Monday, July 30, 2007

The Chill of Intellectual Laziness

Of all the intellectual sins, the ad hominem attack is perhaps the greatest. For the uninitiated, this means seeking to refute or condemn an argument by attacking the personal character or attributes of the person proffering it. Many examples abound:
  • The pro-life message is attacked because its proponents are sometimes kooky-looking old men waggling their fingers while thumping bibles and carrying poorly-spelled placards;

  • Conrad Black contributes some extraordinary work on the life of FDR, or makes a speech about economic policy, and we are reminded of his vanity or piques and quarrels in the business, legal or political realms;

  • Warren Kinsella contributes insightful political commentary, and his enemies (which he collects with some regularity) respond with rather boring reminders about all the times he’s been taken down a peg (i.e. the stupid cookie cartoon, apologies on his website to settle threatened or actual defamation actions – oh heck, now I’m doing it!);

  • The Catholic Church preaches the truth about human sexuality, marriage, or the dignity of human life and our opponents remind us of the child sex abuse scandals.

Here is my problem: a thing is either true or it is not. It does not become more or less true by virtue of the character or personal failings of the person espousing it. We have to allow for the possibility that the world’s greatest blithering idiot may occasionally drop a pearl of wisdom from which the whole of mankind could benefit, if we only just paid attention. Since becoming a Christian, I have discovered a few things about my fellow humans:

First, they are (just like me and you) prone to sin; that is to say, they will from time to time exhibit moral failings that will hurt and disappoint others unjustly. If we take any given two people, one of whom is known to sin and another who is held in higher esteem, I submit the latter is no better than the former; his sin simply remains hidden, or he is perhaps in a phase of his life where his sin is less than it has been before, or will be in the future. The moral differences between them are largely illusionary.

Second, we can learn something from anyone. If we ever find ourselves in one of those dreary conversations with someone we consider to be loathsome, annoying or stupid, we should push those thoughts out of our heads and try – for as long or short a period of time as we can stand it – to shut up and listen to what is being said. You will learn something, I guarantee it.

There’s a reason we are called to be practicing Christians – because we'll never get right!

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