February 18, 2013


Fear not those who argue, but those who dodge.  ~Dale Carnegie

Consider this for a moment.  What if (and I know this sounds crazy) but just what if our society allowed honest to goodness debates?  What if, when someone asked you a polarizing question like “Do you support same sex unions?” or “What do you think of women clergy?”, they were genuinely interested in your point of view, and almost preferred you to have a different moral code so as to enjoy the ebb and flow of a good conversation.   Can you imagine that?  I can’t. 

I just finished watching a forceful and unbecoming You Tube video about why women should support same sex unions and it occurred to me that the women making the video weren’t trying to be persuasive, they were instructing you which way (ie. theirs) was the right way.  Any opinion other than theirs is homophobic, hateful and absurd.  A differing opinion can only mean fear and animosity because it cannot possibly mean anything else, can it?

I must admit that I’m not a big fan of argumentative discussions.  I don’t think well on my feet (which is why I write – I’ve got all the time in the world to think).  Not only that but I’ve had my share of ‘cornering and spewing’ – which is the ‘drawing and quartering’ of the conversational world – so I usually back away when the lines are drawn in the sand.  Because lets face it, the opinions of the Catholic Church aren’t very popular.  In fact, to the world they’re downright abominable and much despised.  Perhaps because the Church speaks the truths that those steeped in sin not only do not want to hear, but absolutely abhor.  There’s usually no listening going on, there’s only a demanding of acquiescence, and so I keep quiet.   

But the truth is I often feel guilty for not stepping up in conversation more.  I feel as if I have an obligation to speak the truth, even though it’s extremely unpopular and may get me branded as a “Jesus Freak” or worse, a “Fundamentalist Extremist”.   

But on the other hand, we are not to throw the pearls of our Faith to the swine.  So what do we do? 

Well, only two suggestions came to me when pondering this question.  Keep an active prayer life, paying close attention to the whispers of the Spirit when those conversations hit you out of the blue.  And maybe, if at all possible, establish some ground rules with your fellow debaters first like,  “Before I answer anything can you acknowledge that differences of opinion are not synonymous with animosity and hostility and are you genuinely interested in my thoughts?”  Because if the answer is yes, then lets go to it.  For it is better to debate a question without settling it, says the French philosopher Joseph Joubert, than to settle a question without debating it.     

6 comments:

  1. This is an excellent post. It can be so so difficult to run the balance between standing up for your faith and just arguing a lot. I think it is so important that we enter into these debates with love and charity, maintaining our view of Jesus in the person with whom we are arguing, even if the conversation turns sour.

    I really like your idea about setting ground rules. I think much of the reason our conversations have so much "cornering and spewing" is that, as a people, we have thrown off the art of rhetorical debate--our view of the humanitarian arts is gone as the nation focuses on test scores in math and science in our schools.

    Let us be wise as snakes, and gentle as doves.

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  2. "There’s usually no listening going on, there’s only a demanding of acquiescence, and so I keep quiet." BINGO. You've just explained, to me, my own reluctance to enter into such debates. My tongue tangles and my brain frizzles and I make a verbal mess that could make every Christian on earth look foolish by association. But you gave us the perfect remedy. Keep an active prayer life and pay attention to the whispers of the Holy Spirit. YES! Thank you!

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  3. Yes - KJL - I think you've hit it. There is an art to rhetorical debate, and we've lost it almost completely. Even the presidential debates these days look like just a bunch of mud-slinging compared to a good, old-fashioned back and forth of sharing ideas and listening to the other, taking it in and responding.

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  4. I am reading a book on Dostoevsky, and when he was in prison he was arguing with some Polish nationals about how great Russia was. Aren't we all like this - thinking our arguments are so crucial for others to hear? What difference do most of them make? Are our arguments any less inconsequential than one going on in a Russian prison? We think they are very important to the fate of the world. They are not. Live your life well, that is the greatest eloquence.

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    1. It's true, Colin. A little humility goes a LONG way!

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  5. Sarah, this post is a gem for you wrote exactly what many of us in the Faith are confronted with when we are asked our opinion about a controversial topic. Some mentioned how the brain fizzles and we create a verbal mess that reflects badly on Christians and like you, I do not think well on my feet either when faced with such a debate. Even if we did hold our end up, how do you discuss and answer opposing thoughts and questions that are so irrational and based on hatred and ignorance of our faith as well as having no desire to understand faith or our opinion that they make no sense whatsoever? You just can't

    There has to be ground rules in a debate as you said, but it goes far beyond than the one you gave as an example. There has been such a tidal wave of redefinition of words today that common words that once held one meaning now mean something else so as to obscure the truth. It is near impossible to have a debate with someone when they hold and put forth their opinion when there is no longer a sense of good and evil and any truth is now considered mere opinion. It's even more difficult discussing a topic when a differing opinion is based on emotion while facts are neatly tucked away. To many, facts mean nothing and emotion rules the day. You cannot defend against that. The old, "What is good for you does not mean it's good for me.", raises it's ugly head.

    What to do? We are told to be ready and defend our faith. "We think they[our opinions] are very important to the fate of the world. They are not. Live your life well, that is the greatest eloquence."-Colin. Faith is indeed important to the world. It is a matter of eternal life and death and to keep quiet when someone claims one thing that is so utterly false is a failure on our part to share what has been revealed as the Truth by God. As a matter of fact one of the works of mercy is to instruct the ignorant. When someone blurts out something we know is contrary to the Truth it is our responsibility to point out their error. Faith is not something we hold to ourselves but to share. "Go and teach all nations". You cannot do that by keeping quiet.

    Yet at the same time, we all know when we are confronted with someone that will not be deterred from their opinion even to the point of personally attacking with verbal abuse we who hold a differing opinion. That is usually a sign that they have no arguments left to defend their opinion so they seek to destroy those of us with an opposing view. There is a time as they say to 'know when to hold them and know when to fold them.' We all know when we are arguing with a brick wall and so after saying our piece we hold our tongue and walk away. We may be perceived as hate-filled and fools in the eyes of the secular, but that is part and parcel of being a Catholic Christian. Yes, humility goes a long way, but we should not confuse humility in keeping quiet, with fear and cowardice on our part when called to share the Truth.

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