The more I visit blogs like Debunking Christianity, blog devoted to debating a single topic or set of topics, the more thankful I am that by and large this blog has been free of the sort of rancor which characterizes discussions in our culture, and especially in this strange artificial social environment we call the blogosphere. So often, both in "real life" and in this virtual milieu, conversations are decidedly polemical, with two definite sides, the "right" side and the "wrong" side. Of course, who is right and who is wrong depends in most cases entirely on perspective. Since we so rarely share the perspective of the "other," our foolish, stupid, misguided, deluded, or just plain evil debate partner, they must a priori be "wrong," just as we undoubtedly seem equally wrong.
This sense of our being "right" and the other being "wrong" as I said is a priori, in that it starts even before the discussion begins. Before any dialogue on any subject, all parties generally begin with a list of beliefs or statements that are "right" and a list of statements and beliefs that are "wrong." Discussion, rather than the meeting of minds and the melding of ideas, becomes both a test and a battle ground. A test, in that each partner in the discussion is looking for particular statements and replies, which signal agreement and acceptance or disagreement and rejection. A battle ground, in that, in the event of disagreement, conflict ensues. This conflict is not a wrestling against yourself to make sure that you fully understand what the other is saying; rather it is a wrestling against the words of the other, which are a priori seen as "wrong."
I say this not to say that all beliefs or ideas are created equal, and have an equal measure of merit, worth, and especially truth-value. Some claims are true, some claims are false. Some ideas are helpful, some ideas are harmful. Rather, I say this to lament the quality of our exchanges, and to lament the arrogance of our clinging to our perspectives. Just because some ideas are true does not mean that my idea, prior to any critical engagement, is necessarily true. Just because some ideas are harmful does not mean that they ideas which contradict my own, by virtue of my disagreeing with them, are necessarily harmful.
Discussion, real discussion, when it happens, serves to expand my perspective. It serves to help me understand other views, and see that not all of my intuitions are universal; not all of my ideas stand up to scrutiny. It also serves to let me know that people who do not share my deepest assumptions are neither evil nor stupid; they are simply not me. But, like me, they also value both the truth and the good, even if we do not always agree what those elusive qualities might be.
Because of the persistence of rancor in blog debates - debates which should be discussions but instead devolve into partisan bickering and polemical warfare - I've added a new section to my sidebar, titled Ground Rules for Discussion. In it you will find a link to my post, A Note on Charity. In the event that a polemical debate ever makes it way to this fair blog, that should prove a useful resource.
On a totally different subject, meme tagging is increasingly like Congressional subpoenas: just because you were overlooked in the first round does not mean that you will escape it. I've decided to issue a new batch of subpoenas - oops, I mean tags - for the Best Contemporary Theology Meme. The whole cast of Habakkuk's Watchpost, consider yourselves tagged. Especially Tyler, Ben, and Kyle. I can't wait to see what you guys come up with.
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