Friday, December 07, 2012


A student at the local university wrote in to the Abolish Human Abortion page, requesting an interview with one of the agitators-in-residence.
I volunteered, as a I certainly qualify as an agitator.
The questions and their answers allowed me to delve into some of the reasons I blog the way I do and live the way I do. Perhaps they will interest you too.

     Would you consider yourself to be pro-life or pro-choice?
I am an abolitionist of human abortion, so entirely pro-life.

     What factors do you attribute to presenting a strong argument for your point of view?
Reasoned analysis and logical coherency. Also, since the question of abortion is fundamentally a moral question, the issue of authority must be dealt with fundamentally, lest one commit the naturalistic fallacy.

     Which of these would you say is the most important?
Probably the question of authority. It's most important because it's so little understood.

     Communication competence is defined as the balance of appropriateness and effectiveness. For example, one would want to be more appropriate than effective when explaining a complex problem in a formal setting. Whereas, one would want to be more effective than appropriate when attempting to persuade an opposing party to agree with your perspective. When debating a controversial issue, like abortion, describe how you manage these two variables in order to make a strong argument.
There is one answer for face-to-face scenarios and another for Internet-based interactions. 
Face-to-face: I make an effort to judge the initial parameters of the encounter, the context, the way the person approached me or the trigger that brought me to approaching them. For example, discussing this question at work during “work time” as an aside is different from discussing it at work during break is different from “on the street” encounters is different from family. And of course, as the situation develops and body language, tone of voice, volume of voice, level of interruption, etc, proceed, I must adapt. Most times, since most people are incapable of maintaining calm during these types of debates, I must move toward less effectiveness and more appropriateness, in an effort to continue the interaction and lessen the risk of the interlocutor(s) simply losing their temper or disengaging altogether.  
In some cases I have moved toward more effectiveness/stridency in these encounters. That sort of thing is definitely the minority of occurrences and usually happens because I have detected a particularly pernicious hypocrisy or, in at least one case, where a promising discussion was developing with Person X but then Person Y intervened out of nowhere and seemingly turned Person X's demeanor totally against me, such that X became unwilling to consider my position seriously.
Internet-based interactions are usually very different because one does not have the benefit of access to body language, tone of voice, etc. Further, people that one meets on the street, for example, are not necessarily particularly interested in discussing the issue or do not necessarily have a great deal of confidence in their abilities to discuss it. If someone seeks out my blog or the Abolish Human Abortion page, however, and of their own free will open a dialogue by posting a comment, it is a safe assumption that they are willing to discuss the issue. This doesn't guarantee they are OK with a reply once it is given or that they do indeed have any knowledge, as sometimes people merely reply with an emotional drive-by comment, but the chances are greater. 
Another relevant consideration: what is said on the Internet is in most cases semi-permanent, whereas words spoken face-to-face are transient.
A final consideration: Someone like an AHA admin or a Christian “godblogger” (of which I am both) has seen the same challenges repeated dozens of times and maintaining patience is challenging with the same things over and over, so that contributes to a more strident tone of writing, more clipped replies, less benefit of the doubt given to the challenger.      

     In what ways would you frame your argument differently if you were speaking to a stranger with the opposing view, in contrast with someone of your own family with the opposing view?
In my particular case, since most everyone on my side of the family claims to be a Christian, I would begin at a more fundamental level, parsing what God has already told humanity about the question, whatever it may be, and asking, if they disagree with what the Bible teaches on the topic, why they think they know better than God.
With a stranger, I usually ask numerous questions at the start, because I don't know anything about their position. So I guess you could say that with family, I start off with a great deal more background knowledge than a stranger, though I can often infer what a stranger believes with a few questions answered, because the person's worldview is usually not unique.

     When speaking with someone who shares your perspective on this controversial issue, which points do you emphasize more and which do you omit?
I usually focus more on the meta-debate with someone who shares my perspective; we discuss what it's like to discuss it with others, how better to debate with others, etc. We also talk about the history of the issue, the theological underpinnings, and the theological outworkings, in many cases rejoicing together that God has led us to the truth of that question.
We don't usually debate the issue except rehashing a little of it, in jest or as devil's advocate to blow off steam or to sharpen each other. 

     What is the reason for this omission?
We agree so there's obviously no need to debate the issue. 

