Godwin’s Law states:
As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.
Mike Godwin has written about the law that “its purpose has always been rhetorical and pedagogical: I wanted folks who glibly compared someone else to Hitler or to Nazis to think a bit harder about the Holocaust.”
And this is the spirit in which I’ve always understood it. There are, indeed, thought processes and rationalizations that are eerily similar to “Hitlerian rhetoric” (if I may paraphrase Stephen Fry). And so, there are times when such a comparison may be valid. But more times than not, the comparison is inaccurate and made out of sheer laziness, as though ole Adolf was a trump card.
But Godwin’s Law is mostly only applicable to political discussions. Yes, sometimes the issues are moral or spirtual, but they still have a distinct political bent to them (e.g. issues surrounding abortion). Yet the same laziness that made Godwin’s Law necessary is prevalent in many online theological discussions.
My first thought was how Matthew 7:16 gets twisted to mean that if you do one thing that I don’t like, then I am capable of reading all of your innermost thoughts and commenting on them definitively and publicly.
Or how “another gospel” (Galatians 1:9) has been twisted to mean “anything with which I disagree”.
And let’s not forget the all-purpose barn-burner: emergent (which apparently encompasses everything I don’t believe in — even when two thoughts are contradictory).
But we really need a person, not a concept.
Brian McLaren? Nah. He’s so last decade.
Rob Bell? Nah. He’s so earlier this year. Even the recent announcement of his departure from the pulpit only produced a brief ripple in all but the craziest corners of the blogosphere.
Besides which, there are plenty of people who haven’t heard of either of these guys.
Rick Warren? Now we’re getting somewhere with the recognizability factor. But more and more of the criticisms of him are either over old stuff, misinterpretation of stuff, or can’t withstand any real logic (or some combination of the three). So he’s not really a legitimate whipping boy anymore.
So who then? And then it hit me.
As an online theological discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Oprah Winfrey approaches 1.
As with Godwin’s Law, there are cases where the comparison rings true. But let’s be honest. For quite a while and probably for many years to come, Winfrey has become the poster child for “any spiritual belief that is less rigorous than my own”.
So in the words of Phil Esterhaus, let’s be careful out there — let’s not play the O-card too quickly.
Waters’ Corollary to Godwin’s Law. I’ll be over here holding my breath, waiting for the Wikipedia update.
From the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:10 — emphasis mine):
When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”
The Greek word for “accusers” is kategoros — meaning “to categorize”. It’s also the same word used in Revelation 12:10, speaking of Satan.
Dare I say “labelers”?
Need I say more?
OK, I over-state my case, but I got your attention, didn’t I?
I have a friend who grew weary of people telling him that he was being “unloving” (based solely on his content) when he spoke the truth to a third party, particularly as it regarded man’s state apart from Christ. His response was, “so you want me to ‘love’ them (the third party) straight to hell?”
And my friend’s response was right. There is a large chunk of professing Christendom that has a poor grasp on the definitions of some pretty small words, believing that anything that isn’t Mr-Rogers-nice is unloving.
Ephesians 4:14 describes a very dire issue that Paul is trying to correct:
that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,
Paul’s solution (in verse 15):
but, speaking the truth …
And there it is, right there. The ultimate response to error is the truth. No matter how much darkness there is, it cannot fully annihilate even the smallest amount of light. The reverse is not true, though (a sufficient amount of light can fully annihilate darkness).
And, after all, what can be more loving than the truth of the Gospel? That despite our fallen state, God loves us and provided — at great expense to Him and no expense to us — a means to get rid of that fallen state.
But wait, there’s more.
Repeating that verse again, but with two more words:
but, speaking the truth in love …
See, I think that Paul knew that we could be … well … idiots. That we would grasp the truth and somehow think that this said something — anything — about us, rather than merely being evidence of God’s grace. Put another way, in the words of the late Michael “iMonk” Spencer, “[w]e have to match our belief in the truth with a humility about ourselves.”
Perhaps equal in error to the assumption that anything un-nice is also unloving is the assumption that merely speaking the truth, regardless of methodology, is inherently, sufficiently — and always — loving. If that was true, then that prepositional phrase (”in love”) is redundant.
If we were perfect, then that phrase probably wouldn’t be needed. But I’m not there yet. And 10:1, you aren’t either.