Room Inside a Box

"There is no room inside a box." ~Doug Pinnick

Location: Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, United States

I started this blog as a soundboard for some much needed therapy during my separation with my wife throughout much of 2005. It was truly a blessing to get my thoughts out there through the writing process. Thankfully things have worked out between us. I would have continued to blog, but ever since I started my teaching career, I have found it impossible to do as much blogging as I would like to. So now I hope to periodically post as time and energy allow.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

On Fools and Folly... And Other Belated Mindspeaks

Since the comment that I started to write on Jason's post entitled "What the Fuck?!?!" became too long and complicated to write in one sitting, I thought I'd post it here. Besides, I need to post more, but that damn playroom I'm working on is kicking my ass....

Before I write anymore, though, let me say that my direct response to the post does not begin until Part III, so skip ahead if that's all you want to read. I've separated this post into four parts. Part I will serve as a public congratulations of sorts to Jason, Part II will be a reiteration of a conversation we had the other night, Part III will be a direct response to the aforementioned post, and Part IV will be related comments to this post.

Part I
I already privately told Jason how well I thought his "Homosexuality and the Bible" posts were, but I didn't do it publicly. So here it is. You're welcome. They are good drafts that are well researched and logically argued. Their only major drawback is that they are biased to the extreme, and some people wanting to take them seriously--as I know Jason does--might have a problem with that. Most liberal xians already know what he's talking about and would probably agree with them, bias or no bias; but moderate to right christians--and especially fundamentalists, apparently his direct audience to whom he seems to wish to convince--will either not take the posts as seriously or, at worse, scoff at them completely, because of this severe slant. If the intention is to convince moderates and fundamentalists, then the rhetoric needs to be toned down and the bias needs to be either minimized or eliminated. Liberal xians and the general thinking public who likes to read up on ideas outside the mainstream can overlook such things, but fundamentalists are bad readers and cannot get past that stuff. In general, they are good posts, but if your target audience is the fundie, then you need to take a different approach. But overall, keep up the good work.

Part II
I was trying to tell you the other night that when you rail against the fundamentalist for trying to legislate his/her morals or values, you are being a hypocrite. Everyone in this country has a right to introduce legislation that promotes his/her morals and values. The fundamentalist does, and so do you. Your only defense was that your morals and values respect a wider plurality than do those of the fundie, but that is beside the point. It doesn't matter what their morals are versus yours; what matters is that you are trying to do the same thing that they are trying to do, which is legislate your own morals and values onto the general public. You can't get angry with the fundie for doing that which yourself desires to do as well. You can get angry at them for what it is they are trying to legislate, but you can't get angry at them for trying to legislate. All you need to do is redirect your anger and you won't sound so hypocritical.

And another hypocrisy I wanted to touch on that I think I didn't get to was that when you write posts like your Proverbs one or your Paul one, you are unknowingly acting just like those whom you hate: the fundies. For the most part, fundies are terrible readers and even worse thinkers. I heard fundamentalism boiled down to me a number of times, and it oftentimes goes something like this:

Me: But couldn't it mean this?
Fundie: No. The bible says this. These are the words.
Me: But you're not taking into account cultural context, historical background...
Fundie: None of that matters. The bible says this. These are the words. God is all-eternal and all-knowing and none of that matters except his words, and these are his words. It's right there in black and white.
Me: But human beings wrote the book, and they live in cultures and are bound to be influenced...
Fundie: But the words are inspired by God, who is not bound by this insignificant stuff.
Me: But that's circular reasoning, isn't it? I mean...
Fundie: The only thing you need to know is that these are the words. You can't change the words. This is what it says so this is what I believe. If you don't believe it, then you have a problem with God and his never-changing, infallible word.

No, I have a problem with you, Jackass! Fundamentalists are narrow-minded, thick-headed, oftentimes unloving creatures. Yet I'm called to love them nonetheless (and I find it strange that you, too, uphold this calling... I wonder why...) and I do my best. I'm sure you've heard this line of reasoning and find it equally repugnant. So why do you sometimes--not all the time--argue from their narrow lenses? You point out surface-level contradictions like that of Paul's conversion, Jesus' teachings, or certain proverbs without considering that there are things to be taken into consideration, things like cultural context, literary context, historical context, etc. The fundie says, "These are the words!" without critically thinking about them or putting them in the proper contextual framework. He only sees certain words or phrases, points to them over and over again, and does not deviate from his narrow view of them. And when you write posts like the ones I just mentioned, that's what you are doing, too. You, too, say, "These are the words! See how silly your belief system is, you illogical fundie? Look at all these obvious contradictions and loopholes!" You don't consider, at least in some posts, that there are logical explanations for these supposed contradictions.

