Mentally Bad or Morally Bad?

As one surveys the political field of nearly any country, it doesn’t take long before you find those in power making inexplicable decisions. I recall hearing George W. Bush mocked as the “stupidest president” America has ever had, and an educated Brit once told me while in line for a visa that it’s better to have a president who is “clever” than a confused but “nice” one. As these and other eddies swirl around me, I’ve begun evaluating people’s arguments–and sometimes the people themselves if they are persistent enough–by the two categories: mental and moral.

Mental errors include politicians who just weren’t made to be public speakers. Try though they might, they don’t have much stage presence or wit enough to parry the blows of the media or political opponents. Into this category goes genuinely or vaguely nice leaders who aren’t readers, struggle with management, can’t memorize, don’t know history,  lean too heavily on aides, and battle to communicate especially the big picture issues. Leaders like this encourage inflation because they don’t understand money in the first place. They grow the government because on the surface of things it sounds like a big organization can do big things. Mental errors. They should have digested Thomas Sowell on economics or Isaac Watts on logic, but for some reason they weren’t able to drill down into the real pith of things so that they understand the way the world really works.

Everyone should be able to come up with a handful of examples of this category, but let me supply a few just in case. The common scene in South Africa’s Home Affairs offices where applications are lost, odd counsel is given (I was once told to drive 6 hours to the Joburg airport to renew my visa), and workers are unresponsive (on more than one occasion, workers have turned away from me without explanation while they were waiting on me).

Moral errors open the door to words like self-centered, money-loving, or unrighteous. Some arguments placed before the public stem (or at the very least seem to stem) from motives that are something less than pure. These leaders may be very clever in that they are able to speak quickly and confidently, yet all the while they know what they want, and they will use anything to get it. The exceedingly large number of politicians who accept bribes or give them fit here along with most arguments for abortion.

It should be evident that a given argument could demonstrate both errors. There really isn’t a neat dividing line between the two because in one sense, to make one of the mistakes is to make them both. If a leader accepts a bribe, then he is mentally bad because he doesn’t realize that bribes encourage corruption which damages the economy. His short-sighted vision keeps him from seeing into the future where Christ sits on the right hand of God.

He’s also morally bad though because it was his own moral laziness that kept him from studying hard at his work so that he would understand all the issues better. Like a famous pastor who are asked on national television about a popular cult. When he said he didn’t know what they believe, that is a mental problem from one perspective. But at the same time, couldn’t we see it as a moral problem as well? Does he mean to say that he wasn’t even able to search Google for what this cult believes before he went on prime time television.

Personally, our family has taken to using this binary approach. When we hear an argument that isn’t right, we’ll often ask each other, is the error mental (by which we mean did he have good intentions, but inefficient implementation)? Or was his argument morally invalid because at his heart he loved money, so he was just using whatever issue as a vehicle to procure his real treasure?

Maybe you will find it helpful to examine your own speech to see if you can find mental or moral errors the most. May God so sanctify His people’s hearts that they don’t register for either one.

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