Matt’s post on the practice of throwing the bigot label at Christians as a method to silence debate got me thinking. Some of my thinking came out in the comment I wrote on Half Done and in Matt’s comment in the original post but I still feel I have more to say.
I’m someone who (stating the obvious perhaps) happily walks into the thick of heated and hostile debate. To be more accurate I am someone who willingly does this; I don’t always find it easy or exciting; in fact, sometimes I am terrified. I still my fears by remembering I fear God more than men and by recalling Saphira’s words in Eragon “without fear there cannot be courage.”
It is true that I am wired that way more than most people and I do enjoy the intellectual challenge but I am still human; my apparent confidence is not always actual and I do find the abuse and the mud difficult to weather, especially when I am abandoned by those who should be standing with me or I see those who share my views believing the lies said about me or those who will only secretly associate with me lest their public image be tarred by mine (funny, given I think I have more respect in the public square than most Christians and in fact my opponents will often try to tar me by suggesting an association with the very people who are so concerned that their good public image might be damaged by an association with me).
Then there are those who frown on our and others, attempts to engage culture and deem it pointless for a range of reasons. David Farrar (who I do not include in this list but I quote here because his comment is paradigmatic) wrote in More on Abortion,
In my experience with abortion debates, no-one who is pro-choice or pro-life is open to persuasion to change their views.
Where David is right is that when debates go around and around on peripheral points and people are emotive and uncritical and go all over the place no one’s point of view changes, if anything the opposite occurs. However, David is wrong if he means that this never happens. Over the years I have seen many people change their positions on abortion and on a number of other polarising topics, simply through exposure to a rigorously reasoned case irregardless of their worldview. Further, I don’t find it that hard to achieve these changes in heart in other people.
This is in part because arming yourself with the ability to reason gives you an immediate advantage over the majority because the majority are not practised in it, and also because we live in a culture where propaganda and slogans pass for informed comment. Most people know what they are supposed to believe and have a vague idea of why – typically something emotive that sounds like it is a ‘right’ – but the why is frequently not founded on anything of substance and quickly unravels when exposed to critique.
The worst though are those who buy the lie and sell out their faith. I get most frustrated at my fellow Christians. I expect to not be on the same page with the left and at times the secular right, but Christians are supposed to get it.
When the bigot label gets hurled amidst the mud and everyone acts all angry and hurt, far too many Christians immediately assume there is truth in what they are being subjected to; their position must be bigoted or maybe it was the approach they got wrong. They accept the criticism, despite the lack of argument or factual basis and modify their own approach and position.
I suspect that part of this is that Christians themselves are often nice people and they know they must conduct themselves ethically or answer to God so they make that very human mistake, we all make at times, of transposing how they would conduct themselves onto others; thus they swallow the lie and forget the scripural mandate to not entertain accusations of immoral conduct without corroborating evidence. The other part of it is that Christians, like the majority of society, are too uncritical.
Now it is always worthwhile to check one’s approach is not overly confrontational and is well reasoned and supported but throwing out one’s position or watering it down just because someone abused you and issued a string of unflattering accusations is ludicrous. To the hardened anti-Christian activist the problem is that your are a Christian and you are breathing. So yes, the problem is bigotry but it’s not coming from the Christians.
It is not that the Christian position needs modifying, these people will hate regardless. Sure, they’ll sometimes back off if the Christian modifies their stance but that’s because the weak, wishy-washy, emotive, irrational position they have moved to lacks credibility outside Christian circles and is no longer effective. Take a look at this post by Kay about Christian websites and see whether it is bigotry or effective cultural engagement that really scares our opponents. [Apologies for using a self-congratulatory example]
The M & M blog is scarier because their posts almost make sense. ( http://www.mandm.org.nz/ ) Idiocy can be just funny. Even over the top hatred like http://www.godhatesfags.com/ is so extreme that its hard to take it seriously. M&M sound plausible & reasonable but have gaps in logic twisting their reasoning. Slimy.
But over on http://www.godhatesfags.com/ – the home page of the Westboro Baptist hurch – they’re thanking God for the $US10.9 Million court verdict against them – because it means their message is being spread around the world! Weird.
For people whose tactic is to paint anyone who offers a credible response to their position as a bigot it serves their interests to ensure that the public square is either dominated by extremists that they can easily discredit and wishy-washy claptrap that lacks credibility; they want credible reasoned critique to go away and they are not going to be tolerant and respectful unless they can neutralise your message.
Never underestimate the power of a sound argument, never fear entering a debate, though of course pick your battles wisely. Conduct yourself ethically, never let it be personal and always remember that the price of having Christianity’s abusers stop frothing at the mouth is all too often a failure to engage culture and that is a price that is not worth paying. None of us like upsetting people, but the best way to win respect is not to shy away from the argument but to demolish it without getting nasty or personal.