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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Weekly Trivia Files #12, Us vs. You

Every week I talk about bad rhetoric, expressing my desire for those who truly know God to learn how to use rhetoric correctly when they are preaching the Bible (and when they are hearing it preached).

Still, rhetoric is only so useful.  I believe that the Bible is logical, but I also know that the most impeccable human logic doesn't save a human soul.  The fact is, people who don't want to listen will still refuse to listen, no matter what you tell them.  Salvation is a choice of the heart, and the decision is made where no one can interfere with it.

Ultimately, logic and rhetoric are just ways to present the truth on a platter.  Good logic cuts off all exit points except the choice the author or speaker wants the listener to make.  Bad logic tries to take shortcuts to this end, ignoring the listener's intelligence and trying to drag him or her along.  Whether (and how) the listener accepts what is offered is his or her personal choice. 

Ad Populum: Imaginary Common Ground

Ad Populum, Latin for " to the people," is a type of crowd appeal not unlike the Bandwagon fallacy.  This time you aren't being called "uncool" if you don't go along, but you're still going against an imagined crowd of people who are unified by a common belief--with the author speaking on behalf of this crowd.  This crowd's beliefs are vague, but unanimously held in common.  The gang is often called "we" or "us" and want "you" to join.  The one using the  Ad Populum argument assumes that you are part of the vaguely-defined group (or are favorable toward this group) and therefore will go along without further argument or logical debate.

Another recognizable characteristic of the Ad Populum argument is the use of emotionally-charged words and connotative meanings when describing the "group" the listener has been included in.  The broadcast media in the U.S. call them "hot button" terms, because they tend to inflame and blind the audience to the potential differences between themselves and the imagined "group."  In the non-religious world, that might include terms like "patriot," or "terrorist"; in the Christian community, that may include words like "Pharisee," or even "fellowship."  These words may be accurate descriptions, but they shouldn't be used in lieu of real reasons, definitions, and logic in a discussion.

Note: Christianity is full of "us" and "them" language, but the two groups are repeatedly and clearly defined (not vague).  Furthermore, the division of these two groups is not the end of the debate--it's the beginning.

Example: "Because we love our country, we won't go along with these radicals whose very existence threatens our peace."

Example: "Ahab king of Israel asked Jehoshaphat king of Judah, "Will you go with me against Ramoth Gilead?"
      Jehoshaphat replied, "I am as you are, and my people as your people; we will join you in the war." (2 Chronicles 18: 3 NIV). Jehoshaphat includes a lot of people who are not like Ahab in his generalized use of the word "we."  For him, this seemed to be the end of the debate; the two countries and their citizens were alike because they were descended from Abraham, and thus needed no further rhetorical persuasion to go to war.


Shannon said...

There are few arguments that will get a stronger "instant anger" response than this one--it feels almost like being slandered when a speaker includes you in a group without your consent. We've got to stay clear of this one if we want to win hearts for Christ!