A Call for Civility

John and I are catching a lot of crap for taking "exception to 'personal attacks,'" in these blog entries.

I thought I would try to explain my philosophy of blogging about this stuff so that everyone would understand the kind of conversations I would like to have on these issues.


First, I just love ideas. I love hearing other people's opinions and justifications for their beliefs. I especially love when those opinions are different than my own. Seeing something from someone else's perspective allows me to learn about my own perspective. It makes me question why I think the way that I think about these issues.

In short, I blog to learn more about my own beliefs.

Second, I don't believe there is much "at stake" in these conversations. I believe that we are all collections of atoms that stick together for a while and, then, disperse. I don't believe that there is some grand purpose for existence. None of these conversations will result in anything of universal significance.

Why do I bother, then? Simply because I enjoy the process. This is the only life I have to live, and I want to enjoy it. One of my greatest joys is challenging myself and my beliefs.

For me, then, there is very little at stake. I'm participating just because I've got some time to kill.

I have to believe the same is true for most reformed believers. Your god is sovereign; he will save who he wants, he will damn who he wants. I am a little child sitting on his lap and slapping his faith. I can do nothing to harm him or his elect. You are assured of your victory, so it seems there should be no reason for you to get excited or upset. Your arguments, no matter how good, cannot "save" me; only your god can do that. No soul is in danger. The elect will come to your god, the damned will not.

Third, I have a very full life. I'm involved in a lot of things. I have familial obligations, friendships to maintain, a job to give my best to, and school on top of everything else. I simply don't have time for anything that gets me riled up.

Which brings me to my fourth point. I have thin skin. When someone says that I am "ignorant" of something, I don't take it according to its "technical definition"--lack of knowledge in an area. I consider it to be an insult. I have no problem with someone saying, "The way you are expressing your idea of [insert idea] is not what I mean by it or what I read others to mean by it." Sure, it takes a lot more words, but it seems more civil to me.

Fifth, I prefer to engage in talks in which both parties assume certain characteristics of the other party. In fact, I believe it is necessary to assume certain characteristics of the other party in order to have a reasonable debate. Some of those characteristics are: (a) that both parties are intelligent people that have something important to say, (b) that both parties are being honest with the other, (c) that neither party enjoys being made to look stupid, (d) that both parties deserve common courtesy and respect.

I believe these are vital commitments to any reasonable debate. The other day in a dialogue with steve from Triablogue, he wrote, "Quoting you assumes a measure of candor which is absent from your sophistry. You prefer to trade in innuendo." Ignoring my explicit statements to the contrary, steve insisted that I was being dishonest in my attempts to converse with him.

Rational conversation cannot proceed from this point. Someone commenting on that post asked, ". . . why not try to defend the fact that you are neither [a liar or deceiver]?"

How can I? If it is the operating assumption that I am a liar because "my father, the devil" is "the father of lies" (John 8:44), then any "defense" that I give of myself is also a lie.

If there is no trust, there can be no rational dialogue.

I simply don't have any desire to be personally attacked for my beliefs.

Sixth, I don't like the "debate as war" metaphor. I don't like to think in terms of "winning" a debate, or coming up with a debate "strategy," or having "opponents." I prefer to think of debate as an act of clarification. It helps me think through my own beliefs better. I don't want to be "at war" with any of the people that post here. I just want to use their ideas to sharpen my own and, hopefully, they find the conversation beneficial as well.

So, this is my position on blogging here. I would love to engage in clear, challenging, dispassionate dialogue with people who do not share my beliefs. I do not want to be "at war" with anyone. I do not want to "win" the debate (it's pointless anyway, even if I "win" an exchange with one Christian doesn't mean that I've disproven the Christian faith anymore than "winning" an argument with me means that someone has disproven atheism; our worldviews are more than one individual). I don't want to be called names (like I said, even the word "ignorant" hurts my feelings) or attacked personally.

I wrap up with two biblical passages that I hope we can all agree follow:

1) Colossians 4:6--"Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person."

2) 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a (emphasis added)--Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. . ."

19 comments:

Zachary Moore said...

That's certainly a nice sentiment, but it seems that the bulk of the internet-savvy Reformed Christians I've run across have been very militant in their interactions. Maybe it's just an overemphasis on "eye for an eye" doctrine, I don't know.

