Conversation and debate seem to be dying. Social media, especially forms like twitter are probably not helping with this. I reflected on this a little bit more over the past couple of days from two observations. First, I’ve noticed a pattern on social media. It runs like this:
Original Poster “Here’s my particular hot take. I’m going to drop it here, knowing its controversial and without any evidence to back it up.
Respondent “Interesting point. Can you back that up? I disagree because of reasons x, y and z”
Original Poster “How dare you? Why are you arguing with me? Keep your opinions to yourself. I’m not interested.”
It comes up again and again. I used to think that if someone made a public comment that they were expecting a conversation, they were looking forward to being challenged. Apparently not so.
Then, there was the example of Beth Moore’s little thread about Jonathan Edwards the other day. If you look at the follow on tweets from others, you’ll notice that two stand out. There are those quick to condemn Moore in the harshest terms possible. “How dare she criticise the amazing Edwards? She probably isn’t a believer at all.” Then there are those reacting to support Moore and against her harsh critics. Apparently, according to them, anyone who is against Moore is unloving, doesn’t care about God’s grace, has a defective view of humanity and would rather defend a slave trader.
There is quite a lot going on there. However, what particularly stands out is that there are also people writing thoughtfully, charitably, gently and with reasoned responses, disagreeing with Moore. Now, whilst her supporters are quick to engage the harsh critics and Moore seems to be enjoying happy conversations with those who have written to tell her how wonderful and true her comments are, I don’t see much meaningful engagement with those who are seeking to engage in constructive debate.
Again, this is a pattern I’ve seen increasingly. Constructive criticism is rarely engaged. Rather, people spend their time amplifying the words of their harsher, unfair critics. It is of course easier to ridicule them and to intimate that if you disagree with me, then you must be one of those aggressive extremists too.
And so, conversation becomes impossible as dissent is squashed.
This is why I keep appealing for a better conversation, or even a conversation full stop. Christians especially should be better at this. It of course requires patience, that we take time to listen to others. It requires a charitable view of others, a willingness to think the best of them personally and to disagree with their argument rather than attack them personally. Oh, and it also requires that we fully master our own case so that we are able to defend it.