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"Everyone Who Disagrees with Me is a Liar" . . . And Other Stupid Statements

*Added to the “. . . And Other Stupid Statements” series. Please note:there is intentional overstatement with the title for rhetorical effect. If you don’t like it, there is a good possibility that anything you say can and will be used against you in this blog and eventually turn into an “. . . And Other Stupid Statements” post of its own :)

Yes, I got another one of those emails calling me a liar. It comes with the territory. It was not that my particular view was wrong, misinformed, or even misguided. Nope. I was a liar. I was deliberately misleading people. I know the truth, but I withhold it so that I can consciously exchange it for something that is false. The old bait-and-switch.

I am often humored by extreme rhetoric that Christians will employ, but never more so than when people become so loose with the accusations about lying. Maybe humored is the wrong word: it’s a disturbed type of humor.

The presupposition is this: Whenever someone teaches something you disagree with, the rhetoric employed to combat such is accusations of lies. In other words, if someone does not teach the truth in your opinion, they are lying. Period. No question about it.

I have said this before, but let me give the list again: If I were to employ such rhetoric, here is how I might sound:

  • Mormons are liars. They all seek to lead people to hell.
  • Paul Copan (who is an Arminian) is a liar. His theology is full of misdirection.
  • John MacArthur (who believes in ipsissima verba) is a liar. Don’t listen to his lies.
  • Francis Beckwith (who is a Roman Catholic) is a turncoat liar. Don’t follow him in his attempts to undermine truth.
  • Clark Pinnock (who is an Open Theist) is a liar. He is trying to pull everyone into his deception.
  • I. Howard Marshall (who does not believe in inerrancy) is a liar. He seeks to distort God’s authority.
  • William Lane Craig (who is a Molinist) is a liar. He has been at the misleading game for some time.

You see the reasoning. All of these people are those with whom I would have some theological disagreements, major and minor. Since I am right and they are wrong about the issues, they must be liars. That is the only solution, right?

Be careful with such rhetoric. Better, just stop it.

I read it on blogs and hear these accusations in debates. It is the default position in the media. Christians—well-meaning Christians—use such rhetoric in blogs, sermons, books, articles, and on Facebook. All the while proclaiming to defend the faith.

According to the dictionary, a lie is “a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood.”

There are a couple of things to note here. A lie is intentional and deceptive. It is not simply something that is untrue. There is the supposition of intent with deception to make someone believe something that they know is false.

I believe that there are indeed many times when people teach something that could truly be called a lie. I could give many examples. But when our default position is that when someone else teaches something we believe to be wrong that they are lying, we have big problems.

Four come to mind immediately.

1. Most of the time, people who teach wrongly about something are not lying, they are just convinced of a wrong position. It is that simple. No need to implicate the person’s morality. There are many things that I believe and teach that are wrong (if I knew what they were, I would change). I am not lying when I teach them. I may be deceived by a lie, but my deception is genuine. In other words, people who teach something that is not true usually truly believe that it is true. Therefore, they are not lying.

2. Extreme rhetoric such as this can often be a sign of personal insecurity about our own position and our ability to defend it. I see it all the time. If you are ignorant but passionate about your own position, things are often more black and white than they would otherwise be. I just tweeted this today, “Often, the more militant you are, the less confident you are. Calm down. Be cool. Excessive combativeness can evidence insecurity.”

3. Using such rhetoric is emotional manipulation. The one who uses it is normally attempting to play on people’s emotions in order to heighten the sense of urgency for them to reject the opposing beliefs. While defending what we believe to be true is mandated in Scripture, we are to do it with “gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15). Calling someone a liar as the default method of engagement and evaluation of their teaching is not gentle and shows no respect.

4. It does not really work. Our generation is already suspicious of people’s ability to come to know truth to the exclusion of other alternatives. Rhetoric such as this is a clear sign of hostile ignorance and will quickly only serve to disperse your audience. A few loose accusations such as this and they won’t trust anything you say (or you will have to resort to only preaching to your choir).

