Friday, December 28, 2012

Never Bring Your Ego to a Theological Gunfight Part 2 or What Weak/Invested Egos Look Like at a Theological Gunfight and What and Why Weak/Invested Egos Say about Others and Their Mistaken Views about Arrogance and Inability to Properly Define and Recognize It


I do love long titles but let’s skip that for now. Recently I have encountered an example of what I consider to be a premium illustration of the hazards of ego-investment in one’s theology and certainly its terrible effects on theological discovery and debate. And in Part 1 of this two-part series I revealed what I considered "ego-investment" in one's theology. Well, it has come a knocking once again at my door step. What I am referring to has transpired during the last year from my interaction at a Christian website which has theological articles of interest (and sometimes other topics) and a discussion forum.

I enjoy theological discovery with the process of discussion and debate a key element since it enables propositions to be disproved by others, thus affording the opportunity to correct errant views before too much mileage is put on them. And inevitably as one collaborates with others in this fashion there are conflicts which arise. However, normally such matters are tended to within the discussion and without pursuit outside of the immediate interaction. 

Sometimes, however, this is not so. There are the exceptions to the rule, others who prefer, instead, to enlarge and extend the drama of the conflict either within the discussion or by pursuing it via a personal contact with all the theatrics contained in their contact (This is not to say there cannot be genuine offenses that validly are followed with private contacts but generally they are quite rare seeing that, as I said, the mature participants either ignore the offense or deal with it in the discussion). And typically such campaigning agents have as their impetus, that is their motivation, not really a disagreement on a topic and the elements of the debate; rather, they are fueled by some one having gotten the better of them in an exchange. The claim(s) of offense are consistently manufactured or stem from the exaggeration of human foibles of which they are most intolerant in others but quite forgiving in themselves. 

These intermediaries are usually boisterous, periphrastic, highly dramatic and emotional as well as keen on trying to use juvenile jeering as a rhetorical device since they do not understand the art of using well crafted and timely hyperbole or absurdity, to name just a couple of such devices. But more importantly, they are usually at best only half right in their arguments. 

So when one replies to them, if they aim to be on target with both the facts and the construct of the arguments which has the use of rhetorical devices in view (I feel at liberty to use all of the rhetorical devices available to make my arguments such as hyperbole, absurdity or synecdoche, particularly since I am on the receiving end of it quite a bit so I consider it something to which the opponent, so to speak, will relate), when you submit your response you have a two-fold defeat for the arrogant and inadequate ego-invested Christian. 

First, you have defeated their arguments and secondly you have displayed the inferiority of their form which ironically is often of greater concern to them than the substance (though they are usually quite unaware of their backwards priorities). In other words, not only has their substance been mastered but their form as well. 

Now, you aren’t intending on humiliating them but that is the ramification in their mind having begun with an ego-invested position or having made foolish arguments to which they imagined there was no superior response. Imagine the internal rage which ensues in the mind of the of the arrogant and inadequate person when they have erred in sizing you up as an opponent which they can defeat only to be doubly humiliated in front of their peers? Right, it isn’t pretty.

Why Does This Take Place with Christians? 

Some Christians mistakenly invest their ego in their Biblical beliefs and claim them as personal property. Hence, when they make arguments for certain Biblical (or otherwise frankly) beliefs it is not just the Word of God they are defending but it is their ego, again because they are ego-invested. 

And most of the time such people do not own what are called “big boy pants”. They are arrogant and inadequate in reality and their normal response to having the errors of their arguments exposed and remedy submitted is to throw a fit the size of which a baby gorilla would be proud 

In life and specifically in the body of Christ, you will encounter such people. Thus Christian friend, I want to help you become wise to understand that while someone may have years as a believer, they may have theological degrees or have been in the ministry for years, maybe decades, they may be quite unfit for reasonable and mature dialog and debate. And if you are not aware that such people populate the Christian landscape you can easily be injured in your naive but understandable view that they have your welfare and the truth of God as their objective when, in reality, it is the assuaging of their ego which is their vested interest. This comes from sin which is in all of us and which we must refuse to allow as a dominate feature of our lives instead yielding to the fullness of God’s Spirit. 

And this brings me to two correspondences which do not have the name of the author on them to preserve their confidentiality As well, the letters, themselves, are absent of any information which would enable you to make any kind of determination as to who that person may be because that is truly irrelevant. What is relevant is learning from these so when you encounter such traits in others you will be informed. So here are the two emails and then some analysis.

