Posted by: Moses | November 18, 2007

Reactionary Philosophy

Our lives are characterized by reactions. One of the basic characteristics of life is a “response to stimuli,” a reaction provoked by an external perception of some sort. Since fifth grade most of us have known that every action is accompanied by an equal and opposite reaction where no energy is ultimately lost. All of creation stays in a state of balance where reactions ensure that no energy or matter is every created or destroyed. Reactions are inevitable; however, when it comes to shaping philosophy and theology, reactions are exceedingly dangerous.

When any ideology is confronted with a competing truth-claim, the ideologist’s natural inclination is to react. However, to simply take the exact opposite position from the error, rarely generates a tenable position. C.S. Lewis noted that “supposing, for purposes of argument, that Christianity is true; then it could avoid all coincidence with other religions only on the supposition that all other religions are one hundred percent erroneous. ” Thus, one cannot take error and reject the entire construct that contains it. Is Islam a lie? Yes. Can one take every point of Islam and reconstruct Christianity by countering the point? Such a thought is absurd, we would end up with no God, no prophecy, and no morality of any sort. Islam’s deception is contained in how those doctrines are arrayed and defined.

This concept of assuming that one’s opponent argues one hundred percent incorrect is almost always fallacious. However, no position is more attractive when one’s beliefs are challenged. I cannot tell you how many times I have directly refuted a point in a formal debate where the safer, more logical, and more effective course of action would have been to concede a very large part of my opponents arguments and refute only the specific error in his line of reasoning. Such an approach smacks against our pride, and yet no other type of argument has ever seemed so attractive and believable than a carefully reasoned combination of concession and rejection. This intellectual honesty is very persuasive.

However, very rarely do people practice this humble argumentation. We are a people of extremes whose natural inclination is to polarize every issue into “totally right” and “totally wrong” for fear of the morass of subjectivism. Truth is so precious to us that we insist on taking broadsword swings, easily deflected strokes to defend its honor. However, skilful rapier’s disarmament would actually be effective at stopping her assailant. Many times my pride demands total victory, so I choose a less effective approach so as to cling the most fully to my current beliefs. Heaven forbid that I ever be even slightly incorrect and learn from an opponent.

In the early eighteen hundreds German philosopher, Georg Hegel theorized that history was composed of a series of unavoidable actions, reactions, and resolutions. This process is referred to as Hegel’s dialectic, which describes Hegel’s ideas as to how history progresses. In a nut-shell Hegel observes an action, say an abusive monarchy, followed by a reaction, perhaps a revolution, which leads to a synthesis of the two competing forces. The competition completes itself in a synthesis better than either of the competing forces, perhaps a constitutional monarchy. Hegel breaks down all of history into these ever-progressive dialectics. Hegel’s process has been abused to absurdity when used to justify secular humanism, or any other philosophy as an ultimate system—logically, Hegel’s dialectic can never produce an ultimate truth. There will always be something better to synthesize. Furthermore, I would reject Hegel’s specific error of atheistic fatalism. Though sometimes abused, perhaps we should not assume that Hegel’s theory is one hundred percent in error simply because some people have twisted it to their own immoral ends.

I would like to propose that Hegel’s thought process has merit in constraining our natural inclination toward extreme reactionism, realizing that more than likely we are rejecting more than we should because our viewpoint is limited. When two brothers in Christ are in disagreement, there should be no polarized inimical attacks. Particularly in matters where interpretations of God’s word differ, I would propose that we often react too strongly and end up diving off the opposite deep end. Perhaps a wiser approach would be to examine where our brother is drawing his view from, and then if he is in fact in error to point out the specific error, but feel new liberty to concede as much of his truth as you possibly can: one Lord, one Salvation, one God and Father of all. Rejoice around the unity that truth provides; do not allow yourself to be sucked into the abyss of sectarian pugilism.



  1. good essay! I often find myself falling into the same plight of “sectarian pugilism”–simply denying any truth that my opponent may be presenting. And yet you make a very good point–we can still rejoice in the unity I have with my brother or sister in Christ.

  2. I should have proofread that. I think I used 3 different tenses of pronouns. Can I rephrase that to say “You make a very good point–I can rejoice in the unity I can have with my brother or sister in Christ.” 🙂

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