“That’s Just Your Opinion”

A couple of weeks ago I was having a discussion with a friend (you know who you are!) about various “macro” subjects: Bible, culture, politics (and how they all intertwine). As our discussion progressed (and regressed) we came to a point where my friend said “that’s just your opinion.” and then expected that our conversation to be over.

I’m sure you’ve been in a conversation like this before. You are trying to put forward one set of ideas, the person you are talking with is trying to refute them. Ultimately you come to a point of pressing where you’ve reached something of a bottom or base of argumentation. It is upon this foundation that much of your argument stands or falls. When talking about the Bible this foundational aspect in your argumentation often rests on a portion of scripture. When this point of the argument has been reached there can only be two roads.

The first road is one where the person begins to see how your argument fits together (based on this foundation). During the first half of the discussion they have been pushing you deeper and deeper down into your argumentation. Now that you’ve reached a perceived bottom the opposite starts happening. They see the foundation and, together, you start building up from there back out toward the opening part of the discussion but this time the person you are talking to is tracking along rather than hitting the breaks.

The second road is one where the person disagrees with you foundation and either offers an entirely different mode of thought or the conversation ends with them saying something like “that’s just your opinion” or “that’s your interpretation.”

This particular conversation ended (sort of) with my friend saying “that’s just your opinion.”

I, honestly, was a little frustrated when they said this because I was really hoping to show them (with more clarity) my line of thinking in several areas. Because of this frustration I decided to press back on this common objection (“that’s your opinion”).

When they responded “that’s just your opinion” I retorted back “Well that’s just your opinion.”

My friends responded to this with slight bewilderment. They responded “What do you mean?”

I said “When you tell me that my interpretation of “X” passage of scripture is ‘just my opinion’ you are just giving your opinion.”

What I went on to try and tell my friend is that the argument “that’s just your opinion” is self defeating. The reason it is self defeating is because it itself is an opinion that says “opinions aren’t valid.”

Ultimately all we can really give is opinions. Our opinions should be based on solid presuppositions but even those presuppositions are opinions. What all (that’s clean sweeping!) comes down to is consistency. If any part of are argumentation claims logic then logic then holds a claim on the entirety of our argument. Therefore, the more consistent the argument being put forth the stronger it is. Much of our post-modern world is very inconsistency in the way its views hold together. People aren’t taught to think how economic policy and gay mirage hold together and are connected. That’s why you can have “conservative” pundits claim that all they care about is the economy and want to leave the “moral” issues out of politics.

Who said economics isn’t moral?

Who said “politics” should be involved in anything?

Who said our economic policy of making up money our of thin air isn’t connected to people making up sexuality our of mid-air?

Everything (including economics and sexuality) is connected, namely because the mystery that God revealed in Christ is that all things are connect to Jesus (Eph. 1:9)

Food for thought.

Michael

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11 comments

  1. I don’t really agree that all we can give is opinions. The veracity of a belief can be tested through the actions and consequences of your life. I do agree that there are moral dimensions to economic behaviors. If you are using Jesus’ teachings as a guide, then there’s no such thing as a Capitalist Christian. You either serve God or money, because you can’t serve both.

    The Bible isn’t a textbook for understanding sexual psychology, however. It reflects the preferences and taboos of only a few cultures at a time when slavery was acceptable and women could be “owned”. We know there are different expressions of sex and love than are in scripture, and there always have been. You have to deal with what’s real.

    1. Thanks for the comment!

      I think you might be approaching things from an entirely different perspective than myself.

      All these claims you are making about the Bible are based on entirely different presuppositions. You claim that the Bible is not a textbook for sexual psychology and that there are different expressions of sex and love outside the scope of scripture and that we have to deal with what’s “real.”

      I guess I would simply ask you to define reality, sexuality, culture, history, and the idea of taboo from your presuppositional frame work and then ask you to prove its consistency.

      1. My point about the Bible was that it doesn’t deal with every aspect of life, that even if you accept divine inspiration, the document still resides within a historical and cultural context, and reflects biases and limits of that time and place.

        Even if you consider it the greatest book – it isn’t the ONLY book, and wisdom will require additional reading.

      2. Ok, I see your point now let me press you a little on that.

        When I talk about presuppositions I’m talking about first beliefs. A first belief is something like “logic”. Both of us are using the logic right now because we are reading each others’ words and understanding them to (hopefully) flow “logically”. If anyone asked us to prove why we believed in logic we would have no option but to try and defend it logically which, by definition, is circular reasoning.

        Whether we acknowledge it or not, everyone carries many presuppostions that govern our thoughts and actions. These presuppositions (at their core) are circular. The question then becomes whether our presuppostions are consistent with our conclusions (our view of the world: i.e. what defines love, culture, history, etc.).

        With that stated I want to move on to your objections.

