I’ve got to admit that I have been pretty pleased with the conversations we’ve been having here on Sharp Iron. The comments have been generally thoughtful, sometimes amusing and occasionally absurd but for the most part they have been good natured and polite.
I find that this is usually not the case when people disagree over issues having to do with religion, politics , the environment and morality. Especially when it comes to blogging. People with opposing points of view tend to meet each other like Cape Buffalo, not at all like the open minded and respectable folk I am sure they see themselves as.
A common thread, that runs through what now has taken the place of intelligent discourse, appears to be self-righteous anger. Lately I’ve read a lot of spiteful invective on some websites that are devoted to atheist apologetics. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not that every atheist I’ve argued with tends toward using insulting and demeaning language towards theists, but it certainly is prevalent. From both sides of the debate, ridicule would appear to be the order of the day. Few seem to be listening to what anyone else has to say, most are too busy sharpening their next barb. As a Christian it may seem easy to explain away such behavior, citing the atheist’s lack of enlightenment and their slavish devotion to personal pride as sufficient cause. But I don’t remember being so angry when I was an atheist and feel that this opinion is a very patronizing one.
Besides, the theists, particularly the Christians, seem to be just as angry. Whether you are visiting a fundamentalist Christian site or one frequented by those more ‘sophisticated’ liberals, the air is thick with venomous words. Mean spirited remarks are the norm and little meaningful discourse is invited, most dissenters having been run off by the local mob. More interesting here is that the Bible is very specific in it’s condemnation of inhospitable behavior, as well as the self indulgent addiction we call anger. “I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder” (Matthew 5:22). Perhaps the problem is with how some people define brother or sister.
It would seem to me that this type of anger is indicative of a lack of confidence in a stated opinion, an unwillingness to give an inch, out of fear that once any ground is given then a total rout is inevitable. If someone is so sure of their position, confident in holding the moral or intellectual high ground, then it would make sense that all comers would be welcome. Instead we encounter numerous bastions of like-minded people, clannish environments in which the threat of dissent is thoroughly squashed, not with superior arguments but with insult and ridicule. By refusing to respect those who disagree with them they lose any respect they ever owned.
This angry response to those who would dare argue with them provides little means of converting others to their way of thinking, instead providing ample rhetorical ammunition for potential opponents. Dallas Willard writes about anger in “The Divine Conspiracy”;
“It is a feeling that seizes us in our body and immediately impels us toward interfering with, and possibly even harming, those who have thwarted our will and interfered with our life.”
Anger is frequently used in attempts to force others to change their positions. Even when apparently successful it never enlists opponents as allies, no matter how reluctant. Instead the seeds of resentment are planted, breeding its own harvest of anger. And so the cycle goes.
“All our mental and emotional resources are marshaled to nurture and tend the anger, and our body throbs with it. Energy is dedicated to keeping the anger alive: we constantly remind ourselves of how wrongly we have been treated. And when it is allowed to govern our actions, of course, its evil is quickly multiplied in heart-rending consequences and in the replication of anger and rage in the hearts and bodies of everyone it touches.”
We learn by meeting, and respectfully engaging with, those who see things differently than we do. No matter how different the opinion, no matter how absurd it may seem to us, if presented thoughtfully and respectfully, then it deserves our hospitality.