The dust is settling on the 2015 General Election campaign.
At this time it is useful to reflect on the effectiveness of debate in persuasion.
Politicians are involved in a form of apologetics: they make a case for their own policies and present objections to those of their rivals. The most memorable moments are not the quality of the arguments, but the rhetorical flourishes and stirring sound bites. They are risky. Sometimes they add to the arguments made, but other times they can detract.
David Cameron addressed a gathering with his shirtsleeves rolled up and the words ‘Taking a risk, having a punt, having a go, that pumps me up.’ Commentators variously described Cameron as having found his fire, or lost his rag. Ed Milliband generated a similar range of reactions to a set of policy announcements on a tall limestone monument with his claim that the pledges were ‘carved in stone’. For some it was a powerful image of reliability, for others a poor imitation of Moses. We could multiply the memorable moments from other party leaders.
What and how
The important lesson is that making a case involves both ‘what’ we say and ‘how’ we say it. The use of the visual, the catchphrase and the biblical allusion can all help, or hinder, our communication.
This has long been understood as the art of ‘rhetoric’. Rhetoric is the study of how we communicate effectively. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, composed a work on this subject called On Rhetoric. He identified three components of effective speech. There is Logos. This is the logic of the argument we present, making a clear and reliable claim based on good evidence. There is Pathos. This is the emotional connection between speaker and audience. There is also Ethos. This is the character of the speaker. To be an effective communicator we need to have integrity, credibility and honesty.
Applying Aristotle’s wisdom to apologetics we can certainly see that all three components should be…(click here to read more)
Chris is lecturer at Moorlands College and pastor of Alderholt Chapel. His books include Confident Christianity and Time Travel to the Old Testament published by IVP.