I’ve been reading the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) lately, and have come across something intriguing. Let me share it with you now.
Beginning in Chapter Five, we read the following:
…I had formed most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club for mutual improvement, which we called the JUNTO; we met on Friday evenings. The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discussed by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing, on any subject he pleased. Our debates were to be under the direction of a president, and to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute, or desire of victory; and to prevent warmth, all expressions of positiveness in opinions, or direct contradiction, were after some time made contraband, and prohibited under small pecuniary penalties.
Here we are given an account of how Benjamin Franklin initiated a club for discussing general matters with his friends. This was to be for their mutual improvement and intellectual advancement. But, there were a few rules. They weren’t allowed to be dogmatic, and they must have the goal of finding out the truth, and must NOT permit their meetings to be reduced to mere squabbling over opinions. This club wasn’t intended as a debate forum, but as a sort of school, in which the students helped teach each other as they engaged in meaningful, friendly conversation. Actually, throughout his autobiography, Mr. Franklin echoes this theme (of the importance of peaceful communication as opposed to arguing) various times. In Chapter Nine, we read:
…in the course of my observation, those disputing, contradicting, and confuting people are generally unfortunate in their affairs. They get victory sometimes, but they never get good will, which would be of more use to them.
I feel that there is so much to be learned from this man’s experiences and observations! Regardless of his personal views about God and religion, I think his goals of searching out the truth, and avoiding disputes are very, very admirable. Maybe we could copy him.
Think about it: how many times have we come to arguing over hot topics? If we’re talking about blogging, then I could phrase the question this way: how many times have we resorted to profanity, name-calling, and trying to make the other person look like an idiot who knows nothing? How many times have we allowed our blood pressure to rise, until our blood is shooting through our veins, our heart is pounding like a hammer, and we start to wheeze like horses because we’re breathing so hard? How many times have we allowed other people’s stubbornness to get to us, to unravel our nerves, to poke firebrands onto our sensitive skin?
I know that I have been guilty of argumentation! Is arguing bad? I would say, it depends on what kind of “arguing” we’re talking about. Are we referring to yelling matches? Comparisons of IQ? Intellectual slapping contests? Or, are we referring to peaceful discussion of a matter with an aim to find out the truth? Which one seems like a better approach?
The reality is, we all have opinions. We all have preconceptions. We all have biases. It doesn’t seem to me that there’s any need to contest that. The real question is not, which of us is biased?, but, which of us is willing to lay aside his/her biases in search of the truth? As we read the Bible, and discuss it with our fellow Christians, is our main aim to uncover God’s wisdom, or is our main aim to prove we’re right? When another Christian confronts us with a differing opinion, is our first reaction to get mad? Do we rush to defend our position? Would it not be better to take the time to listen, before giving an answer? Might we not find it more to our advantage to be open to what God’s Word actually says, than to fly about trying to prove our point? And would it not result most beneficial if we could set aside our own preconceived notions in our approach to understanding the Bible, and be willing to let go of any of our ideas that we find do not coincide with the Scriptures?
That’s not to say that we must never be dogmatic; some beliefs are so clearly supported by the Bible, that it is only proper that our stance on those issues should be unyielding. There are certain creeds that deserve our intellectual and spiritual tenacity, such as the Divine nature of Jesus Christ, and His physical death and resurrection in order to save us from an eternity in hell fire. These are not mere biases–they are a matter of life and death! We cannot, absolutely CANNOT compromise in these areas! However, neither should we argue about them. If other people don’t want to hear the truth after we’ve tried to tell them, let them be. It may be that God will speak to their hearts in ways we never could. There are many areas, however, that seem clear to some of us, but not to others. It would be wonderful if we could converse on those topics patiently, kindly, and with an open heart and mind.
I don’t exempt myself from these admonitions at all. Actually, one of the reasons I’m writing this article, is to share with you what I am learning in my life right now. I wish I could have learned some of these principles earlier–but it’s never too late to improve!
How sad it would be for us, if we let our biases undermine our ability to recognize the truth! I want to propose something: a Truth Seekers Club. This discussion group would have as its aim, discovering what God has to say, and leaving what we have to say out of it, as long as what we have to say interferes with the truth. Sounds simple. There’s just one catch: we’d have to leave our Pride behind.
“Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer….But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.”
2 Timothy 2:14-17a; 23-26