My motto should be “Quod Erat Demonstrandum, Bitches.”

Ever had one of those days when you thought of a scathing retort to something someone said to you… a month later?

The scathing retort is a device used in scripture by God and his servants many times.  You can find a fruitful exposition in text here, and a slightly less informative YouTube cartoon here, but the gist seems to be this:  there are two kinds of people with which you can interact:  those who are interested in genuine discussion (which I shall call seekers), and opponents (mockers, wolves in sheep-suits, and representatives of opposition views).  In private, you are to be gentle with seekers and you are to avoid opponents.  In public, you are to be gentle with seekers and ruthlessly verbally destroy and humiliate opponents.

This, Biblically, was not limited to enemies of the church.  God felt it perfectly acceptable to use the scathing retort on his people, and Jesus and Paul on their own followers, when the people or followers in question set themselves up as opponents rather than seekers.

Now, a month or three ago, on some popular blog, I made a comment to the effect of:

To those Christians who believe that the right thing to do is to turn yourself in or turn the offender in, be advised that the Bible actually models repentance as turning around and living in an opposite manner — thieves doing honest work in order to give to others, for example — instead.  It also advises to handle things without appealing to the authorities wherever possible (in Proverbs), and expressly castigates Christians for subjecting each other to earthly courts (in Corinthians).

To which statement some bright spark said:

Nice strawman.

While I do not have the exact link of the discussion, I remember his retort, as it was so pithy.  I also now know what I should have said, though it is too late to go back and say it, as the response would be buried under the pile of subsequent comments.

After careful consideration, the appropriate response would have been:

Perhaps you believe I omitted a comma.  That instead of “To those Christians who believe…” I meant to write “To those Christians, who believe…”.  In that case, if no Christians believed turning oneself in is the right thing to do, my argument would indeed be a Strawman, as it would characterize Christians as believing something they do not.

Since I did not include that fateful comma, the meaning of that phrase is essentially “I address the following to the subset of Christians who subscribe to this belief.”

Even if the subset is empty — if no Christians believe this — the result is not a Strawman.  It is simply addressing an argument to no-one.

A waste of words almost as severe as trying to teach logic to someone who instinctively calls arguments strawmen without thinking about it.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum, bitches.

Mind you, this is only an appropriate scathing retort because whats-his-name appealed to logic by using the term ‘strawman’.  Also because he was being sarcastic.

Had he said “That’s a strawman,” instead of “nice strawman,” the last two sentences would be left off.  No need to be sharp with someone who believes he is engaging the argument in good faith.  Show kindness to seekers.

Had he gone the other route, and kept the snark but did not appeal to logic, by saying “That’s wrong,” or “That’s dumb,” the appropriate response, in kind, would be “You must hear those words a lot, since you’ve learned to say them.”  In other words, point out the intellectual vacuity of the statement while responding in kind.  The pithier the better (this response suffers because it is a response to something shorter and snappier. )

Had the response been an email, or other private message, the appropriate response would be to delete the message and move on.  Avoid the opposition in private.

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