Truth, doctrine, belief, and the Gospel are too important to spice up with emotionally charged rhetoric that is easily dismissed. I do believe Mormons are wrong—seriously wrong. But I don’t think that they are necessarily being intentionally deceptive. I do believe that Arminianism is wrong with regards to election, but I don’t think that Arminians are liars. They simply are personally convinced of something that I am not. (This is not meant to say that I believe that the error of Arminians is equally as wrong as the error of Mormons—don’t go there!). 

Main Point: People, including myself, may be deceived, but it does not mean that we are deceiving.

People believe things for a reason. The best way to engage the issue is not to assume intentional deception, but to be willing to study and learn in order to find out why people believe what they believe. You may end up discovering that they have good reasons for believing the way they do, even if you remain personally unconvinced.

If you want to represent your position well, don’t attack the opposition with such rhetoric. The key is to be cool. Passionate, but cool. Then, when and if you do feel it necessary to employ such rhetoric, it will be seen as intentional and serious. People will take you seriously.

Whether you are a pastor, teacher, blogger, poster on this blog or a breathing person (that covers everyone), be careful. This is simply an ad hominem (attacking the person rather than the position) argument. You should be confident enough in your position not to have to resort to such childish maneuvers. Anything else dishonors God as much as you believe the opposing belief is dishonoring God.

1 Pet 3:15: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

Don’t forget the last part. Be cool.

24 Responses to “"Everyone Who Disagrees with Me is a Liar" . . . And Other Stupid Statements”

  1. Michael, great post. I couldn’t agree more. Truth is truth and untruth is untruth. Attacking someone who is misled does not change the truth and it usually doesn’t change the person in error either. If we are confident in our position and yet humble enough to admit we could be wrong (especially in regard to non-cardinal truth), we can often win the respect of our opponents and maybe even change their mind.
    Some are afraid to take this irenic approach for fear that they will be seen as weak or wishywashy. But in this postmodern world, most under-30yrs old do not see it that way. An over confident position that cannot be backed up just pushes them away.

  2. Nice post, and I wholeheartedly agree. Unfortunately, people who “thump” you over the head with their view seem to think that that is the best way to be true to their faith. I always found that love and compassion is a much more effective tool in communicating your beliefs. Sounds kind of syrupy but I’ll stick with it.

  3. Or how about, Everyone Who Disagrees with Me…Gives Me Fodder for Blog Posts :D

    Seriously, I think its simply the very nature of sin large and in charge, that deceives us into believing our own mess. It’s why humility is so important.

  4. On the other hand, because we cannot always completely understand, or even be perceived as objective for questioning the validity of the evidence someone is basing their opposing belief on, does that really equate to calling them a liar, or deceived, or even wrong for calling them out? If it’s only in the strength of the case we present. one way or another, as it often is in a matter of human law, how does that square with the biblical interpretation of truth, which, if we want to look at it from a two sided viewpoint, is really a preponderance in favor of non-physical, but believed, evidence.

    This is something I have often wondered if theologians ponder, because as a journalist, I certainly have. Which holds, or should hold the most weight for Christians, the known evidence or the unknown variables, and why?

  5. I should qualify that last paragraph in comment #34, to read: Or do the unknown variables, not stated in the Bible, do, or possibly should, make a substantial difference in our beliefs? I think in our modern culture there is more question to whether the possible variables, ie. that which is not specifically stated could make a substantial difference, as opposed to the traditional known truths. But, in reality, we have only what is written to work with after all. All else is simply human supposition, or if you will, wishful thinking.

  6. mbaker:

    Could you say all that again, only in plain English?

    I may be dense but, as a former journalist and copy editor myself, I nevertheless must confess that I have no idea what you’re saying. But it looks like it might be important or significant or profound and I sure don’t want to miss anything like that!