     In what ways do your speaking style, tone, and choice of words vary when speaking to people from differing generations?
I make a conscious effort to say “sir” or “ma'am” with someone who is obviously older than me, even if only a little. I try to take a slightly more formal tone of voice and use a higher level of vocabulary, but I am certainly capable of achieving the same appropriateness/effectiveness ratio even given those facts. 

I use more slang, slur my words a bit more, and try to empathize more. I am not sure why I empathize more, to be honest. It may be that I feel more freedom to relate to the younger person because of the age gap. 

     “Saving face” is described as the action or actions one takes in order to reduce incrimination of oneself or someone else. Can you describe a time when you did not fully express your point of view with a loved one or family member in order to “save face” for them?
Jesus identified one of the two greatest commandments as “love your neighbor as yourself”, and one of the things I must remember in encounters with family is that the relationship extends beyond the debate at the moment, which is of course not usually the case with online or street encounters. If the loved one is losing her temper or shows little grasp of the implications of her stated position and an unwillingness to learn at the moment, I consign the situation to the hands of Jesus and resolve to pray for the person and relent, either retreating to a statement that is slightly less controversial or on which we both agree, or simply saying something like “Well, hey, I appreciate your thoughts on this matter. Thanks for talking with me about it.” And then allow them to change the subject or change it myself.
Of course, sometimes the whole interaction ends in a very awkward moment and there's nothing to be done but endure it and get the hint that they don't want to talk about it anymore.

     How did that make you feel?
I never enjoy it but I do try to take it into account in future considerations. Sometimes I feel ashamed that I wasn't “courageous” enough to pursue the matter further, to press a little more. Sometimes I regret that I zigged in the conversation when I should have zagged and try to learn from that regret. Sometimes it is a challenge not to retain bitterness at the person who was so unwilling to listen to reason about the important topic.

     How would you alter your actions or argument?
Most often I have recognised, as mentioned above, that I must pick my 'battles' with more care, and instead of jumping in to engage a given substantive question on the level at which it is brought up in conversation, rather I should try to segue from the level at which it was introduced to a relevant but more fundamental angle, that is, the angle of authority: Who gets to say what is right and wrong? With a professing Christian, I bring up the question along the lines of “is Jesus correct when He said X and Y about that topic?” and once that is settled, “Why would we disagree with Jesus?” 
With someone who does not have a credible profession of Christian faith, I will often ask a similar question anyway, the better to challenge people to think through the fact that Jesus Himself claimed many times to be God in the flesh, worthy of worship, and possessing authority to tell us all what to do. 
An additional advantage in taking the question that direction is that it reduces the stress level somewhat. I am honestly unsure why it has that effect, but it may be that most people are not used to discussing such questions at that level and so their emotions have not been inflamed on it as much in the past.

     We live in a politically correct society where language and word choice is, sometimes, as legally reprehensible as physical violence. We have to constantly monitor our phrasing especially when speaking to someone we respect or have to pretend to respect. Please describe a time in which you had to petty-fog the issue of abortion in order to achieve some kind of favorable outcome for yourself?
I am afraid I will have to answer this with a scenario that represents something of an amalgam of various experiences I have had over the course of time rather than one single example, since I can't really think of one in particular. My apologies.
In certain situations, especially group situations, either at, say, work or in a family setting, the issue will occasionally come up but I sort of  intuit (or my wife intuits, and communicates her intuition with a tap on the arm or the foot or something) that a mere spark could cause something of a conflagration and a poor outcome for everyone. I am reasonably comfortable in that sort of situation, keeping my calm when others around me are freaking out, but I recognise that it can damage relationships on the other end, so I restrict my speech. It is common for poor arguments to be made by others in the circle, and I have decisive rebuttals to all of them, but people are often not ready to hear them and be challenged in such a way. Winning an argument has merit sometimes, but it is far better to win a person, and that person has to be ready to be defeated in argument before they will be won, and I try to be wise and carefully select how I come across, with that in mind. Not always successful, of course, but I try.
Thus instead of “hogging” the floor and tearing all the bad arguments to shreds one by one with three or more points, I take the Greg Koukl approach of attempting to “put a stone in their shoe” - I try to find a pithy and memorable way of asking a question or making one or two points with courtesy and a very polite, reasonable tone of voice, in the hope that it will stick with people and make them think about it long after the interaction is over.

