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Thursday, July 07, 2016

Contributory Negligence

Reality is what it is, as one of my relatives is fond of endlessly repeating.

He’s right. Truth remains true no matter whether anyone believes it. God found fault with the peopleLet God be true though everyone were a liar. Etc., etc.

Truth also remains truth no matter who says it. God has communicated truth through donkeys, little foreign slave girls, and even corrupt, pseudo-religious political animals like Caiaphas.

Everyone has an obligation before God to identify truth and respond to it regardless of how that truth may be packaged. The personal failings of the messenger do not excuse us from this obligation.

In keeping with our theme, let’s see if we can learn from an atheist anarchist:
“It is a common defense of hypocritical intellectuals to say that their arguments cannot be judged by their own contradictory behaviour, but must be viewed on their own merits — but this argument does become rather tiresome after a while.

To see what I mean, let us imagine a man named Bob who claims that his sole professional goal in life is motivating others to lose weight by following his diet. He continually proclaims that it is very important to be slim, and that only his diet will make you slim — but strangely enough, Bob himself remains morbidly obese!

It is certainly true that we cannot absolutely judge the efficacy and value of Bob’s diet solely by how much he weighs — but we can empirically judge whether or not Bob believes in the efficacy and value of his own diet.

Life is short, and the more rapidly we can make accurate decisions, the better off we are.

Imagine that, this afternoon, a disheveled and smelly man stops you on the street and offers his services as a financial advisor, but says that he cannot take your phone calls because after he declared personal bankruptcy, he has been forced to live in his car. It is certainly logically true that we cannot empirically use his situation to judge the value of his financial advice — but we can know for sure the following: either he has followed his own financial advice, which has clearly resulted in a disaster, or he has not, which means that he does not believe that it is either valuable or true.

Thus, based on the principles of mere efficiency, you would never hire such a vagrant as your trusted financial adviser — partly also due to the basic fact that he seems completely oblivious to the effect that his approach has on his credibility. Does he not recognize how you will view him, based on his presentation? If he does not realize how he appears to you, this also indicates his near-complete disconnect from reality.

In the same way, if I show up for a job interview wearing only a pair of underpants, two clothes-pins and a colander, it is clearly true that my choice of dress cannot be objectively used to judge the quality of my professional knowledge — but it certainly is the case that my judgment as a whole can be somewhat called into question, to say the least.

If you do not follow your own advice, I cannot ipso facto use that to judge your advice as incorrect, but I certainly can judge that you believe your advice to be incorrect, and make a completely rational decision about its value thereby.” 

— Stefan Molyneux, Everyday Anarchy: The Freedom of Now
Molyneux’s point is a basic one, but a good one. As a Christian, I find it quite convicting.

Why aren’t they listening? It may be all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with me. Then again …

If I claim to believe in the power of prayer, I should surely be a man of prayer. If I claim to believe in the truth of the word of God, I ought to be steeped in it. If I claim to believe in storing up treasure in heaven, I should surely be giving to the work of God as the Lord prospers me. If I claim to believe in the value of the gospel, I ought to be sharing it. If I claim to believe in love, I ought to be obviously and evidently loving in the way I treat family, friends, co-workers and strangers.

This is not rocket science, and Molyneux rightly points out that people, rather sensibly, turn away from expressions of truth that are not lived out in front of them.

It doesn’t make them any less accountable for their choices. But who wants to be guilty of contributory negligence in the fate of those around us?

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