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It Doesn’t Pay to Argue on the Internet

July 2, AD2015 9 Comments

Kelli - prayerful jesus

“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

A LESSON FROM TWO HOMILIES, REDUX

Last February, 2014, I posted an article “Evangelization: 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 quote and the title of this article suggest, 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, etc.–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.

THE RULE OF ST. BENEDICT AS IT APPLIES TO INTERNET DISCUSSION

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.

GRACIOUS DISCOURSE ON CONTROVERSIAL SUBJECTS

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.

THE ROLE OF CONSCIENCE IN INTERNET DISCOURSE

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.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Retired, cranky, old physicist. Convert to Catholicism in 1995. Trying to show that there is no contradiction between what science tells us about the world and our Catholic faith. Intermittent blogs at Rational Catholic and adult education classes here to achieve this end.

Extraordinary Minister of Communion volunteer to federal prison and hospital; lector, EOMC.
Sometime player of bass clarinet, alto clarinet, clarinet, bass, tenor bowed psaltery for parish instrumental group and local folk group.

And, finally, my motivation:
“It is also necessary—may God grant it!—that in providing others with books to read I myself should make progress, and that in trying to answer their questions I myself should find what I am seeking.
Therefore at the command of God our Lord and with his help, I have undertaken not so much to discourse with authority on matters known to me as to know them better by discoursing devoutly of them.”
St. Augustine of Hippo, The Trinity I,8.

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  • NEVER MIND DON’T BUT CAN YOU OR ARE YOU ABLE TO ARGUE ON THE INTERNET? ENOUGH SAID. ARE YOU SMART ENOUGH TO ARGUE?

  • donnellymj

    THE BIBLE ITSELF IS A CONTROVERISAL SET OF TRUTH AND ARGUMENT! STANDING UP FOR GOD’S WORD ,- WHETHER THE OPPONENT “LIKES IT OR NOT”
    IS PART OF THE PROPHETIC LIFE OF JESUS AND HE PROPHETS WHO USED VERBAL AND [ON THEIR BEHALF] THE PRINTED WORD. I HAVE NO PROBLEM FOLLOWING THEIR EXAMPLE!

  • Sue in soCal

    Sez u! 😉

  • FreemenRtrue

    I’m guilty. I think the pope is a goof ball scientifically and economically. I am exasperated to tears with the imposition by the Vatican by outlandish and illogical and irreligious theories and I have been uncharitable in comments. But, people try to sell Jesus as a namby-pamby soft sell artist. Actually He was often quite severe, even referring to Peter as Satan. He spoke of Gehenna numerous times, rich man-camel- eye of needle, better that he had never been born, shake the dust from your feet….etc etc etc. So I will apologize for ungracious remarks but am not convinced they are not sometimes in order. I may have no particular right to put them forward but should we ingratiate to the point of deception or honestly confront that which offends? Relativism and the ascension of evil seem to be in their heyday – please excuse me while I scream.

    • Cody

      I agree. If Christ was harsh in certain situations that opens up the door for us to be harsh in certain situations. Being Christlike means imitating His actions. It’s not wrong to show some anger in your voice when we’re talking about 58 million slaughtered unborn. I may apologize for how far I go but not for the anger itself.
      If I get married and have a son and I catch him watching porn, I will brand him as a pervert and a sexual cannibal.

    • james

      And if you have a daughter you can have her tattooed in scarlet.

  • Dhaniele

    I don’t think that it is necessary to be offensive to defend the truth in a competent way. I think that it is necessary to stick to the point when others try to drag in things that really have nothing to do with the topic when they want to distract you from the fact that in fact they cannot answer you. It is also necessary to write what any reasonable person can recognize as true, whether they like it or not, and avoid weak arguments that only invite a scornful reply. Since it is a public forum, it is not really necessary to convince your opponent, but it is important to be convincing to any reasonable person who is sincerely looking for the truth. Thus certain replies can be safely ignored because reasonable readers will find them unconvincing or irrelevant anyway.

  • Tanya Wersinger

    It’s very difficult not to get sucked into the vacuum of dispute whilst on the internet. But it’s also easy to stand back after so many arguments,(so much mea culpa too) to dissect just what happened and where the heating up element begins. It’s definitely a learning curve. Thank you for the Benedictine rule and advice.

  • james

    Referencing the headline – could you really see the CS family at a town hall meeting type forum trying to do what we do so well in here ?