On Heat and Light

When I was in grad school, I wound being part of a team that went to another to debate a Baptist preacher on the subject of baptism. OK, so my part on the "team" was to flip overhead transparencies as they were called for; there were over 300 charts prepared in advance and many more were created ans the debate progressed, so this was little job. And I was also permitted to sit in on the strategy sessions for each night's debate... provided that I kept very quiet.

To say that this debate was acrimonious would be an understatement. Almost from the get go, there were interruptions from the time-keepers, points of order objections from the moderators and general one-ups-manship from everyone as both sides tried to win points and make the other side look foolish and uninformed. Things got very ugly and very loud very quickly. At one point, one of the overhead charts (that I flipped very professionally) read, "My opponent has said…" and then quoted him on the chart. Immediately there was a thundering "Point of order" objection as our opponent’s moderator (which seemed to function more like the "second" in a duel, except with more attitude) demanded to know the source of the quotation. On the chart, the statement was enclosed in quotation marks indicating a direct quotation, so they wanted to know the citation details. Of course, this was completely disingenuous; what they wanted was to interrupt the flow of the speech and win a few points. So we had to find a citation for the quote.

The next day, our "team" spent some time listening to the tapes of the previous night's debate, and we found a place where they guy made the statement… sorta.  The only problem was that he wasn’t actually saying what we had said he that he had said. In fact, he was really saying just the opposite. But if we started the quote late and stopped it early, then it appeared that he said what we needed him to say. So the plan was to dub the statement to a fresh tape and play it that night, proving that we were right and he was wrong. And thus we could exclaim, to borrow a quote from the old Lady Godiva story, “Horary for our side!”

It was at this point that I made my only contribution to the discussion in this planning (or was it plotting) session. I said verrrry tentatively, "But that’s not really what he is saying, is it?" They were taking the guy totally out of context, and I naively and innocently thought that somehow mattered. Well, you would have thought that I had started speaking in tongues! They glared at me for several seconds and didn’t say a word. And then they went back to dubbing there tape. And I never opened my mouth for the rest of the debate trip.

I learned a powerful lesson that day. The point of religious argument is the exact same point as in political argument, legal argument, marital argument and every other kind of argument there is—the point is to WIN, period. Truth, honesty and integrity are more casualties of war than they are the point of the discussion. Sure, it doesn’t have to be that way, but sadly it that way more often than not (at least in my experience).  The point of any argument is to win... and all is fair in love and war and argument.

So what’s the point of my trip down memory lane? Maybe I don’t have one. Or maybe I’m just reminding myself that the heat of debate usually has very little to do with the light of truth. I think that’s a good thing to reminder every now and again.