Furthermore, and again related to how you are sometimes like the fundie (but please keep in mind, not all the time), when someone comes along and offers a well-stated, logical, and researched refutation of your narrow viewpoint, you, just as a good fundie would, revert back to your own illogical and narrow viewpoint that, at least in this case, is very poorly argued. To wit, when I go and point out that indeed Paul's multiple conversion stories are not contradictions, you still insist they are in the face of all the evidence I just pointed toward. You called them all moot points, especially when considering that your target audience was the fundie. Well, to be frank, they were not moot points at all. They were researched, documented, and logical points that need to be taken into consideration when presented with surface-level contradictions in the bible. (And lest anyone think I'm a bible-thumper, please remove such thoughts. I will always defend literature when it is frivolously attacked. Whether it's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Color Purple, the bible, or whatever; literature is my passion and I will always defend it from those who wrongly attack it.) You erroneously discarded the logical points in favor of your own narrow-minded opinion, that being that a surface-level contradiction exists in a bible that supposedly is inerrant. But that's exactly what fundies do; they disregard logic in favor of their own narrow-minded opinions. You disregarded most of my points, illogically and wrongly argued against them, and stuck you your guns, just like the fundies do. And the ironic thing is that you hate when fundies do that, yet you did it yourself (in this case). You said, "All of that [my logical and documented points] is moot, though, when held in the view of 'inerrancy.' To be 'innerrant' or 'devoid or errors,' there should in fact be no inconsistencies or half-truths or contradictory passages." And there isn't!! I just proved it to you!! Yet you still claim that it is an error and a contradiction, in the face of all the evidence I pointed toward!! If that doesn't sound like a fundie, I don't know what does. But you go on: "My lack of pointing out historical facts and figures which would have clarified to non-inerrant position holders would have been nice, but not important considering the target audience." No, your lack of pointing this stuff out is important for all readers who want to read well and form educated opinions. It doesn't matter if you're preaching to the choir or if you're preaching to the unconverted, the onus (yes, I said it!) is on you to get your facts straight--or at least do some research and have something more to say than surface-level stuff that is poorly argued and extremely biased. No matter your audience, you always want to be well informed and knowledgeable when presenting an argument. How does it serve you to be like the fundie, arguing from their camp? If they can't rise above surface level sweeping condemnations of the homosexual lifestyle based on a levitical code they know nothing about, why should you not rise above surface level contradictions yourself? They stick to surface level stuff--which you abhor--when they condemn homosexuality, but then you stick to surface level stuff and make a sweeping condemnations of the bible based on a seeming contradiction of which you know very little about. Meeting the fundie where they are at serves you no purpose at all. You attack their illogical rationale, but then practice that illogical rationale (at least here). What's on you is to live up to your own standards of being a thinking, logical, intelligent reader (which for the most part you are). Don't lower yourself to the fundamentalist's standard. Let them be narrow-minded, illogical, circular, uninformed, dogmatic, and impoverished of the mind. Don't argue from their point of view. You'll never get anywhere that way. You just sound as dumb as them. Like this:

"True. No argument form me, actually. But we are talking about two specific passages which aren't separated by hundreds of years, but from (perhaps) two authors who were each others "contemporaries," and probably knew of each other, and maybe even met once or twice toward the end of each others' lives (if we assume Luke and Paul as the actual authors). They may not have, but they were close enough to each others historical time line that it is possible. For two such differing accounts in such a brief period of time amounts to one of two things:
One of them was lying for purposes of either self-protection or mass deception
One of them was flat-out wrong"

