Saturday, August 20, 2016

Don’t Check Your Privilege

A whole lot smarter than you think ...
Everywhere I look these days it seems somebody wants to tell somebody else why their opinion doesn’t count.

Not a parent? You should have nothing to say about child rearing. Not a veteran? Your opinion about war is uninformed by experience. Lack a uterus? You can’t possibly have a valid take on abortion.

Tal Fortgang wrote a piece about privilege that ran on TIME’s website back in May of this year in which he declined to defer to those who claim the high ground (we can’t really call it the ‘moral high ground’, can we?) on various social issues. He has encountered a steady stream of abuse for his temerity. His detractors, if I have this correct, consider him too privileged to hold a legitimate opinion on the subject of privilege.

The “Privilege” Thing

If you’ve missed the whole “privilege” thing entirely, you are probably better off for it. The basic concept is something like this: If you are perceived to have derived some kind of benefit from growing up white/male/affluent/etc., you are thereby disqualified from any discussion on just about ... well, anything.

If you have teenagers with access to the Internet, expect them to try some variant of the privilege argument on you at some point in an attempt to disqualify your archaic views. It’s all the rage currently.

I say “disqualify” rather than “debate” or “debunk” because the whole point of an ad hominem argument is to end it before it starts by declaring the other side unfit to offer their evidence. The technique is as old as the hills — or at least as old as the words ad hominem.

But the “privilege” thing is just one way to justify to yourself shutting out the words of those whose line of argument you want nothing to do with. There are lots of others.

The Spirit and the Audience

Paul warns Timothy some listeners might try to disqualify his teaching on the basis of the fact that he was a young man. You know, the old “Well, when you’re mature enough to have hair on your chin, you’ll know better, Sonny” line of argument. To the extent that this sort of carnality can be countered, the antidote to it, Paul says, is to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity”.

That is no doubt an effective strategy with those inclined to pay attention to the Spirit of God. But there is no way to make a hard heart open up to truth aside from the Spirit’s work, no matter how effectively you adorn that truth with love and good conduct. If they didn’t listen to Paul, to Stephen or to the Lord himself, I’m not sure you or I can possibly generate more persuasive arguments or offer more faithful and consistent examples.

Moving in Mysterious Ways

So I’m not going to spend a lot of time telling you how to make yourself heard more effectively. But when I see people running around shouting “DISQUALIFY!” at each other, it ought to remind me not to use similar tactics to dismiss those I might normally deem unworthy of a hearing. After all, God has occasionally spoken in unexpected ways:
  • Remember Caiaphas? “It is better for you that one man should die for the people.” Not a good man, but he spoke the truth and God was behind it. Should the truth have been ignored because it came from an apostate Pharisee?
  • How about the slave girl that served Naaman’s wife? She alone in Syria knew there was a prophet in Israel who could save her master. Would Naaman’s wife have been smarter to disqualify her as “just a slave”?
  • Remember Balaam’s donkey? She saw an angel with a drawn sword in her path and stopped dead in order to save her master’s life. Until his donkey complained to him, Balaam was unable to see the angel for himself. There was an animal with greater spiritual perception than a prophet.
  • How about the demons that cried out “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Their eschatology was accurate and their Christology was spot on. But, you know, demons have a bad rep for honesty …
Apostates, slaves, donkeys, demons. Improbable sources of wisdom.

But truth is truth, never mind where it comes from. This is where the “disqualify” crowd go very, very wrong. In their own minds they win the argument, but they often miss out on important truth because they approach it with fingers firmly wedged in their ears.

You and I should not be quick to follow their example.

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