When we hear a phrase like “God wrote the Bible,” we immediately want to include a dozen or more asterisks behind it to try and prove that we’re not ignorant, uneducated, and anti-intellectual. We want to sound sophisticated and enlightened, having moved beyond the simplistic statements we were taught as children. We want to signal to others that we’re not like those Christians who just accept everything on blind faith.
Last month, The Wall Street Journal ran an article where they asked college students who sympathize with Palestinians in the Israel/Hamas war whether they knew which river and which sea were being referred to in the popular chant “from the river to the sea.” Only 47% of students could name the river (Jordan) and the sea (Mediterranean). Once they were shown the river and the sea on a map and informed that “from the river to the sea” meant the annihilation of Israel, 67.8% of the students changed their minds and no longer supported the chant.
It might not be wise to wade into a hot-button issue to prove a different but related point, but the fact that close to 70% of students in a pro-Palestine rally were unknowingly calling for the extermination of Israel because they chanted a slogan that was catchy to say and sounded supportive shows how easy it is to be captivated—literally taken captive—by the sound of words when they play to the desires of our hearts. Having compassion and concern for the innocent Palestinians who are caught up in this tragic conflict is good and noble. Unknowingly chanting for the annihilation of a different people group—one that has a history of being the victims of genocide—a position you don’t even hold is not good and noble; it’s ignorant and dangerous.
My point here is not to talk about the Israel/Palestine conflict. I would be way in over my head. I simply want to point out how easily we are swayed by words and rhetoric more than arguments. I’m currently reading Augustine’s Confessions and this is a something that he discusses. Having doubts about his Manichean beliefs, he was excited that a prominent Manichean teacher, Faustus, was coming to speak in Carthage, where he lived.
After hearing Faustus speak, he was impressed by the way he spoke but disappointed by the content of his speech. Yet Faustus’ reputation for being a Manichean teacher was great, and Augustine’s peers said all he needed was to wait for Faustus to come, and all his doubts would be relieved. That failed to be the case.
Augustine wrote about this experience,
Those who had given me such assurances about him must have been poor judges. They thought him wise and thoughtful simply because they were charmed by his manner of speech.
You [God] had already taught me that a statement is not necessarily true because it is wrapped in fine language or false because it is awkwardly expressed.
You [God] had already taught me this lesson and the converse truth, that an assertion is not necessarily true because it is badly expressed or false because it is finely spoken.
I had learned that wisdom and folly are like different kinds of food. Some are wholesome and others are not, but both can be serveed equally well on the finest china dish or the meanest earthenware. In the same way, wisdom and folly can be clothed alike in plain words or the finest flowers of speech.
tldr: The way something is said has no bearing on the truth of the thing.