Email 1

Your note was rude. You need to be careful my friend in the back and forth. You come off as arogant in your public post to me. I have an earned Doctorate, have pastored for nearly 25 years and have studied in 5 institutions and have studied scores of passages and thousands of pages dedicated to the topic at hand - so your painting me as if I just have a pre-concieved idea, outside of serious Bible examination was out of place. What would have been better is to simply ask for more Scripture than to simply blast me with the accusation that my post is an example of the problem. Alex you probably are not a jerk but you sure came off as one today - please my brother - be more careful. If for no other reason, out of respect for one another, it would have been better to write me privatly (like I am just now) than to say what you said here publically. My guess is you've  been equally rude to other members before. Remember Alex, just because you can say something publically doesn't mean you should say it publically.
I am a moderator - so consider this a friendly warning. If it happens again and I see it, I'll pass this on to the mods and the adm.
Email 2
It's OK that you don't agree with me - you won't be the first and I'm sure you won't be the last. But as a pastor for the last 21 years....and having dealt with a lot of guys like you here and there and watching the kind of damage you sometimes cause - I'm lovingly warning you to tone it down. You too frequently come off as arrogant and argumentative and haughty. If you don't stop it - I'll be encouraging the mod's to remove you. They might not.... but I'll do it anyway. You should try writing and living with the balance of truth and love. I have to tell you I get regular notes from others explaining how embarrassing you are. You've all but lost your testimony to many here …Now maybe you don't care - If you don't, I think that also tells me something.
Alex - you are sharp guy! As a matter of fact you are brilliant in a lot of areas. I'm impressed with the broad range of data you've obviously consumed. I'm sure you have great tools for a writing and/or teaching ministry. If you want anything of a ministry in the coming years - I would encourage you to re-evaluate how you come off. In that I don't know you please trust I have your best interest in mind. Also note that I'm writing you in private - this is in keeping with the spirit of the Scriptures. Man you write as if you are dealing with past or present issues. Look - I know there have been times I've come hard at you - I'm happy to push all that aside and be your friend if you need one.

The Missing Ingredient 

As you read the two letters something should come to your attention immediately, namely its missing contents. Remember, this contact is the result of engaging in theological dialog about theological views but what do I receive from someone purportedly most interested in Biblical issues? Not arguments which support any of the concerned views but personal moralizing and crusading as substitutes for such arguments because, in fact, he either has none or was defeated by mine if he had any. 

This is what people who bring their egos to a theological gunfight do as one of their primary responses when they cannot surmount an effective defense of their views, they go on a moral crusade in an attempt to build their self up and destroy you with accusations of character failure. The Latin term for this is “ad hominem” or against the person. They cannot win with arguments about the subject matter, thus they argue the person. You can see that the person writing me is not really concerned with the theological topic we had been discussing, that is secondary if at all important.  Rather their concerns reflect matters of the ego and they are on a mission to protect theirs seeing it is so heavily invested in their theological arguments which they believe have been attacked. 

Get it? To attack a theological position is to attack their person since they have invested their ego into their theology and made it their personal property. 

When you bring your ego to a theological gunfight this is what happens. You get offended and you respond in such a manner. You lose perspective and focus on the injury to your ego and not to your argument. Why? Because you are too personally invested in your argument, you are ego-driven. 

Thus, you will offer a pie with no filling in return or a hollow tree which bears no leaves and gives no fruit. Take good note at the nature of one’s protest when one brings their ego to a theological gunfight -  you are not responding to the matters at hand rather are tending to your ego and its perceived injury - understand you have come to a theological gunfight not just unprepared but already defeated. It is not about the truth it is about you and this will be the nature of your responses. 

Crusadership-Mentality 

Crusadership-mentality is unfortunately a commonality within humanity from which the church, the body of Christ, is not immune. Most of us as individuals both in our private citizenry and our ecclesiastical citizenry have encountered some kind of moral crusade which confronted us and demanded a choice, often capitulation or else. Such efforts are based on self-righteousness at its highest levels. 

Crusadership-mentality is not merely arrogance but arrogance which has developed into a complex in a person or collective (a group) in which their moral cause and its prescribed remedy is so magnified that those who may disagree with them are not merely in error but evil. Most crusaders do not begin at the place of a crusade rather they begin with the typical ego-invested life. However, at some point these future crusaders fail to keep it in check and balance it with humility. 

