People Prefer Extremes

Swan Boats at Boston’s Public Garden

Ecclesiates is a difficult little book. I grasp its main meaning, but many of its particulars leave me scratching my head. For example:

15 I have seen everything during my lifetime of futility; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his wickedness. 16 Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself? 17 Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 18 It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them. ~~Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 (NASB)

I’ve been thinking about verses 16-17 lately because I’ve foolishly gotten into two arguments on Twitter lately. (Yeah, I should know better.) In both cases, I believed people were taking extreme positions, and I thought I should bring a more moderate perspective.

So I have an inflated ego. Hardly a news flash.

As I’ve reflected on my behavior, and perhaps the behavior of the women arguing with me, I noticed something about arguments that I’d forgotten. When people challenge each other, both parties tend to double down and move toward opposite extremes.

Extremism shows up most clearly on Twitter. Possibly, the 280 character limit doesn’t lend itself to nuanced discussion. Certainly, the very act of debate appeals to our pride so overwhelmingly that we can’t allow ourselves to make any concession to our opponents.

Thus we find ourselves being excessively (self) righteous and overly wise (in our own eyes).

Rather than wanting to build people up in the faith, we put tremendous energy into tearing them down. We bombard them with multiple links to articles substantiating our positions, forgetting that most people really don’t have time to wade through all that material. Of course, when they fail to read our carefully curated documentation, we feel justified in concluding that their positions are automatically invalid.

Years ago I learned that documentation can be manipulated to prove any point you want to prove. In a fair argument, you don’t assume that your evidence is air-tight.

The first to plead his case seems right,

Until another comes and examines him. ~~Proverbs 18:17 (NASB)

At the beginning of this blog post, I called myself foolish for participating in Twitter arguments. I made a good assessment. In thinking that I could show these women their errors, I exercised worldly wisdom instead of godly wisdom.

13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. ~~James 3:13-18 (NASB)

Twitter should be used for showing people the excellencies of our Lord Jesus Christ, not for pushing other Christians into extreme positions. Let’s tweet reasonably and gently, always pointing to Him.

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