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. . ."