Monday, December 12, 2011
So, I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to respond to all of the comments on my “20 Things You Want to Hear a Christian Say” post. My first instinct was to respond to each of them individually, but 175 comments later, I gave up on that idea. That post alone is responsible for about 35% of my page views for the entirety of my blog, and it’s linked to a lot of message boards and forums with countless more comments. The thing actually went viral, as they say. I wrote it mostly out of the desire for my perspective to be heard, a perspective that I feel is shared by a lot more people than you might first guess.
Let me first say, the vast majority of the comments were awesome, enlightening, and fascinating, even the critical ones. I loved it.
I can’t tell you how exciting it was to see people say, “I’m an atheist, and I loved this post,” or “I’m a Christian, and you said what I’ve wanted to say.” It excited me because it reflected real life to me. In real life, I have friends that are both, and we get along great. In fact, I don’t really ever categorize them outside of the label of “friend.” Truthfully, I think that is, for me at least, because the distinctive lines between the categories of atheist and Christian aren’t actually so distinctive. To be totally honest, a certain percentage of the time my thoughts are fairly atheistic, another percentage of the time, they’re agnostic, and the vast majority of the time they’re Christian. The point is that I’m probably best at overanalyzing and doubting more than anything. I don’t mean that just in my faith, I just doubt a lot of things, mostly my own decisions, it’s just in my nature. I wish I wasn’t that, but I am. Most of us are more complicated than easy labels. So, if an atheist says something about how they feel about faith, or Christianity, I think, “Yeah, I can relate to that,” just as I can relate to agnostics and to Christians. I don’t think that ruins me as a Christian. Plus, I’m squarely postmodern, so I just always cringe at labels generally. (See what I did there? I put myself in a label to distinguish myself as someone who doesn’t like labels). Often, labels aren’t so much about what they are semantically named as much as they are about fitting someone else under the umbrella of “other.” That is where labeling gets troubling in my book.
That paragraph kind of scares me, it feels a little too honest…maybe that’s our problem. We aren’t very honest about our doubts. There’s so much pressure to have a hard and fast opinion all the time, which squeezes honesty out. A person having a humility-less, hard and fast opinion all the time reads to me as false, I can’t relate. What are they hiding? Why are they hiding it? I tend to tune out strong opinions, but am inspired by doubts spoken by thoughtful, humble people. Communicate your humility to me and I will listen to whatever you want to say next.
Unrelenting, forceful, compassionless opinions have the opposite effect.
Those sentiments tend to thrive in comments sections and message boards online. The comments spanned the spectrum on my “20 Things…” post. The vast majority were awesome and fascinating. The posts started out really reasonable and then ventured into argumentative at times. I get it and I don’t get it at the same time.
If your point is to make it known what your opinion is, then typing it out and proclaiming it as unequivocally as possible makes sense. Essentially saying, “Screw you, this is what I believe!” That’s all well and good, your point is made, and you’ve probably held to your principle of never compromising the fervor with which you believe something.
Now, on the other hand, if your goal is to be effective in convincing another person of your belief, then that is the opposite of what you want to do, right? When I read a “Screw you, this is what I believe” type of a post, I completely tune it out. I feel like much of the time I am reading comments, they are written under the guise of, “I would like to convince you of my side of this argument,” but come across as clearly a “Screw you, this is what I believe” post.
Here’s why I get strongly worded comments. One, it is easy to read someone rebuking your thinking and instinctively want to fire back. Two, if someone questions our thoughts on religion, the afterlife, our understanding of how the world works, and declares them wrong, then it feels like they are calling out the wrongness of our person, at our core. I think it is more than understandable to be worked up about that, it would be hard not to. It is hard to overcome our core being hurt and offended.
Here’s why I don’t get strongly worded comments. I’ve never once been convinced of anything by reading someone’s strongly worded opinion.
I enjoy reading opinion pieces, they’ll open me up to a new way of thinking, and I even fancy myself a writer, so I have to give it validity. However, there is a limitation inherent in the medium.
I’ll only truly let my own beliefs be open to convincing if I feel like I’m first understood, validated, and respected.
For me, it is nearly impossible for that to happen online, and in the written word. Being understood, validated, and respected mostly involves listening. That almost always has to be in person, in a discussion. Commenting back and forth online is just two people talking.
A couple weeks ago, when I was still in LA, Michelle and I were having a “marital discussion,” or as it is more commonly known, an argument. Michelle’s phone died, so we moved to Facebook chat. Dumb move. There was a lot of “what’s that supposed to mean?” and “what do you mean by that?” We made a rule that we won’t be doing that on Facebook chat anymore. It was probably partly due to my idiocy, but also because you just can’t effectively communicate like that, especially if there are emotions involved.
Back to my earlier point, if your goal is to be effective, I question whether that can be accomplished well in a comment section argument. To my Christian friends, does God want ineffective compassionless opinion shouters? To my atheist friends, would reason dictate that screaming opinions is an effective way to get others to stop screaming opinions?
It is fairly understood that communication is 90% nonverbal. Yet, too often, we ignore that, only placing value on the verbal. Again, I think it comes down to effectiveness. Angrily saying, “I believe in a loving God that forgives and is full of grace,” is wholly ineffective when the subtext is, “I don’t respect that you could possibly have a valid contrary opinion!” I would argue that the subtext is louder than the text in those instances. I would also argue that the subtext is the opposite of grace. Astoundingly, you’re verbally (or through written word) saying, “I believe in a loving God that forgives and is full of grace,” while through tone, context, and non-verbals saying, “I do not believe you should receive love or grace!” You’re whispering the former, and shouting the latter. Which do people hear? Everything except what you’re saying.
I love discussions. I love sitting around and talking, and asking questions, and listening. I love hearing people’s perspectives. I love opinions. I love the process of forming my own. However, opinions that don’t have any room for humility or listening get in the way of true discussions and devolve into something altogether different where there is your side and there is the “other.” That altogether different place is the thing I have trouble with.
Also, the point at which you invoke the name Hitler is the point that everything to follow is invalidated in my opinion. It doesn’t matter how valid your point is. Your next point could be about how your puppy is adorable and I will think, “Nope. No way, I don’t believe it. Your puppy is not cute. You are not a believable person.”
The real end.
Also, a note. There is one of the 20 Things I would like to rephrase. I wrote: “I honestly don’t know if the Founding Fathers were setting up America as a Christian nation, that was a long time ago, all we have are hints on either side. If we are a Christian nation, then based on how we act, like me, we do a pretty good job of hiding it at times. The Founding Fathers did give us freedom of religion and I think that’s good enough.”
In my opinion, America was set up to have freedom of religion, not to be a Christian nation. The way I worded it didn’t say that well, though. I was trying to establish respectful common ground with people who do believe that it was set up as a Christian nation in order to get to a larger point. I guess I meant that I have a hard time speculating what was individually happening inside the heads of these men 235 years later. I think that freedom of religion has greater benefits for Christians, and society on the whole, than any advantage that could be gained from any kind of established religion. I respect people who think differently than that, I just don’t really agree.