Monday, April 4, 2011

In Between the Two Extremes

Wrinkles Brows :

True greatness is not to be found at either end of the extremes, but is found in touching both ends at the same time and filling up all the space in between.  ~ Blaise Pascal  (Quote is an approximate translation)

Pascal: this generation knows him more for the computer language named for him, than for the scientist, philosopher, and theologian that he was hundreds of years ago.

When I first ran across this quote, it struck me as one of the most profound statements I had ever read.  Years later I still feel that way.  At the risk of making everyone who reads this mad, I have a little thought or two on the rancor with which our public dialogues are currently conducted.  What ever happened to "civil discourse"?
Extremism threatens the very foundations of our society today, both on the left and the right.  I am conservative by nature and temperament, as well as regarding social and financial "positions".

Nevertheless, I cringe as I listen to the strident and often arrogant tone taken by those on the social and political right.  I may agree with their basic premise in many cases, but I strongly disagree with the manner in which they put their case forward.

The liberals, on the other hand, spout "relative values" while rejecting that there is any such thing as an absolute.  And they often espouse a general "redistribution of societal wealth" in a manner that smacks of some of the cultures that have been soundly rejected by those whose governments forced such systems upon them for decades.

While I do not have any great wealth threatened by "social redistribution", I would like to keep most of what I have, and personally decide when and where to give some of it away.

What is a reasonable, responsible, interested, moderate person supposed to do?  It is hard to know, and there likely is no one right answer.  But there must exist some correct clues.

Here are two or three "clues" that I believe have merit, in how to take a stand on issues without, however well intended,  becoming a raving lunatic.

1.  Be well informed - know what you are talking about, before you speak.
        Uninformed opinions are a lot like a 3-day old sandwich:         
        ingesting them can be dangerous, and they generally stink
        up the place.  (I'm just saying...)

2.  Allow for the possibility that the other side may have at least one or two valid points in their argument, even if you largely disagree with their overall premise.
          Remember Erma Bombeck's "The Grass Is Always Greener
          Over the Septic Tank"?  Even a rancid area may have a wild
          flower or two growing in it that may be worth a second look.

3.  Put forward your belief, opinion, or position based upon facts, and conviction, not upon sarcasm, or personal attacks upon those who disagree with you.  (In debate rhetoric they call these "ad hominem" attacks.  Basically scoring an unfair low-blow.)

There are so many current examples of bad manners in public discourse that it is difficult to choose just one or two to use as reference points.

One East coast governor was derided for his political opinions based almost exclusively upon the fact that he was fat.  He is a savvy, sharp-minded, thinker who doesn't mind throwing a few sharp elbows himself, and I may agree or disagree with his opinions.  But I hardly think the number his scale registers is a relevant data point, unless he is applying to be a spokesperson for Weight Watchers.

Another fellow has written a N.Y. Times best-seller espousing universalism, that is the doctrine that a literal hell has been misunderstood and misapplied for generations, and that God's love is going to save everyone.  People are taking out ads, pastors have been fired for voicing an opinion on the book, and folks are generally ready to take up pitchforks over this guy.

Excuse me, but the idea of universalism has been around for hundreds of years,  and most of us conservative evangelicals already know where we stand on the issue.  So, please, could we all just calm down?

Well, that is my little offering (some might call it a diatribe, but I hope you won't) for the day.  Wishing you all a day full of spring sunshine.  ...Marsha


  1. One of the fun things about blogging is that any one of us can be on either the same or a totally different track on any given day... and it all works. For example... today I am on avocados, while you are on Pascal and the thinking his quote promotes!

    I love it, and I also agree with your post, not a 'diatribe', just good common sense!

  2. common sense and common courtesy, kindness and
    the willingness to let each person speak their thoughts, that would be nice.

  3. Hey Marsha, well said. While I describe myself as a liberal, I too believe that best policy this country has ever created is when both sides of the aisle found common ground.

  4. There does seem to be such a lack of civil discourse! We've got an election coming up May 2nd, and I hate when one tears the other's policies and values down but never tells me theirs. Mutual respect - so lacking! They all sure need our prayers!

  5. I love the quotation and I agree with you about civility and respect. It's encouraging to know that others want the same kind of dialogue I would appreciate!