    A little help for the dullards among us, please.

  7. Dr. Mike,

    You are in no sense a dullard, IMO, but please forgive me if I have not made myself perfectly clear. I will try to clarify myself, (if not justify myself) right or wrong.

    I am saying, sometimes based upon we know, or what we don’t know for certain ‘new’ theology, (and to give an example, theistic evolutionism, or post modern relativism), comes to the forefront. These are based upon upon what we don’t know or that we can’t prove they’re absolutely wrong on , but neither can we prove they are completely valid either, based upon the Bible. I am saying who is the real liar, either, or neither, and how do theologians realistically separate those two seeming theological ‘truths’ from each other?

  8. Mr. Patton,

    What were you said to have lied about? Just curious.

    Sincerely,

    Jonathan B.

  9. I still think the best line in regards to deception is, “Can you know you are deceived, if you are deceived? No…Because you are deceived.” (and I don’t know who originated this one)

    That is the importance of the body of Christ…to not pound one another over the head “cause I’m right and you’re wrong” but to offer an alternative explanation to a disputed point…with humility and grace…um, something I tend to be sadly lacking most of the time *sigh*

    And to learn to “self-edit” before I either open my mouth, or hit “enter”.

  10. Isn’t there something in the biblical tradition about the “accuser”? Not that I’m into the use of proof texts for winning arguments though ;)

    One man’s truth is another man’s lies? . . well, the juxdaposition works for treasure and trash, why not broaden it’s application ;)

  11. In my experience, many people realize that calling someone a liar is a serious accusation, and so they qualify their statement with something like, “If you disagree with me, you’re either a liar … or you’re ignorant/stupid/uneducated/benighted/etc.” Of course, both of these are /theoretical/ possibilities, but they aren’t the only ones, and more importantly, shouldn’t be treated as the /default/ explanations. Reasoned disagreement is healthy and permissable, and your refusal to adopt a belief that I have expressed does not necessarily point to a defect in you. It could be that you are looking at the evidence differently, or that you have access to additional evidence that I haven’t seen, or that I haven’t explained my position clearly, or any number of things. The goal of conversations should be to identify where the point of disagreement lies, and not necessarily to smash two viewpoints together, thunderdome-style, and see which emerges as the “stronger”.

  12. Paul Copan has a book on Arminian Theology? Hook up the link!

  13. Opps. Changed that. It was Roger Olson and I changed it and forgot to edit that part.

  14. mbaker: The issue is your overuse of the comma: every time I think I get to the point, I get stabbed by the business end of your punctuation.

  15. No problem, mem. Not that important anyway.

  16. mbaker: I hope that didn’t come out the wrong way—no disrespect was intended.

  17. Michael. I agree generally, but I would add that Mormons and JWs can both use lies if they think it will further the cause of Mormonism or the Watchtower. For JWs, it’s called theocratic warfare. I don’t think the rank and file do it as much as the leadership.

  18. Truth Unites... and Divides November 12, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    I get the gist of this post. I get it. I get it.

    That being said, Scripture does have examples of liars being called liars. Satan’s called the Father of Lies.

    I also think there’s harm done when liars aren’t being called liars.

    While there’s harm done when using the word “liar” or the word “lying” too loosely, there’s also harm from not using those words or synonyms when they are applicable.

    Obama is a liar.

    ;-)

  19. mem,

    Thanks. No offense taken. You are right. I did seriously overuse the commas in my comments above. Just couldn’t quite get my thoughts across coherently enough at the time.

    To clarify: my original question really had more to do with how we deal on this blog with debating teaching that can be neither proved or disproved conclusively by the Bible. Like CMP, I can live with different perspectives that I don’t agree with. That is if they are presented in a respectful and well thought out manner. However, I too have been belittled by the opposition on more than one occasion.

