What I’ve come to fear the most about our society is today isn’t our walking away from Christianity, it isn’t our walking away from a Christian worldview, it isn’t some of the most horrendous acts of sin that are often on par idol sacrifices and idol worship. I know that sounds crazy to say, surely someone rejecting Christ should be my biggest fear, and in one sense it is. But in another sense it’s the loss of the ability to show someone why they are wrong to reject Christ and either bring them back into relationship with Christ or into a new relationship with Christ.
So what is this mystery fear?
It is our societies inability to even dialogue with people we disagree with.
“But people disagree with one another over the internet all the time!” you say. But are they really?
I have a friend on facebook that we dialogue a lot about politics and other things we disagree on. In complete honesty, I look to her profile just to be able to be a voice on the other side, and it shows. Usually I post and get swarmed by her and her friends that disagree with me. But recently I posted a reply to one of her posts and ended with the line, “Now I’ll wait for everyone to tell me why I am wrong, and hope we can have a productive conversation.”
I fully expected for my call for productive conversation to result in everyone swarming in to disagree with me. . . instead. . . crickets.
This group usually doesn’t waste over an hour to jump on me with disagreements. But after 3 days after asking for productive conversation. . . nothing.
It’s reminded me of two other experiences I’ve had this year. Just like every year we have street preachers arrive at CSU just before the weather turns cold and once the weather turns warm again. Honestly, who needs a groundhog when you have street preachers arriving on campus each spring to tell you the season has arrived?
I’ve had the suspicion for years that the reason that these guys gather crowds of well over 100 isn’t because their doing a great job preaching the gospel and it’s offensive, but because they are offensive. Where do we get this idea that the gospel needs our help in being offensive? But that’s another topic for another day.
I had my suspicions confirmed that their crowds were not a result of preaching the gospel when despite having a mic and sound system while preaching the gospel with my students we never gathered a crowd.
So why didn’t we gather a crowd? Because we weren’t there to rile people up and get everyone in a tizy. We were wanting real dialogue, hence we had two mics, we asked others to tell us what they were thinking. We even asked people to tell us why they disliked, rejected or hated Christianity.
They are willing to have shouting matches with the street preachers who have adopted checkbox evangelism and aren’t actually looking to win souls because they know those men don’t really care what they believe or have to say. They know they aren’t listening to them and equally they aren’t listening to those men. So spewing worthless unproductive language sounds like about as much fun as playing video games or getting a beer with a friend for the afternoon.
Students are willing to engage the street preacher because they know they will be backed up by every student around them especially if those students aren’t Christians and often when those students are Christians. In other words they are willing to engage so long as they know they will be applauded, upvoted on reddit, thumbed up on facebook, or hearted on instagram or TikTok. People are fine to be keyboard warriors in the echo-chamber of those who agree with them or even those who disagree with them so long as someone doesn’t want to actually find some mutual ground or actually understand their view.
Here is conclusion. People are willing to be keyboard warriors online confronting and arguing with anyone who disagrees with them, but they honestly wouldn’t be willing to defend their 90 year old grandma against a third grade bully in real life. That line is a bit inflaming I know. But perhaps we have to be a bit a bit inflaming in order to get the conversations started. . . I don’t know. I am still figuring this out.
A softer and perhaps more accurate conclusion might be that people aren’t interested in having conversations with people that disagree with them and actually want to do something productive about it. People are interested in angering others to prove they are warriors for their cause or to get praise from those who agree with them, but they aren’t really interested in learning from those who disagree with them or even persuading their opponents.
I feel like it’s worth pointing out: your “call for productive conversation” doesn’t read like that to me. It read like someone assuming the worst of the people he’s about to talk to.
The fact that no one took the bait (“Now I’ll wait for everyone to tell me why I am wrong”) could be evidence that people *don’t* always want to engage in shoutfests.
Isn’t it possible that – from their point of view – you seemed like the confrontational keyboard warrior you’re now arguing against, and they decided not to engage?
“Isn’t it possible that – from their point of view – you seemed like the confrontational keyboard warrior you’re now arguing against, and they decided not to engage?”
I can admit that I could see how they might take it that way. Perhaps that’s the case, and I hope you are right. I still feel that my conclusion is correct even if the examples I used don’t necessarily stand up.
I could have approached that better realizing some people could have taken it that way, though it wasn’t my intention.
I am still learning too.
I definitely think there are those who are interested in getting in vicious internet fights on both sides. I’ve worked very hard to reasonably engage with people I disagree with.
The challenge I run into – and I haven’t yet found a good solution to this, so if you have suggestions, I’m open – is when one side says “we want to be acknowledged and respected, and otherwise left alone,” and the other side says, “who and what you are goes against our faith, and we are going to fight to erase you in every area we can.”
I have trouble acting as though both sides are making reasonable requests in that situation.