From SaveTheWorld - a project of The Partnership Machine, Inc. (Sponsor: Family Music Center)
The following tips are not rules; that is, violation of them will not get your contributions deleted, or yourself banned. They are strictly for your benefit, to help you be more persuasive. In fact, they are intended to help you be more persuasive in any situation where you are trying to reason with someone who disagrees with you.
Back up what you say
To back up your statements means to cite authorities which support your points, whom your opponents respect. It means to arm your arguments with sources. You need to develop your sense of WHERE the person you are reasoning with is likely to disagree, so you can back up your statements which you know are going to be disputed if you don't. One develops this sense by trying to reason with many people on a subject in good faith.
Original arguments are welcome. But if your argument has been published by others, post a link to it to avoid plagiarism. A link will also cause your argument to be taken more seriously because your adversaries, seeing that more people believe it than just you, will think it more worth their time to respond.
You can cite evidence to back up your claims in footnotes. Don’t just give a link, because links often go to pages which are later removed. So along with the link, give the title of the book or article, the author, the publisher, the date, and any page number. That way even if the link dies, readers might be able to search for a copy elsewhere.
How to dig for truth.
How are suspicions tested? First, by getting as close as possible to an admission out of the mouth of the one we accuse. Matthew 18:15. The first decent step is always to give the one we accuse an opportunity to defend himself – to refute our charges. Usually our ideological enemies proudly admit their support of or involvement in what we condemn. For example, most Democrats proudly advertise that they support the very abortions which Republicans condemn as the slaughter of innocents. Most Republicans unapologetically insist we stop the admission of Central American children which Democrats condemn as a death sentence for innocent children. Their “guilt”, as we allege it, is easily confirmed out of their own mouths.
If the person we accuse won’t answer us, then some written document by them, admitting their “guilt”, is good evidence. But if neither is available, find the most articulate defender of what you are accusing who will talk to you, and learn how he responds to your suspicions.
The Scientific Method is a process of tests to disprove your theory. In other words, you try to put yourself in the shoes of your bitterest enemy, think like he thinks, and from that perspective, look for holes in your theories. By anticipating your ideological opponents’ objections in this way you can avoid being unprepared when you reason with them.
You can quickly adopt this mindset by proclaiming what you believe as publicly as you can even among people most motivated to ridicule you for disagreeing with them. When you are vulnerable to criticism, you will be ashamed to be proved wrong and stupid, which will make you study the facts very well before you “go public” to minimize your embarrassment.
Suspicion’s purpose, and limits
Suspicion of government, and especially of your own political party, is a healthy thing, if we respect its limits. Without any of it, populations are easily deceived and taken advantage of. But suspicion must be recognized for what it is: speculation in search of facts, but not yet in possession of them.
The only value of suspicion is that it has the power to motivate people to seek facts, and to suggest areas where facts are needed. Suspicion with no interest in facts, and which in fact is suspicious of evidence when presented, only starts wars. Suspicion, stoked for its entertainment value, keeps America tragically divided, unable to heal, and resistant to revival.
No “rabbit trails”. Stay on the subject of the headline under which you are posting. If your comment is on a different aspect of the subject but related, create a relevant sub-headline. If it is not related to any posted headline, start your own politically related topic.
Although this is an important “tip”, it was also a rule: irrelevant information may be moved or deleted by others. Scripture about relevance
Relevance not just to the subject, but to potential action
Problems about which humans can do nothing are not “political” problems - “political” issues are those where humans have different views of how we should solve them. Problems incapable of even any alleged or proposed human solution are therefore not the purpose of this forum. Scriptures about relevance to action
No "personal attacks"
Respect and “tolerate” people, but not any of their nonsense or misinformation. Talk about issues. Correct misunderstanding with respectful criticism. Don’t respect nonsense, but respect the person who spouts it.
Don’t accuse anyone’s motives, because you can’t back it up. “Conflicts of interest” can be documented, but even they do not document that anyone is motivated by other than the honest, impartial pursuit of truth: they only document a temptation to pursue an interest opposed to the truth.
Our goal is information about issues, not about each other. We need information that will help voters and politicians correctly understand issues, like the effect on the economy of the minimum wage, or immigration, or abortion. Or federal control of a third of Western state land. Your opinion that the lady you are debating is going to Hell gets in the way of that purpose. It is a distraction from getting where we need to go, like a box of nails on a highway.
Insulting ideological opponents is popular; many love to level insults, and some like to read them. If that is your contribution, you can still do it in the “comments” after most blogs and articles on other websites. Not here. Those comments are mostly ignored by people who are serious about information, because of the time it takes to sift through clever insults and unrelated “rabbit trails”.
Talk to people with whom you disagree as respectfully and with as much love as you talk to your own children when they are disagreeable. Or at least, as respectfully as you wish you had been, after you cool down and think about what you just said. You can be firm, and intolerant of lies and errors. But except in the most extreme circumstances you would never want to communicate to your children that you hate them and never want to see them again. Even with the most direct criticism, let your focus be correcting errors, not insulting this other person who is making you think so annoyingly hard.
