Some Friday FWIW

Some random thoughts on this Friday afternoon, prompted by the avalanche of information that comes our way.

Prejudice or Judgment?
I am using the word prejudice here in reference to opinions formed beforehand without examining the facts of a matter. A person comes to the examination with conclusions already in hand. Another way to put this would be that the person assumes what really needs to be proved. Maybe I’m just wired to be a little more skeptical, but this seems to happen very often. The growing tendency in our culture to tie the loosest of argumentation together to make a case both proves and propels this.

When we listen or read people’s arguments for or against something, we need to make sure that the assertions they are making are both verifiable and legitimately follow from the evidence being presented. If they don’t (or there is no evidence being presented–see the next point), then we need to recognize that. Opinions are fine, but judgments are better.

Proof or Pudding?
Here’s something else that I’ve noticed happening on the internet more and more. Someone makes an assertion and then backs it with a hyper-link to some other internet posting, but when you click through to look at the source, it contains no documentation for its claim. The most recent example of this was a blog post that made the claim that two-thirds of marriages end in divorce after an affair. That was a shocking statistic, so I wanted to check it out. I followed the link to the website that was the source for that stat. Sure enough, the claim was made, but there was nothing provided as the basis for it–no research studies, no polling, not even a quote from someone with expertise. Seriously?

This is terrible. On the internet, people can pose as experts on subjects without any accountability. I hope we all get that. But people are building their own image and brand as experts, sadly, by giving the false appearance of authority when they link to stuff like that. I look like I know what I’m talking about because I have embedded links that “support” what I’ve just said. That is not proof. It does not lend authority.

I suppose I should not be surprised, really. Before the internet, the same kind of stuff use to show up in books and articles that would stuff their footnotes and bibliographies in order to give the impression that they were serious works. Lesson: lots of links (or footnotes) don’t prove the point.

Goose or Gander?
Final thought for today. Social media and blog posts have been blowing up recently over the Tullian Tchividjian situation and how it has been handled. I’ve tweeted (@Grace4Motown) out a few links to blog posts that I found to be insightful. It seems that whenever commentary on these issues becomes a public issue, someone will complain that such matters need to be dealt with, but should not be done in public. For example, Jack Graham tweeted this recently, “Twitter is a poor place to chastise or correct. It troubles me when I see pastors attacking other pastors in this forum.”

Now, as a general principle, I agree with him. Twitter isn’t a good place to engage in serious efforts to chastise or correct someone. I also don’t enjoy seeing pastors attack one another on Twitter. Yet, I can’t see how answering the problem with a tweet like this does any good either. It assumes a stance above the fray while actually engaging in a jab at unnamed offenders. Without qualifying his terms (e.g., what constitutes an attack?), he can lob an accusation that almost certainly will be used in a partisan way to silence or shame someone who is has spoken out about a problem.

And that really leads to the deeper issue. As long as one side can freely express its views, the other side will feel compelled to critique, chastise, and correct. If Paul Tripp feels the need, for example, to publicly commend Tullian, you are dreaming if you think others will not feel the need to publicly question both Tullian and Tripp. The sequence goes like this: (1) Tripp publicly commends Tullian; (2) concerned parties publicly critique Tripp’s commendation; so, (3) other concerned parties call into question publicly critiquing other pastors. And the beat goes on. (Anybody else think the people in #3 would be the “I follow Christ” crowd at Corinth?)

Here, I think, is the resolution: nobody is allowed to publish heretical, misleading, unhelpful material on the internet, then there will be no need to chastise or correct those who do so. Isn’t that simple? But, until I become Emperor of the Internet, we all just need accept the fact that one side cannot be allowed to publish its nonsense without the other side speaking out and against it. Tweeting out “Let’s all be nice” is fine, but misses the point.

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