Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect 200 Dollars
The accusation that one has been misrepresented by another is a very helpful tool in debate. It allows one to turn the tables on his opponent in two respects. Firstly, one’s opponent is not allowed to move any farther. He must now focus his attention on demonstrating that he has not intentionally or unintentionally misrepresented the position he opposes. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly in public debates, one’s opponent is perceived as being ignorant or deceptive or bigoted, or perhaps all three at once. Ironically, the more one’s opponent has to defend himself, the worse he sounds to the casual listener. And this is true regardless of whether or not one’s opponent is telling the truth, properly representing position he opposes, and fully devoted to not misrepresenting the position he opposes.
The accusation is a rhetorical “GO DIRECTLY TO JAIL” chance card (pictured above), which restrains any real dialogical and/or dialectical progress as one’s opponent is left playing a perpetual “catch up” game. It’s an easy card to deal to one’s opponent, as it takes very little intellectual legwork and, therefore, allows one to direct his mental energies elsewhere. Hence the popularity of it in our own age. We live in an age defined (ironically) by postmodernist philosophers who so localized language, ideas, beliefs, and the significance of human behavior in general – finding the origin of these things not in the mind and will of God but in ephemeral and geographically constrained intersubjective collectives/communities – that unless one was repeating those languages, ideas, beliefs, and human behaviors verbatim he was thought to be misrepresenting them.
Though postmodernism is an academic corpse at this point, our culture is still dealing with that corpse’s posthumous muscle twitches. Specifically, we have seen the rise of a youth culture that thinks there are no objective points of reference which may allow someone else to use another set of words when describing them. A Christian may, for instance, say that John – who is endowed with male genitalia – is a man, and yet become the subject of vitriolic shaming for “assuming his gender!” Whether or not there is an explicitly stated reason for identifying John as a male – i.e. he has male genitalia – there is, in the eyes of many in our era, no justification for speaking to the issue of John’s gender as if there is an objective standard which allows us to use a variety of terms that, much to the consternation of social justice warriors and radical feminist theorists the world over, may expose John for what he is…a dude.
Nobody Understands Me!
Sadly, the same attitude can be found among many professing Christians. Rather than doing the hard work of examining another’s criticism of their position/s, they almost immediately deal the “Go Directly to Jail” chance card to their detractors. And by so doing, they disallow the use of differing terms when discussing their position/s. Additionally, they disallow the use of logic when examining their position/s, claiming that if they themselves don’t explicitly state that they believe in that which has been soundly inferred from their position/s then this is adequate grounds for suspending any criticism related to the logical fruit of their position/s. Perhaps more than any other, the “strawman fallacy” is constantly found on the lips and pixels of professing Christians – who simultaneously decry the postmodernist culture that claims there are 9,050 genders just because people feel like they are a different gender that cannot be encapsulated by the existing terminology of the biological orthodoxy of our day, or any day of the week for that matter – when no instance of the fallacy can actually be found.
So I’ve come to call the tendency of some to say they are always being misrepresented the “Nobody Understands Me Fallacy,” or NUMF for brevity’s sake. Here is how the fallacy works in a one on one conversational context.
John: I believe that God will give some people in hell a second chance to go to heaven.
Bob: Really? You believe that God will present some people in hell with another opportunity to repent and believe the gospel and be saved?
John: I never said that.
Bob: Isn’t what I said logically identical to what you said? I’m confused.
John: I just don’t know if I can agree to how you’re representing my belief.
Bob: Okay. Why?
John: I just wouldn’t use that kind of language.
Bob: Fair enough. Maybe I’m not getting it. What, then, would you say?
John: Well, just what I said earlier. I believe that God will give some people in hell a second chance to go to heaven.
Bob: [Confusedly chortling] Like, on a field trip?
John: There’s no need for sarcasm, brother.
Bob: [Downcast, apologetic, and pensive] Sorry, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that assertion if I can’t draw out logical inferences from it. What do you mean when you say that God will grant some people another opportunity to enter the heaven of God?
John: Brother, I think you mean well. But you seem to be misunderstanding me. [Gesticulating] I never said that God will “grant” some people “another opportunity to enter the heaven of God.” Please don’t misrepresent my view. I have tried my best to be as charitable toward your position as possible. You could at least try to return the favor.
Bob: I am honestly confused, John. I’m just trying to understand what you mean by the particular set of words you’ve chosen to express your belief. You stated your belief that some people will be given a second chance, by God, at some point in time during their being in hell, to go to heav –
John: [Sighingly] Numf. I never said any of that, brother. This is very disappointing. I thought we could discuss our theological differences in a civil manner. But how can we even begin to talk about these issues if you keep misrepresenting what I believe? I don’t want to believe that are you doing this on purpose…so, I don’t know, maybe we’ll just have to chalk it up to you being unfamiliar with my beliefs. Maybe we can revisit the subject once you have a better handle on it. But for now, I just don’t think this will be a fruitful exchange, seeing as you continue to misrepresent my belief and put words in my mouth.
Have a blessed day.
[Floats past Bob, carried on crease-less silver cloud.]
And here is precisely how the NUMF works in a larger social context.
