Yesterday a friend of mine sent out a paper in which he very strongly criticized the method of scriptural interpretation that I use. It was not a personal attack against me, as he wrote it to condemn not me, or my method, but a method of scriptural interpretation which I happen (perhaps unbeknownst to him) to use.
I could say that this friend - one of my oldest and dearest friends - is a conservative pastor. And that would be a true statement, since he is theologically conservative, and is an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. But my friend cannot be reduced to that label, conservative, which we liberals so often use to discredit others, as they use liberal against us.
If I read the paper my friend sent out yesterday without knowing who wrote it, I would probably post here some kind of rhetoric against it. I could go through it piece by piece and draw out each reach, each stretch, each logical fallacy or historical misrepresentation. If I read it without knowing who wrote it, or without being so close to the author, I could use what one reader has called my "philosophy major tricks" to make the piece look like the work of a total moron.
But this paper, which powerfully attacks and condemns the method of scriptural interpretation which I use, was written by one of my closest friends in the world. So, what should I do?
A few years ago a good friend of mine went off to fight in the war in Iraq. While he was on ship he wrote this, in a letter to me:
[T]he guys all talk about killing ragheads. To them its like a game, just another training exercise, except the targets are shooting back. The targets don't have names or faces or families or friends who love them and want them to come home. They're just part of that "evil regime" that must be overthrown.
My Marine friend was concerned that part of fighting a war necessarily involves dehumanizing the enemy. This is true whether or not the cause or conduct of the war is just. This is true because, in order to kill another human being without hesitation, you must be able to look at them as only a target, rather than a person with rights and attachments just like you.
We say that we are now involved in a Culture War, in which we fight (generally) with words rather than rounds of ammunition, with rhetoric rather than mortars. But do we not here too experience the same temptation to dehumanize our enemy in the name of efficiently advancing our own "just" cause?
My friend's paper bothered me, not because I couldn't handle his arguments (I could), but because of the way in which I wanted to handle his arguments. I wanted to use logic and rhetoric to discredit his position, without mercy or hesitation.
Should we, in this war, lay waste to our own friends, to our own family? And, if the answer is "no" (and I suspect that it is), then are we justified in laying waste to anyone at all? Are not all of us God's children? Are not all of us who claim the name Christian united by the redeeming blood of Christ, which is washing away our sinful natures?
I am concerned about the level of rhetoric in this Culture War. And I am more concerned about my participation in it. I do not repudiate either my positions or my methods, but perhaps I do repudiate the spirit with which I fight this "good" fight.
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