You have seen it. You jump on social media and see a semi-controversial topic posted. Your eyes fall down to the number of comments and notice 43 comments in just 10 minutes. Curious, you click the comment section link to see a long argument breaking out – one person yelling at another, moaning about how stupid the other person is and the little brains they have in their head. The other person retorts about how the other person is bringing about the end of the world with his views, and so on.
What started out as a semi-rational discussion devolved into a heated exchange of just insulting the other person’s character and telling them how wrong they are without a single shred of evidence to back themselves up.
Intellectual Arguments vs. Emotional Arguments
What is the difference? Intellectual arguments are arguments that are supported by evidence and facts, usually including statistics, credible studies, authoritative quotes, science books, or some other form of reasonable evidence that will buff up your argument and make it more credible.
Emotional arguments may start with some shallow evidence, but quickly resorts to insulting the other person, their dignity, character, and their arguments, rather than addressing them, correcting them, or offering evidence of why they might be mistaken. Yelling at the person and calling them names and telling them they are wrong ensues.
Anybody can see the difference between the two approaches.
One is based on evidence and is therefore more solid, the other is based on emotion and passion where someone may feel strongly about something but cannot back it up or cannot control their emotions. It goes without saying that a person cannot claim something is true if they cannot back it up with facts or at least with good evidence.
Discussion: Catholic Vs. Orthodox
To illustrate this, the following conversation is an example that we are all too familiar with. I recently got into a conversation with a person who claimed to be part of the Eastern Orthodox church. It all started with one statement which said: “There is no difference between sins. All sins are Mortal sins.”
I decided to respond…
Me: All sin is mortal? That statement doesn’t make sense to me. I am not sure what you mean by that. Could you explain?
Her: Of course all sin is mortal! Death cometh by sin. Remember Adam and Eve? Sin and death and all that? Sin is mortal.
[Interjection: We have both put our opening statements and now we need to back them up with evidence.]
Me: Well, that seems like a problematic statement. Both the Bible and the Church make a distinction between mortal and venial sin. Therefore, it’s impossible that all sin is mortal sin if the Bible distinguishes between the two. Scripture also says that all sin leads to death, not just mortal sin (Rom. 6:23). [Note: I tried to appeal to the Bible for evidence to back up my point.]
Her: The Bible does not, and the Church does not say that. Categorizing some sins as mortal is a Roman innovation no older than the Protestant reformation. The Orthodox Church has never taught such a thing. [Note: statement made without evidence].
Me: But, the Bible absolutely does make a distinction between mortal and venial sin. Perhaps you don’t know your Bible very well? Look at 1 John 5:16-17. It says, “If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.”
[Note: I backed up the statement with the exact a Bible verse quote to strengthen the argument and to show the Bible specifically says that not all sin is mortal. To me, it seems as evident as it could be.]
Her: You even sound Protestant, citing cryptic proof texts to support your 500 year old doctrine.
[Note: Note that she did not even attempt to answer my statement or the Bible verse. She immediately reduced her argumentation to insulting me, calling me a Protestant, and accusing me of taking the verse out of context but without any evidence of her own to support herself. She merely brushed off the Bible verse.]
Me: Proof text? Did you even go to the Bible and read the passage? Did you even know it existed? You don’t seem to know the Bible that well, and so you don’t have ability to lecture other people about it. Here is what you don’t realize: that in addition to that verse, all of the earliest Christians through the centuries also believed the point I am making.
[Note: I cite some examples so it’s not just an empty statement]:
For example, John Chrysostom in the 5th century, one of the most well-know Christians in the early church. He says, “For not all sins are the same punishments, but many and diverse, according to the times, according to the persons, according to their rank, according to their understanding, according to other things besides. …” Homily 75 on Matthews Gospel (347-407 ad)
John clearly teaches that there are different sins and different punishments for the sins. There are many more Christians that I can quote. We are talking 1600 years ago, so this alone proves that the Catholic Church did not invent this doctrine merely 500 years ago.
Her: Of course, another proof text. There’s no reason to think “sin unto death” is anything like what the papists invented at the council of Trent.
[Note: Again, this woman dismisses the entire argument again and says nothing about the Bible quote. She reduces the entire statement to a proof text without any evidence for why it is. That’s emotional argumentation, not intellectual.]
Me: Catholic beliefs go back long before Council of Trent 500 years ago. You do not seem that educated on the Bible or history, and this isn’t really worth my time to have this discussion if we are not even on the same page. Perhaps if you study a little bit more, we can have a more intellectual conversation.
Her: You’re taking a 500-year-old definition of a term and trying to equate it to a totally different definition from a thousand years before. Please tell me you’re accidentally being this inconsistent and not doing it out of deceit. Mortal sin doctrine was established at Trent. Look it up.
