Monday, October 10, 2005

Pleromaphobia: The Fear of Fullness

I’d like to introduce another word into our English vocabulary: pleromaphobia (play-row-ma-foe-bee-uh). It comes from the Greek words for fullness or completeness, and fear. Pleromaphobia is the unusual distaste for anything fully argued or completely stated.

We live in an age of sound bites and little snippets of ideas. Today, bumper stickers have to suffice for exposition, and emoting has nearly replaced thinking in all too many spheres—including Presbyterian governing bodies. These days, a brief opinion may be tentatively offered, but presenting a solid, well-conceived case is considered arrogant or presumptuous.

We inhabit an era of pleromaphobia. People just don’t seem inclined to stick around long enough for a solidly stated, well-explained, thoroughly documented, masterfully argued, logically impeccable, fully orbed idea to be presented. They roll their eyes. They sigh and fidget. They lose interest. And finally they become suspicious, or even a little hostile, spouting things like “Methinks thou protesteth too much.”

One of the places where pleromaphobia often shows up is in people’s response to theologian Robert Gagnon. Gagnon is a thorough writer who uses irrefutable logic and scholarly knowledge to absolutely devastate specious arguments. He’ll find a dozen solid reasons why a statement is absurd and will thoroughly and convincingly document each.

So, is such outstanding scholarship valued? Is it appreciated? Not necessarily. Some people seem destined to get sidetracked in commenting on Gagnon’s workmanlike thoroughness and ignore altogether his absolutely brilliant assertions that have been masterfully crafted and proven. They talk about the number of points or volume of words, and forget altogether that he devastated their half-baked arguments.

Back on September 16, a snide and snippy John McNeese noted in Presbyweb how a response was “unusually concise and succinct, at least for Gagnon,” and how “Mr. Gagnon will not let anyone have the last word.” Never mind the SUBSTANCE of what Gagnon wrote, which thoroughly shredded another writer’s flimsy ideas. McNeese’s pleromaphobia made him comment on the letter’s length, which meant he didn’t bother to submit to the overwhelming truth of what Gagnon had written.

In a like manner, the Theological Task Force dealt superficially with a single article by Gagnon and generally ignored his masterpiece work, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, which by all rights ought to have had a major influence on their report. Pleromaphobia at work in the Task Force?

And sometimes mere fullness of a reply can cause the recipient to posit motivations of anger or obsession: “You must have been really bent out of shape, or you wouldn’t have written so much.” No, perhaps the writer merely wanted to be clear and thorough, backing up assertions with facts and examples, rather than just tossing out banalities and only sketching out vague notions. Pleromaphobia causes the recipient to focus on the length rather than the weight of the writing.

I must confess, as a pleromaphile, I VALUE a complete and compelling case. But I’ll stop here, before people start fidgeting.