A Time and Season for Public Silence
By Kelly Fitzsimmons Burton, Ph. D.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven … A time to be silent and a time to speak….”1
Wisdom calls us to know what time it is. Is now a time to be silent or a time to speak in the public sphere? How would we know? Consider the following as a case for public silence. There is significant death all around us. The past sixteen or so months of pandemic life have made it more manifest. Toil, strife, old age, sickness, and physical death (intensified as war, famine, and plague) are manifestations of natural evil. Natural evil should call us to stop and think about our condition of moral evil (not seeking what is clear to reason, not understanding, and not doing what is right). Physical death is a natural sign of the deeper reality of spiritual death. Spiritual death is experienced by all as meaninglessness (less and less meaning), boredom and excess, and guilt. All humans that suffer from natural evil are under the condition of moral evil and resulting spiritual death. We experience spiritual death in our relationships, institutions, cultures, and civilizations. If we are paying attention, we are keenly aware of the ubiquity of death. 2
We are connected globally through big tech platforms, and there is a global struggle to “control the narrative.” We are in a spiritual war between good and evil. It is not inconceivable that the world will attempt to unite under a dominant narrative that is morally evil. 3 We are also living under a global pandemic, an intensification of the curse, a global call back to repentance from moral evil. Are we heeding that call? It is sobering to think about what the world has gone through this past year and what may yet lie ahead. We have seen a global pandemic, lockdowns and limited movement, possible election fraud in the USA, and big tech censorship and stifling of the discourse of recent events. We have witnessed the rise of communism and the associated false ideologies of Critical Theory and Critical Race Theory. We have seen increased divisions in every institution of culture over race, gender, politics, religion, health care, economics, and more. Division dominates; unity is rare.
The divisions we have seen surface this year run very deep and require philosophical discussion to resolve. Yet how do we engage in serious dialogue when there is no common ground in the public sphere? In fact, there is no functional public sphere. The public is a space that is shared; it requires a minimum basis of unity. With the growth of the divisions in every aspect of culture, we have witnessed the collapse of the public and an utter lack of unity. Because there is no common ground and there is no functioning public, there can be no public philosophy. By what means then do we settle our disputes? 4
Perhaps now is a time for silence. Broadly speaking, if we are not committed to reason, the laws of thought, then we ought to be silent. If we do not have integrity, a commitment to reason, and concern for consistency, we should be silent. If we cannot use reason to agree on what is more basic, then we cannot agree on what is less basic. Furthermore, there is no agreed upon basis for discussion, no means for settling disputes rationally, and we ought to be silent. Suppose we cannot affirm what is clear to reason, and we are operating out of skepticism or fideism and resulting non-cognitivism. In that case, we have no basis for discussion and no means for addressing our divisions. If we do not have common ground in any arena of life, it is a time for silence. It is a time to stop and think about how we got to this place of utter division.
Public philosophy is about the public good — the common good. We cannot discuss the good without common ground. The current moment requires a time of public silence. We must pay heed to the call to stop and think; pay heed to what we need to learn right now. Let us stop arguing about politics on Twitter, stop correcting our associates on Facebook about vaccines, stop making YouTube videos about divisive philosophies, and arguing interminably about theology. We all should step back from public life for a time of self-examination, humbly searching for how we may have contributed to the death around us. We need private contemplation and learning. We should focus on private life and reestablishing unity with those closest to us. Perhaps we can start to build common ground in private conversations in the home. There is a time to speak publicly. Now is not that time.
Now is a time for mourning over the death of everything that we held dear and thought was valuable. Maybe we lost what we thought was important — our job, our church, our nation, our friendships, our platforms, our accomplishments, our families, our fun. We should take time out to learn for ourselves what is truly of highest value — we should learn what the Good is. Now is the time to be humble, to stop, think, dig deeper, and find out.
We talk a great deal about self-examination. Now we must put it into practice at a new level. All suffering is a call to think deeply about good and evil, about our view of the good. Is our idea of the good actually the good? If we know the good, we will show the good — “by their fruits you shall know them.” 5 If we know the good, we can share it with others, and our lives will bear the fruit of understanding resulting in unity. We are in a time of death and mourning. Yet, if we truly know the good, we also know that all things work together for good. Even while mourning, there is a reason for joy and hope. Perhaps we will emerge from public silence when we have humbled ourselves, repented of sin and death, and can work hard for common ground as a basis for settling disputes.
(1) Ecclesiastes 1:1, 7b
(2) Gangadean, Surrendra. Philosophical Foundation: A Critical Analysis of Basic Belief (Lanham: University Press of America; 2008), p. 111-114
(3) Gangadean, Surrendra. Logos Paper #34 “Globalism and Nationalism: A Biblical Perspective.” http://thelogospapers.com/34-globalism-and-nationalism-a-biblical-perspective/
(4) Gangadean, Surrendra. Logos Paper #2 “Common Ground: The Necessary Condition for Thought and Discourse.” http://thelogospapers.com/2-common-ground/
(5) Matthew 7:16
That last paragraph… putting self-examination to work. Insightfully cuts deep.
Well-written word of exhortation.