Me: That is not true, and you have offered no evidence of that. To the contrary, I have shown you that Christians long before Trent believed in different types of sins, not just mortal. But if you want to convince me, then I challenge you to find me one passage in the Bible where it says that all sin is mortal and that all sin is the same. Then, I may believe you. Also, find me any early Christian who teaches your position, and I will be willing to listen. I may even leave the Catholic Church.
So again, please provide a Bible passage and an early Christian to prove your point. [Note: I’m actually asking for evidence].
Her: You are basing your belief on an interpretation of a single verse which the early father’s understood differently and which interpretation is contradicted already in Acts. It’s a wrong interpretation.
Me: I quoted two early Fathers (but only put one here for sake of length) and they were not “obscure” quotes, but some of the biggest leaders in the early church. You’re holding blindly to your own doctrine but you’re doing so erroneously instead of humbling yourself before God and having an ounce of humility to admit that you could be wrong. [Note: That last sentence was more of an emotional argument on my part and could have been omitted.]
When you say there is no difference between mortal and venial sin and yet the Bible says there is a difference, then again, that is on you. Again, please show me one place in the Bible where it says all sin is mortal, and I will believe you.
Her: You’re retarded. Learn about the Patriarchates. Read something that’s not papist propaganda, and maybe you will lose some of that papist arrogance. The papists are the schismatics. Rome changed the creed and demanded undue honor like Lucifer. They’ve been riddled with cancer ever since.
[Note: Everything again devolved into nothing more that insults without a single bit of proof. She assumes I’m using papist propaganda even though she has not asked for my sources and I was quoting historical sources. Then, she just jumps to a new topic, again, with no evidence to back up her claim.]
Me: First, the Catholic Church is the one true church that was started by Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is the Orthodox who are the schismatics. History shows that the Eastern Orthodox churches broke away from the Catholic Church in 1054 A.D. Read the earliest Christians, they all claimed to be Catholic, not Orthodox. They claimed to be part of the Catholic Church with a capital ‘C’ and founded on the rock of Peter.
Her: What makes Rome apostate is the fact that they left the rest of the church. They changed the creed without a Council. The demanded extra honor from the body of Christ. They were puffed up. They’ve invented new doctrine ever since. They have not kept the traditions. The Catholic Church is a schismatic church.
[Note: A whole slew of assertions were lobbed as ammunition but with absolutely no evidence whatsoever. Just general statements.]
Me: The Catholic Church was the Church that made the Creed in the first place at the Catholic Council of Nicaea, and so has the authority to change it. So there was a Council, and it was officially changed. You do realize that the creed has changed several times in history, right? It’s not like the Bible that is the Word of God.
Second, the Catholic Church as I said was started by Jesus. And historically, the Coptic’s broke away from the Catholic Church in the sixth century, and the Orthodox broke away in the 11th century. Proof of this is the fact that twice in history the Orthodox churches have come back to the Catholic Church and reunited with them. One time the Patriarch even knelt before the Pope and swore his fidelity to him before breaking away again at a later time. This proves that it was the Orthodox who broke away and not the other way around.
At this point, the lady just accuses me of spewing papal propaganda. She didn’t once throughout this entire conversation try to deal with my arguments, point out where they might be wrong, offer counter arguments, or offer any evidence to back up her points. This is emotional argumentation. And it’s the way so many people discuss on social media and even in person sometimes.
Seeing that conversation was going nowhere and it was pointless to have the discussion, I just let it go and prayed for her.
Step it up!
Everyone would benefit from learning more, studying more, and bolstering their arguments instead of throwing insults as evidence. Support your arguments with facts instead of condemnations. If you have to yell, scream, tell people they’re going to hell, or resort to just insulting their character, then it shows that you’re argument is not strong in the first place, and you should rethink your position or study the topic deeper, or you are getting too offended too quickly.
We all can get defensive if we feel we are wrong and are being backed into a corner. What is needed is an intellectual honesty to go wherever the truth leads. It also wouldn’t hurt to ask questions about the other person’s beliefs to figure out where they are coming from and why they believe what they do. The more understanding we have for what they believe, the more respect we will have for them and the more we can adequately discuss it
As Christians, we need to make sure our argumentation is good. Which means we need to study more. Research more. Ask questions more. Dig deeper. And make sure we understand the reasons behind why we believe what we believe. We also need to make sure our manners are good and that we reflect Christ and His love, even in difficult situations. That can be hard, but that is where prayer comes in.
Check out our other articles and our YouTube channel to learn more about your faith and about more apologetic arguments that will help you to grow in your own knowledge and bolster your own discussions.