Do you mean to tell me that you probably know all your contemporaries? Granted the population today in any given square mile might be larger than it was two thousand years ago, but still, do you actually think that what you just said is valid? Dude, I don't even know all the people on my street, let alone all the contemporaries in my town or state. So why should they "probably know each other", especially given the very limited transportation and communication methods they had back then. That's absurd to make such an assertion. I remember when Oriol (spelling?) was living with us for a little bit and he said he met a dude from his hometown on the plane ride to America, a dude he had never met before. I said, "But if he's from your hometown, how could you not know him?" He looked at me with a look that said "duh!" and plainly said, "Do you know all the people from this town?" But you go further than this absurd argument of saying that they probably knew each other, and from this absurd argument come biased and undocumented assertions that in rhetorical terms can be classified as logical fallacies: in short, your closing points cannot stem directly from your assertions due to the fact that no correlation or relationship exists between them. So you're guilty of both gross bias and logical fallacy, two very big no-no's when it comes to making a sound point. But you go even further: "Irrelevant. It's a fucking three year difference of Paul's conversion. Even if Paul was speaking to separate church entities (which he was), it doesn't explain why he would "forget" or even "change" the story of his blessed salvation unless he were lying or had something to hide." You just made the claim that Paul forgot or changed his story, when just before you made the correct claim that Luke wrote one account and Paul wrote the other. So if two separate guys wrote two separate accounts, how can one man forget or change both of them? This makes no sense. And again, you are guilty of a logical fallacy by claiming that one of them was trying to hide something. That again is bias and unfounded.

In short, the fundie makes sweeping generalizations without properly analyzing the text. You come along and say, "Hey, what about historical context this and cultural context that and Hebrew word this?" And they ignore you and stay in their narrow worldview, arguing from their dogmatic viewpoints. You hate this. You, though, make sweeping generalizations without properly analyzing the text. I come along and say, "Hey, what about historical context this and editing process that and ancient authorship this?" And you ignore me and stay in your worldview, arguing from your dogmatic viewpoints (at least in this post). I hate this.

You are a very intelligent person who does not have to resort to dogmatism to defend your points. That's what the fundies do, and that's what you did. You got it in your mind that this is a contradiction in the bible, come hell or high water, and by god (or whomever) you were going to stick by it, no matter how illogical you sounded. That's what the fundies do. You don't have to do that. I'm no biblical scholar, and the bible may or may not have contradictions. You may even uncover one. That would be just dandy. As stated, I don't believe in the inerrancy of the book and it would not shake my worldview if one were to be found. After all, there are many, many candidates (just read the gospel accounts of the Resurrection... but indeed, there are logical explanations for those contradictions, as well, so forget them and try something else). But you have not as of yet uncovered a contradiction. You can defend this one till you're blue in the face, but you'll just end up sounding like a fundie, and I don't think that's how you want to sound.

Part III
What the Fuck?!?!

Good title! Anytime you can drop the F-bomb into a title, I say go for it.

Riddle me this, riddle me that...


Pro 26:4: Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.
Pro 26:5: Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.

Which version is this? I don't seem to have this version, but I didn't look through my entire library, either. It's all in shifty piles in the corner of the living room, waiting to be put back on the bookshelves...

It is pretty much a given that "the wisest man in the world" wrote this book... or, at least, most of it...

Depends on who you talk to. Of course, the fundies say Solomon wrote/compiled it all, but that is erroneous given some of the proverbs and some of the context. It's likely he had a hand in some of it, but that's a far cry from even "most of it." It was most likely compiled over hundreds of years and edited and redacted sometime around 300 b.c.e. That seems to be what most scholars can agree on.

Perhaps his "traditional marriage" to 700 wives and 300 concubines (I Kings 11:1-3) had addled his brain?

Not quite, though he probably had a great time with all those ladies around... Who wouldn't? (Oops! Forgot who I was writing to for a second...)

Talk to the fool and become a fool, or talk to the fool and prove him a fool?

Well, something like that. Read on for the commentary on this...

Of course, some of my regular audience members will say I am the fool...

Right now, you certainly are playing the part well, but as I am answering you, then at least you are not the worse of the two kinds purported in these proverbs.

Isn't that convenient?

What is?

It seems Solomon may have been the fool for putting these verses back-to-back...

Who said anything about Solomon writing this? Are you arguing from the fundie point of view again?

Or is it so wise it is above our feeble brains to comprehend?

No quite. Read on.


Okay, I will.

Part IV

What if you were talking to some wise dude--or at least someone whose opinion you trusted--and you are discussing some future plan to do something. You want to tackle this thing head-on, balls to the wall, and this dude says, "Now Jason, haste makes waste." You think about that for a few seconds or so, and after some quiet moments this dude says to you, "He who hesitates is lost." Is this guy an idiot, or is he trying to get you to think about this prospect some more, showing you two sides of the same coin?

