Sunday, November 10, 2019

Remembrance Sunday (Proper 27)

Luke 20
34 Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. 37 But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’[a] 38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

If you’re gonna argue, you should do it right.

Okay, then, what’s right? Well, doing to right means avoiding some of the countless false arguments that people tend to use. So now we need a list, and almost every list of fallacies or false arguments begins with the ad hominem argument. It sounds trickier than it actually is.

An ad hominem argument attacks your opponent rather than the substance of what they are saying. “Crooked Hillary” is a classic ad hominem attack. When you attack someone’s character, their motives, attack their friends, or compare their current stance with something they said in the past, it’s an ad hominem attack. Some argue (successfully) that we live in an ad hominem age.

The next and very common argument is the strawman, attacking a simplified version of your opponent’s argument, or an intentional misunderstanding of the same. If the topic is the science of evolution and someone says ‘my opponent would have you believe that we all came from monkeys,’ then you have just witnessed a strawman argument. It’s an unfair characterization.

Of course, I would be betraying my roots if I didn’t mention the ‘red herring,’ both an argument and the somewhat smelly fish. Seemingly, the phrase came from the practice of using herring to train hunting dogs away from needless distraction. And so, a red herring is an attempt to distract you from the matter at hand. From this point forward, any talk about the whistleblower is a red herring—a topic has been eclipsed by subsequent events, but still serves as a way to distract.

My final example is the bafflement argument, sometimes called an ‘argument by gibberish,’ where someone constructs an elaborate and seemingly technical scenario in order to baffle their opponent. Imagine a group religious thinkers who don’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. In order to further their argument, they construct a complicated and highly unlikely scenario where seven brothers each marry the same woman in turn, and then face the awkward possibility of a crowded afterlife. According to the Sadducees, this bit of bafflement proves that there is no resurrection of the dead.

Until they meet their match in Jesus. But before we learn again why it’s no accident that Jesus is called the “master,” we should close the circle on the art of arguing. Taking the ‘seven husband story’ as an example, it could fit other false arguments too. Here are a couple more:

Misleading Vividness is another, adorning your argument with so much detail it begins to seem plausible.*
And Argumentum ex culo, which I’m going to politely translate as “pulling an argument right out of your imagination.”

Jesus, the master, has heard it all before. You might even argue that he understood the weakness of their argument before they made it, but that would only serve to distract from the logical response he gave. He said five things:

The dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage.
They are like the angels.
They are God’s children.
Even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’
God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to God all are alive.”

This five-point response is the perfect counter-argument to the classic bafflement he’s met with. Jesus creates a thesis (“The dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage”), adds some salient notes, and reaches a tidy conclusion—all in four verses. It has internal logic, it’s progressive—building one point on another—and it moves from the literal to the metaphorical, revealing truth.

Yes, I said truth. One of the sad realities of our time is that people have conflated factual and truthful. In our overly literal minds, we tend to forget that metaphors can be true, even if they are not factual. Let me give you an example: Time is money. On the face of it, it’s not factual: money is money and time is time. But it’s also truthful, because anyone who has ever received a paycheck knows that there is a relationship between the time worked and the money received. Further, we know that both time and money are scarce, part of the reason that the metaphor ‘time is money’ rings true everytime.

So Jesus begins with a literal statement, a statement of fact—said with the kind of authority we expect from the teacher, master, or Son of the Most High: “The dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage.” That’s our starting point, the literal foundation of a dicussion that will now shift to the symbolic and figurative.

“They can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.” This is metaphor. Angels, children of God, children of the resurrection—this is a creative way of saying that the dead belong to God in a unique way. Notice Jesus says it three different ways, three ways that we can ‘try it on’ to see what fits. Obviously, symbolic language speaks to the individual, it reaches each of us in different ways. At different times we will find ourselves and others in one of these metaphors—angels, children of God, children of the resurrection. They are all true, and some are more true than others, depending on what’s happening inside you at the moment you hear it.

And then Jesus appeals to the story of Israel, a perpetual touchstone for people of faith, but even as he reaches in this direction, he remains in the realm of metaphor. “But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’”

Now, I’ve preached this passage more than a few times, and this time I found a new metaphor I hadn’t seen before: Jesus summarizes the story of receiving the covenant at Sinai as “the account of the burning bush.” Titles tell you what the speaker thinks is important, and in this case the presence of God in the bush that burns but is not consumed is an important element to the story, and perhaps in the story of God too. Something to ponder.

Back the dead, it’s all in the tenses. Jesus points to the use of language, noting that when Moses speaks to God it’s ‘you ARE the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,’ never ‘you were the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ And then his conclusion: ‘God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to God all are alive.’ Jesus has taken us from divine certainty, through symbolic language we can make our own, and concluded with a vision of the living and the dead, alive together in eternity, forevermore.

Remembrance Day gives birth to more stirring metaphor, and we use these words to express how we feel about the events of the past. One example is describing the dead as “the fallen.” The fallen can continue no longer, but encourage others to pick up the struggle and carry on. It recognizes the sad irony that sometimes you have to fight to further the cause of peace.

We also speak of the sacrifice made in war, both the men and women who left home and family behind, and those who made the ultimate sacrifice—giving their lives. Entering harm’s way, setting aside personal needs, fighting to protect others—these are best described using the language of sacrifice.

Even the word remembrance itself, is loaded with more than memory: remembrance is an active endeavour, fusing commemoration and commitment, the desire to remember and the willingness to continue the cause of peace.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them. Amen.



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