Monday, June 11, 2007

Doggerel #98: "Context"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

There are lots of instances out there of people's quotes being taken out of context for the sake of argument. One common victim of this is Charles Darwin. It's a dishonest technique when it happens deliberately. Sometimes, however, the accusation of taking something out of context is dishonest.

I've had a number of debates where I point out unnecessarily cruel passages in the Bible, or one that contradicts a fundy's position, and one of the standard replies is that I'm taking the passage 'out of context.' This is the part where I request the larger context where the nasty passage becomes acceptable, or where the contradiction vanishes. I have yet to see the fundies follow through.

That's where the biggest problem occurs with making an accusation: For you to accuse someone of taking a quote out of context, you have to provide an example of it in context. Some people bizarrely don't require that, and will let a celebrity, political figure, woo 'authority', or religious leader effectively take back their nasty or silly quotes by claiming that they've been taken out of context. So, just what context makes their statements okay?

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

I used to be a christian back in that magically unspecified "the day", and I actually used to go to one of those private schools where "evil"-lution is taught to be wrong and everything (they even considered "intelligent design" evil as it was still a "cop out" to science instead of direct literal creationism). Yes, you could say it's a "miracle" I escaped that nonsense. Anyway, I delt with this stuff all the time. I learned a couple logical things from them, like circular reasoning and "context is king" and so on (mind you, it was only later that I realized they never actually bothered applying it to themselves and misapplied it to everyone else), but really, you have it about right.

They kept going on about how this or that statement is taken "out of context", and rarely was a greater context provided that explained away this or that problem in the bible. In fact I often had questions on certain weird things, like the hardening of Pharoah's heart and all that, and I'd just get the "greater context" line and that's it. Still don't see where that fits in. The best, the BEST answer they could give me was the old testament should be taken in the context of "this is the price of sin and the only way to show humanity that it could never earn it's own salvation" and the new testament was "and only after that lesson could god give salvation through The Jesus". That's right, that was their BEST answer, and I bought it! Only later did I smarten up and realize how horribly cruel a god would have to be to sentence generation after generation of people to such barbaric cruelty just to teach some innane lesson that didn't really even make much sense.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I think I'll add one fun thing I hear all the time as a former christian when I point out the reasons I left the faith behind like a molted skin. Basically, I'm flat out told, to my face, by people who as often as not don't even know me, or didn't know me back then, that I was never really a christian "because" a christian who TRULY had the faith and TRULY knew god would never be able to go back to ignorance. I'm betting other religions do a similar tact(less).

Of course that's the most insulting thing I can hear. Basically what they are saying is they are so incapable of imaging someone who "knew the love of the lord" just abandoning it that they rewrite your entire past thoughts into what they "know" they had to be. I guess they are psychic too. Well, no, I wasn't just doing the motions, I truly believed, I had those "spiritual moments", and to my shame I too thought that very same thing about "former christians" (said as much to my uncle, FAMILY, and to his credit he kept his cool rather well from such a, as I now realize, insult and act of sheer egotism on my part).

So yeah, there's some doggeral I'd like to see handled, but since you actually seem to have been smart enough to not get involved in such nonsense in your youth, I doubt you'd ever encountered it yourself.

Bronze Dog said...

I did get sucked into a little of that, but I managed to avoid all-out fundyism. Spent most of my time as one of the sort-of Christians. Suspect I would have gone through generic spirituality sooner if someone bothered trying to explain the whole 'Jesus had a bad weekend to satisfy his own self-set-up crazy rules of sin' thing beyond 'there used to be this really nice guy'.

As I once told a fundy on beliefnet: "You sound as if you're saying that Jesus died in order to teach God forgiveness."

Dikkii said...

This one is one I truly hate, because the Christians who pull you up for quoting out of context are normally the bigots who insist on quote-mining the Qur'an in order to show how bloodthirsty it is.

Quote anything from the Book of Joshua at these bigots and you're guaranteed a "You're quoting it out of context."

It's pretty much impossible to quote Joshua out of context.

Anonymous said...

What about misrepresenting the views of the Skeptics and Science itself?

The Common-Sense World

http://www.intentblog.com/archives/2007/06/the_commonsense.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/the-commonsense-world_b_51628.html

Anonymous said...