        How is it that you can approach the Bible and offer up any questions of criticisms of it? What gives you the authority to do so? Why should you trust any source that you may be pulling from to critique the Bible? In other words, by what standard?

        You mentioned that the Bible condoned things like slavery and abuse of women and you (seem) to condemn those things (as would I) as morally wrong. My question to you is by what standard of morality can you judge these evils without the Bible?

        If God has not spoken authoritatively in the Bible then there is no basis for morality anywhere. All morality then is based simply on cultural and historical parameters. If this is the case then the strongest man/group gets to decide what is moral and can then do morally reprehensible things (according to the Bible) in the name of morality.

        I’m trying to get at these deeper roots rather than accept the moral/cultural/historical story that post-enlightenment humanism has offered us from an early age.

        I’d love to hear your thoughts!

  2. Everyone’s faith is tested millions of times. Each person who has endured a doubt and had to work it through to some sort of resolution has undergone a test. Of course there’s the test of time also. You place your faith in a religion, a profession, a life partner, where you choose to live, and over time you see whether your faith is correctly invested by the fruits of your efforts.

    1. Hey, I deleted my first response because the screen I responded from only showed me the first sentence of your initial response. I’ve posted a response to your full comment now.

      Sorry for the mix up!

  3. This is in response to your longer reply, to which the software didn’t supply a “reply” button πŸ™‚

    There are several sources for my opinion about what the Bible is and isn’t. My own religious tradition (Anglicanism) does not accept Biblical inerrancy or literal interpretation. My church’s core tenet is that the understanding of and relationship with God is best maintained by a co-equal triangular balance between reliance upon Scripture/Tradition/Reason.

    Separately from that aspect of my life, I’m a trained scientist (radiation physics, wave form theory, and patient care). I deal with the mechanics of life and death directly, formerly as a medical caregiver in nursing homes, an imaging tech in hospitals and clinics, and now a medical asst/xr tech at an urgent care. Science provides a methodology for testing and experimentation of all provable or measurable things. Unfortunately that includes rejection of some Bible details concerning the size of Noah’s ark (not enough room for the species), the arrangement of the Solar System, and the limits of human lifespan.

    Thirdly, I speak more than one language. I understand concretely that complete, accurate translation from any one language into another is impossible. Therefore, all Bible translations are approximations of functional equivalence. Unless you read Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, you can’t read the Bible without the assistance and commentary of other scholars. My wife’s got an MA in Theology. I trust her choices in textbooks, and I’ve had a few seminary and college courses.

    Fourth, my individual cultural and familial context includes both Christians and non-Christians, including first nations people. The habit of reconciling a faith continuum that broad into one family gives me hope that the same is achievable in the extended family of the world.

    I don’t agree that if the Bible doesn’t answer every moral question authoritatively there’s no basis for morality anywhere. Not every culture uses the Bible, there are common aspects to every major religion, and it’s also feasible to not believe in any deity and still be moral. Ethics is assisted by religion, not completely dependent upon it.

    I’m enjoying the discussion, but I have to go to clinic. Thanks for the quality of your thought!

    1. Gotcha! Sorry the page won’t allow a more direct manner of reply but for our purpose I think we’ll be okay!

      First, in terms of the tradition of Anglicanism I might disagree with you. The Anglican church is birthed from the Church of England which historically (though veins presently deny) accepted Biblical inerrancy. Further, neither am I interested in a “literal” interpretation of the text as you might find a “fundamentalist” advancing. Further, I do not see reason & tradition at odds with Scripture but instead see them “in-line” with Scripture (which I think presents a key distinction).

      That being said I want to address your qualifications. When I previously asked you for foundation for your authority I was not asking for credentials (I apologize if I was unclear on this) (also, don’t take this as a disparagement of your credentials either for it isn’t). Perhaps I could rephrase my request for authority in asking for you to give credentials to your credentials :-).

      What I mean by this is: from where does science (physics in this occasion) get it’s authority? Before anyone can conduct a material experiment scientifically you must have many prior assumptions about the nature of things (aka presuppositions). In order for empirical experimentation to be valid the scientist must make assertions about the way the world is that cannot be attained scientifically!

      What this means is that science carries presuppositions about the nature of the world (and matter) that it assumes are constant in order to do any scientific experimentation. This being the case a scientist cannot, scientifically, give an account of those presuppositions. They take them by faith (charged word in context!). Before a physicist can preform an experiment he/she must assume that the materials they are working with are consistent. That assumption was not preformed either scientifically or empirically!

      (Excursus: The Bible makes no specific claim about solar arrangement [it makes claims about zodiac constellations and references planets], the limits of the human life [120 yrs.] have been made null this side of the Resurrection, & [considering neither of us are employing a “literal” interpretation] I think the concept of the Ark not being big enough isn’t very relevant [in fact the point is a re-imaging of the world laid out in Gen. 1 as a “triple-decker” world].)

