My family went to a local Independence Day celebration this past July to watch the fireworks and spend time with some other relatives. We arrived early so we sat listening to the live music while waiting for it to get dark. Typical for a mid-western summer, it was uncomfortably hot and humid. So instead of remaining seated with buckets of sweat pouring off my skin, I decided to get up and walk around to see if I could find something to fan myself with. It just so happened that a Masonic Lodge had a booth set up with pamphlets they were giving away, so I swiped one to fan myself with.
When I sat back down I actually opened the brochure and read some of it. My intention here is not to critique the Masons, but there was something in the brochure I found interesting. Under the heading of Several Masonic Principles I read this:
No one has the right to tell another person what he or she must think or believe.
Sounds very tolerant, doesn’t it? Immediately, I could tell there was something not right about that statement. Those of you who are smarter than I am have already pinpointed it, but I wasn’t really in a thinking mood at the moment so I had to mull it over for a while.
As we were driving back home later, it finally came to me. The statement commits suicide. The second the Masons typed it into their brochure, they had refuted themselves. If you are ever in a conversation and someone tosses this gem at you, I recommend you respond like this: “Then why are you telling me what to believe?”
This is what Greg Koukl, author of the book Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions, calls The Suicide Tactic. It’s a simple question designed to point out to the person you are speaking to the self-refuting, or suicidal, nature of the statement they just uttered. Because if the Masons are correct, and no one has the right to tell another person what to think or believe, then this statement is also true of the Masons. Yet by uttering the statement, they are telling me what to believe. They think I should believe that it is not OK to tell people what to believe. Do you see the problem?
Incidentally, it seems quite obvious that at least some people DO, in fact, have the right to tell others what to believe. Parents do it all the time. Teachers also. If no one had the right to tell others what to think or believe, education would be impossible. To clarify, I’m not saying you should be the kind of person who shoots off dogmatic assertions while demanding people believe them. Rather, it is perfectly legitimate to say, “You should believe X, and here are the reasons why.” This is how knowledge is transmitted.
If you want to learn more about the tactical approach, or how to think more clearly in general, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of the Tactics book. It will change the way you think for the better!