When statements are not true, don’t “tolerate” them. Dispose of them. Shoot them down, shovel them up, and bury them. When people make untrue statements, love the people like you would love your fiance when some little disagreement starts up which you hope will be contained. Reason respectfully. An example of a response to the personal attack, “You sir, are an idiot”:
“Thank you! You might be perceived as more eloquent if you would provide a little more detail about the basis of your observation, just in case it might not already be obvious to every reader. Myself, for example: I don't already know the basis for your analysis of my IQ, and may never know if you do not inform me. But I am most interested in better understanding my problem so I can take something for it. I do admire the reverence that you have shown for all humanity, that you would address even an idiot as 'sir'."
No censorship of any religion’s Scriptures
Every participant must be free to articulate, in defense of his positions, the highest principles he knows. How can we reason with someone after we have prohibited him from telling us the real reasons for his positions? We censor only things like profanity, personal attacks, irrelevance, etc. We can censor Scriptures whose relevance to the subject under which they are posted is not explained. But when Scriptures help explain a position, or explain why some believe it, their citations are useful.
Remember the purpose of this forum. Only part of it is for you to be persuaded by new evidence, as commendable as it is that you are so willing to be corrected that you would like to limit evidence to what will persuade you. Your other reason for meeting is to persuade others. To do that, you need to know what drives their opinions. You need to know how much of your political differences are driven by theological differences. Once you know, you can prepare a line of reasoning to refute it.
If you never learn, you may find your arguments irrelevant. You will be like a German trying to understand Hitler who has never read Mein Kampf; or a Russian trying to understand Stalin who has never read the communist Manifesto; or an Arab trying to understand terrorism who has never read the Surahs which terrorists quote.
Some of the most emotional political issues wouldn’t even exist were it not for the Bible. To listen only to lesser reasons than the reasons that actually persuaded your ideological opponents, cripples you in your effort to understand and reason with them. Across America, the percentage of people “who report reading the Bible in a typical week and who strongly assert the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches” varies between 10% and 51% depending on the city, according to a Barna survey. If you refuse on principle to address any of the verses claimed by your ideological opponent, your principle torpedos your ability to reason with a very significant portion of the American population on issues where the Bible is relevant. Many today stand on precisely that principle, which contributes to deep division in America today.
Let’s be honest. If a Christian knows a verse that backs up his political position, even if only loosely or vaguely, that Christian will surely stand on the Word of God; but if he is shown a verse that appears to contradict his political position, that doesn’t mean he will change the latter. We are all human, and we all could use a fair forum to make us honest.
When you know a Christian’s belief is founded upon a Scripture which you do not believe, that is not the end of the line for productive dialog. There are at least three directions you might still proceed:
(1) Present facts against which the verse, as it is being interpreted, doesn’t make sense, and challenge Bible believers to accept their 1 Peter 3:15 responsibility to defend the wisdom of Scripture against challenges from every direction. When they cannot, that should trigger doubt in their minds about their interpretation.
(2) Directly challenge their interpretation with alternative interpretations based on context, exegesis of the original language, etc. Although this approach will be the most grievous and difficult for you if you do not honor the Bible yourself, much work has already been done for you by others.
(3) Challenge the application of the verse to the specific situation before you. Scripture seldom directly applies to public issues; application is mostly the domain of reason.
When your ideological opponent makes a point, you can’t pretend you never heard it and move on to another subject. Well, you can, but that is not going to persuade anybody (unless they already agree with you). You have to respond to it. If it is wrong, refute it.
If it is correct, acknowledge it.
If you dispute someone’s conclusion, but don’t respond to the facts upon which it was based, that will suggest you agree with the facts; it’s just that you find the conclusion, to which the facts logically lead, unacceptable. In other words, you find reality unacceptable. You need the patience to identify which facts you think are wrong, and to present evidence that they are wrong.
That will at least show that you have read the alleged facts. If you won’t do that, how can anyone, who disagrees with you, reason with you? If you won’t make clear exactly where you disagree, it is not possible for your opponent to know where to respond to you. And he will have no confidence that if he takes the rather considerable time it takes to try, that you will even read his response.
Responsiveness is part of America’s code of ethics for judges. In Iowa, Iowa Code 52.10(1)(b) makes it a ground for removing a judge from the bench.
- Canon #19: In disposing of controverted cases, a judge should indicate the reasons for his action in an opinion showing that he has not disregarded or overlooked serious arguments of counsel. He thus shows his full understanding of the case, avoids the suspicion of arbitrary conclusion, promotes confidence in his intellectual integrity and may contribute useful precedent to the growth of the law.
It is desirable that Courts of Appeals in reversing cases and granting new trials should so indicate their views on questions of law argued before them and necessarily arising in the controversy that upon the new trial counsel may be aided to avoid the repetition of erroneous positions of law and shall not be left in doubt by the failure of the court to decide such questions. - Code of Judicial Ethics, Canon #19.