Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Logic and the Use of Language

Logically speaking, is a metaphor a self-contradiction (a lie)? If I say, "God is light" (I John 1:5) - and since light is a part of creation while God is not - am I telling a lie?

If one doesn't understand language, one would have to conclude that I have committed a logical fallacy. But a child can see that I was not being illogical or irrational. And yet again, if a man were looking for a way to condemn me, he might say that I was teaching a form of pantheism, and that I am irrational - he might even be able to convince others with his argument if my statement was taken out of context and told to someone who was unfamiliar with how I would deny pantheism vehemently.

I've learnt recently that such a disregard of the conventions of language, coupled with the pretence of being logical, is a tactic commonly employed by those who are searching for a way to condemn someone. This perverse tactic is commonly used by atheists trying to "debunk" the Bible as self-contradictory. A cursory read through the classic "Skeptic's Annotated Bible" confirms this. It is their number one strategy. It is a Satanic strategy, because Satan is the accuser, the slanderer, and the father of lies.

While not being naive, our attitude ought to be to seek to understand a person's words in a positive way. Extreme caution is required to guard from judging or condemning too harshly or unjustly. We ought to begin with the assumption of a person's innocence until they are proven guilty. A good understanding of the conventions of language and literary devices is important, and these things are usually understood somewhat intuitively at a rudimentary level from a very young age by all people unless they have a particular communication disability.

We ought to look at the context of what a person has said to try to understand their intended meaning. There may be a few possible meanings to their words (although usually the ambiguity is removed entirely by the context), and it would be wrong to immediately jump to the meaning which would condemn their words. If there is any doubt or ambiguity, the person themselves must be asked to clarify what they mean. This is why our Heidelberg Catechism says, regarding the ninth commandment:

Question 112. What is required in the ninth commandment?
Answer. That I bear false witness [a] against no man, nor falsify [b] any man's words; that I be no backbiter, [c] nor slanderer; that I do not judge, nor join [d] in condemning any man rashly, or unheard; but that I [e] avoid all sorts of lies and deceit, as the proper works [f] of the devil, unless I would bring down upon me the heavy wrath of God; likewise, that in judgment and all other dealings I love the truth, speak it uprightly [g] and confess it; also that I defend and promote, [h] as much as I am able, the honor and good character of my neighbor.

[a]: Prov. 19:5,9; Prov. 21:28
[b]: Psa. 15:3
[c]: Rom. 1:29,30
[d]: Mat. 7:1ff; Luke 6:37
[e]: Lev. 19:11
[f]: Prov. 12:22; Prov. 13:5
[g]: 1Cor. 13:6; Eph. 4:25
[h]: 1Pet. 4:8

I can think of many occasions in which I have not put this into practice as I ought. I pray that we would all put this into practice more and more.


Wiseguy said...

There ARE people with communication difficulties which make it more difficult for them to understand various kinds of literary devices. They may not even know that they have this difficulty, and may never have been diagnosed or even noticed. So, as with all things, a good deal of patience, love, and grace is necessary to overcome misunderstandings.

Even so, if a person simply wants a reason to condemn another's words, then all the explaining in the world (no matter how gracious) will not change their mind. "There are none so blind as those who WILL not see."

manuelkuhs said...

Great thanks Sam! A good reminder of the practical outworkings of love believing and hoping all things (1 Cor. 13