On the Death of Debate and Logic

Apparently my previous post makes very little sense, since the video clip to which I had intended to link is no longer at that URL. Pity. It was a video of Matt Lauer interviewing Ann Coulter. You can actually find it here. My point was (and is) neither the substance of the argument nor the stances of the parties, but the manner in which this exchange was had. It was a matter of baiting, not debating. The transcript:

ML: David Gregory just mentioned, if you ask people in this country what they care about today, they say “Iraq; they care about gas prices.” Things like gay marriage and flag burning are way, way down on the list, yet that’s what the President’s talking about this week; that’s what the Senate’s taking up. Why?

AC: Um, I don’t know what people are talking about, or how David Gregory knows that, but I do know that gay marriage amendments have been put on the ballots in about 20 States now, and have passed by far larger numbers than Bush won the election by.

ML: But the President talked about it in 2004 and then basically never talked about it again until now. Obviously we’re in an election cycle, gearing up for the midterm elections. Isn’t this just an overt way to say to this social conservative base, “Look, I’ll talk about it again. Come out and vote for me,” even though that base knows he’s not going to talk about it again for the next two years?

AC: I think they also know he’s not running again. So why does he care?

ML: Here’s how E. J. Deon puts it in the Washington Post this morning, quote, “The Republican Party thinks its base of social conservatives is a nest of dummies who have no memories and respond like bulls whenever red flags are waved in their faces.” Do you agree with that?

AC: That, that the base are dummies…

ML: Yeah.

AC: …or that Bush thinks that?

ML: That basically he can wave a red flag and they’re going to run to the polls and respond to him.

AC: They don’t need—I’m saying—they don’t need to respond to him. Why would this—he be pandering to anyone? He’s not running again.

ML: Well, but they—they— He’s not running again, but they want the voters to turn out in the midterm elections. They don’t want to lose control of the congress.

AC: Well, maybe they want to do what the voters want. And it’s—I mean, whatever you can say about whether or not Bush has a mandate, the mandate against gay marriage is pretty strong, and it passed by like 85% in Mississippi. Even in Oregon, and that was the State that the groups supporting gay marriage fixated on and spent—they outspent their opponents by like 40:1…

ML: Lemme try it this way…

AC: …it passed even there. There is a mandate against gay marriage.

ML: …Do you think George Bush, in his heart, really cares strongly about that issue?

AC: I don’t know what anybody cares in his heart.

ML: Would you take a guess? I mean, people around the President, the Vice President…

AC: …I know what Americans think because they keep voting. Over and over and over again, overwhelmingly they reject gay marriage.

ML: The President’s approval…

AC: So why is that a bad thing for politicians to respond to what is overwhelmingly a mandate?

ML: Because they seem to selectively respond to it at times when we’re in an election cycle.

AC: I don’t know. I mean, on one hand you say it isn’t that important. On the other hand you say, well, it took them a while to get to it. Maybe he took—it took him a while to get to it because it’s not that important.

ML: The President’s approval rating’s right now in the low thirties. What’s the main reason for that, in your opinion?

AC: He hasn’t read my book yet.

ML: No, really.

AC: There’s an important book that comes out today, Matt.

ML: What’s the main reason for it, in your opinion?

AC: Um…I don’t know. I’d—I—I mean…I think his stand on immigration probably isn’t helpful.

ML: M’kay, let me tell you what you said, and I asked you that very same question. October of 2005 you were here. At the time the President’s approval ratings were about 40%. Here’s what you said at that time: “I think all he has to do is—um, he’s made one mistake: Harriett Miers. He just has to eliminate that mistake and everything will be fine.” He just has to eliminate that mistake. Everything will be fine. She eliminated herself.

AC: I didn’t realize he was going to make additional mistakes.

ML: Ok, so is immigration the only mistake? What about Iraq? I mean, don’t we tend to find a scapegoat issue when the real reason is Iraq and that’s a hard problem to fix?

AC: I don’t think so. I mean, and that’s the one thing he’s doing right, and that the Democrats are incapable of, of doing, and that is fighting the war on terrorism.

ML: But no, I’m talking about the war in Iraq, not the war on terrorism.

AC: Right, I consider them the same thing. Thus, …

ML: Alright, let me give you some—

AC: …I mean, we didn’t invade Guatemala.

ML: Let me give you some quotes from your book, all right? These are random.

AC: Yes! Now we’re in a subject I want.

ML: “Environmentalists’ energy plan is a repudiation of American Christian destiny which is jetskis, steak on the electric grill, hot showers, and night skiing. Liberalism is a religion, a comprehensive believe system denying the Christian belief in man’s immortal soul…,” and you go on to say, “Liberalism is the opposition party to God.”

AC: Yes.

