On arguing with integrity

Seth Godin’s Saturday blog was evocative for me:

Each of us understands that different people are swayed by different sorts of arguments, based on different ways of viewing the world. That seems sort of obvious. A toddler might want an orange juice because it’s sweet, not because she’s trying to avoid scurvy, which might be the argument that moves an intellectual but vitamin-starved sailor to take action.

So far, so good.

The difficult part is this: Even when people making an argument know this, they don’t like making an argument that appeals to the other person’s alternative worldview.

Worth a full stop here. Even when people have an argument about a political action they want someone else to adopt, or a product they want them to buy, they hesitate to make that argument with empathy. Instead, they default to talking about why they believe it.

To many people, it feels manipulative or insincere or even morally wrong to momentarily take the other person’s point of view when trying to advance an argument that we already believe in.

And that’s one reason why so many people claim to not like engaging in marketing. Marketing is the empathetic act of telling a story that works, that’s true for the person hearing it, that stands up to scrutiny. But marketing is not about merely sharing what you, the marketer believes. It’s about what we, the listener, believe.

Godin links to his book that fleshes out this theme.

I think Natural Law arguments come, well, naturally to me because I’ve internalized some of the Natural Law. I don’t argue that way, rather than from “Thus saith the Lord in Hezekiah 12:14,” because even if Hezekiah tipped me off to what the Lord said, what the Lord said tipped me off to the way things really are, not just to some “do it this way or I’ll hurt you in the bye-and-bye (which you therefore won’t find sweet).”

By my lights, then, I’m not entering dishonestly or manipulatively into someone’s alternative worldview, but (like Hezekiah quoting the Lord to me) pointing out to them what they truly believe because that’s how things truly are. There’s a lot of things that people “can’t not know.”

I guess this means that I don’t accept Godin’s premise that, deep down, people have divergent worldviews about deep-down realities. They merely have really, really thick ideological defenses against admitting reality (“really thick” as in “I’m not all that persuasive”).

Or maybe I don’t see what I’m doing as marketing, but as something more important than that trying to sell soup, soap, or legal services.

Now flip it over. I find very annoying people who have abandoned or never seriously professed the Christian faith, but who try to put their ideas into what they fancy as “Christian” terms — who try to appeal to what they fancy my alternative worldview. This includes, notably, things like the Facebook mêmes on the themes “if you were really a Christian you’d …” or “look how hypocritical these ‘Christians’ are.”

  • It generally comes across as insincere or as a form of browbeating a putative intellectual inferior;
  • It is generally tone-deaf to how Christians (at least Christians like me) think and talk (what I’ve branded “pretexting”); and
  • It generally posits something that isn’t really that way — that is, it tries to say that I as a Christian should believe some way (despite my perception that it’s unreal) simply because that’s what they get out of flying over something Jesus said at 30,000 feet and 500 mph.

I suppose the same could be true of a Christian from one tradition trying to translate their beliefs into one of the significantly different Christian traditions, too.

If I’m right about this “flip it over,” then despite Godin’s theory that they don’t like making an argument that appeals to the other person’s alternative worldview, they make it anyway. Do they think that the thing of which they’re trying to persuade me is no more important and fundamental than soup, soap or legal services? Generally, when people whip out their faux Christian hectoring, they’re talking about some fairly important stuff.

* * * * *

I hadn’t intended to go here when I started writing, but yesterday brought news of a swarthy politician, who on the face of it, is appealing to people of faith to join him and his blond wife (“Heidi” is her name; how precious is that?!) in prayer, but who does so through a webpage that invites your public endorsement and won’t let you even sign up to pray with them unless you give him your e-mail address.

Since when does one sign up to pray in cyberspace? Does he really believe in prayer or is this a form of pretexting? Although he was targeting a different demographic than me, can I be offended anyway?

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.