FFQF

Favorite Founding Father's Quote Day

I wish their Ennemies could by any means be perswaded to carry on the War against them in Places where they might be sure of Tryumphs, instead of insitsing upon pursuing it, where they are Sure of Defeats.

John Adams to Benjamin Franklin
From The Hague, June 13, 1782
The Adams Papers: Papers of John Adams, vol. 13, May-October 1782, p. 117
(unmodernized, uncorrected text)

Here Adams is referring to the British, who were at war with France, Spain, Holland, and America. I can apply this to all kinds of situations in which I think people are more interested in fighting than in winning. They have a political objective that requires them to identify a specific enemy, attribute specific motives to that enemy, and publicly engage that enemy over a period of time; however, they have no practical objectives and show little willingness to accomplish anything efficiently.

On this account, I would criticize tax protestors; anti-abortion activists; anti-war activists; advocates for starting and continuing the Iraq War; intelligent design advocates; evolution advocates; the emergent church; the New Atheists; gay marriage opponents; Democrats under Bush; and Republicans under Obama.

These folks are playing some kind of public relations game in which they want to demonstrate “public support” for a hopeless position by flooding blogs, forums, chatrooms, radio airwaves, cable channels, and editorial pages with mindless grumbling and arguing. I call their positions “hopeless” because if they had faith in them, they would seek some kind of concrete improvement towards an achievable goal. Since they don’t really believe in the practical significance of their professed doctrine, they are content to flounder aimlessly in the mud pit with their opponents, as long as they can still hear the roar of the crowds.

Furthermore, this applies generally to most people who want to debate things on the Internet, in a bar, over a joint, or in any other situation where the method of discourse and the results don’t actually make any difference. If there is anything that you are willing to argue about with someone who is antagonistic or indifferent to you, it is probably something that you cannot care about. If you could care about it, you would model it more than talk about it; and you would seek strategic victory rather than meaningless, bloody fights followed by whining and bitter insults.

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10 thoughts on “FFQF

  1. Hello Dave! Glad to see you could participate today!

    Good quote by Adams. I think I see part of your point, but honestly, I don’t see how your criticisms apply to anti-abortion activists and intelligent design advocates. If their (or “our”?) causes are lost and all our efforts will not succeed in bringing our ideas to fruition, then we act like we don’t know. But I don’t think that we do not CARE. I think those who protest abortion really CARE about the infant lives, and they want policies to change, and so on.

    There are probably some out there who just want to put up a stink, but I don’t think it’s the leading majority of them that feel this way.

    For my part, if I’m going to fight, I want to win! 😀

    Thanks for participating. Happy FFQF!

  2. I chose a cross-section of examples from causes that I have different positions on, in order to emphasize that I am criticizing method rather than sentiment. I’m thinking of those who complain but refuse to act responsibly.

    For example, some abortion opponents want to help mail out a million empty red envelopes but do nothing to help teenage mothers avoid abortions, say by working at a crisis pregnancy clinic. Republicans said for years that if only they could hold all three branches of government, abortion would be made illegal; they did, but it wasn’t.

    ID proponents for years proposed no testable hypotheses, and so contributed nothing to science (I think that may be changing now, though). However, I am afraid that when ID does acquire some scientific legitimacy, it will not be what some Christians expect: its theories will probably look like those of John Davison or James Shapiro, and will not affirm the God of the Bible. In that sense, it would be difficult to justify caring about the scientific legitimacy of ID.

    But I don’t think that we do not CARE. I think those who protest abortion really CARE about the infant lives, and they want policies to change, and so on.

    I was “careful” in selecting my wording: I did not suggest that these people do not care, but rather that they cannot, because there is no actual person to which they attach their affections. What they care about is some vague idea or principle, rather than something in reality. They care more about a publicity stunt than a person (Matthew 6:1-5).

    If they cared about doing God’s will, they would seek some kind of concrete improvement towards an achievable goal (Matthew 7:15-23); but they don’t really believe in the practical significance of their professed doctrine, and so they are content to debate uselessly with their opponents, in order to gain public attention.

  3. Not certain about this Dave. Perhaps people just care about winning as you suggest, but many of these issues are battles of the mind. Thus giving a good defence may be a legitimate part of the end.

    For example, many people read forums who may not offer decisive comments. A response that is not convincing to the antagonist opponent may do little to challenge him, especially if he is bloody minded. However if his ideas can be shown to be empty, or he himself a fool, then there are many bystanders (metaphorically) that may adjust their worldview in the right direction. While right thinking is not the full end it is an important start.