ML: How do you think Democrats who believe in God are going to feel about that statement?

AC: They probably won’t like it. They don’t like a lot of things I say.

ML: Is it a fair statement, you think?

AC: Yes.

ML: How about this one?

AC: Yes, that’s why I wrote a book about it.

ML: Referring to liberals again, “To a liberal, 2200 military deaths in the entire course of the war in Iraq is unconscionable, but 1.3 million aborted babies in America every year is something to celebrate.”

AC: Yes.

ML: You think people celebrate?

AC: They manifestly do. There are huge rallies for it. That is the one issue that’s more important to the Democratic Party than any other. I mean, Bill Clinton, the last—

ML: Do you think they celebrate the right to choose or the actual abortion?

AC: The last candidate the Democrats got into the White House was Bill Clinton. I take that as a fair assessment of whom the Democrats will choose as their representative. Bill Clinton sold out every single special interest group: the criminal rights group, the welfare bureaucrats. The one group he would not stand up to were the abortion ladies, vetoing bans on partial birth abortion—a gruesome procedure—passed by overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate. Twice Clinton vetoed that. That tells me what the Democrat—

ML: Do you believe—

AC: —ic Party thinks about abortion.

ML: Do you believe everything in this book, or do you put some things in there just to cater to your base?

AC: Um, no, of course I believe everything.

ML: All right, on the 9/11 windows—widows, and in particular a group that had been outspoken and critical of the Administration: “These self-obsessed women seem genuinely unaware that 9/11 was an attack on our nation, and acted as if the terrorist attack only happened to them. They believe the entire country was required to marinate in their exquisite personal agony. Apparently denouncing Bush was an important part of their closure process.” And this part is the part I really need to talk to you about. “These broads are millionaires lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities, and stalked by ‘grieferazzis.’ I’ve never seen people enjoying their husbands’ deaths so much.”

AC: Yes.

ML: Because they dare to speak out?

AC: To speak out using the fact that they’re widows. This is the Left’s doctrine of infallibility. If they have a point to make—about the 9/11 Commission, about how to fight the war on terrorism—how about sending in somebody we’re allowed to respond to. No, no, no, we always have to respond to someone who just had a family member die,—

ML: But aren’t they the people in the middle of the story?

AC: —because then if we respond, Oh, you’re questioning their authenticity. No, the story is—

ML: So grieve, but grieve quietly.

AC: —No, the story is an attack on the nation.

ML: And by the way—

AC: That requires a foreign policy response.

ML: And by the way,—

AC: That does not entail the expertise—

ML: —they also criticized the Clinton Administration for their failures leading up to 9/11.

AC: Oooh, not the ones I’m talking about. Oh no, no, no.

ML: They have. They have.

AC: No, no, no, no, no.

ML: But is your message to them, “Just grieve but—

AC: No, they were cutting commercials for Kerry. They were using their grief in order to make a political point while preventing anyone from responding.

ML: So if you lose a husband you no longer have a right to have a political point of view?

AC: No, but don’t use the fact that you lost a husband as the basis for your being able to talk about it while preventing people from responding. Let Matt Lauer make the point. Let Bill Clinton make the point. Don’t put up someone I’m not allowed to respond to without questioning the authenticity of the grief. And this i—

ML: Well, but apparently you are allowed to respond to them.

AC: Well, yeah, I did.

ML: Right, so in other words—

AC: —But that is the point of liberal infallibility—of putting up Cindy Sheehan, of putting out these widows, of putting up Joe Wilson. “Oh, no, no. You can’t respond. It’s their doctrine of infallibility.

ML: Well, what I’m saying is they—

AC: Let somebody else make the argument.

ML: I’m saying is, I don’t think they’ve ever told you you can’t respond. So why can’t they make their point?

AC: Look! You’re getting testy with me!

ML: No, I’m just, I think it’s a—

AC: Oh…

ML: I think it’s a—I think it’s a dramatic statement. “These broads”—you know?—“are millionaires stalked by ‘grieferazzi’…I’ve never seen—”

AC: Yeah, you think I shouldn’t be able to respond to them.

ML: “I’ve never seen people enjoying their husbands’ deaths so much”?

AC: Mm-hmm. Yes! They’re all over the news!

ML: The book is called Godless: The Church of Liberalism. Ann Coulter. Always fun to have you here.

AC: Hey, where’s Katie? Did she leave or something?

ML: She did.

This is what I’m talking about. Debate is dead. Logic is dead. Civility in discussions about closely held beliefs is dead. Intelligent dialogue seems to be in its death throes. What’s alive and well is emotional appeal, sophisticated (used in the classical sense) obfuscation in order to score points on the aforementioned emotional appeal (and the collected entailments of said emotional appeal), and a simple lack of logical reasoning.

