The other day I received a pingback to a blog that mentioned me as one of a handful of dangerous Orthodox Christians. I don’t want to mention the blog. I have no problem criticizing intellectual arguments people make, but I try to avoid personal squabbles. That said, the writer quoted me in a way that made me wonder why some feel it is necessary to lie to protect the faith.
In this particular instance, the writer quoted my words but omitted the context that gave them meaning. The result was a caricature of my position. This sort of thing happens all the time, to all sorts of people, along the entire the political spectrum. But I find it particularly disturbing when misrepresentations come from self-proclaimed Christians. It is a bad witness.
I know I am on shaky ground when I accuse someone else of dishonesty, because I am sure I have done this sort of thing too. Presenting an over-simplified version of somebody’s arguments in order to rebut them is called a straw man fallacy, and it is very common. There are two ways to slip into a straw argument.
Accidental Straw Men – We all tend to read with prejudice. What I mean is, we see the title of an article, or we know who an author is, and we decide ahead of time that we disagree with her. As a result, we do not take her argument seriously and end up misinterpreting it.
Intentional Straw Men – Or we can read a person’s argument and decide to simplify and exaggerate it for the sake of rhetorical effect.
I have a bit more sympathy for straw arguments by accident (and I suspect that is what was happening in the case of the person quoting me), but the outcome is the same: deception!
It is easy to see how an intentional straw man is intentionally deceptive (but it is not so easy to know another person’s intentions). I think we can be a bit more forgiving in the case of an accidental straw man, but only a bit more. The person who commits an accidental straw man is lying both to his audience and himself!
It is hard to read with fairness and charity, and we can never fully rid ourselves of our prejudices, but I think confessing the name of Jesus means we have to try. We have to let ourselves be challenged. We have to be willing to change our minds, both about the other person and ourselves. Otherwise, our faith is made of straw, too.