Friday, June 03, 2005

A Rare Post About Spanking

I jumped headlong into things the other day, when I started writing about religion and the public sphere. I've read responses to what I've what I wrote the other day, on that subject and others too, and I got that same old headrush of joy that I always get when I sense something that's really worth talking about.

Unfortunately, I haven't had enough time to respond to anything properly. I have a lot of ideas about the usefulness of debate, but I don't really have time to put them in the format and place that they belong. I'm going to use my blog as a slop bin instead, and apologies for the mess.

I didn't mean to suggest the other day that I've never learned anything in a debate; I definitely have. For me, a good discussion with a really intelligent person is one of the most useful means I have of figuring out what it is I really think and why it is I think that, and whether or not it's worth holding that opinion at all. Fighting with anyone with a razor sharp mind is a great way to cull your own shallowness in thinking. A good opponent doesn't let you get away with sloppiness, and I'm not too proud to admit that I can be a little sloppy in a fight when I'm really convicted of the righteousness of my opinion.

My problem is that sometimes I smell blood, and I rush right in, wearing all the wrong intentions on my sleeve. I really have come to believe that all of your actions have to be guided by the love of God and the love of your neighbor. When all I'm doing is hunting for the geeky glory of being factually and logically correct, I know that I'm not doing that. It's possible to be completely right in fact, and totally wrong in the eyes of God. As Christians, we have a Great Commission, and if that's not the business I'm about, I'm about the wrong business.

That doesn't mean that all my answers have to be soft or saccarine, because the truth is not soft or saccarine. Flannery O'Connor once wrote that "All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful," and I think that that's fundamentally true. When we choose to fight the truth, we're essentially choosing to fight for our lives, because the truth demands that we die to our selves. Sometimes a discussion is really a mortal combat, and there's no room for undo gentleness when someone's soul is at stake. It doesn't do always do to simply tell a toddler that he'll get hurt if he runs into traffic; sometimes it takes a little more force than that to convince him. The spanking hurts, the truth hurts, but in the end we usually prefer the spanking to our total destruction.

At the same time, I don't believe that people can truly be converted by the sword. My shooting my loud mouth off, and making someone look stupid in an argument, does not teach them anything about what really matters. Love doesn't seek it's own glory; love is not puffed up, or jealous, or looking to score points in some silly argument. Love is patient and kind and always seeking to bring about the ultimate good of the beloved. If I'm not arguing with Love, I'm just abusing the person I'm arguing with. It's sort of like the difference between the parent who spanks their child out of love and the parent who beats their child out of anger. There's discipline and guidance, and there's abuse. I've often been guilty of the latter in a debate, especially online where I can't see in someone's eyes how much I've hurt them.

It takes more wisdom than I've generally been given to figure out how much is too much in an argument. I'm still very young and immature and prone to recklessness. I'm no saint, and in a fight, usually Love is the last thing on my mind. I'm working on it though, because I know that it matters. It mattered for me when a good friend fought with me, and prayed for me, and argued my stubbornness against God into submission long enough for a little of His grace to come down and change me.