The best solution is just to ignore it.

John W. Loftus said...

Ditto.

As I said elsewhere....A mark of an educated and/or intelligent person is the lack of personal attacks when she disagrees with someone, because an educated person knows it's not merely a matter of intelligence that we disagree with each other in the first place. She's been exposed to a variety of viewpoints that have been defended by intelligent people, and she knows that her own views have their own inconsistencies to them, since she's had intelligent people point them out to her.

I'm so sorry that some Christians feel personally attacked by virtue of the fact that this Blog even exists, but I know they do. And I know some may think we are of the Devil, while still others may merely hate us like they hate evil itself.

But this is not exactly what we're doing. Yes we are atheists and agnostics. But we still like testing our ideas against our former beliefs. Maybe we were wrong to leave in the first place, we wonder? Of course, we no more think that than do Christians who participate to test their own faith. But we all do that, admit it.

If Christianity is true then you should be able to argue that it is. Most likely you will learn to better defend your faith since we can help you see things you wouldn't have considered before. And that's good, isn't it? So in some sense we're doing you a favor. We learn too. I have. We learn from each other in a mutually respectful exchange of ideas. If your faith can withstand the arguments you'll be better for it. If you lose your faith, then it wasn't worth having in the first place. Likewise for us. If my beliefs are misguided, then show me where they are wrong. You will not change my mind by calling me names. In fact, every time you do, it only serves to reinforce why I left the Christian faith in the first place for a variety of reasons.

Only good can come from participating here, from our perspective. That's how we see it, and I'll enforce a sense of decency here or I'll start monitoring comments.

It's time to clean up this Blog.

Signed,
Sheriff John.

Oh, and by all means have some fun here too. Life isn't all that serious.

streetapologist said...

While I agree that the use of invectives and prejoratives have no place in rational discourse, Zach should admit that atheist do resort to name calling. It is a little disingenuous to assert that the only offenders are Christians.

John W. Loftus said...

Fine streetapologist. Agreed. And to be honest, sometimes I'll blurt out an invective, so I'm not looking for purity here.

Sometimes that's the only response that seems appropriate after you've tried your best to explain something to some dull idiot of a person who can't tell his rectum from his mouth. Oops!~

What I'm against is the personal attacks coming in every post that a person writes here. And I'll delete posts that do this from both sides from now on. When I do, I'll refer them to "Our Policy Here," which I will edit and include some of the things from this post of exbeliever's.

Zachary Moore said...

SA-

Oh, without a doubt. I don't, but I've seen Franc spout off like a seasoned sailor. But this post was in response to Christian invective, so that's what I was commenting on.

Anonymous said...

I am new to the realm of internet blogging and have encountered so many people who name-call and insult when they become frustrated in a discussion. I think the "shield" and impersonal nature of the internet makes it easy for people to be hateful and insulting because they are certain that no one can pop them in the nose for saying the things they sometimes say. But we must remember that there is a real person at the receiving end and we should be as respectful as if we were talking to them in person. I have been coming by this blog and reading these discussions for a couple of weeks now and I find these topics and discussions intellectually stimulating, however I am disgusted sometimes by the throwing out of insults on here, especially from a couple of christian commentors who don't come across as being very christian at all. Some of the comments I have read reminds me of the old Saturday Night Live skit Point and Counterpoint with Jane Curtain and Dan Aykroyd and Aykroyd starts off his rebuttal statements with "Jane, you ignorant slut..."

Paul Manata said...

"Oh, without a doubt. I don't, "


LOL. now *that* was funny.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't the name of the list itself "Dubunking Christianity" be considered at least as rude as being called 'ignorant'?
I mean - if you are going to go by what people think when they read a word rather than the definition of that word?
This is my first time on your list - but honestly - having a thin skin seems to have not dampened your willingness to offend others with the same skin condition.

John W. Loftus said...

Anon,

Hmmmm. As Pastor Gene Cook said when I was interviewed on the Atheist Hour, "Sometimes a catchy name will drive traffic through your website." That's what it's suppose to do.

WAnd yet we do argue against Christianity. But we have no particular animosity toward Christians. We are just not antagonostic toward Christians themselves.

Read Our Policy Here.

Zachary Moore said...

"LOL. now *that* was funny."

LOL. now *that* was ironic.

exbeliever said...

