There are a few of the issues that have faced Baptist bloggers through the years on which I have strong opinions, have staked out that opinion and have defended it forcefully. On many of the issues I don’t have a strong opinion and have concerned myself more with the tone and tenor of the debate than the debate itself. I’ve never touched a drop of “beverage alcohol” in my life, but neither have I been convinced by prohibitionist arguments that the Bible prohibits moderate use of alcohol. I believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation but I am not convinced by much of the Calvinist or Reformed system. I guess I’m a hard-core conservative moderate?
I’m caught in the middle on issues like this and find myself more concerned about how we speak to one another than whether someone has a glass of wine occasionally. I am more concerned about the accusations and insinuations of some Calvinists and anti-Calvinists in discussions of the subject here. Whatever we believe about election or predestination, shouldn’t we be able to discuss issues in a more collegial manner than we often do.
All of that is just to say that I am often more interested in the process of discussion than the content of discussion. And there is a debate tactic I have observed with increasing frequency, one that I do not believe is worthy of Christian discourse. Simply put, it is the use of ridicule to nullify a person’s arguments. I have found myself to be guilty of the tactic at times.
The use of ridicule is empty of logic and spiritual value, but it can be incredibly powerful. For that reason, each of us needs to take care in how we use the tactic.
Of course there is a fine line here. We tease each other a lot here at SBC Voices. I have said some pretty horrible things about a certain football team that recently won a championship in a game they shouldn’t have been in. I gave a certain Alabama pastor a lot of (I think well-deserved) grief about that. We trash-talk sports and politics and even tease about other issues. But I think there is a different between harmless teasing and ridicule – nullifying a person’s beliefs by belittling them.
(By the way, there is a simple rule of thumb for teasing. If the person you tease gets his feelings hurt, its on you. Apologize or explain. If your teasing causes pain, take responsibility for it.)
Examples of Argument by Ridicule
Let me give you some specifics examples I have observed recently, in which people (myself included) used the ridicule tactic to belittle the beliefs of others.
1. Political Ridicule – what would politics be without ridicule? After a long struggle, I decided to caucus for Rick Santorum last week here in Iowa. A friend of my son’s, who is also a Facebook friend of mine, began linking to YouTube videos and articles from left-wing papers claiming that Santorum was crazy. Crazy. I saw that word several times.
Is Rick Santorum crazy? I really don’t think so. You can like his politics or not. But it is a lot easier to simply call him crazy than to refute what he stands for. Politics is rife with nullification by ridicule.
2. Political Ridicule, Dave style – I wish I were above this myself, but as a matter of fact, it is after I used this tactic with a friend that I began to reflect on its propriety. I have a few friends who were supporters of Ron Paul. I simply cannot see how anyone can support Ron Paul, because of his libertarianism and his foreign policy. But I didn’t offer an analysis of Paul’s views. I simply told him, “Don’t drink the Kool-aid.”
Of course, we all know what that means. Jim Jones. People’s Temple. Mind control cults. I cannot imagine the horror of a Ron Paul presidency, but he is not Jim Jones. I took the easy road, the low road. Rather than analysis or argument, I used ridicule.
3. Tweeting Ridicule. Speaking of the low road, back on Christmas day I read a tweet that was a perfect example of dismissal of a viewpoint by ridicule. The tweeter tweeted this tweet, “It’s that time of a holiday night that I begin to worry about sharing the road with moderationists.”
What is the implication of this? That moderationists are actually drunks who are a menace on the highways. The tweeter might defend this statement as a harmless joke, but it is actually anything but harmless. It is either a serious accusation of sin or it is slander.
I think it is an incredibly unfair statement. Moderationists believe drunkenness to be a sin every bit as much as abstentionists do. A true moderationist would not be out driving drunk. It was a classic case of using ridicule instead of either logic or exegesis.
Again, I don’t really have a horse in that race. I’m sort of an moderate abstentionist or an abstaining moderationist or some sort of messed up middle road on the issue. I was home stone cold sober that holiday night.
But why disrespect, slander and show utter disregard for those who disagree with you? Abstentionists hold their position based on what they believe the Bible to teach. Moderationists do as well. They believe they are being faithful to the Word in their views on alcohol.
Why not show respect to disagreeing brothers instead of slanderous ridicule?
4) Eschatological Ridicule – this is the one that aggravates me. I hold an increasingly unpopular eschatological position (moderate dispensational premillennialism). I understand that it is a view that is out of vogue with the young Southern crowd (my youth pastor, for instance – if you’re reading this, Si, I’m buying you Left Behind for Kindle!).
I came to that view after long Bible study. I have an IQ well into the mid-70s and I read my Bible and studied it and I came to that view as my own. If you think I’m wrong, fine. Let’s argue it. Show me exegetically why you think I’m wrong.
But that which I believe is almost never dealt with today. Sometimes, people deal with caricatures and misrepresentations of what I believe. But mostly, what people do is ridicule the view I hold. I guess they believe that if they make light of some lightweight pre-trib fiction, they have nullified the view.
There are some pretty serious scholars who hold to the same position I do. Deal with Walvoord and Pentecost and Ryrie and Vlach, not just Salem Kirban and Tim LaHaye. Ridicule is not an effective way to argue eschatology, or any other doctrine.
5. Proclamation by Ridicule – it’s pretty easy to dismiss Osteen or Benny Hinn, or even Mark Driscoll through the use of ridicule. In fact, when we can even get preacher points from the congregation by ridiculing others – it appeals to the flesh and the desire for superiority. But ridicule of others is not preaching. But we should deal
I could go on and on. But I would urge the readers and commenters here to reconsider the use of ridicule as argument. It can seem witty, and can be a powerful tool. But ridicule may intimidate but it never convinces and I believe it is inappropriate in Christian discussion. I’ve done it. So have you. We’ll probably both fall into it again in the future. But it would be better if we did not. It is an empty tool – it accomplishes nothing of spiritual value. And it is unworthy of servants of the Living God.