Thursday, June 23, 2011

Short on Logos, Disingenuous on Ethos, and Long on Pathos

“O simple ones, learn prudence;
O fools, learn sense.”
--Proverbs 8:5

It’s election year again. Every time the political debates come round, I am reminded of the section in Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death where he described what political discourse looked like a hundred and fifty years ago.

Postman cites the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates as an example of how much things have changed. In 1858 a day’s debate could last seven hours and was packed with richly developed intellectual argumentation. By contrast, today’s politicians typically offer us a succession of quick, disconnected points which attempt to convey a general impression of competence and trustworthiness while lacking in the rigors of analytical depth and philosophical sophistication.

Elvin T. Lim, political scientist from Wesleyan University, has chronicled the gradual dumbing-down of American political discourse in his 2008 publication The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush. Professor Lim looks specifically at presidential speeches, yet his observations have relevance across the spectrum of our nation’s political discussions.

Lim points out that the speeches given by presidents are increasingly filled with vacuous statements that do not invite rational disputation. Speeches are designed to maximize applause lines, stroke the emotions and appeal to our intuitions, while being lean on substantive content. As such, presidential rhetoric completely bypasses the type of higher order thought necessary for proper analysis.

Lim has amassed an impressive array of evidence to chronicle the steady dumbing-down of Presidential rhetoric. He calls this dumbing-down process “anti-intellectualism”, and with good reason. He contrasts it with the classical understanding of rhetoric. For the ancients, good rhetoric included logos (the weighing and judging of reasons for a particular course of action), ethos (the credibility of the speaker) and pathos (emotional appeal). “Presidential rhetoric today” Lim writes, “is short on logos, disingenuous on ethos, and long on pathos.”

HT: Robin Phillips

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Chance to Die

Things were supposed to slow down after Easter.
I promised my wife that I would be more available after the flurry of activity surrounding Passion Week. But alas my predictions were way off. Because of a "late" Easter, the end of the school year activities came quickly on the heels of the holiday. My administrative assistant had her baby two weeks before we expected. This meant that our new pastoral intern was thrown into his role as church administrator with no training. On top of this we are launching a day camp this summer--a new ministry for us. My reaction to this type of perfect storm, of course, is to go into "Superman mode" and think I can single-handedly get everything off the ground at once. Things never go as planned. You would think at 43 I would know this by now. Not so.

When things speed up, the chance of things going wrong increases. And that's what has happened since Easter. From my perspective, a boat load of things have gone wrong. The elusive "have it your way" promise that I think is made to me everyday has vaporized. What I need to realize is that in order for a promise to be kept, it needs to be made. And God hasn't dealt me the "have it your way" hand. It's just not in the cards. What he has promised is that "his way" is always better than "my way." What I really want is for "his way" to trump mine. But in order for that to happen there has to be a surrender of my will to his. This always feels like death--small or large--a death nonetheless. Today's devotional from Elisabeth Elliot says it well:
To be transformed into the image of Christ I must learn his character, love his obedience to the will of the Father, and begin, step by step, to walk the same pathway. For Christ the pathway of obedience began with emptying Himself. I must begin at the same place.

He "made Himself nothing." (Phil 2:7 NEB)

"You must arm yourselves with a temper of mind like His." (l Pt 4:1 NEB)

"If anyone wishes to be a follower of mine, he must leave self behind." (Mt 16:24 NEB)

What does this mean? Is it mere words? How can one leave self behind, make himself nothing? The answer will not come in a vacuum. If a man or woman honestly wishes to be a follower, the opportunity will present itself. Christ will say, "Here is your chance. Now, in this situation, you must make your choice. Will it be self? Or will you choose Me?"

An older missionary said something to Amy Carmichael when she was a young missionary that stayed with her for life. She had spoken of something which was not to her liking. His reply was, "See in it a chance to die." (from A Lamp for My Feet)