They normally are nurtured in or insist upon an environment which protects them from the consequences of their bad decisions and unduly elevates their common ideas as brilliant or superior in some manner. Hence, over time they develop an arrogance complex in which they genuinely believe that others rarely understand them because they see so much others do not and mistakenly believe their ideas and value system rarely can be matched because, of course, they do all the evaluating themselves. They are their own peer-review group. 

Thus, when you isolate such people in a one-on-one discussion they are ill-prepared for the conflict. One of the classic cases in point was during the 2012 elections when President Obama faced former Governor Mitt Romney in their first debate. Obama had been shielded by a willing Press Corp from serious scrutiny regarding his policies and practices. Obama was so defeated that he rarely could pick his head up to look at Romney when being addressed. 

Obama’s response and that of his election team was not to remedy his failures with substantive offerings, instead they double-downed on demonizing Romney and the GOP and unfortunately it worked (which says much about the voting population). I have a personal theory as to why it worked and do not believe that there needs to be some kind of wholesale change with the GOP but that is for another day. 

However, this is the way it is in theological debates with such people. They cannot endure for long before reverting to their true selves, an ego-driven person who, when trapped, will then respond with a crusade against the person or group with which they cannot compete. Additionally, they will attempt to pressure all those in whatever arena of influence they have to acquiesce to their view of your person. It will never be about ideas or else they would have no basis for their crusade or any of its efforts. But as an ego-driven soul they can do no other. 

I am certain my readers have either participated in or been a victim of some kind of crusade, large or small, petty or significant. And there is one thing which remains constant in all of this and on both sides is that when crusadership-mentality is driving, the direction is never to discover the truth, it is to crusade, to posture and to promote the exaggerated values and remedies of a person or collective who have an arrogance-complex which needs some long-term enforced humility if it is to ever cure itself.

Moralizing 

The man or woman who comes to a theological debate, or as I call it a theological gunfight, with their ego leading the way will routinely have offerings characterized with moralizing and crusading. In other words, instead of actually dealing with the subject and proposals by others they are distracted by the opportunity to attempt to make a moral case with accusations toward their opponent or opponents as being arrogant, rude, unkind, or harsh and this is because fundamentally this is how arrogant and inadequate people operate. 

There is a distinct reason for this which is they did not come with theological ammunition they came with ego ammunition. The “ego-gun” uses emotions with all of its hysteria, posturing and false claims of victimization at the hands of their tyrannical opponent as its ammunition. Thus, when it is fired it speaks of how hurtful, unkind and insensitive the other has been to the wounded Bambi. Ultimately, you are bad and the ego-driven person is good. 

They have to compensate for their embarrassing loss somehow and this is how. If they can create the narrative in their mind that you have a personal deficiency, some moral lassitude, they then need not deal with the actual points being argued, the substance of their opposite or the failure of their arguments, rather they, in their ego-driven mind, believe they can dismiss their nemesis on moral grounds. Thus, when responding they will begin not just pointing out imagined or exaggerated offenses but will go on a moralizing crusade against that person.

The Control and Silencing of Others 

The ego-driven believer, when he or she is unable to produce what they believe are satisfactory results when engaging or competing with others will normally reduce themselves further by attempting to either control others through intimidation or silence them by some kind of ostracism. Notice the repeated threats telling me to change my ways or else. This is classic bullyism and bullies are ego-driven. They have to control others because they, themselves, cannot measure up in some form or fashion, they cannot compete to their satisfaction and hence they have to fix the game and one of those fixes is eliminating the competition. Tanya Harding comes to mind for those who recall the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. 

You have encountered such people and will, even in the body of Christ. You might find such people in Sunday school, in your Bible study or any place. They are dominated by their ego and when the competition gets stiff, they seem to defame instead of learn, they seek to injure instead of benefit from the demands of superior arguments or even superior form because fundamentally they have come to their theological debate or even a simple Bible study with their ego leading the way.

Attempting to Enlarge One’s Self by Including “Others” 

It is a well known practice within the animal kingdom that when coming face to face with another animal which poses a threat, some creatures will attempt to puff themselves up so as to appear larger than they are and scare away the real or perceived threat. Well, it seems this is no different in humans. We do all kinds of things in an attempt to falsely increase our posture because we do not have the real thing. It is called compensating for inadequacy. 

