Tuesday, February 05, 2008

"Common Ground without Compromise"

Stephen Wagner is a well-informed, wise, and winsome communicator and advocate for truth. So I'm happy to see that he has a new book out, published by Stand to Reason: Common Ground Without Compromise: 25 Questions to Create Dialogue on Abortion. (There is also a resource page.)

To give you a sense of the book's flavor and flow, here's a section from the introduction which sets the stage:
With this book, I offer twenty-five questions that you can use to begin conversations with common ground. Although I make the point that agreeing is a worthwhile end in itself, the things we agree on now should never be the ultimate end (i.e. the goal or purpose) of our conversation about abortion. If they were, we would never come to settled agreement about the fundamental questions of what rights the pregnant woman has and what rights the fetus has. Because these are questions that need resolution, common ground on the things we now believe should lead us into a conversation where we seek the ultimate common ground of truth.

As I argue in Chapter 2, there is a truth about each of these fundamental questions. We should seek that truth and persuade others to believe it. In the process, we should begin with common ground and then examine our dis­agreements to resolve them. You’ll notice that I model this with each question. I highlight first the areas of agreement, then I move the discussion forward to areas of disagreement. However, I don’t argue anywhere in the book that the pro-life position is the truth. I don’t argue for the truth of the pro-choice posi­tion either. Making a case for which position is true is a topic for other books.7 My purpose here is modest. Let’s find some common ground on the things we already believe to get the discussion started with civility and goodwill.

Fredrich Nietzsche said, “Whether in conversation we generally agree or disagree with others is largely a matter of habit: the one tendency makes as much sense as the other.” With this book, I’m suggesting that we reform our habit of placing our disagreements in the first position in the conversation. We can develop a new habit of finding areas of agreement first.

People have made two mistakes regarding common ground. It is either the entire purpose of the discussion, or it is mostly absent. In this book, I contend instead that we should build common ground at the beginning of an argu­ment. We should also retreat to common ground frequently throughout the argument, not to give up on finding truth, but to gain necessary footing so we can move forward to a new consensus on what is true. If the argument we are having is like a car taking us to the beach of truth, then common ground is the fuel. Your argument will have to access common ground from the outset if it is to move forward. You may need to stop and refuel at times, too.

Therefore, common ground is intertwined with the argument we are hav­ing about the rights of the unborn to live and the rights of women to have abortions. In that argument, we should offer sound reasons and be open to having our opinions revised. In short, we should seek the truth in the best way possible, with honesty and humility. This book, then, is one pro-life advocate’s attempt to begin a conversation about contentious matters of truth with un­controversial areas of common ground.
Seems to me like a book worth reading and putting into practice!