Billy Radio Guy [BRG]: [Radio Intro music fades out] Thanks for joining me on my podcast, John! Ever since learning about your belief that God gives some sinners in hell a second chance, we here at WLUVHRTICS Radio have been anxious to get you on to discuss second chancism.
John: [Half bowingly] Thanks, brother. It’s an honor to be on WLUVHRTICS Radio! Just at the start, though, I want to clear things up a bit. If I may. May I?
[BRG]: [Starry-eyed] SURE! Hey man, it’s your show! Let’s hear it!
John: Well, it’s your show. [winks] But I do appreciate the sentiment. That’s why I have to say it’s hard for me to correct you so early on in the interview. I’m a big fan of WLUVHRTICS Radio. It’s just, well, you know….um, my belief is frequently misrepresented by Christians who, bless their hearts, have held to a traditional belief in non-second-chancism for so long that they have a hard time understanding my position.
[BRG]: Oh. My bad! I can see where you’re coming from.
John: I’m assuming you hold to the non-second-chancist position?
[BRG]: Yes. [Jokingly] Guilty as charged!
John: I thought so. It’s a common enough error, you know, so I’m not like singling you out as dumb or anything. Just, uh, trying to clarify. The second-chancist position is actually defined as “the belief that God will give some people in hell a second chance to go to heaven.”
[BRG]: [Confusedly] I. Oh. I thought that’s what I said.
John: Well, sadly, no. You actually said that second chancism is my belief, and that isn’t strictly the case. I know, I know, it’s a small point to some. However, contrary to popular opinion, it’s actually quite significant since it’s not just my belief. Second-chancism has been held by quite a few prominent people in church history. So it’s not just my belief, but a belief held by many godly leaders whose orthodoxy has been recognized throughout church history.
[BRG]: Ah, I understand now. I repent in sackcloth a –
John: Sorry, I wasn’t finished explaining myself. You also said that second-chancism is the belief that “God will give some sinners in hell a second chance.” But neither I nor any other known advocates of second-chancism have or presently do believe that God gives some sinners in hell a second chance. Like I stated earlier, we have always held to the belief that “God will give some people in hell a second chance to go to heaven.”
And I understand the confusion. I used to be a non-second-chancist, too. Most people don’t really understand our position, unfortunately.
[BRG]: Hm. Really? I’ve read some pretty decent papers by a Diram Hiaz – I don’t know if you’re familiar with his work in this area – and they seem to have at least a rudimentary grasp of your position.
John: [Chortlingly] Numf! Well, I hate to have to say it, brother of mine in glory, but he’s just one of the many people who continually misrepresents the second-chancist position. We, myself and other second-chancists, have been very charitable toward all of our critics. Sadly, unfortunately, depressingly, regrettably, however, they haven’t returned the favor. Instead, it’s mostly been misrepresentation from their camp. It’s hard to have a fruitful dialogue when your critics can’t even get your position right….
And so on.
How Then Shall We Pass Go and Collect $200?
The solution to the NUMF’s in popularity is simple: Embrace the Christian worldview and its standards of reason, argumentation, etc and not that which is embraced by the secular world. Throughout the Scriptures, God “misrepresents” the “gods” of the other peoples by calling them not only “demons” but also by distorted versions of their names. For instance, scholars believe that “Molech” was originally the name “Melek,” but changed by biblical authors. Why? In order to better represent the objective truth about the supposed deity, viz. these were shameful entities whose worship was abominable to God. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia explains –
Molech is obtained from melekh by the substitution of the vowel points of Hebrew bosheth, signifying “shame.”
The same can be said of Beelzebub, a name used for Satan in Scripture. The name originally was Baalzebub, meaning “Lord of the house.” But it is likely that God purposefully changed the name to Beelzebub, which means “Lord of the flies” (or Lord of the dung). (Source)
Now, of course, God does not actually misrepresent these false gods. Rather, he represents them truthfully by bringing to light their despicable natures. And this, it must be said, is not wrong. In fact, the Lord Jesus did the same. He even identified the successful proselytization attempts of the Pharisees as being successful in making men twice as hellbound and inspired by hell as the Pharisees were. In our day, would this not be identified as “misrepresentation?” After all, I’m sure the Pharisees would not have represented what they were doing in that way.
The fact of the matter is that there is nothing logically or ethically wrong with using a different set of words to refer to an idea expressed by one’s opponent (originally expressed with a completely different set of words). There is nothing logically or ethically wrong with identifying another’s belief as heretical, or idolatrous, or wicked, or heinous. If the description accords with Scripture’s evaluation of such a belief, then it is actually wrong to not respond in such a manner. And there is nothing wrong with attributing the logical implications of a belief to the belief itself, that is, after all, the source of the implications! If one’s belief leads to a contradiction of orthodox Christianity, the criticism that such a belief leads to a contradiction of orthodox Christianity is not only allowable, it is necessary.
Let us stop dealing out the NUMF card. And let’s stop accepting it as a legitimate reason for dialogue/discussion to come to a screeching halt.
Let us do the hard work of dealing with criticisms leveled against our beliefs.
Let us behave like the prophets, apostles, and even our Lord Jesus did and simply call a spade a spade –
Regardless of whether or not our opponents would have used that kind of language to describe their beliefs.
Soli Deo Gloria