Look at the letters I received, particularly the second one. Notice what the writer claims, that he receives notes from others about how “embarrassing” I am and how I have lost my testimony. 

Of course such letters would be gossip and he should be directing those people to me, but clearly he forgot that part of the Bible. But to the claim of “embarrassment” I ask: they are embarrassed about what? They don’t know me and if they are so embarrassed for my sake, why aren’t they contacting me? Why? Well friend, this is what is called projecting. 

Ultimately though, even ignoring the inconsistencies of all of these allegations, this is merely a tactic in which the writer of the letter seeks to involve others (I am sure they didn’t know they were recruited) so that he can somehow super-size his position by gathering others around his complaints as if such an imaginary increase lends credence to what he is saying. Always look for this with those who are ego-invested.

Conclusion 

The arrogant and inadequate will always be unable to assess what is truly going on with themselves or with others. They will never be able to clearly interpret history or current events because truth is not at the center of their worldview; their little selves are at the center. Everything is interpreted based upon how it affects their ego, whether it is known or unknown by them. They are quick to be injured and even quicker to go on a crusade against their perceived competition. Everything is personal. Objectivity, though they can pronounce the word and recite its definition, has no real meaning in their life. They truly do not understand how to remove their person from something in order to be objective. Everything is framed in moral arguments; sides must always be picked based on moralizing. They are forever mystified how their real or imagined lesser can get the best of them thus, they are left vilifying and demonizing the offending party.

Imagine living with such temperamental, obstinate and arrogant souls. I am sure it is taxing. I have worked with some. It requires understanding, in rather precise terms, the maladjustment to their mind and soul which is present. But at least now you know a bit more about the issue of ego-investment and possibly are a little less puzzled by the actions of some with whom you have or now engage which respond in manners no better than an adolescent on a bad day. They have brought their ego to a theological battle and all of their hysteria and posturing is their ego-gun going off, firing at ghosts and goblins imagined in their mind and who have your name assigned to them while the topic itself, is far, far from their heart. Never bring your ego to a theological gunfight or you will find yourself doing just the same. 

P.S. At least someone having an earned doctorate with such atrocious spelling relieves me of my guilt of poor editing. Now to that I am thunkful, thinkful, no wait, thankful.

6 comments:

Kevl said...

Hi Alex,

How often have I been called "arrogant" because I have a different opinion and a willingness to show how & why that opinion has been developed? So many times I can hardly begin to count.

I've also joined in a crusade or two in my time... but I DO try not to make ego based arguments.

Over the years I've found that just because someone says they want to know the truth doesn't mean they want to give up the position they have come to define themselves by.

Kev

Alex Guggenheim said...

Kev

I am certain all of us are guilty of crusading at some point but that is just the point, it is not a way of life and as we mature we nip such tendencies in the bud.

Unfortunately that is not par for the course as exampled by many Teachers and ministries.

As I have read you, btw, I find you divested of your ego and with the intention of your cause being a sound interpretation of God's Word which, indeed, is a true and righteous cause.

To give up a position in which one has invested their ego is to require they give up part of themselves and for the ego-centric, well that will hardly, if ever, occur.

Paul Dohse said...

This post was referred to me today. The referrer assumed I would have many emails like these in my inbox as well. He would be correct. I responded to his note as follows:
"Right, it gives credence to my post today. This is why the second century church wouldn't let anybody with an education be an elder [it happened, but Christian academics were viewed with much suspicion]. In his post he pointed out well that TRUTH is not the point of reference in the debate. It's replaced with philosopher kingship."

Alex Guggenheim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex Guggenheim said...

Paul,

I really like your term, "Philosopher-King". It so accurately contains the essential elements of the representatives many in the church today are choosing over Shepherds of the Word. I bet your box stays full. I have read a few of the exchanges at some of your posts with your antagonists. I always notice with how much "love" these types are approaching others with while slowly trying to put the knife tip on their back and threatening that if their love isn't received, well you know what is next.

Alex

Paul Dohse said...

Alex,

Note the consistent key here: it's not about endeavoring for truth via debate--it's all about who they are verses who we are. Let me repeat that: "it's all about who they are verses who we are." Truth isn't the issue--us knowing our place is the issue.