As a conservative Christian who believes and teaches that the bible means what it says (of course this will start its own debate – mostly from people who will fall into the categories we are about to discuss below. Sadly, many of them “Christians” themselves…), I never find a shortage of news items, opinions, theories or “science” that I disagree with. This is also true as a conservative free -thinker – one who does not buy-in to the latest trends, environmental disasters or new-found social norms of the enlightened secular humanists. Scientifically, theologically, or sociologically – all have to align with the truth of God’s word.
My problem is not that I disagree with some piece news or a particular opinion of yours or anyone else, my problem is, now that you know I disagree with your opinion or that news story you shared, you feel as though I must therefore be a bigoted racist homophobe. You then go on (because of your much ‘higher’ enlightened thought) to belittle me, and distance yourself from me. Also, in a closing act of obtuse victory you first “un-Freind” me on Facebook, and THEN proceed to post a remark about how small, or narrow minded I am, describing in detail how horrible a person I was to you for expressing my opinion, making sure you confirm the way I acted or the things I said are simply not “Christian” – all the while taking every personal shot at me known to man. Of course, you end your rant by stating that I, and people like me, do not deserve to live, let alone call themselves a Christian. THAT is what I have a problem with.
Since when does disagreeing with someone have to lead to such treatment? Are we not able to have civil discussions anymore without resorting to name-calling and labeling people as “haters” bigots, homophobes or uneducated? Well, the short answer is apparently no.
But why? Why can’t we as adults have civil debates and discussions over subjects that we disagree on? Have we lost our civility? Have we lost the one ability that sets us apart from the animal kingdom; the ability to reason? Well, maybe we have, and to some degree I’m sure that assessment is at least partially true. But I think there are other things that are really at the root of our inability to politely disagree. I wanted to address that, so I’ve created a short list of reasons why we cannot simply have a debate or disagreeing discussion with each other without flying off the deep-end below. I challenge you to ponder if perhaps any of these apply to you.
1. You have no idea what you are talking about.
We’ll let’s just get the big one out in the open right away. Do you seriously have any idea what you are tallkng about?
Far too many people enter into discussions literally knowing nothing of which they speak. It would seem that more time is spent training our students and kids by example, or training ourselves on how to muddle your way through a conversation to make it look like you know what you are talking about, rather than actually spending some time to research the topic so that actually DO know what you were talking about.
If you have aver watched Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking” episodes or any Jimmy Kimmel street interviews, you know what I’m talking about. The best example I can think of is that poor young Miss Teen South Carolina trying to respond to a question from the judges as to why she feel that 1/5th of Americans polled could not find the U.S on a world map. While, I’ll grant you, this is an extreme case, but the writing is on the wall. Our educational system is failing in this nation. Currently ranked 36th in the world in education, the U.S. now ranks below nations like, Latvia, Indonesia, Thailand, Tunisia and Mexico in reading, writing and math skills.
Repeating the mantra of some special interest group without checking the facts to see if their claims or statistics are accurate, or joining in the conversation by adding pictures of ‘Motivational Posters’ or internet ‘memes’ does not add to the substance of the conversion. It simple shows that you do not have the ability to address the topic professionally and politely. It reflects poorly on you, and it makes you look ignorant of the topic being discussed. Just don’t do it.
That said, let’s face it, most people these days get their news from an application on one of their many electronic devices. In other words, the news most people get is traveling fast. Fast news for fast people. The problem is that news traveling this fast is typically loose, often misleading and frequently factually inaccurate. Since it has had no time to be fact checked, fast and loose news reigns supreme among this fast paced generation. But what does the media care? They don’t. Media bias is true, and if news is not reported fast and loose, it is sent through an ever left-leaning organism packed full of agenda-driven filters (that like to be referred to as Editors, Publishers and Network Executives), before any story is published or aired. Yet, these fast-paced electronic devise ‘dings’, ‘chimes’ and alerts are how people get their news. And that’s all the news they get.
When entering into a discussion, make an honest examination of your knowledge base before you start making points or counterpoints. If you do not have a factual foundational understanding of the topic – don’t comment. If you do not have a factual foundational understanding of the topic, don’t share that poster or meme. If you do not have factual foundational understanding of the topic – GET ONE. Unless one is arguing quantum physics or speaking in a language you do not understand, take a few moments to educate yourself. Before you hit “enter”, check your facts.
