and reject the opposite!

This is known as "hypocrisy" where you hold one position and demonstrate you don't really believe it by carrying out the opposite. They are condemning someone for doing exactly the thing they do. And ultimately, it would be wrong to not hold truth to be exclusive. If something is true, than the opposite is not: if A is true, then not A is false.
"...radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam in a country like America."
-Rosie O'Donnell
There is a basic confusion about statements of faith that sadly afflicts a lot of people who are ignorant about Christianity. Christianity is not the manic bloodthirsty attack of the Crusader - that was a violation of Christian doctrine, a rape of the Bible and what it teaches. The Bible teaches, very briefly, that all are lost in sin and need a savior, that when you become a Christian you are saved from your sin by the work of Jesus Christ, not your own efforts. That transformation is a spiritual one, it brings you life inside that transforms you over your life to slowly, sometimes painfully, be a better person more like Christ. There's no possibility of conversion by force or coercion, it cannot be done, literally. When Jew reads Ann Coulter's words and sees Torquemada, they are not understanding Christianity.

Christians don't want to force people to act like Christians through the rule of law, the Christian faith doesn't teach violent overthrow nor does it teach the forceful submission of unbelievers. It teaches the humble spreading of the good news and prayer that God will bring people to Him in His own way and time. Becoming a Christian does not involve tyranny, it involves - to the Christian - salvation and uplifting. Christianity teaches that we all dangle over a horrible doom like a spider on a web over a raging fire, held by the hand of God to use Jonathan Edwards' image from Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Salvation frees us from this terrifying doom, that's what makes it good news.

Christ AbusersI understand the concern that Jews have over Christians, some unspeakably evil things have been done to their ancestors over the centuries by people in the name of Christianity. Not that this is recent, and all the times it was done it was done in direct violation of the teachings of the Bible but that is a sad historical fact. Due to these past misdeeds, some have a very twisted and false understanding of what Christians believe and intend when they say "everyone ought to be a Christian." It's no different than saying "everyone ought to stop stabbing themselves in the eyes with screwdrivers" to the Christian - it's a wiser, better way that will save you from a horrid doom.

The problem is that for those who are religiously ignorant, they see Christians who want the world to be Christian and Muslims who want the world to be an Islamic caliphate, and can't see any difference: both are religious fanatics who want to take away my freedom and place me under their tyrannical laws! The two desires are almost diametrically opposed, but without understanding what both teach, its an easy mistake to make.

In this sense, Christians are the most to blame: people ought not be ignorant of the faith they embrace, especially as the Bible is the most widely available, most printed book in the history of mankind. The Bible is the world's bestseller every single day of every year since the printing press was invented. That means that the ignorance is the fault of Christians who are failing to make our case, and far too often that case when attempted is made with a poor attitude. Too many times the case is made arrogantly, it is made without humility and concern or love. It's made with the attempt to "defeat" the opposition rather than teach them and lead them in love and genuine concern for lost souls.

Even worse, Christians tend to buy into the culture around them rather than shape and influence that culture. This sad weakness - even sin - is where evils like the Inquisition and Crusades came from (note: I'm referring to the deeds that the crusaders often engaged in, not necessarily the crusades themselves, but that's another essay). It was embracing the worldview of the culture around them rather than leading with the Christian worldview that led to these evils.

Today, sadly, Christians often do the same thing. Groups like white supremacists combine false Christianity with hate. The Fred Phelps anti-war, anti-gay hate group slanders Jesus Christ and Christianity with their actions and statements. But these extreme examples are not the only way; Christians are surrendering to relativism and softening the message.

Remember the interfaith meeting in Shea Stadium after 9/11? All these different religious leaders stood up and made speeches about the evils done and condemning them, calling for brotherhood, justice, and praying for peace. All the Christian leaders stood up and made lukewarm, generic, tepid statements designed to be as harmless and toothless as possible so as not to offend or even concern the other faiths present. The Islamic cleric stood up and made the only absolute exclusive belief statement of the night, declaring Allah alone God and all other faiths false. He was the only one with the courage to stand for what he believed in. He was the only one who came across, ultimately, as believing what he said.

People will always find a way to attack what you say if they don't like it. Sometimes what you say cuts them under their armor, in a place they feel guilty about or suspect you may be right but don't want it to be true. They'll call you arrogant and intolerant and dangerous. Don't let their accusations be true - but don't let them stop you from telling the truth, either.
*Hat tip to Ace of Spades HQ and Right Wing News for the Ann Coulter and Harry Reid stories
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1 comment:

JoelT said...

Spot on my brother. Christian leadership could learn a good lesson from the Islamic cleric. If the word is the way the trhuth and the life, proclaim it!