Why do I care?

Because I believe one could change the subject of the above argument to one of theological significance and observe it or a thousand others like it within the LCMS.

Because I believe that if we, as a church body, were actually willing to be subject to the Scriptures, confess the Confessions that we claim to confess, and let these rule in our conversations, we might actually get somewhere positive.

Because I believe that if we exchanged passive-aggressive conversational tendencies for civil tongues our ears would be less prone to shut (either to the erring, whose error we ought to seek to hear to offer appropriate correction, or to the one who speaks from the truth of God’s Word, whose correction we ought to rejoice to receive).

Because I believe that if we would agree together to begin with the Word of God as our premise and employ sound logic in our discussions (read: a ministerial use of reason) our discussions would be more edifying to the body of Christ.*

Because it’s district convention season, and I’m sick of fruitless resolutions which undermine the proclamation of God’s Law and Gospel. That which claims to be “RESOLVED” can only be true if it is based on true “WHEREAS” statements. Perhaps logic ought to be taught in seminary.

* Note: For an example of a sound ministerial use of reason, pick up Martin Chemnitz. In The Lord’s Supper, J. A. O. Preus, trans, he writes the following (pp. 198-99):

For human reason understands and our senses themselves grasp that a true human body by reason of its proportion and size cannot be extended and diffused into infinity, but rather has a certain symmetry of its proportions and a certain position of its parts and members, and is circumscribed to one particular place in such a way that by its own natural power it cannot at one and the same time be truly and substantially present in many different places (note: This is reasonable logic, based on human experience.). Now Scripture certainly affirms that the Son of God according to His human nature has been made like unto His brethren in all respects except for sin (note: Here divine revelation is brought to bear.).

Therefore, although the proper and natural meaning of the words of institution asserts the true and substantial presence of the body and blood of the Lord in all those places in which the Lord’s Supper is celebrated, yet because the human mind cannot comprehend how this can take place while the true integrity of the human nature remains intact, it seeks various pretexts on the basis of other Scripture passages in order that it can under some appearance of being Biblical depart from the proper and natural meaning of the testament of the Son of God (note: Here reason trumps revelation (magisterial use) while trying to maintain the appearance of a ministerial use.).

Further, the explanation of this argument will be easier and plainer if the individual points of this argument are considered in their bare and dialectical brevity minus the ornamental flowers of the rhetoricians.

If the major proposition of this argument is stated thus: The human body according to the common and usual condition of its nature is circumscribed to one certain place in such a way that by its own physical nature and power it cannot be in many different places at the same time, then the proposition is true, but it draws no conclusions which are in opposition to the substantial presence of the body of Christ in the Supper. For this does not come about by the common and usual mode of nature, nor by natural power and human reason, but by divine power and heavenly reason.

In order to give this argument binding force it will therefore be necessary to state the major proposition in such a way that not even with divine power can a true human body, while retaining the integrity of human nature and while not destroying the substance of the body, be in many different places at one and the same time. But if the premise is put this way, then it will have to be established by certain, manifest, and firm testimonies from Scripture that divine wisdom does not know any way and divine omnipotence does not have the power to discover a means whereby, if it so desires, it knows how and is able to cause a human body, with the integrity of its substance intact, to be at the same time in many places. Moreover, I am certain that such impotence attributed to God cannot be demonstrated or established from any passage of Scripture. And who in the church would ever bring up such an argument without any proof from the Word of God, indeed contrary to the express testimony of Scripture and to the absolute, infinite, immeasurable, and incomprehensible omnipotence of God, a notion which someone has created and strung together with a physical chain and geometric shackles? In what Scripture passage and where is such an idea taught, that the divine omnipotence, if it so willed, could not cause a true human body to be in many places while still preserving intact the integrity of its substance? If someone should say that it cannot be imagined or comprehended by human reason how this could take place with the actuality of the body preserved, this is certainly not a sufficient reason to say that therefore the divine omnipotence could not do a certain thing when we know it can do things superabundantly above all that we can imagine (Eph. 3.20). And yet unless the major premise is posed in this manner, this argument opposing the presence of the body of Christ in the Supper is inconclusive.

Certain of our adversaries have noticed this point and therefore do not use the entire argument but only propose the conclusion; or at least they do not propose the major premise in its proper form or in the place or order where it ought to be, but conceal it among their rhetorical declamations.

Revelation. Logic—real logic—subject to and ruled by that revelation. If we were willing to dismiss our agendas and be subject to the Word of God. If we were willing to have civil, logical discussions normed by that Word of God. Yeah, yeah. “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…” I got it. All of this is a pipedream thanks to that disease called post-modern thinking. But a guy can dream.

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