Lay it on thick

So, in an earlier post, I suggested that the Jordan Peterson-Cathy Newman interview fell short because it didn’t really get to the heart of his world-view and he wasn’t able to take us back to belief in the triune God as the root of all his thinking.

All that seems a bit fair given

1.       We don’t know exactly what his faith position is

2.       The presenter wasn’t really interested in that was she?

However, I still want to insist that we would have got further if he had.  I want to suggest that this is a reasonable point to make because we are saying that we want to learn from the interview. This means that we want to learn as much from where it falls short of expectations as well as where it succeeds, even if the reason it falls short is because we are asking it to do something it couldn’t do. Why? First of all because we definitely can give a Christian world-view answer and secondly because whilst we won’t find ourselves being interviewed, we will find ourselves under that kind of pressure as questions, misstatements of our views and objections are fired at us.

Furthermore, I want to suggest that this is the only right strategy. Re-stating and clarifying your true and nuanced position works as a defensive measure but doesn’t really get you where you need to be in cutting through with your argument.

To do that, I would suggest two things.

1.       Gently respond by saying that you feel that you are talking about different things. Explain that you think the other person has misunderstood your position. Don’t be aggressive, don’t pass blame or judgement. Ask permission to start again from first principles

2.       Before you do that, ask permission to understand a little bit more about where they are coming from. What are the things they value and prioritise? What do they mean by certain things.

So, if I was being quizzed by Cathy Newman about gender equality and she was accusing conservative evangelicals as being bigots who keep women down and are homophobic, then I’d want to ask her a few questions myself.

1.       How does she define right and wrong?  Where does she get her values from?

2.       How does she define values? For example, what does she mean by equality, justice, freedom, tolerance and happiness?

3.       Are these equal priorities or would she prioritise some values over others?  How? What happens if someone is happy but treated unequally or isn’t really free? Or does she believe that these values are essentially linked so that you can’t have one without the other. In other words, you cannot be truly happy until you are free and equal?

4.       What does she believe about men and women?  This links to how she defines equality. Does equality mean interchangeable and identical.  She has already stated that each woman is different – but – and this is where Peterson was very helpful, does she think that there are ways in which women generally speaking are similar to each other and different from men.  This bit is important because as we have talked about before, the world-view we hold to depends on the presupposition that there is a difference between men and women.

Then here are some of the things I would want to say:

1.       I’m a Christian and so I believe that there is objective truth. We were made by a perfect and loving God so we need to hear his word on these things

2.       I believe that this loving and perfect God made us in his image. This means that we have equal nature, dignity and value.  This affects how we relate to others and treat them.

3.       I also believe that humans are equal but different.  Now, this is either something we agree on in which case, the conversation is about discovering in what ways we are different and how that affects life, or it is not in which case all of the debate and conversation is going to make little sense unless we get this bit sorted out.

4.       I believe in sin and the Fall. This is important because we will spend lots of time talking about what the world is and considering empirical evidence. However, there is a strong philosophical principle that we distinguish “is” from “ought” we will talk about what the world is like but we may also want to recognise that for a lot of the time what it is like is not what it ought to be like.

5.       I believe about redemption. I believe that God has acted specifically in history in the person of Jesus.

Now, the reality is that all I want to say about work, politics, family life etc only makes sense in the context of my world-view and to understand those things you need to know what my world-view is. If you try to interpret my individual points within your framework, then they may not make sense.  So whilst Jordan Peterson may or may not share my presuppositions, the conversation would have been far more effective if he had got to the heart of what his were.

That’s why I talk about “laying it on thick.” Dan Strange talks about thick answers and thin answers in public theology. By this he means that we can either give a thin answer to a question where we simply talk about the point in hand, pretty much accepting or assuming the world-view of our conversation partner, or we can give a “thick” answer -as in rich and solid and not as in stupid -where we frame it in the context of our presuppositions. The benefit of the latter is that we not only drill down into our roots to show off our presuppositions but we get to drill down and see our conversation partner’s presuppositions too and that means we can challenge them.

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