You have any mantras*?
There’s a movie my wife and I enjoy called The Family Man (NOT to be confused with the filthy show Family Guy) with Nicholas Cage and Tea Leoni. In that movie, Jack (Cage) has a hilarious friend Arnie (played by Jeremy Piven). In one of the scenes, Jack and Arnie are hanging out in the den and Jack asks Arnie a question. Arnie’s response comes with the tag line, “…like a mantra Jack…just keep saying it!”
I often feel like the following statement has become a mantra of sorts in the last two years or so. The more things I think through, the more discussions I have with people, the more ideas I’m exposed to, try to understand, disagree or agree with, am confused by and sometimes completely reject or accept – the more this one summary statement runs through my mind:
The abuse of a thing does not negate its proper use
Let me say right out of the box that I have no idea if the wording of this line is original with me. I just googled it and couldn’t find it directly quoted anywhere, but alas, I’m sure it didn’t originate with me**. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, as one of my seminary prof’s once proclaimed, it’s that I’ve never had an original thought. (*UPDATE* – Just heard Mark Dever say virtually the same thing as my mantra HERE at Ex Libris [cool! I’m not crazy!])
Nevertheless, I can think of no better axiom to express how I so often feel after trying to make sense of a certain statement or particular proposition in a discussion or debate. I can summarize no better than this to describe the conclusion I come to more often than not when engaged in some serious thinking about some issue disputed issue in the public sphere. In other words, so many things seem to boil down to this one statement that I find myself saying it more and more frequently…like a mantra.
Let me provide three examples to illustrate what I mean –
1. Preaching. Yeah, preaching. I love to discuss preaching, listen to good preaching, read preaching books or biographies of preachers. The diversity of opinion on what good (and bad) preaching is, is as diverse as preachers themselves. Everyone has an opinion and many have put those opinions into print. That’s good. What’s not so good is when you hear a preacher say something along these lines –
“Well…I don’t want to emphasize the Holy Spirit too much from this text…because that could sound charismatic or Pentecostal”
What is this? This is negating the proper use of something because of its abuse! No! The Holy Spirit (or any Biblical doctrine for that matter) is critical and should be brought thundering from the text, urged and applied upon our hearers as preachers! Just because some have overemphasized (or abused) the doctrine of the person of the Holy Spirit does not mean he does not have a proper and glorious place in our proclamation of the gospel! The abuse of a thing (or person, in this example) does not negate its (his) proper use.
2. Corporal punishment (AKA: spanking). Uh oh. Did I just venture into no-man’s land? Sorry, but I’ve got to throw this one in for a good ole provocative example of what I’m trying to argue here. About a week ago, I opened my most recent purchase from Half.com. A two volume set called Parenthood in America: an encyclopedia. If I wasn’t able to get it for about $5, I would have never purchased something like this. But, a few months back, I read a really interesting excerpt from it so I added it to my Half.com wishlist. Anyway, when it arrived I cracked it open and began to peruse. Sadly, it was what I expected. Article after article filled with worldly, psychiatric, psychological, psycho-babble. Un-biblical “wisdom” from the family counseling experts of recent years. Oh well, a good reference work to have on the shelves on what the world tells us is right and wrong in our families. I read the article on corporal punishment and I can honestly say that virtually 100% of it’s contents could be summed up by saying the following: The abuse of a thing does not negate it’s proper use. I read the article to my children and asked them if the author was for or against proper spanking of children. They all adamantly affirmed he was against. Trick question! He never described proper spanking. Instead, he set up a straw man (a huge, 3 page one, at that!) and then proceeded to knock it down, making it sound like the case against spanking was settled. Ugh. How sad that the abuse of something (and yes, some parents have and still do abuse their children) has made an entire generation or two believe that there is no proper use for biblical, properly done, corporal punishment. I hear people today say things like this –
“I’m not gonna hit my kid”
“I don’t believe in child abuse”
I’m not going to hit my kid either. Child abuse is wrong and never justified. Again, hitting, beating, slapping in the heat of unchecked anger – are not proper, biblical forms of corporal punishment. They are abuses. But these abuses do not negate the proper use of corporal punishment done in a loving, redemptive way. We’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater and it shows in almost all corners of our society. This is the reason why children terrorize their parents. This is the reason why the show Super Nanny exists. This is why the drug industry continues to thrive. Ritalin for the kids, anti-depressants for the parents. It doesn’t have to be this way.
3. Hyper-environmentalism. Yes. Two provocative examples in a row. Blog suicide, right? Notice I’m choosing my wording to describe this example very carefully. “Hyper” is an intentional word. I’m all for good stewardship of the created heavens and earth. I’m not pouring gasoline into my yard on the weekends. I recycle like crazy. I look for ways to cut down waste, re-use old things and try to buy things that are efficient. If you want to call this environmentalism, that’s fine with me. But – if by environmentalism you mean huge restrictions on businesses that stifle production and profit, higher value placed on animal’s rights and wetlands than on the rights of unborn human beings and concerts on Earth Day so big and emotionally charged, they look more like a mega-church worship service than a fundraiser event – then I’d say we’ve missed the mark. You see, the mantra applies here too. The abuse of a thing – there have been abuses by humans on the environment – does not negate it’s proper use. We are still stewards of the earth. We are still charged with keeping and tending the garden. The mandate to work, subdue and rule over the earth is still in effect and there will be, as we obey that mandate, some amount of waste created. We will emit gases into the atmosphere. We will spill things, we will have to bury some trash. It’s OK. it’s NOT OK to abuse the earth – to intentionally pollute it. But it IS OK to use the earth. The abuse of a thing, does not negate it’s proper use.
I’m willing to bet that this summary statement would apply in almost all debates and discussions. Women’s rights, the death penalty, foreign affairs, role of government, etc. Try it out and see if you agree.
I’m also willing to bet that I’ve missed some glaring fallacy in my logic here. So – set me straight and shoot me some thoughts on where you think I’m off base.
*On the use of “mantra”. I know that the term mantra has deep rooted connections to Hinduism and other Eastern religions. I’m only using it in the general sense of something you say over and over. Not trying to promote the idea that empty repetition of any word or statement carries any spiritual power to change things.
**8/16/10 UPDATE: I knew it! Just read this line in J.C. Ryle’s booklet called Worship – “But we must never forget that the misuse of a good thing is no argument against the use of it.”