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Pathos, Ethos, and Logos

December 13, 2008

I feel like I’m back in English class. Warning: because of my quotes, this will be a long one.

I was reading a fascinating article about why some person believes in Arminianism vs. Calvinism (this gets pretty heavy, so I promise I’m not going to get too deep into it). I found this blog completely by accident — it was in my email google blog alert for cultural mormonism…and then I wondered why I was reading it because it doesn’t even concern mormons…Well…there is one line that he brings up:

These people [Calvinists] want to defeat…any false Christian perspective. Therefore, they care more about converting “false Christians” than converting non-Christians.

Some of this isn’t bad when applied to groups like Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses. But when it gets extended to actual Christian groups, like Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and, of course, Arminians, they end up wasting their energy sheep stealing.

*Sigh*. How charitable. Now, I could discuss this idea, because I think it’s prevalent not only in Calvinism but also Arminianism…after all, you do see Christians of all sorts who try to go after false Christian perspectives rather than non-Christians. But I guess, for everyone, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses fit in the category of False Christians.

But that’s old-hat news. I read further (even though, for the most part, the blog didn’t intrigue me too much: the guy’s smart and I can recognize that, but I’m just not interested in the subject matter), and found something intriguing:

By pathos-based rhetoric, I mean that they [Calvinists] tend to use emotional arguments, and are often rather emotional themselves.

Now this isn’t entirely bad, except that they absolutely fail in the area of ethos. There’s some logos there, I admit, but very little ethos, if any at all…

…Because I started as an Arminian, I am in part an Arminian because Calvinists failed to convince me otherwise. They failed to convince me otherwise because of the shear [sic] lack of character displayed by the Calvinists I met. I didn’t trust them enough to really listen to them.

You may ask how this isn’t elitism, since I am demanding the Calvinist convince me instead of allowing both sides to stand on equal ground. The difference is that here we are dealing with my own heart, rather than a public discussion…when it comes to my own heart, I’m not going to change my mind on something unless I am convinced otherwise.

But, these Calvinists didn’t even cause me to doubt my position. If anything, they bolstered by displaying the fruits of the world rather than the Spirit. It is rather unfortunate actually, because if they merely showed me kindness, they may have convinced me back then. Now, I am not so ignorant about Arminianism itself. This is not why I reject Calvinism now, but it was why I didn’t even consider it back then.

Throughout the entire article, this guy talks about how terrible Calvinists he has known have treated him…and then rationalizes that the very belief structure of calvinism is probably to blame. I can’t really say if he’s right about Calvinists, but I was interested in how much time he spent on this line.

Pathos. Ethos. Logos. The first describes an emotional argument or an appeal to emotion, like the blogger wrote. The second, ethos, describes the character of the person making the argument. And logos, of course, is the actually reason and soundness of an argument. While people might think that logos is the only thing that matters in debate, people are swayed by pathos and an arguer must cultivate ethos or else he won’t go any further.

I’ve discussed it before…I think that many groups destroy their public perception because of poor ethos. The people who have ranted and raved post-Prop 8, regardless of rightness or wrongness, will turn people against them because of their presentation. Christians who try to deconvert Mormons, when they do so in the wrong ways, will turn even ex-Mormons like me apologetic in a heartbeat.

So, these two ideas…of pathos and ethos… interest me. Although I’d love to be master of logos and ignore the others, it sobers and confounds me to realize that people aren’t so…objective: perhaps we can be swayed merely by a trusting voice and something that strikes our fancy. I particularly dislike the idea of people accepting expedient things merely because they sound emotionally better, but I can’t demand that people look at the soundness of an argument alone. So the goal is: how do we learn to play the tri-fold game and cultivate ethos and pathos?

For people who don’t know (thus they don’t know if the logos is false or not), ethos and pathos is extremely important. It makes me wonder…how well does Mormonism attract people based on these things? I often hear people say, “Mormons have weird beliefs (failure at logos), but they are good people (success at ethos).” but what would people think after, for example, prop 8? Would people say, “Mormons have hateful beliefs, but they are still good people?” or…?

