The Art of Debate

Whether we know it or not debating is something that comes with human communication. It can take the attributes of anger and it can be done in sport, but it is continually happening (even with oneself). Some are better than others at debating and for many it is a matter of being better at arguing than another. In the church today debates are waged in the names of doctrine, denominations, and theology, etc. What I have noticed, for the most part, is the fact that though we find ourselves daily in debates, most of us have no inkling of how to debate. I have found that the reason for this lies in our poor communication skills (ironically) and in our inability to think logically. Ultimately, for me, debates aren’t about winning and losing or which individual (or individuals) can argue the best, but that we think and think thoroughly about what we believe or not, what we accept as truth or not, why this is or isn’t the case, how this is done or isn’t done, when this is accomplished and when not, where we exercise this rational or not, and who equips us for this task and who doesn’t.

Since I am (heavily) tattooed, and since I have found myself in debates over tattoos for the past 15 years, I will use this subject as an example. The argument concerning tattoos and “Christians” usually begins with something like, “Christians shouldn’t get (have) tattoos” or “Christians shouldn’t mark their bodies” or the like; you have heard (or used) similar arguments. Again, what we will talk about is not just for this subject matter or simply for debates, but is a vehicle to better make us think.

First, I will not assume to understand what this person is talking about. They will have to learn to articulate their argument in order for us to have a rational discussion. The third law of logic is the Law of Common Ground (see my entry on the Laws of Logic), which states that we must have common definitions in order to be coherent to one another. What do we mean when we use the term “Christian?” What do we mean when we say that Christians “mark” their bodies? It is a certain “Christian culture” which finds an issue in this instance. Any other culture will not have this issue and will have no idea what the hang-up is all about (nor will they care).

Second, if this person’s preposition is an opinion then there is no debate as long as you do not attempt to subject me to your opinion. But if this person claims this to be axiomatic I will demand the principle that makes it an axiom. For example, “The Bible says…” is an axiomatic statement. I will then insist on a biblical principle for the preposition.

Third, what is the context of the passage (a text without a context is a pretext and, more often than not, a sub-text)? The passage in question for our purpose is Leviticus 19:28 – You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the LORD. (NRSV) I would not surrender this information, however, in a real debate. 90% of the people that question me about tattoos have no idea where to find any such prohibition. And they only regurgitate what they have been taught; never thinking for themselves.

Fourth, at the risk of defying the first law of logic (The Law of Non-Contradiction), in context, have you applied to yourself the previous verse concerning “rounding the edge of your hair or shaving the corners of your beard? In other words, are you an Orthodox Jew complete with the curls hanging down the sides of your face? You cannot hold me to a law which does not apply to you at the expense of the other 600+ laws that are in conjunction with the one you quote out of context. Incidentally, are we, too, adhering to the laws concerning women, then? If one law applies then all 600+ laws apply.

Fifth, to whom were these laws associated? Since it is the Jewish Scriptures are they not belonging to the nation of Israel? Were not the Gentiles wretched and to be avoided?

Sixth, since they are the Christian Old Testament how do they concern the New Testament? If one is “New” and the other “Old” how does one affect the other? According to the definition of their names they are two completely different covenants. According to internal evidence they are two completely different covenants.

Seventh, Am I not the “wretched Gentile” that God warned the Jews about? Where, exactly, was it that the Mosaic Laws (which Jesus, Paul, and all the apostles interpreted as the “Five Books of Moses”) took effect on Gentiles? When I “accepted” Christ, did I proselytize – did I convert to Judaism? Or was I converted to “Christianity?” Perhaps it was actually Christ.

Eighth (returning to the text), the context is “gashing, tattooing, and marking,” according to most English translations. In a transliteration of the original Hebrew it is “cutting, branding, and blurred script.” Are we holding the English translation to task or the Hebrew in which it was originally penned?

Ninth, in context, the text is concerning “for the dead.” I’m not sure how many “Christians” are, have been, or plan to be “cut, branded, or induced with blurred script” “for the dead.”

Tenth, is it possible that tattoos are taboo for a certain “church culture” for reasons that have nothing to do with God? With Christ? With the Scriptures?

Now there are many more directions we can go and many more points to list, and I haven’t even begun to defend myself, personally, concerning my tattoos. Rarely, if ever, will a debate on this subject ever get that far. It has always (in the debates which I have joined) ended with “Well I don’t think it is right” or “That’s what I’ve always heard” or whatever. I don’t like it to end this way because I am not convinced that the goal of making people think (not agree) has been reached. But that takes me to the 97%-3% Rule, which is another conversation to be had.

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