The Bible tells us to seek the counsel of many. Proverbs 15:232 states, “Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established.” And so this is true. Regardless of which side of the argument you are on (and what matters to most is not whether or not you are on the right side, but whether or not you are on the popular side…), make use of wise counsel of those with similar opinions. It is also wise to seek the counsel of those with divergent opinions, which is after-all, why we have these discussions.
Growing up not far from the world famous Pittsburgh Steel mills, the works of Andrew Carnegie were virtually required reading, and rightfully so. Carnegie once said,
“People who are unable to motivate themselves, must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents.”
Truth should motivate you. We should be desiring truth. If you do not have the motivation to go get it, stay out of the conversation until you do. Debate is a game of wits. Don’t come unarmed. You should know the truth, be able to support your assertions with fact – this is your responsibility.
2. Believe it or not, this is not personal.
When someone disagrees with you, it is not a personal affront. Simply disagreeing with someone is a day-to-day event that quite frankly, we should be quite used to. Example: two of you go to get a cup of coffee. One of you purchases a mocha, and the other orders an Americana. Afterwards you sit down to discuss the pros and cons of your preferences and in the end, everyone’s still happy. Here, two people have disagreed on what they prefer, but this disagreement does not typically lead to name calling, belittling, fist-fights, or workplace shootings or bombings. [Editor’s Note: Ordering a double tall, non-fat, two-pump flavor, two-pump sweetener, extra hot, extra foam, ‘with room’ in the line at Starbucks with 6 people behind you in line, just might start a fight- think before you order people…] I realize that a cup of coffee preference does not equate in levels of importance or implication with other topics often disagreed upon like religion, abortion, gay marriage etc, but there is no reason to not treat every disagreement with equal civility.
I’ve seen a quote floating around the internet typically attributed to Christian pastor and author Rick Warren. He is reported to have said,
“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”
Just because someone does not agree with you – whether it is a simple opinion, lifestyle choice, political point of view, etc, does not mean that they do not like you personally. The disagreement has nothing to do with you as an individual. It is possible to disagree with someone, and still love them. If we disagree about something serious, like a religious world view – something that is displayed in our every act as a person and has eternal consequences, I may not want want to marry you, but it does mean that we cannot be friends, or even best of friends. As a matter of fact, I want to get to know you better. I want to know the how’s and why’s behind your choices and why you make them. Having an understanding of “why” you make the choices you do, truly helps me understand you better. Understanding you better, helps our relationship grow.
3. Being Offended is a CHOICE – Don’t make that choice
So it is serious. We disagree about something that has consequences in our lives. Let’s say the discussion is about gay marriage. You are in favor, and I’m not. If I say I’m opposed for religious and social reasons (which I would), and you happen to be living a gay lifestyle – so what. Honestly, so what. Because I would not choose to live that way does not mean that I hate you, or that I’m discriminating against you. It does not mean that I am a racist, sexist, bigot or homophobe. It just means we disagree.
To be offended by someone’s opinion, or values is a choice. The word offense is defined by Webster’s as: “annoyance or resentment brought about by a perceived insult to or disregard for oneself or one’s standards or principles.” As you can see being offended is an emotional response. You are annoyed. You have resentment. These are emotions brought about by a “perceived” intent of the author. You make an assumption that what was spoken, was delivered with the intent of insult. So, being offended is an emotional response based on an unsupported perception of the intent to insult.
First of all, that’s a big stretch to make. Taking the stand to be offended on emotion and assumptions that is. Secondly, each step of the way are choices you are making based what is speculation on your part. I’ll go one step further. Offense is an emotional reaction based on ego, pride and fear (See #5). You don’t want to be wrong, you do not want to appear to be weak. You fear that you will not be loved or will be persecuted for your thoughts or opinions and so you lash out. There is no need. Take a deep breath, and let’s move on as friends.
4. GRACE: Be Gracious whether you are of the majority opinion or not
Discussion turned to name calling and unkind words is no longer a discussion, it’s an expression of frustration that has no place in a civil debate. That being the case, always present your facts seasoned with grace. As an example, if a comment expressed is found to be factually inaccurate, express that in simple terms, and move on. No need to dwell on it, or escalate your disagreement with senseless arguing. 2 Timothy 2:23, and I Peter 2:15 deal with this.
