Arguments can be very frustrating. This is especially true when someone disagrees so completely with, what seems like to us, such a logical, rational presentation of ideas. On certain levels, arguments and disagreements are entertaining and intellect-strengthening; but on the other hand, when we are dealing with morally or socially severe topics – abortion, war, etc. – it can be rather frustrating and depressing that someone can rationally maintain a conclusion that, to us, is both logically untenable and morally despicable. Although there are many reasons for this fact of argumentation, I believe a huge issue here is assumptions, presuppositions, or premises. We end at such different conclusions because we begin with such opposing assumptions. I know this is not new news, but I maintain that this is an important matter to keep in mind.
First, let me give an example: Two friends are arguing about the morality of acting on homosexual urges, etc: one is pro-gay, the other not so. Now, these two friends could argue and yell until they are blue in the face – and this is often the case – but they are fated to get nowhere unless they concede their beliefs in different assumptions. The pro-gay friend has most likely accepted the idea that pleasure is good, and sexual pleasure, as long as it is consensual and does not relieve anyone of his or her rights, is always a good. Conversely, the anti-gay friend may have accepted a different, opposing assumption: Sexuality is good – in fact, it is sacred. As with sacred things, sexuality needs to be practiced correctly. Further, there are immoral ways of engaging in sexual activity. Instead of arguing assumptions, these two friends will argue the non-procreative aspect of homosexuality, its positive or negative effect on society, the government’s role in the individual’s life, private versus public, religion versus secularism, etc. Although these arguments have their place, they do not get at the heart of the issue, which is opposing assumptions.
This is all to lead me to say that divergent and warring ideologies concerning almost anything – abortion, war, euthanasia, environmentalism, economics, history, sociology, psychology, etc., etc., etc. – often end at opposing conclusions because of their different assumptions concerning the human person. Here are some questions that I think should be asked of a person, idea, or theory before anything else: According to this person, theory, or idea, does the human person have intrinsic value? Is the human person simply material and matter – or is there something non-material? The questions go on (such as, Can one human person ever have an obligation to another human person?), but I think the first two are perhaps the most important.
Although a certain amount of this is common sense, it is important to return to it often. Also, concerning the human person, I think this should be our preeminent (or at least initial) concern when we judge ideas and theories. Christianity is a religion of personhood, for God is a God of personhood.