Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Don't Argue on the Internet 2: A Lesson in Gracious Dialogue

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6
"At BioLogos, "gracious dialogue" means demonstrating the grace of Christ as we dialogue together about the tough issues of science and faith." From FAQ at Biologos Forum


Last February, 2014, I posted an article "A Lesson from Two Homilies: Don't Argue on the Internet"
I'll reprint the first part of that article here rather than trying to summarize it.
A recent  article in Crisis magazine by James Kalb reminded me of two homilies  I recently heard, and of the lesson I should have learned from these.   The homilies were given by two different priests, both foreign-born:  Fr. X, Vietnamese, one of the boat people who escaped the Communists at an early age; Fr. Y, Nigerian, a Dominican.   (Aren't we fortunate, as a missioned nation, that bread cast upon the waters has returned?)   The Crisis magazine article is about the futility of argumentation on the Internet, a conclusion with which I heartily concur.

As the title of this post suggests, argumentation is not the way to evangelize.   This was the lesson of the two homilies.   It's been a while since I heard them, so forgive me, Fr. X  and Fr. Y, if I don't recast them exactly as you spoke.    Fr. Y was discoursing on the Gospel, Matthew 10, in which Jesus sends the apostles out and tells them "And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet." (Matt 10:14)   In his homily Fr. Y said that one should not contest with those--family members, friends, ...--who dispute your faith.   You should state what you believe and show, by the example of your life, what your faith means to you.     Fr. X's homily took off from the moving paean on the great gift of love, in First Corinthians, "...If I have not love..".   Fr X said we have to love our enemies and those who contest with us, otherwise we are not Christians.   We cannot disparage them or wish ill for them.


It is also part of the Benedictine Rule, which unfortunately I haven't followed as faithfully as I should have, that one ignores insults, slights, etc., and wishes good to those who wish you bad:
"harbor neither hatred nor jealousy of anyone, and do nothing out of envy. Do not love quarreling; pray for your enemies out of love for Christ".  Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 4, Tools for Good Works.
In Chapter 6, on Humility, St. Benedict says the monk should accept insults, wrong-doing, and all the rest, knowing that this is the way he might follow in the footsteps of Christ.

How does this relate to internet discussion?  It means we should not harbor angry feelings, but good will to those whose views differ from ours.   It means we should accept insults and illogical replies with good will and humor.    I confess that I have not always followed these precepts.


The quotes at the beginning of this post are taken from the "Discourse" page of the Biologos Forum.
As an example of how gracious discourse might be conducted on a controversial topic, I'd like to link to a discussion between myself and Rev. Nicanor Austriaco.    Please note, I'm not trying to blow my own horn in this--the gracious tone of the exchange owes more to the good offices of Fr. Austriaco than to my efforts.    Also, I am not trying to promote discussion of the topic to which the link applies.


One final observation might be allowed:  I try, when discussing a controversial subject, particularly one that lies at the intersection of the Church and science, to research all sides of the controversy and then follow my conscience in what my opinion might be.    There is an appropriate quote from St. Thomas Aquinas that says it is a sin not to let your conscience be your guide:

"Every judgment of conscience, be it right or wrong, be it about things evil in themselves or morally indifferent, is obligatory, in such wise that he who acts against his conscience always sins." St. Thomas Aquinas. III Quodlibet 27.
So,  as for myself , the rule I will try to follow is to engage in comments only when something defamatory  is said about the Church or science,  and in my comment attempt to be kind, charitable and gracious.   I pray to God for the humility and good will to follow this.

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