A Sympathetic Look At Difference

I took a critical reasoning class in Philosophy at Tyndale. We got a sheet of paper, that I still have to this day, that listed out all of the fallacies that people use when making arguments or statements about something. Like appeals to majority (if 90% of people believe something it must be true) or appeal to force (making someone feel guilty for thinking a certain way) and the list goes on. I’ve started to notice one creeping in lately. It’s one that you don’t usually catch that often because it almost makes sense at times. It’s called the composition and division fallacy. An example would be that since every player on the all-star team is the best at her position, the all-star team must be better than the divisional champs (sort of like the Canadian Olympic Team :) It’s when we take something true of a part and make it true for a whole, or vice versa, taking something true of a whole and making it true of the part.

I find we use this fallacy a lot when telling people stories and informing people of new insights they have in their life. If someone has an epiphany, let’s say for instance, that they should start keeping a composter as to be less harmful to the environment. They have the statistics to prove why it’s less harmful, they have the bible verses to support their actions and then they start assuming that everyone needs to be doing the same thing as them. In fact, they often get upset at people that don’t see the same way as them or are convicted the same way as they are. Eventually as time goes on if they continue on this path, they start to think their way is just common sense and that any other way is just insanity and evil.

This is where I think some theories of relativism play a strong role in helping us give grace to people who don’t agree with us. Just because it is true to you in any given moment, doesn’t mean it’s going to be true to them. I know as soon as I wrote that statement, red flags went up everywhere. Yet try to let down your guard for a moment and think about where I’m coming from. For instance, a bullfighter who believes killing a bull is a sacred cultural ceremony is going to hold on to a truth entirely different than an animal activist. Yet both would tell you there reasons, all valid, give you personal experiences and share the history of their belief yet no one can tell them that what they believe isn’t true.

Our problem is twofold. One, I don’t think we can categorize beliefs neatly into true and untrue beliefs. They just aren’t that simple. By doing that you are saying more than their conclusion is wrong, you are saying their history, experience and logic is wrong and invalidated, something we have no idea about. This is why for some reason lately I have found myself highly sympathizing with those that are usually seen as acting “wrong” (needy, angry, retributive, selfish). I am starting to see causes as opposed to effects in their lives instead of just getting upset at the end result.

Second, we think that what is true for us is true for everyone everywhere. So if we are convicted about burning all our secular music well then all of sudden everyone who doesn’t do it is in the wrong. As if wherever we are in our convictions or morals is the standard for the world and where they should be. It all seems so selfish and arrogant and it completely nullifies the journey. We forget that people are at all different points in their understandings and their worldview and with those beliefs come different ways of living. To pedestalize one spot on the journey over another is to forget your past and to not understand the kingdom of God at all. The same kingdom that pays an identical wage to the guy who works all day and the guy that works for an hour (Matt 20).

Let us not think of ourselves so highly as to judge the world by where we are. Let us give grace to all, knowing that it is only by grace we live. Let us learn from those that don’t see the world as we do as opposed to trying to make them. Let us forgive others as we have been forgiven. Let us not be afraid, or villainize those we disagree with but engage, love and be around them all the more. Let us love those that are different, because if we can’t we only end up loving ourselves.

5 Comments

  • I couldn’t have said it any better myself. If we used the context to which you are referring then another way we can look at it would be reaching a new plato ourselves by practicing the love that Jesus has shown to us “sinners” unto others. I mean if all we do is put down the world who Jesus has come to save and given us the opportunity to help as being his ambassador then the true message of Jesus Chris will be forever lost to them. I could elaborate a whole lot more but I believe to got it just right.

    Thank you
    Paul :)

  • touche.

    loved the example of burning secular music. brought back horrific pentecostal youth camp memories. haha.

    best to you and yours.

    a.

  • Hey Nathan! Your article really got me thinking but I do have a couple thoughts to add. I really tried to let down my guard when it came to the whole relative thing. While your examples do make sense the reality is that Jesus was not a relative guy and God is not a relative God. The word of God is very black and white. You know the verse,”I am the way the truth the light, no one comes to the Father except through me” I know that verse can be taken badly out of context but what that is saying is His way is the only way. So it doesn’t matter if the bull fighter has been brought up that way or not, his view doesn’t really matter if say bull fighting was against the will of God. I know thats a weird example but I was trying to go back to your story. But everything else I do agree with. Grace is needed, I can not disagree with that. But I think what needs to be done is have grace but not compromise the word of God because we are afraid of turning the person away. Jesus never shied away from that, Just look at the story of the rich young ruler. This man came up to Jesus asking him what it takes to have eternal life and Jesus started to tell him the commandments. He cared for the man of course but he would be doing him a disservices if he just let him come follow after him if he wasn’t ready to do the things that He was calling him to. But ya very good thoughts Nathan.

  • Hmm, I think Jesus was a very relative guy.

    John was convicted regarding the food he ate and what he would drink. Jesus wasn’t. Neither insisted that everyone must follow their own revelation on the topic.

    God asked David to kill yet insisted Solomon remain passive and build a temple. Seems like the rules were relative to the individual.
    Men were not to have long hair as a woman, but then the Nazerite order like Samson were to never allow a razor to toouch their hair.
    Relative rules and expressions of faith again.

  • I wonder how many people are simply trying to validate their own position by creating a hard line instead of living in trust that it is true.

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