The Common-Sense World

The above links don't seem to work, try these:

http://tinyurl.com/2frrhq

http://tinyurl.com/yq2gcp

Bourgeois_Rage said...

Good one, BronzeDog. I've pretty much given up on trying to point out how the Bible is a bad example of morals because of this piece of Doggerel. Of course it usually comes in the form, "Like you can lecture ME on the Bible!" Anything I say is automatically the voice of Satan and thus not true, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, it IS automatically from Satan to them. To explain further, there's another bit of annoyance that can come up in the form of "the devil makes a point of knowing the bible better than we do" (which also eases any guilt they may have about not having read the thing all the way through). Basically, the idea is that if you actually have a good argument using their own text, it's an example of satan using crooked logic, and though they can't see a flaw in your logic, it must be there, the bible tells them so, and they have faith. *head explodes*

Berlzebub said...

Actually, anon, if you're referring to their head, it implodes. If you don't fill it with your own thoughts, ideas, and questions, there's nothing to keep it from collapsing in on itself.

Another one I hate is the Golden Rule. Apparently, they never heard of Confuscious, who lived five hundred years before Jeebus.

Phlegm said...

"the devil makes a point of knowing the bible better than we do"

And yet Satan still falls for all the crap in Relevations? So he's simultaneously devious and also a supreme idiot? Heh.

Anonymous said...

Well yes there's a lot of problems with it, but I guess in that sense it's like the Norse Ragnarok. I dunno, like Satan knows his fate but won't accept it and struggles against it or something like that.

Hey I never said any of this really made sense. The very idea of Satan trying to use an army to overthrow what the christians say is an "all powerful" god is pretty stupid anyway, even without that prophecy.

Anonymous said...

Yes this doggeral is true. When you ask the atheist what the context is they give you a blank stare.

If you give them the context, they'll reply, "That's not the context! I do not care what the testimony of the majority of commentators throughout church history say, The one I found from my skeptic website is the correct one damn it!"

Anonymous said...

Then let's give it a test. What is the greater context of god "hardening pharoah's heart" so that even though god was ordering pharoah to let them go, god himself prevented pharoah from obeying those orders where, as it specifically states, he WOULD have otherwise? What is the context wherein that is anything other than utterly depraved "stop hitting yourself" bullying?

Bronze Dog said...

Yes this doggeral is true. When you ask the atheist what the context is they give you a blank stare.

Well, that's the very first report I've ever heard of that happening.

Care to give us an example in the form of a link, or did you just make that up?

Anonymous said...

Interesting, you ask for the context, but fail to give any scriptural reference.

I do not even think you even know what context means.

Bronze Dog said...

Someone's just not paying attention to the conversation, here.

1. This is a general discussion of a dishonest tactic, not a specific request for several instances of context.

2. A lot of examples of commonly requested contexts were given in the comments: The hardening of Pharoh's heart in Exodus, the chapter of Joshua and all the genocide that occurred in it, and all the passages that condone slavery. I don't think you need me to get specific down to chapter and verse.

Infophile said...

I don't know if you've checked your brother's blog recently, but any chance this is that same troll operating "anonymously" now?

Spirula said...

I do not even think you even know what context means.

That one had me laughing, as it came from someone who seemed to have missed the...well, context of this post.

Anonymous said...

Like I said, it is apparent that you have no idea what context is. Please erase this post, I think you've embarrased yourself enough.

Bronze Dog said...

1. Someone here has obviously never looked in the mirror.

2. If you say we don't understand context, then please, humor me: Explain it.

Rev. BigDumbChimp said...

Like I said, it is apparent that you have no idea what context is. Please erase this post, I think you've embarrased yourself enough.


um humm

Anonymous said...

Wasn't Freud's work almost completely shown as not very accurate? I could be mistaken here.

Bronze Dog said...

A lot of it, but some parts still apply, or at least similar terminology has been taken up by more recent forms of psychology.

So, care to explain context?

Man Called True said...

A lot of what Freud came up with is still heavily argued over, although I think most of it is still considered "debateable" instead of "plain wrong".

The idea behind projectionism is sound, though, and applies to many a woo.