Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Why is it so Hard to Admit You Have Made a Mistake?

Yesterday I wrote a post about a conversation I had on twitter about slavery. I posted a link to my slavery in the new testament post, several verses mentioned there instruct slaves to obey their masters. @trellus argued that these don't endorse slavery in the same manner as turn the other cheek doesn't endorse violence. This was my response to his analogy.
Clearly I missed what he was saying when I wrote that tweet. His point is that both are instructions on how to respond to something someone has done to you. Responding to violence by turning the other cheek doesn't endorse the violence, it simply is telling you how to respond to it. @trellus was arguing that an analogous thing is going on with slavery.

My Initial Reaction
What I found really interesting when I thought about it later is that once I sent that tweet, part of my brain was totally committed to this perspective. "The point he made was stupid, the analogy is terrible, violence in one verse and slavery in another are incomparable" etc. Rereading his tweet later and reevaluating my response was more difficult than I thought it should have been. I had already decided that he was wrong, and had stated so publicly (and people favorited my tweet), I didn't want to now go back and change my answer. Ultimately I did reevaluate and wrote him a tweet saying I saw his point, but it was somewhat difficult to do.

Now don't get me wrong, this wasn't a huge feat. I'm obviously overstating all of this for effect, it wasn't extremely difficult for me to change my mind here, but it wasn't nothing either. There was a little twinge in the back of my brain that didn't want to admit I was wrong, that I had spoken too soon, that I hadn't really understood the point he was making before responding to it. Ideally this wouldn't be the case, and I was a little bit surprised when I recognized that twinge in myself. We should always be willing to reevaluate evidence, to listen to new arguments, and be ready to change our opinions if we are given good reason to do so.

So what do we do? First, for ourselves, we should be aware of these kinds of tendencies and take extra care to reevaluate arguments of people who disagree with us. You don't even have to agree with them wholesale, but look for points of argument they have made. Even if they don't wind up changing your mind, this is a great avenue toward understanding each other better. As for dealing with other people, recognize that even if you make a valid argument, they won't necessarily even hear it, let alone change their mind right away. Especially if you are arguing about a deeply held belief of theirs (instead of a random tweet they sent). This is part of the reason why we have to keep repeating our arguments, it takes repetition to get it into people's brains. Furthermore, even if they do recognize that you have made a valid argument, it's likely that they won't want to admit it to you.


  1. Important post, Hausdorff. We need to recognize this in both ourselves and in others.

    By the way, the way to argue the endorsement of slavery thing from the NT is to also draw upon what it says about authority, like in Romans 13:1-7. Sure, it's no slam dunk. It's not like there is a verse where Jesus says "I'm Jesus, and I approve of slavery." But adding that all authority figures (including slave masters) are established into their roles by God to the verses about being a willing slave, and the two together certainly imply that slavery is an institution of which God approves.

    Or, from a different angle, there is the argument from silence. Not once was slavery condemned in the NT. It would have been a pretty easy thing for Jesus to slip into His moral teachings, but He didn't If He had, slavery in the US would have been quite different, and may not have even existed. Factoring in Godly omniscience, the lack of condemnation of slavery is essentially a tacit approval of it, as God would have known that slavery would perpetuate hundreds upon hundreds of years into the future, and would have been supported as an institution by those verses in which slaves are told to cheerfully obey. One sentence could have changed that.

    1. I think that is a pretty good argument as well. Even if this can remove the "obey your master" verses as endorsement, I think the instructions to the master can't be explained away.

  2. That's, in part, why we have the scientific method. Even if a scientist doesn't have an agenda, it's human nature for him or her to want the outcome to come out one way or the other if just to make things interesting. Once we start to commit to an idea, it requires outside factors or parameters to stay as objective as possible.

  3. It's apparent to me that both slavery and violence was promoted in Biblical days, by God, and anyone who feels it was all just a "lesson" to teach us to "know" better is ignoring facts and putting their own fanciful spin on the blatant truth.

  4. I know it's highly off topic, but I'm getting a good laugh out of the Twitter names of the people involved in this.

    Anyway, yes, I do think that the NT does endorse slavery. Paul told slaves to obey their master happily so that they could be a good example to their master of how a Christian should act, but never once does he out rightly condemn slavery or frame his advice in the context of "you know, I didn't like slavery, it shouldn't exist, but until societies catch up to the idea that it shouldn't exist, this is what we should do in the meantime". Nowhere is slavery even implied to be a bad thing, not once.

    In fact, the shortest book of the NT is a story of Paul handing a slave back to his master, and encouraging his master to forgive him for his shortcomings, including running from him. I understand Paul may not have had much influence in his society to convince people to end slavery, and he didn't want to take violent action to end it, but if he actually opposed slavery then why didn't he try to spend time trying to convince people it was wrong, and/or take part in non violent resistance efforts like the Quakers in the 1800's assisting in the Underground Railroad?

    1. Ultimately I do think you are right, the NT does endorse slavery when it tells people who own slaves how to treat them. And even when it tells the slaves how to act, it's at least enabling slavery to continue if not still outright endorsing it. Is it an endorsement though? I don't know honestly, probably. I'd want to go back and read the verses again with this new perspective before I really commit to an answer. My larger point here though, was that this perspective is new (to me) and interesting and something I had never thought of before. If nothing else, thinking about this perspective solidified the vague dislike I had for "turn the other cheek". Also, my initial sleepy reaction of "this is not valuable at all" was mistaken.

      Oh, and I agree, people have some pretty amusing twitter handles. They often also have a funny profile pic to go with it.


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