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Quotation Assumption Presumption

Now that is a title that is more than a mouthful.  Don’t worry, I am going to break it down in this post and fairly quickly at that.

We all love to read quotes or share them because we connect a level of authority with the person responsible for the saying or it just connects with us.  However, many times, we are not given the context for the quote so we have to decide what we think about the quote based only on our own assumptions.  And there-in lies the presumption aspect of this post.  We presume that we can clearly understand the assumptions that we have to believe to either accept or reject the quotation.  You may ask what the difference is between assumption and presumption.  Good question.  My definition of presumption is an arrogant assumption.  So we arrogantly assume that our assumptions of the quotation are correct.  Hope that is clear as mud.

So with every quote that we read there is a level of ‘quotation assumption presumption’ that occurs mostly on an unconscious level.  My opinion on the matter is that we, as socially responsible people, need to do a better job of understanding the things we ‘buy-in’ to simply because we heard a little something here or there concerning the topic.

I think we should walk through an example of what I am talking about.  Here is a quote that somebody sent me this morning.:

For several decades now, many of American Christianity’s most dynamic expressions have been in youth ministries.  ~ Andy Crouch

The first thing that we have to do is try to understand what this quote says as a stand-alone sentence because we have no context for the statement.

“For several decades now” – makes it sound like this has been going on for at least 30 or 40 years.  Several is usually more than two (couple) or three (few).

“many” – oh boy, how do we quantify many?  Let’s just say its left to the reader to interpret because we don’t know if this is near 50%,  a majority, or even a minority of the examples in totality.  We already have to assume something big at this point and that is what does many mean?

“American Christianity’s” – At least we can safely assume that we are talking about the United States even though this could be a continental reference including the totality of the peoples that exist on the Northern, Central, and Southern American continental divisions.  Of course, we run into some of the same problems with the term Christianity.  Which abomination, I mean denomination, is the quoter referring to?  All of them, his viewpoint, or is he purposely leaving it to the reader’s interpretation of what Christianity means?

How we doing on assumptions so far?  Let’s take a look at how I would assume so far:

Assumption 1:  “For several decades now” – At least 40 years

Assumption 2:  “many” – at least 50% if not a majority of the examples

Assumption 3: “American” – reference to the United States of America

Assumption 4: “Christianity” – that enclave of beliefs that represent the protestant and catholic churches but excludes Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, and other gospel-divergent belief systems. (Remember – these are just my assumptions)

Ok, so I have 4 assumptions in the first 8 words.  You may be starting to see where this is going, but let us continue.

“most dynamic” – yeah, this could be a tough one.  Clearly, ‘most’ signifies that level as being in the upper limits of measurement. But what does dynamic mean? My understanding is that it means energy or effective action.  As these are descriptive words we will have to look at the next word to capture what is being described but already we have to assume that this could simply be an opinion of the author as no basis for measurement is given for most and a rubric for measuring the dynamic of something can be very subjective.

“expressions” – Uh oh.  Not sure how to assume safely on this one.  We already know that the author believes these ‘expressions’ are American Christianity’s most dynamic.  But what is the medium for the expression?  We are not given any context so we are left to our imaginations, and therefore, our assumptions.

“have been in youth ministries” – Well, whatever the most dynamic, American, Christian expressions are, they are occurring in the youth ministries.  Of course, we don’t know what ministries the author is addressing and we will have to assume that youth refers to those under 18.  Or at least, I would assume so as my assumption on this referring to the United States people leads me to that people’s definitions of youth and adults.  When it comes to ministries, we don’t know if this means youth lead ministries or ministries directed at youth which are actually carried out by mostly adults.

I will list my last set of assumptions.

Assumption 5:  “most dynamic” – that thing that makes the biggest difference.

Assumption 6:  “expressions” – my thoughts are on how they live like a Christian.

Assumption 7: “have been in youth ministries” – I actually lumped the youth, youth leadership, and adults who lead the youth into one category for this one but the focus was on the youth aspect.  Ministries, while a broad word, left me thinking about the activities that youth do in and through their church experiences.

Now, if I boil my assumptions into a rewording of the quote, it may look like this.

For at least 40 years, a lot of the youth in the gospel believing churches in the United States have been doing the best  job of living out their beliefs.

What have I really been told by this quote?  Not much, really. In that time span, their have been a lot of adults doing the same thing.  Maybe those kids grew up to be those adults.

While this is a serious discussion on the dangers of assumptive thinking, hearing, reading, and believing, some of this has been tongue in cheek as well.  I am not disparaging Andy Crouch or the individual that tweeted this quote.  My hopes were to help you, the reader, to understand that we make a lot of presumptions with our assumptions when we believe something without understanding the full context.

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  1. April 11, 2009 at 1:26 am

    I love studying language, though I’m terrible at learning languages. I’m fascinated by how difficult it is to pin down specific ideas by using words, even though words are pretty much all we have! Great post, I had not thought about this idea before.

  2. April 11, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    T: A character in one of the Stephen Segal movies (Under Siege-2) says, “Assumption is the mother of all mess ups.” {cleaned up version} I have worked hard not to be guilty of assuming something before hearing both sides to a story. Assumptions can be dangerous and definitely presumptuous. Thanks for this good post even though at time my mind was going in circles (that is my state of mind not yours) 🙂

  3. April 13, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    I think the hardest thing for us to realize is that we all assume all the time. When we start looking at our assumptions we can start cutting through some of the rationalizations, lies, and opinion that separate us from the truth.

    That takes some work especially in a culture where information is king.. or used to be king, I think ‘experiences’ have replaced information as ruler in our culture.

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