     Did you feel that it damaged your integrity?
Mostly my pride, really. I do wonder at the balance between pursuing what is wise, exercising the right ratio of force and proper restraint, etc. Since the standing command from the Lord Jesus is to love one's neighbor, I do as well as I can at the time and trust Jesus with the results, asking for His forgiveness the times that I recognise I have not done so.  

     Being an advocate of something means that you hold strong beliefs and you, yourself, recognize this. What qualities would you say define advocates and how do those qualities affect your everyday life?
I am an abolitionist because I follow the Lord Jesus in all things, and He has given me a heart that loves to serve Him and a mind that recognises His lordship over everything and how that lordship makes sense of all questions. Thus whether the question is relational, political, theological, practical, or whatever else, it always comes back to: What has the Lord said about this? In some cases (such as abortion, or religious pluralism), He has spoken clearly and so my stated positions are in line with His. In some cases, He has told me how to act (ie, humbly, lovingly, patiently) with people, and yet those are all points at which I struggle. As an advocate, it can be challenging not to debate all the time and to act like I am right all the time. There is far more to life than abolition of abortion; there is loving my wife and children, sharpening and fellowshiping with fellow believers in Jesus, worshiping the Lord in prayer and song and giving, service to others, working a job to support my family, etc. Nobody wants to argue all the time, not even I, and I like to argue more than most. I try to remember that fact in other areas of life. Sometimes, other people have to help me remember. 

     Abortion and its ethicality is one of the most important, if not the most important, issue placed upon the 2012 Presidential Election. In what ways has an unwillingness to discuss this issue in our everyday lives hindered or promoted solution formation?
Oh, this is huge. Since people are generally unwilling to discuss it, that means the absolutely decisive arguments in favor of abolition and the decisive rebuttals of all the pro-abortion-choice do not get their proper airing. Instead, the vast majority of people are vulnerable to snappy soundbites thrown out by mainstream media pundits, and they merely repeat them as if they are unassailably true. It also makes them frequently unwilling to listen to any counterargument longer than a few second, and leads to undeserved and unreflected-upon, reflexive contempt for the worldview that Jesus espoused.  It absolutely hinders solution formation because so few people are thinking it through, and when so little brainpower is turned toward any purpose, it is difficult to solve it.
Also, it makes people unwilling to consider how they can actually be part of the solution. As one example, a common emotionally-appealing but poorly-considered objection to abolition regards children currently awaiting adoption and foster care in the USA. If people were to think that question through, they might realise that degree of wantedness or acceptance does not determine whether someone deserves to live or die, but that objection would be done away with if American Christians would merely step up and open their homes to these children. There are far fewer of these children than there are Christian families in the USA. But such an obligation to care for orphans, as is expressed in the Epistle of James, chapter 1, is rarely mentioned from the pulpits of American churches. Parachurch organisations and government agencies take care of that kind of thing, so churches and families don't have to get their hands dirty or encounter real pain and real help in the real world.  

     Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under the Bush Administration, Mike Mullen was quoted as saying, “We are in a generational war and we need to take a long view and think strategically about how we manage our risks…” How does the reality that differing generations have differing values affect the extent to which you disclose information?
Mostly it affects my starting posture with respect to the extent to which I expect the person to tolerate my commentary, and the tone, etc, with which I do so, as discussed above. The unfolding of the dialogue can change my view at any time; just a few weeks ago I passed by a man seated at a table in Panera with an open Bible with red lettering. He was in his 60s and had wild, grey hair. There were a few other factors, but my starting expectation was that he was an aged hippy and would have a liberal outlook. I introduced myself and said that I'd noticed his open Bible. He invited me to be seated and we had an interesting conversation, but my initial judgment about him was mistaken. I was happy to correct it, but I of course did not express any of that initial judgment; it merely turned the questions I asked him in a slightly different direction than otherwise, at first, until I understood his actual positions, at which point I amended my judgment.  

     In what ways were you comfortable/uncomfortable during the course of this interview?
I was mostly comfortable because I actually love truth and love talking about this stuff because the Lord Jesus saved me and has given me a heart to love truth, to proclaim His Word, and to speak out on behalf of the weak and oppressed (the preborn) who cannot speak for themselves. Trying to properly represent myself in this brief space and do my best to ensure that the expression of my worldview and its outworkings is as clear as possible to someone who, I fully recognise, probably does not share my Reformed Christian, abolitionist outlook. 

1 comment:

bossmanham said...

Clearly you're a wild-eyed fundy.