Renovating Rhetorical Faces

Some people are natural born fighters. Some are, but I’m not. Sure, I lost my temper as a kid and swung my fists a few times, but there was no real pleasure in it. Even as I got older I eschewed battle, both physical and rhetorical. Like most, I believe there are things worth fighting for; I just don’t like the feeling of renovating someone’s face with my knuckles. Not even their rhetorical faces. Everybody fights. Some people just like scrapping more than others.

Ironically, I don’t like to fight mainly when the issue at hand matters too much. I know what I believe and why I believe it, and reading counter-arguments hurts. Not because they cause doubt or make me rethink things (though they do sometimes). I can handle that. Rather, it’s because I hate seeing people disagree on issues that have such severe consequences. I ache, and I have to overcome it.

I figured I could try one of two approaches: distance myself from the person, or distance myself from the issue.

I could hang in and argue as long as I could maintain the illusion that the person I was debating was basically a cardboard cutout with opinions. Cardboard people couldn’t wound me and I couldn’t really wound them. But this ends up dehumanizing people who are made in God’s image. They were easier to spar with, to mock, to disparage, and a lot harder to love.

Alternatively, I could distanced myself from issues. If I approach them analytically I could treat whatever situation as though it was hypothetical. Still, I think this approach misses the mark. For one thing, it’s dishonest. Truth has emotive content. Objective truths matter objectively, but they also matter subjectively. To fully divorce fact from feeling is another dehumanizing act. So I can’t pretend there is no subjective, emotional aspect to an argument. It’s a part of the package.

To take a very current example, there is a lot of emotional content to either version of this sentence: “Homosexual sex is laudable/immoral.” True, there is often too much emotion in this topic, but the right amount of emotion exists. This is the emotion that is borne by someone who has loved someone else for a long time and strongly desires to declare his or her love in a union fully sanctioned by society. It is also the emotion of someone who sees that a culture is changing the core unit of that society without reference to the creator God around whom they center their lives. Truth matters objectively, but it also matters subjectively.

It’s this subjectivity that causes the ache. Emotions are high on both sides, which inevitably leads to loss and fracture. Enter the fight and you can’t go back. Declare sides, and there are people who despise you, instantly losing interest in hearing you. They often don’t know or don’t care that they are dismissive. To them you moved beyond the pale, and it’s time to pay. No matter who you are you have an orthodoxy, and there are always heretics. And as reformers often discover, there are few who keep their word to a heretic.

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