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"Humans are amphibians - half spirit and half animal. As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time." -- CS Lewis

Friday, January 14, 2011

Corrupting the Quarrel

CS Lewis’ thought process seems impenetrable. Never will he start on some shaky, unsupported premise and build precariously from there; he lays down the foundation of his argument carefully and elaborately before coming to his bottom line. This intensely systematic methodology is most evident (and, indeed, appreciated) in Lewis’ Mere Christianity, in which he masterfully puts together the case for a “Moral Law” and its intricacies that reigns over all of humanity, but that is often contested. He then goes even further, explaining that for such a thing to exist, there would need to be Something behind it, creating it and planting it in us.

 As Lewis points out, an interesting byproduct of this overarching Law is “quarreling”:

Quarreling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong. And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are; just as there would be no sense in saying that a footballer had committed a foul unless there was some agreement about the rules of football.

This seems to often be neglected in argument and debate, especially as it pertains to religion. I certainly am guilty of doing so. I remember getting into the middle of an argument between a Jewish friend and a Muslim friend of mine as they fought over the rights women should have in society; my Muslim friend, for example, thought it natural to prohibit women from revealing more than just their faces in public. As the quarreling raged on, I finally attempted to stop the ruckus by throwing in that “It all depends on your culture, anyways.”

What a useless thing to say.

What I had just done was contradicted the whole concept of a universal Right and Wrong. In a way, I had “Bulverized” on behalf of both sides: “You’re right because you adhere to the standards of Judaism, and you’re also right because you adhere to Islam.” Where did that get us? Nowhere. The fact that the two were quarreling in the first place was because they wanted to call on “some kind of Law or Rule of fair play or decent behaviour or morality,” as Lewis puts it, and awaken the other to the fact that they were breaching the boundaries of said Law in this or that way. But simply stating that they were both right by virtue of being from different backgrounds just sent the argument into a circle: “I’m right because I’m right.” They never got closer to the truth of the situation because both had decided that they needed not listen to the other any further. This is the danger of not recognizing that we all quarrel under the same umbrella; we turn off our sensitivity to the other and dismiss their claims as being foreign and completely detached from our own claims. We are basically claiming that the other is a different kind of human being altogether, which certainly does not help to hinder the spread of “racism.”

Quarreling is surely a good thing, a necessary thing, as it allows us to test our views and values against each other and against the Law; such misguided quarreling, however, leads to dissention and “Bulverism,” and must be called to our attention if we ever wish to work together on finding out more about the One behind the Law.


  1. The example you used was very helpful, so thanks! I found it very interesting how at the end of your post you concluded that quarreling was good. I've never thought of it that way.. I agree that it tests our views and values but when we argue without any common ground, all we're doing it taking cheap shots at one another. great thoughts!

  2. I agree with Gina, I never thought of quarreling as a good thing. It gives us a way to show why we believe what we do, and why do we believe it is right. It also opens the door for us to learn something new, and maybe form some new thoughts because of the beliefs of others.

  3. I'm not sure I would agree with you that quarreling is a good thing. I definitely agree that good things can come of it, and that through the quarreling you can see the truth of the existence of the moral law, but I wouldn't say that makes it a good thing. I think the key distinction to me is that in quarreling you are seeking to prove the other person wrong. I think that should never be the objective of a civilized argument, and that's where I distinguish the two. In an argument instead of aiming to prove the other person wrong you should be aiming to show them the truth. It's true that sometimes in order to do that you have to show them that they are wrong but I feel that in quarreling showing them that they are wrong is all your aiming for which is of no use if you don't go on to show them what the truth is. I realize that it is a fine distinction and you may disagree about what the words are being used to mean, but I thought I'd put it out there as food for thought.

  4. I liked how you put an example behind what you are trying to say. I have witnessed a very similar argument, and the result ended in a agree to disagree manner. Your insight was a new spin.