Angry People (The Lost Art of Reasoned Debate)

angry moeI’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.

  1. #1 by atheistperspective on August 24, 2007 - 10:29 am

    Eton? Not one of those. Thanks goodness. I’m a good old Harrovian 🙂 Those Eton boys mix with royalty too much and are far too religious for my liking.

  2. #2 by dana on August 24, 2007 - 3:00 pm

    Bravo Christian,
    I’ve never once been persuaded by the angry, arrogant arguments in favor of Christianity. Actually, I was more sold on Christians who spoke of their shortfalls. In watching those people live their lives in a way that reflected what they believed, but were honest when they fell short of those beliefs, which they inevitably did.
    The final step was being able to separate in my mind those spiteful Christians with the swelled heads who were more concerned about proving you wrong than loving you–and vowing never to become one.
    Thanks for the post.
    PS: Jesus had no college degree that I know of … I mean, if we’re going to go there. 🙂

  3. #3 by Ambrosia de Milano on August 24, 2007 - 6:49 pm

    It is a mistake to say Jesus was not educated. He was able to speak with the scholars in the temple. He was able to read the Scriptures. He likely spoke at least three languages–Hebrew, Aramaic, Koine Greek–and probably Latin as well.

    The image of First Century Palestine/Israel is usually presented as being wrong. While they lacked modern conveniences, the Romans continued the use of minted coins, paved roads, and strong buildings (as indicated by ruins). The region had a thriving economy, being the crossroads of the known world.

    The world of Jesus was quite advanced–remember, the Dark Ages were called because the learning of Ancient Greece and eventually Byzantine was lost. Jesus time came in the middle of the classic period. Not the Golden Age, but Rome was at its zenith of power, and the height of its culture.

    Bruce–Ambrosia is on vacation 🙂

  4. #4 by dana on August 25, 2007 - 8:55 am

    I did not mean to imply that the times Jesus lived in were not advanced. Just pointing out that the most important things He tought, He didn’t learn out of a book.

  5. #5 by Christian Beyer on August 27, 2007 - 12:42 pm

    A great article on this subject by David Aikman over on Christianity Today, called “Attack Dogs of Christendom”:

  6. #6 by Jason on October 12, 2007 - 4:15 pm


  7. #7 by 123 on July 21, 2009 - 2:35 am

    “Atheist, read Psalms 14:1.”
    um, but that does not make sense. 🙂

    • #8 by Christian Beyer on July 21, 2009 - 6:36 am

      Hello, 123. Welcome. But unfortunately our atheist friend abruptly dropped off the net some time ago. His web sit has been dormant for over a year.

      The fool says in his heart,
      “There is no God.”
      They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
      there is no one who does good.”

      Psalm 14:1 only makes sense to those who already believe. As an effective apologetic…I think it comes up short.

  8. #9 by 123 on July 21, 2009 - 2:50 am

    btw, I attack (aka “fight back”) only the theocrats. pacifism doesn’t work against “those people”.

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