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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Weekly Trivia Files #13, Don't Delude Yourself

I'm getting close to wrapping up this particular weekly trivia series, but I've still got a few good points to make, if you'll stay with me.

This week I found myself thinking about the history of the public school in the United States.  Very early on, in the days of the first European settlers on the continent, people only sent their children to school for a brief window of time each year (maybe 3 months or so), but when they did, the little girls went, too.  Literacy, above all else, was important to these early settlers, since they had been denied literacy and access to the Bible in Europe.  They wanted all their children to be able to read the Bible, even if they had no other basic school knowledge.

Try to imagine what it was like being controlled in that way, and you'll understand why literacy was so important to these parents.  Back home in Europe they weren't allowed to think for themselves, or interpret what they learned for themselves, on penalty of imprisonment.  In other words, controlling what they knew was a way of subjugating them.  As long as they couldn't read, they couldn't know that they were being deceived or controlled.

How do argument fallacies fit into this discussion?  Well, the relationship isn't the clearest one, but from my perspective, illogical arguments are just another way of bringing the masses back under the control of a speaker or leader.  They subjugate the partially-educated with half-truths and bald-faced lies, reshaping the truth to fit a goal and convincing people to defend causes they otherwise would not have shared.  They are an insult to truth and intelligence, and, in my opinion, a danger to true Christianity.  Still, I see them creeping into religious discussion all the time.

Can I change this single-handedly?  Obviously, no, but I know my words can help a few people.  I'm fairly certain a few have been helped, already.

Rationalization: Making a Reason Out of an Excuse

Arguments are backed up by reasons--that is, points that are based on defensible, provable facts.  An excuse, on the other hand, is based on less-solid evidence, such as opinions, subjective observations, and wishes.  Excuses cannot be defended by logic; in fact, they are ways of escaping logic, perhaps because the logical conclusion is causing discomfort.

When a writer or speaker uses an excuse as a reason for doing something or not doing something, it is called rationalization.  I hear rationalization most frequently in polite conversation, where it is used to try to avoid hurting someone's feelings.  Unfortunately, sometimes people need to know the real truth, not just an excuse, and rationalization denies them this knowledge.  This could have disastrous consequences.

Example: "I've never been the best student.  In fact, I don't think I've ever been right about anything my whole life, so I guess I'll take your word that the Bible says what you're telling me it says."

Example: "Laban answered Jacob, 'The women are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks. All you see is mine. Yet what can I do today about these daughters of mine, or about the children they have borne? Come now, let's make a covenant, you and I, and let it serve as a witness between us.'" (Genesis 31: 43-44 NIV) (So Laban had promised his daughters and his flocks to Jacob as payment for many years of service, yet he excuses his pursuit of Jacob in this way.  He owns them; in fact, he's always had a right to everything, because some of it was once his.  Clearly, he's looking for an excuse not to admit that he's a liar who treats his own family badly, and that Jacob is right to run away.)


Kamal Singarapu said...

Read this few days ago and was blessed. Thanks Rachel!