Again, what if you are single and consulting an online dating service and some respected doctor writes this column saying something like, "Birds of a feather flock together." You think about this a little bit and start to think of all the people you know who are in good, healthy relationships and the thought comes to mind: "Opposites attract" (and then you get Paula Abdul and that damn cat in your head all the rest of the day!). Do you say to yourself, "That guy's a quack because he contradicts my reality," or do you synthesize these ideas in your mind, thinking that it takes a little bit of both for a relationship to work?

By their nature, proverbs are meant to be true only in a given context. Sometimes a proverb might fit a given situation perfectly, while in another it might fall flat on its face. All wise men know this, and it is wisdom that best guides the fittingness of a proverb. This is why wise men and those enlightened who teach little grasshoppers like us love to use proverbs, especially proverbs that are surface-level contradictions. They are wise and know that different proverbs mean different things in different situations. Life is complex--extremely complex--and no one saying or proverb or law or answer will fit all situations in all times. Wise people know this about life, and thus when they juxtapose two opposing ideas like this together, if we don't see the wisdom in it, then shame on us.

Orson Scott Card, one of my favorite writers, says this: "Sickness and healing are in every heart. Death and deliverance are in every hand." That's powerful stuff, especially when he fleshes this surface-level-contradictory idea out in the rest of the novel, Speaker for the Dead. Again, one of my favorite guitarists and lyricists writes, "Honesty can kill/ Honesty can heal/ Honesty, be free." Human experience will tell you that this is true, in both situations. Even though on the surface these two ideas oppose each other, the complexities of life leave room for both instances to be true simultaneously, given different situations. And again, I read a zen monk say, "Before I studied zen, I thought mountains were just mountains, and trees were just trees. After I studied zen a little bit, I learned that mountains were more than mountains, and trees were more than trees. After I studied zen some more, I learned that mountains were just mountains, and trees were just trees." One does not have to be fully enlightened to imagine a case where this seemingly impossible notion can actually be--at least I can imagine this idea being true, after concentrating on it for a while before going to sleep one night.

The point is that two contradictory notions can happily fit together under the order of fittingness. In fact, if you look at the context in which these proverbs are written, you will see that that is what the writer is trying to stress. The proverbs mentioned fall under the second solomonic collection of sayings (notice this is a collection of what is believed to be his sayings; these are not things he wrote down in a book somewhere, though he very well may have... it's all lost in antiquity), the first of which appeared in Proverbs 10 -22. This second collection comprises chapters 25-29 (what's in between are general sayings of the wise, which are not attributed to any one person in particular). The particular proverbs you mentioned themselves appear within a framework dedicated to fools and fittingness, and in particular we want to look at chapter 26:1-12, for these verses encapsulate a theme of fittingness, using the fool as a foil to wisdom, teaching about the need to properly navigate through the complexities of life. Of course, how can one do this thoroughly except by living day by day with a person, and in each situation explaining to them which decision to best make through wisdom in a given situation. That is obviously impossible, so the next best thing is to literarily mirror the complexity of life in all of its tediousness, and one way to do that is through paradox.

To introduce this paradox, the writer introduces the idea of fittingness in verses 1-3. Having introduced the theme, he hits you with the "climax" so to speak. The writer presents the problem of fittingness in a radical, paradoxical way, which thematically speaks of the complexities of life. In one situation, one might make this decision, and in another, one might want to make the other decision. It all comes down to fittingness, which itself is guided by wisdom. If one is wise, one will know when to answer (and in the course of answering enlighten), and when not to answer (for if she answers, she will most likely be sucked down to the fool's level). All proverbs are situational, and by juxtaposing these two together, the writer is driving home this very point through paradox. Verses 6-11 present two sets of three metaphors/similes (depending on one's translation) which spell out various ways one might make the wrong kinds of decisions, using the fool as an example of how not to live fittingly in accordance with wisdom. The theme is summed up in verse 12, wrapping up this idea of fittingness and moving onto a certain class of fool: the sluggard or lazy person.

So on the surface, these verses seem like they are a prime example of how the bible contradicts itself, but when one looks at what is really going on, one can see that there is much to be discovered--the least of which is that there is no contradiction. What it is is a prime example of how well-written and poetically beautiful some parts of the bible really are. There's a reason this book is the number one best-seller of all time: it's a damn good work of literature.


Blogger Jason Hughes said...

Tom said: "just as a good fundie would, revert back to your own illogical and narrow viewpoint that, at least in this case, is very poorly argued."

Old habits die hard...

I'm learning...

Give me time...

Or, at least, 40 acres...

July 27, 2006 7:54 AM  

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