5 April 2008

How Not To Argue

I have often have a problem with Proverbs 26:4 and 26:5. It is hard to know which one applies to a given situation.

Recently I had a huge spate of hits over this little piece I wrote a few weeks back. A few people left comments, a few others linked. One of the people who left a comment in an attempt to refute my arguments linked to my article so he could refute my arguments further on his own website. I invited him to return to this website so we could continue our debate. He has thus far declined, having already declared victory over me both here and on his own website.

Years ago, when European civilization rediscovered logic, people knew how to argue, and knew when an point was proven, and when it was not. Unfortunately, learning logic and arguments is difficult and most people have never learned. The internet has not helped matters, as anyone with a keyboard can type off anything they wish. Many people also seem to prefer the hit-and-run approach. Come in, fire off a few insults, declare yourself the winner, and run away. Ah, how ennobling is the gift of wit!

Here's his refutation of me in total (minus a cartoon at the top):

Paul Nichols‘ illustration notwithstanding, sometimes the critics of contemporary music can be a bit cartoonish themselves.

In surfing the various conservative sites that just can’t bear to link to the source material, I ran across a critique of “Gather Us In” that struck me as a limp and
arbitrary imitation of fisking. Complaining about the emphasis on the first person reference in singing, Bear-i-tone writes:

Here we have the first mention of the true subject of this song: Us. There are 27 or 28 mentions of “we” “our” or “us”. By comparison there are seven mentions of “you” and “your” which is presumably God. Or Edison.

Almost as over-indulged as the complaints about the Mass of Creation are the complaints about the improper focus in contemporary hymnody. The Voice of God complaint has pretty much been scuttled as a serious argument (here, among other places), as we find a good bit of it in the Lectionary: psalms, gospel acclamation verses, and the antiphons.

Some traditional-leaning Catholics have to find something on which to hang a complaint, so the logical approach seems to be to attack prayers of petition, out of context, of course. For whatever other problems the text of “Gather Us In” may have, it is at root, a prayer of petition. The assembly asks God to do several things in context of the Eucharistic gathering. Do conservatives have a problem with asking God for stuff? If the four-to-one ratio is bothersome, let’s look at a traditional classic. Anybody recognize these words?

I confess to almighty God,
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have sinned through my own fault,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do;
and I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin,
all the angels and saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

Word count: God (2), non-Divine persons and their qualities (13).

Are twenty-seven mentions of “we” or “our” or “us” too many for one part of the Mass? Don’t go near the Roman Canon. Would you believe it has forty? If you count the third-person references to other earthbound people (and I exclude the long lists of saints) the actual count of non-Divine persons or references is closer to fifty.

Watch out what you sing and pray for at a Catholic Mass. It may come back to bite you later.

Where to begin? He calls me out for not linking to the source. I didn't, because the source that started my rumination was a debate on Haugen's psalms, and I said I had no problems with them, and went off in a different direction. The original debate only got me thinking, but not about the debate. Ergo, the "source" (if it can be called that) was not relevant and a link unnecessary. He calls me a conservative, apparently a bad word for him. Personally I consider myself neither liberal nor conservative. Each side has their points and I agree and disagree accordingly, and periodically get slammed from both ends of the spectrum because of it.

Next he starts with a few insults- my writing is "limp" and this was an "arbitrary attempt at at a fisking" to warm you up for what follows: a single quotation taken completely out of context. He then registers his disdain for people who don't like this hymnody by referring to what he calls a "scuttled" argument about Vox Dei hymns. I am therefore lumped in a kind of argument I never made and which he presents as already refuted. By implication, my argument is already refuted, at least by association. Very cunning rhetorical trick on Todd's part, and well played. Then he begins his analysis.

In a sense, this "Todd" fellow is correct: numbers are not the best way to argue, which is why I used numbers only once to back up a point rather than make one by itself. My main point, if Todd had taken the time to try and understand rather than criticise, was that God is not mentioned at all, and this piece only leaves a few references to an undefined "you." This "you" may be assumed to be God if the song is sung in a church, but since the final verse of the piece says we are "Not...in a building" then we are not in a church, and if not in a church then where are we and whom are we asking to gather us in? This line, if nothing else, defeats the song's own context. This is opposed to a more elaborately designated "us": the poor, the haughty, the lame, the etc etc. The focus of this song, as I pointed out, is on us, the congregation, and not... someone else. At least Todd could have cut off the my reference to Edison at the end of the quotation, as it is completely without context and nonsensical as he has quoted it.

Oh, and he also claims that I am attacking those lines of the song "out of context." Pot, meet kettle.

But he goes further, and decides to prove me wrong by using my method of counting references to us and God on the Confiteor. Incidentally, notice he introduces the Confiteor with sarcasm, suggesting some people (I wonder whom) would not recognize it. Here he missed a golden opportunity. Had he used the Latin Confiteor, he would have had two more uses of the word "my" to draw on, and could have refuted me that much more.

Or could he? As I pointed out in my comments box, comparing the song to the Confiteor is apples and oranges. The Confiteor completely and totally defines the you we are addressing: "Almighty God". Furthermore, we are not exalted in any way, but are situated in a position of humility, as is stressed in the Latin, even with its extra "my"'s, because the Latin stresses "my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault."

I also mentioned in my article that I have a pet peeve about referring to the Body and Blood of Christ as bread and wine. Todd responds that most of the Eucharistic prayers refer to it as bread and wine even after the consecration. Going through my missal just to confirm what I thought, I found that of the four common prayers, three call it Body and Blood.

And so on. He brings out all the other prayers that refer to us more often than God, completely ignoring the context in which they are, because he said I ignored the context of the references to us in the song. I did not. That was one point situated in an argument, not the whole point. By ignoring my context in his hurry to refute what he saw as a "conservative leaning Catholic" he completely ignored the context, in short, exactly what he accuses me of doing.

This is what passes for argument and debate very often these days. A few insults backed up by a quotation or two, a few more insults, declare victory and run. He tells us, in brief, that it is nonsense to argue numbers of words without a glance at the meaning of the words. I agree, which is why I examined both numbers and meanings.

He concludes by telling us to be careful of what we sing and pray at Mass, in case it comes back to bite us later. I respond two ways: first, indeed, I am very careful about what I sing and pray, precisely because of what comes "later".

But to show you I know what Todd means when he refers to being bitten, and by implication and common association where, let me conclude by answering Todd according to his folly: Todd, here is my backside. Behold, no toothmarks!

Now pucker up.

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