Healthy discourse is hard to come by, especially in contemporary forms of media in which the best way to get attention is through insult, rant, and hyperbole. We all say we hate sensationalism, but the ugly truth is we are far less likely to read something that doesn’t make a shocking or outrageous claim. Much of the Christian blogosphere, as reliant as it is on idol-worship and idol-busting, is rife with this sort of madness.
After all, it is much easier to dismiss an interlocutor with insinuation, ad-hominem, or labeling than to actually engage ideas with which we disagree. That is because, in our infinite capacity for self-deception, we easily keep exclusively to the self-licking ice cream cone of our own ideological outhouses. We too often succumb to the temptation of intellectual comfort by surrounding ourselves with those who agree with us, who confirm all our biases, and then proceed to shout down in the most dishonest and uncharitable fashion possible any criticism we receive.
Welcome to the internet. Welcome to our polarized society and church.
But there are some different voices, and they are worth highlighting because change will only occur if we reward people for writing with sense and sensitivity, with passion and restraint. Here are three examples, all with similar stories to tell, and all people of intellectual rigor and genuine caritas.
- David Watson from United Theological Seminary reminds us that how we argue is as important, if not more so, than the truth for which we argue. Ends and means both matter.
- Stephen Rankin from Southern Methodist University tells a personal story about how his own sincere, bridge-building effort to move a difficult conversation forward was dismissed out of hand with a simple label. A sad, all too common story.
- Evan Rohrs-Dodge, a UM pastor and fellow curator over at Via Media Methodists, uses Aragorn to remind us how important it is to actually listen to one another. Listening is harder, but the only way to actually get anywhere.
As Chesterton asserted, it is easier to quarrel than to argue. A quality argument can do much to bring needed change to couples, families, churches, and whole societies. But petty tempter-tantrums and name-calling will only dissolve our bonds and harm whatever efforts there are to produce genuine conversation.
USA and #UMC, take heed.