Thursday, July 4, 2013


On Sunday mornings this summer, I have been leading a class on the BOOK OF JOB.  This past Sunday we looked at the speeches of Job's friend Eliphaz.  As I had pondered earlier on how to relate these ancient speeches to people in the 21st century, I came to realize that I have met this guy a number of times in my life.  In fact, I suspect he has commented occasionally on this blog. 

For those readers who are unfamiliar with the story:  Job was a man who was going through nearly unbearable sufferings which we the readers know were totally undeserved.  Three of Job's friends come to comfort him and sit silently with him until Job spills his guts -- a series of whys? directed, it seems primarily at God.  From here on Eliphaz, along with the other two, shows little sympathy with Job; he has a theory about Job's sufferings that is quite simple: Job's sufferings are deserved; Job has sinned against God and must repent to gain restoration.  The greater part of the book is occupied with their debate; neither is listening to the others' tirades; they are simply talking past each other.

I had long thought of Eliphaz as an example of what Job terms a "miserable comforter," one whose attempts at solace only added to the suffering.  But I realize that while this is correct, Eliphaz is more than that.  His failures as a comforter are merely symptoms of something more -- what has been termed "motivated reasoning."  Chris Mooney explains thus: "motivated reasoning... builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience: reasoning is actually suffused with emotion.  We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close....  In other words, by the time we're consciously reasoning, we may instead be rationalizing our prior emotional commitments.  We may think we're being scientists, but we're actually being lawyers."

Eliphaz was not as concerned with helping his friend through his crisis as he was  concerned with defending his theological position.  He wasn't listening to Job.  In fact he may have felt that Job's complaints were challenges to his closely held convictions.

As I look at some of the comments that appear on my blog, I suspect that occasionally I  find Eliphaz speaking.  The readers who comment seem at times more concerned about asserting their own position and rebutting mine than engaging in a positive discussion.  What bothers me more than this, however, is the temptation for me to do the same, which sometimes happens.

A friend of mine re-posted my previous post on facebook and described it as "a healthy debate."  I thanked her and I'm always glad to have my posts shared, but I felt uncomfortable with referring to it as a debate.  I've always been uncomfortable with that word, even though, or especially since I've often been referred to as a debater.  I'd rather consider my writings and my discussion as dialogue.

Though the words "debate" and "dialogue" are often used interchangeably, there are some genuine differences in meaning.

A debate seems to concentrate on points of disagreement.  There appears to be more of a concern about winning, about determining who is right.  The presidential debates held last year were a good example.  At the end of each debate the commentators and talking heads would give us the "score" and tell us who had won (it would usually be the one they were in agreement with).  There was little discussion about the validity of the arguments presented but much discussion about how they were presented.

A dialogue, however, as I understand it, is concerned more about points of agreement.  It is not as concerned about determining who is right as it is about determining what is right, that is, the truth.  Of course, there will be points of disagreement and those involved will be attempting to convince, but hopefully the truth will be the winner.

So I ask my readers to continue to comment, whether you agree or disagree.  I'll keep publishing your comments, whatever they are; but please consider the things I've written as challenges to your thinking, not simply challenges demanding rebuttal.  Thanks!



Canadian Atheist said...

Good points Bill. I do like debate, but I rarely take it personally unless personally attacked. If I'm discussing views, opinions or beliefs, I don't take it personally. I hope you never feel as if I'm attacking you personally, because that's the furthest thing from my mind when I post. True, I disagree with your point of view often but I also agree with it often. At the very least, I admire your willingness to discuss and have your beliefs challenged.

I also think we lose something with text talking. The point is there, but the demeanor of the writer (tone of voice etc) are missing. I sincerely hope to one day have the opportunity to meet you. I think you'd see we have more in common than we do differences.

Bill Ball said...

Thanks Mike. I always appreciate your comments and I agree that you and I have much in common, perhaps more than we have differences. And I don't take your comments personally. Heck I don't take personally the mean comments that some readers do make. I figure that those few who attempt to attack personally are saying more about themselves than about me.
My concern is that debate often clouds the issues and truth is ignored.
I'm also looking forward to meeting with you. I guess the first I need to do is to get my passport renewed.

Bill Ball said...

By the way Mike I hope you noticed that I was quoting an Atheist as my "authority." :^)

Canadian Atheist said...

Ha ha! I did notice that. :)