Cultural Footprints in Public Discourse

Take a brief moment today to consider name-calling as a rhetorical device. Most of us would agree that it is disgusting when a person calls another person a name simply for the purpose of stigmatizing his or her ideas. This is a terrible approach to debate and dialogue. It may work to solidify opposition among the less astute, but it is nonetheless little more than mud-slinging. Not every use of names can be reduced to mud-slinging, though.

We would do well to recognize that many very historical names leave behind massive cultural footprints. Granted, sometimes people can be falsely charged as Marxists, Pelagians, Hitlers, and the like. However, to evoke one of these names—and myriad others—in a spirited debate, is not necessarily reducible to mud-slinging. In fact, oftentimes, when we reduce the use of these historical names in the cultural dialogue to mere mud-slinging, we run headlong into the error of denying cultural footprints and we demonstrate that we are ignorant of history.

For instance, a person who has studied church history should be very aware of the Pelagian debate where Augustine asserted that men must be enabled by God to do what He requires us to do. Pelagias responded that God would not require anything of us that we are incapable of accomplishing. When some professors and seminary presidents respond to Calvinists with the same line of argumentation and, subsequently, they are told they are making Pelagian arguments, they will often accuse their brothers of mud-slinging. By accusing Calvinists of mud-slinging, simply because they did not (directly) receive their argumentation from Pelagius himself, they deny Pelagius’ cultural footprint and / or demonstrate that they are ignorant of a major debate in church history.

Likewise, a person who has studied political history should be very aware of the Marxist debate where Marx and Engels asserted that a narrative must be forwarded that pits oppressors against oppressed so that a one-world communist utopia could arise. Marx and Engels primarily focused on economics, but they were also for the toppling of other institutions as well, like the family and the church. For them, any destabilization would lead ultimately to revolution, and revolution could only make possible the rise of their desired utopia.

So, when Christian leaders start to smuggle this language of oppressor and oppressed into the church, the idea of a power struggle between classes even within God’s church, some have rightly called them on the use of a Marxist tactic. Yet, predictably, they claim that this recognition of Marxism is nothing more than mud-slinging. By accusing their detractors of mud-slinging, simply because they do not (directly) receive their argumentation from Marx and Engels, they deny Marx’s and Engel’s cultural footprints and / or demonstrate that they are ignorant of a major debate in political history.

Conclusion

The next time someone uses a name you consider to be very negative to describe your position, try not to respond with a knee-jerk reaction and accuse them of mud-slinging. Rather, ask them why they make that connection. You may have imbibed a cultural footprint of which you are unaware. You may have a blind spot in your understanding of history. The other person may have a very valid reason for the connection he or she is making and, if he or she doesn’t, you can offer a more gentle correction than merely accusing him or her of mudslinging.

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