    That’s why I think it’s important to approach blogging with the attitude that we are not all always going to see eye to eye. Nor or we always going to be able to convince folks we’re right no matter how knowledgable about the subject we are. Sometimes we may have caused misunderstanding unintentionally by having just stated something too poorly for folks to clearly understand what we meant. Certainly that was the case in my comments above. Even I didn’t understand them, when I went back and read them!

    Another thing we have to be aware of is that being honest about our shortcomings may not always be received well. I know I have felt betrayed sometimes when I tried to be tactful but someone took it as a sign of weakness instead. There are few things more frustrating than being jumped on when you extend an olive branch and someone chooses to slap your hand. That’s a serious “ouch” coming from a fellow Christian.

    I do think some of the more serious misunderstandings we’ve seen here recently on some of the threads are caused because some people have deep theolgical divides that simply can’t be that easily resolved in the limits of the blogging medium. I personally find it extremely annoying when a debate gets uglier and uglier the longer it goes on. Hurling insults at one another does nothing to advance a discussion. There does come a point in every argument when it either advances toward a resolution or becomes a stalemate. Too often lately the areas of disagreement have gotten so out of hand it has resulted in the moderator having to close down the thread itself.

    I also realize some misunderstandings come out of sheer frustration. If we’ve explained something over and over and folks still aren’t getting it, it can get pretty irritating for eveyone on the thread as well. When that happens our instinct to end it at any cost sometimes tends to kick in. We may resort to the worst case scenario of Plan B – Belittling. Chalk up yet another serious “owie’ from a fellow Christian.

    No matter who among us is guilty to contributing to the blog wars (and anyone who posts here regularly has proabably done so), I agree with CMP that dirty fighting just needs to stop on all sides.

  20. I just noticed the last part of my comment in #19 was cut off.

    It should have ended with:

    It’s perfectly possible to heartily disagree without being heartily disagreeable.

  21. I think Paul may have disagreed.

    “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.”

    That is, not only am I lying to myself and others, but I’m a pervert too.

    Having had this quoted at me multiple times, I have the same criticisms of Paul that are here directed against some Christians’ rhetorical tactics.

    1. If I’m wrong, I’m just that. Wrong. Not in denial of a truth I “really” know. I’m wrong.
    2. To adapt an old joke, Paul’s notes probably read: “Weak point here. Shout louder.”
    3. This is proof by intimidation. Throw in a threat of hell and it’s downright emotionally abusive.
    4. It doesn’t work. On the contrary, it shows me how normally loving Christians can become complete pricks when given a Bible.

    And above all, it’s an ad hominem argument.

  22. Entertaining point, MP. It probably didn’t need so much elaboration really, except that we feel offended when we are called a liar or a “false teacher, deceiving and being deceived.” I recently cited a little list of foundational beliefs found in all the confesions and creeds, and was labeled a liar and false prophet for it. Why? Because I connected the dots among them illustrating the centrality of “Love & Life” to the gospel and I used the word “immortality” alongside “resurrection of the dead”, without speaking explicitly of “heaven”. Wow, that was all it took! This very orthodox, conformist ThD dude objected to almost every cardinal doctrine of the faith, just because I cited them in referrence to a concept he himself did not emphasize. Since nothing I said was actually false or falsifiably-proof-textable, in his eyes I was all the worse a liar, relying on spin and subtlety to lure men away from the true gospel of Christ. It was chilling!

    My takeaway from that moment is that we men are far more frail thay we suppose ourselves. I wiki-clicked “Open Theism” as I read your article to make sure I understood it, and there I saw parallel lists of scriptures that alternately portray God “repenting” and his “immutability.” Each side had a lame explanation for it. Love is a far more reliable guide for men that is what we suppose we know to be truth. In faith as in life, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know that counts.”

    Great article MP!

  23. re: Jeffrey

    SO funny, that passage wa thrown at me in the pixel-lashing I described above in comment #22. Hilarious!

  24. Michael:

    Thanks for your thoughtful post.

    Frank

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