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On Cross-Culture Disputes

Critiquing another worldview is not as simple as most people seem to believe. By way of example, let’s take Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism since the two have engaged on Tumblr at times. An Eastern Orthodox critique of specific Protestant practices, framed as an Eastern Orthodox critique, is going to fall on deaf ears to one who is consistently Protestant. So will the Protestant critique qua Protestant against a particular Eastern Orthodox practice, whether of hermeneutics, doctrine, etc.

Why is this so? I’ll discuss one reason. If Lucretius were to critique Aristotle’s ethics according to his own Epicureanism, Aristotle could easily dismiss the critique as not comporting with reality. Why? Because the data are interpreted and emphasized differently depending on which system you are working in. Whereas Lucretius’s first principle would be the maximization of pleasure (forgive the broad stroke), Aristotle’s first principle (of ethics, at least) would be the inner (and outworked) virtue of the individual (again, broad stroke). Because any particular manifestation of Lucretius’s first principle would, in most circumstances, violate some aspect of Aristotle’s, Aristotle can simply dismiss it as groundless.

In like manner, a Protestant dismisses the Eastern Orthodox because the Eastern Orthodox’s claim, although logical within their own system, do not translate into the Protestant system. Why? Because of different sources of knowledge and authority (epistemology), doctrinal traditions, assumptions, presuppositions, etc. The Eastern Orthodox does the same. Both (and all) groups are guilty of confirmation bias; which authorities are heeded is determined, in part by what system you reason from (also, in part, by how consistently you reason from that system). And so, while a particular Protestant zinger against theosis may ring true for Protestants, the Eastern Orthodox may stare befuddled. And the Eastern Orthodox quotation of a Patristic may settle the matter for them, a Protestant will wonder why that settled anything.

So, what are we to do? If you are going to confront those with competing weltanschauung, you have to evangelize. By this I mean that you must translate what you mean into terms and concepts familiar to your audience. It is not enough to speak German to a Chinaman. The German ought to learn Chinese; and the Chinaman must be willing to grant some freedom of error in such a translation, as well as be willing to learn some German.

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