Monday, March 31st, 2008
Different groups have different ways of communicating. How much we should take that into consideration is somewhat controversial. Some imagine that all communication should be transparent to any outsider. I suspect that idea is very naive. On the other side, I don't blame people for having their default position set at taking things at face value until they hear a good argument otherwise.
Obama's pastor the Reverend Jeremiah Wright is one example. Should black preaching style influence how we understand his statements? I'm of the opinion it should, though that has not made it all acceptable to me. I agree with some comments, even if taken at face value, find others acceptable if they are taken as hyperbole, but still find others to be off the charts. The more time I put into this, the easier it is for me to accept certain comments, only to find that other things I have not heard discussed are much, much worse. This matter will likely not be the deciding factor in how I vote. I think I like Obama as a man, but I don't like his economic policies. My one question, if he were the final Democratic candidate, would be whether statism would grow faster under him or McCain. It is not likely I will vote for either one. I am tired of lesser-of-evils voting. In any case, rhetorical style is a difficult matter. How much is to be taken at face value, and how much needs to be heard through a filter? We can even disagree about a speech after we have come to agreement on the filter itself.
I have seen this rhetorical matter come up in Lutheran circles. A friend invited his girlfriend to church. She had a liberal Christian background, but the preaching style was not Law and Gospel. Something was mentioned as sin, and she could not get past it. I suspected that in her church circles, to have someone branded a sinner was to make a pariah out of that person. Perhaps the understanding was that the word sinner entailed that there are the righteous ones who are in the congregation and the sinners out there. This took some pondering.
On the one hand I was tempted to tell my friend to explain Law and Gospel preaching to his girlfriend. On the other, I wondered if that made sense even if I was right about the style. To do so would be to fall into the idea that the Gospel explains the Law away. But if it does not, then the Law being preached in its full rigor will often be offensive. But does it have to be offensive that way? I'm still not sure I have an answer. I do know that in many congregations, people who attend such a church regularly can have been guilty of the specific sins in the past and think, "Yes, that describes me. I've done that," without feeling personally offended. And I think this is a healthy thing. Whatever else I conclude, it does serve to show that when people don't hear the whole message, they might draw false conclusions from the parts.
These days, we often think we can drop one rhetorical form and translate the old material into a new one. The sales pitch is often chosen as the new form. "Do you have a message you want to get across? Well, our people can help you deliver your message more effectively." How often have we fallen for that? The medium becomes the message, and the message that ends up being delivered is that we think that the media is all-powerful. We imagine that form and content are totally separable. "Evangelical style" can be used to deliver "Lutheran substance." Those of us who grew up evangelical know just how much evangelical substance seems to cling to the edges of that container.
12:36 pm Pacific Standard Time
Saturday, March 29th, 2008
A correspondent has written me an able and interesting letter in the
matter of some allusions of mine to the subject of communal kitchens. He defends communal kitchens very lucidly from the standpoint of the
calculating collectivist; but, like many of his school, he cannot apparently grasp that there is another test of the whole matter, with
which such calculation has nothing at all to do. He knows it would be cheaper if a number of us ate at the same time, so as to use the same
table. So it would. It would also be cheaper if a number of us slept at different times, so as to use the same pair of trousers. But the
question is not how cheap are we buying a thing, but what are we buying? It is cheap to own a slave. And it is cheaper still to be a slave.
— G.K Chesterton
[T]he basic cause of the energy crisis is not scarcity: it is moral ignorance and weakness of character. We don’t know how to use energy or what to use it for. And we cannot restrain ourselves. Our time is characterized as much by the abuse and waste of human energy as it is by the abuse and waste of fossil fuel energy.
— Wendell Berry
3:15 pm Pacific Standard Time