But here’s is what Grace is not: Grace is not allowing people to speak falsities and misinformation, unsupported statistics or data without being questioned. Grace is not saying ignoring an assertion presented as fact, when it is not. That’s called incompetence, and only serves to further the spread of misinformation. In such cases, saying nothing in the name of grace, makes you an enabler of problem at hand – unquestioned assertions that continually get passed off to the masses as truth. More on this in #7. Grace does not willfully permit the propagation of false teachings, false doctrine or heresy (yes, there is a difference). We as followers of Christ have a responsibility, even a duty to comment and correct. While he may not be counted among great Christian figures of our history, Napoleon Bonaparte once said,
“The people to fear are not those who disagree with you, but those who disagree with you and are too cowardly to let you know.”
5. Check Your Emotions at the Keyboard
Life is full of tests, trials and situations that may make us uncomfortable. The fact that they happen to us is not an indication of anything. How we deal with them is an indication of everything.
In today’s society, too much emphasis is put on self-esteem. It’s healthy to think of yourself as valuable, because you are. God sees each and everyone of us as valuable. But we must understand where this value comes from. We are not valuable because we handle debates well. We are not valuable because we tithe well. We are not valuable because of the service we do for our friends,neighbors, loved ones and church. It has been said that God does not love us because we are valuable. We are valuable because God loves us (Matthew 10:29-30).
We just spoke about how emotional God is. He created us in His image, and we have the same emotions. Being emotional therefore is not a sin in and of itself. Using these emotions sinfully, is a sin. Keep them in check. Respond as Jesus responded and defended His lifestyle and faith – with scripture. Anything less, is opinion.
If you are a Christian, I have to add one more item:
6. I Peter 3:15 – Be Prepared to Offer a Defense
15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;
This is instruction from the Word of God. Always be ready to give answer for the hope that is in you. Playing in concert with item #1, it is not enough just to know what you believe, you must also be able to defend what you believe, which means you have to know WHY you believe what you believe.
Why do you have hope? Is that hope real? If it is real, and you rely on Jesus for your strength and guidance, why would a simple disagreement cause you to break fellowship, or turn your back on another? Sometimes, disagreements arise from one Christian brother or sister seeing a pattern of behavior in another brother or sister that is not consistent with a scriptural teaching of a Christian lifestyle. As an example; if you are a self-identifying Christian, do not be surprised if after having posted a Facebook meme in favor of abortion masked as “a woman’s right to choose”, that another Christian questions you, or calls upon you top explain yourself. If you are a self-identifying Christian, and share things about “spiritualism”, occultism, or share quotes from outspoken people known for their hatred of Christianity or from authors like Oprah who do not have a sound understanding of what Christianity is – do not be surprised if other Christians don’t start inquiring as to what you current line of thinking is. This is all perfectly natural from people who love you and do not want to see you lead astray.
Additionally, WHEN people begin to ask questions, and they will, do not get angry! It is their responsibility as Christians to go to other Christian when they see signs or portents of them beginning to walk away from their faith – this is what good brothers and sisters in the Lord do. We are taught these very things in scripture. Paul went to the Corinthians in chapter 5 of 2 Corinthians for just this reason. ?This of course after having written the first letter of Corinthians covering the same sort of thing. We are also shown in Matthew 18:15 similar patterns of offenses, if one was taken, and making them right.
If a person is not self-identified as a Christian, here’s a couple quality secular opinions;
You should protest about the views of people you disagree with over major moral issues, and argue them down, but you should not try to silence them, however repugnant you find them. That is the bitter pill free speech requires us to swallow. Julian Baggini
Honest discussions – even and perhaps especially on topics about which we disagree – can help us resist hypocrisy and arrogance. They can also help us live up to the basic ideals, such as liberty and justice for all, on which our country was founded. David Price
Christians need to do a better of job staying true to the gospel and standing up for the faith that is in them, and non-Christians need to do a better job of being able to stay focuses on the facts, produce supporting evidence for their case, and stop pulling the race/hater/bigot/homophobe cards when they feel like they have been offended.
Debate is sadly a topic we do not spend much training in in schools these days. And it certainly shows.