And who cares for the church? What about other groups? Atheists are one of the least trusted minorities in America. How would we work at improving that? Certainly, many public atheists roll the tank with logos, but…people still don’t trust people who don’t believe in any higher power. And it’s tough to appeal to others emotionally when you essentially say, “When you die, you’re dead.”

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7 Comments
  1. Hi there. I was running through the stats at my site, and I noticed that a post of mine was referenced by you here. I find your perspective very interesting, and I might look around your site.

    I have two comments on your response to my article though. First, I wasn’t saying that “the very belief structure of calvinism is probably to blame” for their lack of ethos. Indeed, I was attempting to argue the opposite, attempting to appeal to Calvinists to change their behavior so that people would be more willing to listen to them. I’ve been planning on rewriting this post, so I appreciate the criticism, and I will attempt to be clearer about this in the new post.

    Second, you are dead on about the importance of ethos and pathos. Even those of us who strain to be focused on logos still often fall prey to pathos and ethos argumentation. Ethos because none of us have exhastive enough knowledge where we don’t have to trust someone else at some point. Pathos because it is not good enough for us to know what’s true; we also need to know why it matters.

    Anyway, I really appreciate the criticism, and I hope you the best on your own blog.

  2. jc_freak,

    Thanks for commenting. since it has been quite a while since I originally read your post, I guess it’s a good time to revisit things…so, let me just quote some part that you had in your original post, and maybe you can explain if I misunderstood things:

    The elitism is drawn from several factors, the greatest of which is the erroneous presupposition that Calvinism is the default Evangelical, if not Christian, position. I don’t really know where this particular presupposition comes from, but I do believe that it is connected to the need of an epistemology. Without a unifying epistemology, each person is forced to create for themselves their own standards of truth. Calvinism offers this, providing a framework of understanding which is easily grasped (this is not a negative). The result is the person judges new information based off of this framework making it impossible to turn around and judge the framework itself.

    The militant nature of the movement is also tied to this.

    It seems to me here that you are describing that certain behavioral aspects of many Calvinists (elitism) comes from certain presuppositions…are presuppositions not beliefs? In other words, is the presupposition “that Calvinism is the default Evangelical, if not Christian, position” a belief in this proposition?

    It seemed to me further that their elitism, the “militant nature of the movement,” and so forth, directly ties to their lack of ethos.

    Indeed, I was attempting to argue the opposite, attempting to appeal to Calvinists to change their behavior so that people would be more willing to listen to them.

    So, let’s say that we go with this…the question would then be…how do Calvinists change their behavior? From the part I quoted above, it seems like the answer would necessarily include changing some of their beliefs (e.g., their presuppositions that Calvinism is the default Evangelical, if not Christian, position.) How can you appeal to Calvinists to change their behavior so that people will be more willing to listen to them when they don’t believe that they have any sort of obligation to worry about how attractive they are presenting their positions?

    You say you disagree with your Arminian brethren that elitism is is a natural result of the reprobate/elect caste system…but I dunno, I can see how the belief in such a caste system could have an impact…when you believe that it is God’s will that determines who will believe, then I think it is possible that you will deemphasize the perception that others have of your own character in the process.

    .So, would you say that I’ve mischaracterized your position or still somehow misunderstood you, based on what I’ve written in this comment?

    • You said, “It seems to me here that you are describing that certain behavioral aspects of many Calvinists (elitism) comes from certain presuppositions…are presuppositions not beliefs? In other words, is the presupposition “that Calvinism is the default Evangelical, if not Christian, position” a belief in this proposition?

      It seemed to me further that their elitism, the “militant nature of the movement,” and so forth, directly ties to their lack of ethos.”

      First of all, I had said, “This group neither represents Calvinism historically, nor Calvinism proper, but I do believe it represents most Calvinists we see on the net, including James White, Reformed Mafia, and Pyromaniacs. ” Therefore, I am not referring to Calvinism but a particular movement which happens to be Calvinist and that uses Calvinism to achieve their ends. Therefore, I am not saying that these presuppositions come from Calvinism itself.

      But yes, presuppositions are beliefs, and beliefs affect our behavior. I do not deny that.