      In terms of translations let me ask you a question. Does knowing multiple languages give you a stronger or weaker grasp of the concept of language in general? I assume that your answer would be stronger. That being the case one could very easily make the argument that the dissemination of the Biblical story throughout many languages would not create a weakening of its message but a strengthening of it. It is easier to communicate certain things in one language than in another. The ability to cross the language divide only strengthens the message of the Bible.

      As to your last point I think you’re missing what I’m saying again (again probably do to my lack of clarity). It really comes down to what you understand as the ultimate basis of morality. Does man create morality? If so then morality is entirely relative to time and place. If so then you have no grounds to condemn anyone’s actions for they can say that they think it is moral. Conversely, if God has spoken then there is a ground for morality; namely Him. I’m not saying that forms of morality aren’t existent outside of where Christianity has influence. What I am saying is that where practical morality is practiced outside of Christianity’s influence is an example of that “inconsistency” I was talking about earlier. Why is this people, who do not have the revelation of God, practicing a form of morality? That in and of itself is a sign unto God and his revelation written on the hearts of men (Romans 1).

      Finally, I want to conclude with a thought I hope will challenge you:

      The Bible speaks of God as a judge (not in a hellfire sermon [although hellfire is mentioned] sort of way but in a courtroom sort of way). God sits in his judgement seat and he asks us the questions.

      To paint a word picture, God sits on the bench and passes judgement. In other words, he is the one asking the questions, not us. The Bible presents this in poetical-dramatic form in the book of Job. God allows Job to go through some very difficult circumstances and ultimately (after much back and forth with “friends”) God comes to Job in a whirlwind. God explains to Job that if he wants to question God he can, however, he must realize that he (Job) was not there when God laid the foundation of the Earth, Job was not there when God set the boundary markers in their places and hung the stars in the sky, Job was not there when God told the waters “thus far you shall come and no further.”

      In short, to question God’s authority is foolishness. We are finite and he is infinite. He has spoken (in His Word & in His Word-incarnate: Jesus) and to turn the tables and to put one’s self on the bench and to put God in the defendant’s stand is the pinnacle of human folly. This does not mean that we are not allowed to have questions. In fact the Bible commends those who honestly (and humbly) bring their questions to God. What it does mean is that we must be very careful that we don’t put ourselves and our thoughts as primary in opposition to God and his thoughts.

      I say this not in an attacking sort of way but in order to give you a better perspective on my presuppositions. My most basic presupposition is that God has spoken in his word. When someone comes to me and presents to me a vision of the world that is contrary to the Bible they are essentially telling me that I should believe their word over God’s word.

      My response is always the same: “Why should I believe your word over God’s”

      Unless someone can give me a compelling enough reason to believe man rather than God I will always believe God. This is at the heart of my presuppositionalism.

      I too am enjoying this discussion and hope that the length of my response isn’t off-putting!

      Michael

      1. Okay, I’m off work at last. (Health care takes up a lot of time!) I have a better understanding after reading your last response.

        When I said “my church”, I meant my actual church, the one I attend and am a tithing member of. I wasn’t speaking for the entire history of the Church of England. In the US, Episcopal churches are not beholden to any policy or central allegiance to the Archbishop of Canterbury – the way Catholic churches are subservient to the Pope. Episcopal means “bishop”, and our local diocese bishop is as high an authority as we have. Every additional association with churches both within and outside the Anglican community is voluntary, and voted on annually and locally. It’s about as dynamic and democratic a process as possible within a church tradition. What I said about the Bible is what my local church stands by, and what our members believe.

        Knowing multiple languages does give a stronger understanding of the concept of language, but also an understanding that translation does not (and can not) strengthen messages, but can only approximate, alter and dilute both clarity and meaning. I learned Spanish, my second language, in order to read Don Quijote in the original. The finest English translations only come fairly close to the depth, emotion, subtlety and poetry of the original. This also holds true for singing Bach in German, Gregorian chant in Latin, and reading the Bible in anything but the original languages. Translations are not just different, they are always by necessity a reduction. But people seek knowledge the easy way, and refuse to learn languages, so there will always be a market for translations.

        On a related note, people think they can understand medicine from looking up medical terminology definitions. It’s not the same thing as knowing the Greek and Latin roots of the prefixes and suffixes, so you can understand chart notes about a disease or treatment, even if you haven’t encountered them personally.

        The biggest re-frame I get from our discussion is to consider whether “the Word” is something that can only be read. I believe God speaks through the Bible, but also through the constant expression of the natural world, through encounters between people, in the solitude of prayer, and in events placed in our path each day that we can neither anticipate nor avoid. The word is everywhere. The divine design of living beings encourages growth toward finding new ways of hearing it.

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