    I am not certain about the ID camp, but the accusation about testable hypotheses is false within creationism and in general design theory. Virtually all of the same science can be used by evolutionists and creationists. It is not about separate tests, rather applying both theories to the same test. As much as evolutionists have had a theory (which they pretty much don’t have), creationists have had theories to the same level.

  4. bethyada,

    I think “giving a good defence” has its place, but a lot of what goes on is empty rhetoric. Although I am strongly in favor of people discussing issues openly, I oppose the notion that all opinions expressed have lasting significance. Most political opinions, for example, are completely meaningless, insofar as they concern people and events that we know little about and have no influence over.

    Since there may be incidental effects of our public conversations, I think it is important to present ideas as clearly and as honestly as possible. This allows individuals to make their own decisions about the meaning of the ideas discussed. Indeed, reading clear expositions of ideas online has influenced my own thinking.

    However, if exerting this kind of influence over others is our explicit objective, I think we are deceiving ourselves; for we cannot directly cause the desired thoughts in others, much less the desired behavior. Moreover, to the extent our efforts may be effective, it is because we are riding a wave of social fashion that is not under our control. The primary social effect of persuasive rhetoric is to motivate the unthinking crowd-pleasers who will change direction when the next motivator comes along.

    As to testable hypotheses, I find creationism more credible than ID or TENS. The reason I left creationists off of my list above, however, is that creationists have a tangible objective: to reveal the workings of the God of the Bible, so that people might be saved. The objective of ID seems to be to show that natural selection is stupid, but many of its supporters don’t seem to know why it matters. If their objective is to point to God, they are failing miserably.

    Likewise, the objective of TENS seems to be to show that design is stupid, but many of its supporters don’t seem to know why it matters. Since they can’t show that it has any significance for actual science, they are left with admitting that it is the perfect rationale for pantheism (not atheism, I say, since an atheist is just a repressed pantheist).

    The error among ID and creationist proponents was in trying to play a PR game with public school education, which only incites the paranoid fanatics who want to defend public school students against parental influence. Their battle should be in the laboratory and in the professional journals and conferences. They are wasting their time wrangling over public school curriculum, which is despised by everyone anyway.

    Finally, I note this:

    Perhaps people just care about winning as you suggest, but many of these issues are battles of the mind.

    Perhaps you misread my complaint, which was that some people care more about fighting than winning. They seem to believe that the battle in their mind is the most important thing, and this is played out in the various media.

    However, the battle in the minds of others is far more important; and this is won only through our testimony and the work of the Holy Spirit.

  5. “However, the battle in the minds of others is far more important; and this is won only through our testimony and the work of the Holy Spirit.”

    I think this statement finally gets down to the nuts and bolts of this discussion.

    All that we do should be done in obedience to God’s call on our lives. It matters not whether we see the fruit of our efforts. The current thinking in some circles that “the means justify the ends” arrogantly assumes that we know what ends God desires.

    When we testify to someone, only God knows whether we are leading them to salvation or heaping burning coals on their head.

    The results belong to God. Ours is but to obey.

  6. akaGaGa,

    In fact, you are pinpointing the “strategic victory” I was referring to above.

    I don’t advocate pragmatism as a philosophy; however, I advocate having rational temporal goals, because God advocates Christians judging other Christians based on whether they have rational temporal goals.

    For example, many anti-abortion activists think they are being pragmatic by working for political goals, when in fact they are wasting their time arguing while more babies die. I wish they could by any means be persuaded to carry on their war in places where they might be sure of triumphs (that is, witnessing in love to individual mothers; trying to arrange adoptions), instead of insisting upon pursuing war, where they are sure of defeat (in a pluralistic, democratic, federal political system).

  7. I agree. I think, though, that public debate (as opposed to meaningless ranting) is a necessary component of the greater battle. I never cease to be amazed at the ignorance of supposed Christians, who still equate “Christian” with “American” regardless of the evil perpetuated by our government.

    As God calls His people to get off the fence and choose whom they will serve, they need to be made aware that they are on a fence.

    This link is to a short, thoughtful piece on “Christian Patriotism” you might appreciate:

    http://www.thebereancall.org/node/7641

  8. Thanks for that link!

    Even John Adams acknowledged that it is fruitless to force “biblical government” upon an “immoral people,” hell-bent on conspiracy against their Creator.

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