      “So, let’s say that we go with this…the question would then be…how do Calvinists change their behavior? From the part I quoted above, it seems like the answer would necessarily include changing some of their beliefs (e.g., their presuppositions that Calvinism is the default Evangelical, if not Christian, position.) How can you appeal to Calvinists to change their behavior so that people will be more willing to listen to them when they don’t believe that they have any sort of obligation to worry about how attractive they are presenting their positions? “

      Well, beliefs affect behavior, but behavior affects beliefs as well. i recognize that it would be difficult to change due to engrained thinking. I don’t know how they would go about integrating that, but I am sure it is possible since I know of several people who have humbled themselves in exactly the way I discribed.

      “You say you disagree with your Arminian brethren that elitism is is a natural result of the reprobate/elect caste system…but I dunno, I can see how the belief in such a caste system could have an impact…when you believe that it is God’s will that determines who will believe, then I think it is possible that you will deemphasize the perception that others have of your own character in the process. .”

      Yes, I have heard the arguement before, however I am always leary of slippery slope kind of argumentation (which is really a form of genetic fallacy anyway). While Calvinism can create a natural caste system, and while it is easy to project an us vs. them mentality onto Calvinism, I do not believe such thinking necessarily follows, especially given certain commands by Jesus. Indeed, I think Calvinism is used by fundamentalist circles because it justifies the caste system that is already in their head, rather than the other way around.

  3. jc_freak,

    First of all, I had said, “This group neither represents Calvinism historically, nor Calvinism proper, but I do believe it represents most Calvinists we see on the net, including James White, Reformed Mafia, and Pyromaniacs. ” Therefore, I am not referring to Calvinism but a particular movement which happens to be Calvinist and that uses Calvinism to achieve their ends. Therefore, I am not saying that these presuppositions come from Calvinism itself.

    Thanks for reiterating that part…I hadn’t understood its importance, so I didn’t mention it here…(and maybe I still don’t, based on what I will write next:)

    Still, I’m thinking that it doesn’t quite matter whether this group represents Calvinism historically or proper…all that matters is that it represents a portion of (or even most) Calvinists we see on the net.The presuppositions don’t have to come from Calvinism for there to be presuppositions, and for those presuppositions to be problematic. Does that make sense?

    Well, beliefs affect behavior, but behavior affects beliefs as well. i recognize that it would be difficult to change due to engrained thinking. I don’t know how they would go about integrating that, but I am sure it is possible since I know of several people who have humbled themselves in exactly the way I discribed.

    And here is where the quasi-calvinist in me would probably come out…I know of people who have *been* humbled, but I think that humbling *oneself* is a considerably different issue. I can buy that behavior affects belief, but I don’t think that behavior is something freely willed (but rather, the wills we have are bounded.) So, I think that yes, changing the environment might have an impact (but it’s tricky to know, as you state, “how they would go about integrating that”)), but in either case — belief or behavior — there is something changing that would, all other things kept constant, not be changed. In other words, without being convinced of a reason to change behavior *or* belief, why would the internet Calvinist do so?

    If I understand correctly, I think this is what you’re saying when you said: “…when it comes to my own heart, I’m not going to change my mind on something unless I am convinced otherwise.”

    I’m just trying to say here that being “convinced otherwise” is generally not something people consciously choose…you say: “unless I am convinced” rather than “unless I convince myself”, and I don’t think that’s just because the former sounds more natural…

    Yes, I have heard the arguement before, however I am always leary of slippery slope kind of argumentation (which is really a form of genetic fallacy anyway). While Calvinism can create a natural caste system, and while it is easy to project an us vs. them mentality onto Calvinism, I do not believe such thinking necessarily follows, especially given certain commands by Jesus. Indeed, I think Calvinism is used by fundamentalist circles because it justifies the caste system that is already in their head, rather than the other way around.

    I don’t disagree with what you’ve said here. But the issue isn’t about what “necessarily follows,” but about what has, in this particular instance (“most internet Calvinists,” for example) followed. So, let’s say I concede that Calvinism is used to justify the caste system that is already in their head, rather than the other way around…so what? The problem never was the NAME of the system or from WHERE the system came; it was the caste system itself.

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