Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Questions Make Heretics ...Yet Again

It was true when (pseudo)Tertulian wrote it, and is still true today, questions make heretics. If you want to look at the real differences beyond issues of identity and doctrine between those considered "heretics" and those considered "orthodox" in any social grouping, not just religion, see who is asking the pertinent fundamental questions and who is trying to shut them up. And, yes, there are both stupid questions and pointless questions, in addition to many varieties of verbalizations in question form that are not really questions.

It is not formulating statements with question marks, but a fundamental and general attitude of inquiry unsatisfied with dismissive answers that is always the real heresy. Answers are much more comfortable, even "wrong" answers, there are no surprises, no open possibilities. To say that people in general, and the powers-that-be in particular, don't like questions is a truly subterranean understatement.

Even most people who identify with ancient movements declared heretical, such as Gnosticism, don't care for questions beyond the "how can I join your group?" or, "where can I buy your book?" variety. Sadly, common questions in academia such as, "how did you come to that conclusion?" and, "why don't you consider this alternative conclusion?" are somehow greeted as personal attacks by many people, and result in long-held animosities.

With this fear of questions, is it any wonder that those trying to dismiss the questioners do so by creating answers for them? What better way to avoid the questions, than by disputing a straw-man created from made up answers? This is species of the fallacy I've called assuming the argument (see this article), which is attributing an entire argument to someone without basis for doing so. For example, someone asks a question such as, “how did you come to that conclusion?” Rather than taking it at face value and answering the question, the respondent assumes that an argument is being made against the conclusion and attacks the imaginary argument. This type of interaction has become so common that answering questions directly or asking clarifying questions to see if an argument is intended, are now the exception.

What brought on this meditation is the forced resignation of Bible teacher Kent Dobson. Dobson was fired for hosting a documentary where his role was to literally pose questions in interviews with experts. He didn't state any conclusions himself. This doesn't seem to be because he was restraining himself, keeping his mouth shut to protect his job, but that the questions interested him because he didn't have answers and wasn't satisfied with dismissive ones either. There don't seem to be any “heretical” beliefs lurking beneath the surface, nor any reason to assume that there are. Yet, questions make heretics in the eyes of the school board, and Dobson is out of a job. I wish him well as a fellow questioner.

Teacher Ousted for Hosting Documentary

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