Lying in the Name of Jesus

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!

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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.


10 thoughts on “Lying in the Name of Jesus”

  1. It would be helpful to include a link to the blog that purportedly misrepresents a position of yours. You’re writing about whatever blog it is that you’re writing about, so I’m not sure how not posting link would make so much difference in avoiding a squabble.

    1. Rules is rules, Alex. My intent was not to kvetch about my miserable self but to note that the event in question got me thinking about a wider phenomenon. Those who really want to judge whether I am accurately interpreting the citation in question, or whether I am being too sensitive, can probably figure it out pretty easily. They would, of course, be missing the point entirely.

    1. Which is like misrepresenting someone in print and then footnoting it. The person has to follow that footnote, and even then it is still deceptive. But I doubt you will agree with my interpretation whatever the case.

    2. The ambiguity of your position is part of the problem. What specifically did that article artibute to your position that you would like to disavow? If you answer that, it might clarify things. If you are unwilling to say, you have proved that article’s point.

    3. Ha! So we are back to this again, are we? We’ve had this conversation before, Father. I find it fascinating that the how comfortable I am with my own ambiguity to myself (and as a consequence, others) makes you so uncomfortable. That ambiguity was made into certainty in the passage in question. This suggests to me either deliberate misrepresentation or (more likely) reading with great prejudice.

      I called myself a heretic in that same article. To say something to the extent of, “David Dunn, a self-proclaimed heretic…” would clearly manipulate the meaning of my words, would it not? Irony, irony, irony.

      But, like I said, I am pretty sure you are going to disagree with me on this…probably no matter what I say. Therefore, I wish you good night. Please remember me in your prayers. I am out.

    4. If you take a position that is both ambiguous and suggestive, you can’t get too upset when people think you mean what you suggest, especially if you won’t say how they have distorted your position.

  2. I sincerely empathize, David, as the internet seems to “bring out the devil,” and my first post here was in response to you posting me “dogging” you, or so it goes… It seems to me there is a false “empowerment” inherent to the medium – particularly in the case of “anonymity” – because there is a fundamental lack of consequence for even “lying,” so why not say it? What is the probability we will “actually” cross paths? And at least for me, the vast majority of “critiques” are never in regard to substance or merit, but are personal; from my values, to my “agendas,” to my sexual orientation, my education, and for heaven’s sake, the length of my hair! I have concluded that, convinced that while there is something relevant to share, I am obligated to soak up a little hanta from the rodents.

    St . Chrysostom, while addressing bishops in specific, gives a message applicable
    to anyone in a “scrutinized” position: it is predictable, endemic, and we should model the actions of St. Paul:

    On the Priesthood, Book VI, IX: Why should anyone speak of the injuries that result from grief, the insults, the abuse, the censure from superiors, from inferiors, from the wise, and from fools; for the class who are wanting in right judgment are particularly fond of censuring, and will never readily allow any excuse. But the truly excellent [Bishop] ought neither to think lightly of these, but to clear himself with all men of the charges which they bring against him, with great forbearance and meekness, pardoning their unreasonable fault-finding, rather than being indignant and angry about it.

    And so, we learn to sleep now in the fire.

  3. “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” – Oscar Wilde

    As a psychology student, it often helps me to understand why my words are being straw-manned. Often it is simply due to the fact that another person truly feels that the values they hold most dear – that help them deal with reality and make sense/purpose out of the world – are being threatened. It is just that as a person you have developed a way of looking at religion that is affirming and beautiful and strengthening to you, but it requires looking at truth and texts in a different way, and this quality by itself isn’t much of a virtue at all, unless it is guided by certain faith-affirming principles. Someone might only see the deconstruction part and not the affirming part, and that is threatening.

    I am not saying that this knee-jerk emotional reaction is a virtue, just that it is both common and human, and it exists in Christians like everyone else.


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