Anon,

You wrote: "This is my first time on your list - but honestly - having a thin skin seems to have not dampened your willingness to offend others with the same skin condition."

The name of this site doesn't seem like a personal attack to me. It disagrees with a system not a person. Additionally, it is not my title, it's John's. I just recently joined. I still wouldn't think it is necessary to change it.

The name of my own site (that I have not yet posted on), does seem more ad hominem, but I believe it is simply using Christian teaching against itself. I think Paul and Jesus are wrong, but it is a provocative title and one that makes a point about Christian teaching.

Supposedly, the fool says there is no god, yet Paul speaks of the "wise" as being non-Christians and Jesus calls non-Christians "wise and intelligent."

I'm sure the Christians will read into that the self-proclaimed "wise and intelligent," but that doesn't seem to fit with Jesus calling his followers "infants."

Anyway, my post tries to point out that there is a better, more civil way of having a debate. People from both sides have been too passionate and insulting. I'm simply calling for civility in these discussions.

Zachary Moore said...

"Couldn't the name of the list itself "Dubunking Christianity" be considered at least as rude as being called 'ignorant'?"

Yes, but the title is in reference to an ideology. Does an idealogy have feelings that can be hurt? Of course not. You could even go so far as to say that simply calling myself an atheist, I'm implicitly stating that Christians are fools. But there's a difference in critiquing a idea and critiquing a person. If the title of this blog was "Debunking Christians," or "Debunking Mr. Anonymous Christian," then you might be right in feeling personally offended. But you shouldn't equivocate your identity with your idealogy.

streetapologist said...

Anon-

As a fellow Christian I do understand your concern. I would agree with Zach and EB, however by coming to this blog as a Christian we must be willing to take a few shots. The Apostle Paul was called a seed-picker by the Stoics and Epicurean philosophers. Basically they were *implying that he was an imbecile. Don't take it personally as Zach and EB would attest they are only doing what comes naturally to reprobates :) This is after all an atheist blog.

EB- as for your scriptures on your blog-context,context,context.

streetapologist said...

Zachary-

Does this apply to atheists as well? So if I was quoting Psalm 14:1 you'd be ok with that?

Steven Carr said...

Personally I ask myself what Jesus would do when meeting religious people whose views I don't like.

And then I read Matthew 23 and Matthew 24 and know just what to call them.

Zachary Moore said...

SA-

"Does this apply to atheists as well? So if I was quoting Psalm 14:1 you'd be ok with that?"

Well, I'm pretty thick-skinned, so it wouldn't really matter to me personally.

A more appropriate example would be Frank Walton's blog, "Atheism Sucks." That's about equivalent to the title of this blog, depending on the current popular connotations of "to debunk" and "to suck." If Frank started another blog called, "Zach Moore Sucks," then yeah, maybe I'd be justified in being pissed off, but like I said, I'm pretty thick-skinned already.

Albert said...

You know JWL after seeing how you got treated at Theology Web I find it hard to believe that you expect everyone who writes a comment here to be respectful of you and your co-bloggers. It's just unrealistic unless you want to appoint yourself or someone as a moderator, but of course then you'll face the accusation of censorship. If you just want to express your opinions then perhaps you should just blog and not allow for any comments. On the other hand you may wish for disucussion, but to be honest and no offense to you, I think the Internet has got too many religious discussions going as it is. It's getting a little redundant.Heck it would probably take me the rest of my life to get through the writings at infidels alone.

John W. Loftus said...

Albert, You know JWL after seeing how you got treated at Theology Web I find it hard to believe that you expect everyone who writes a comment here to be respectful of you and your co-bloggers.

I couldn't do anything about it there, and I hadn't started my own Blog yet. Theology Web has it's own guidelines too, it's just that personal attacks are okay in their book. Sometimes they can be fun as I realized. But that's not what I want here.

It's just unrealistic unless you want to appoint yourself or someone as a moderator, but of course then you'll face the accusation of censorship.

The only posts that will be deleted here will be those that attack people. Then the offender can repost his argument again without the personal attack. I have only deleted a couple of them, I believe, so it's limited in scope.

The offender would be the only one to blame. I just want this to be a discussion of ideas and not attacks on people.

Michael said...

Agreed. There is no excuse for abrasiveness or spite from Christians.