Can’t I disagree with you just because I don’t like you?

I recently had to perform a diagnostic on my racionator (i.e. that part of me that thinks and draws “logical” conclusions). I had picked up a journal article and was just starting to get a feel for the author’s thinking when he revealed that he would be critiquing the position of someone I really don’t like that much. He bugs me. He doesn’t bug me in the same way that Paul Tillich does. I’ve never met Paul Tillich (mostly because he died before I was born), so Tillich doesn’t bug me on a personal level. I just don’t care for his particular approach to pretty much everything. (That’s not entirely fair given that he bugs me so much that I haven’t read enough of what he’s written to know if he really should bug me as much as he does.) But, this guy’s not like that. I don’t have a theological problem with him. And, he doesn’t even bug me in the same way as that jerk in Barnes and Noble who keeps jabbering on his cell phone while I’m trying to enjoy a nice cup of coffee and sponge some free reading from the magazine section. He’s not rude or anything. No, for some reason I just don’t like this guy. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s still there.

So, as soon as I saw his name in this journal article, I immediately found myself gravitating toward the conclusion that his position (whatever it is) must be wrong. It was fascinating. It’s like a found myself on that slippery slope everyone keeps worrying about, inevitably sliding toward the conclusion that this guy just has to be wrong. Please, oh please, let him be wrong.

Then I came face-to-face with how easy it is to oppose someone just because you don’t like them. Often it is someone you don’t like for theological reasons. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve found students unfairly criticizing someone who is in a different theological camp than they are. They’re more than willing to be fair and give the “benefit of the doubt” to people on their side of the fence. But those other guys, forget it. They’re definitely wrong. Other times you might not like someone for more personal reasons. Was Luther an anti-Semite? That’s a question for another post. But, if he was, would that impact how you assess other aspects of his theology? Could Terry Jones be right on something other than whether we should threaten to burn the Qur’an? Probably not, but it’s at least worth considering. Because, of course, the fact that I don’t like what you have to say about X – or even the fact that you are just flat wrong about X, which is basically the same thing – does not necessarily have any bearing on what I should think about your opinion of Y. If Y is a separate issue, then Y has to be evaluated separately. Even if I don’t like you. That is inherent in the task of good academic discourse.

So, was he wrong? Do I get to bask in the joy of knowing that someone I don’t like was wrong yet again? I don’t know. I haven’t finished reading the article yet. I stopped to write this post.

(By the way, this doesn’t hold when I’m grading papers. It’s perfectly okay for me to grade you down on a paper just because I don’t like you. I do it all the time. That’s one of the privileges that comes from being on this side of the desk. That and not having to play the “What does this essay question even mean?” game anymore.)

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on September 14, 2010, in Theology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Thanks for the conviction this morning. I was hoping to drink a cup of that. Honestly, I thought this way about Karl Barth a year ago. I had to admit at the end of the semester that he wasn’t quite the heretic I thought he was. I actually found myself agreeing with a majority of what I read from Barth. This is definitely a lesson I’ve been learning in our ThM program.

  2. Billy,

    We can’t forget Origen whom you’ve come to know and love! 😉

  3. bcash beat me to it. I was going to say: “You mean the way that Evangelicals typically approach Barth?” 😉 I could also add: “You mean the way that the Reformed orthodox approach T.F. Torrance?” I’m sure I could come up with examples ad infinitum.

    I don’t like Tillich, his thought, either. I don’t like Van Til, and I’ve never even read him 🙂 . Maybe it’s just because Van Til doesn’t like Barth; maybe that’s another wrinkle to what you’re getting at, Marc. Viz. we don’t like certain theologians, because said theologian doesn’t like a theologian that we like 🙂 .

  4. Oh Marc it is so unfair to talk so about someone and not even tell us who it is. Of course that probably wouldn’t be proper, but itching ears want to know.

  5. Marc, I don’t like a lot of people, and get convicted about this often. This position of mine of not liking people almost caused me to be a Calvinist, with double predestination and all. I thought to myself, maybe God doesn’t like certain people and that’s why he didn’t elect them? Maybe there are some people he just doesn’t want to spend eternity with? I know there are some people I don’t want to spend eternity with, did I say that out loud?

    Just kidding, don’t want an army of Calvinists coming after me, really it’s theological comedy. Please see the humor in it 😉

  1. Pingback: Week in Review: 09.17.10 | Near Emmaus

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