“There is a holy anger, excited by zeal, that moves us to reprove with warmth those whom our mildness failed to correct.” – St. John Baptiste de la Salle
I’ve heard the arguments against debating on Facebook. They’re much the same as those against engaging in debate with anyone, on anything: You won’t change a person’s mind in the space reserved for an email, or an internet chat room.
And to that I say: Bosh.
Let me explain.
My first Internet debate was against about a dozen others on a mailing list about Dungeons and Dragons. For various reasons, while I love The Lord of the Rings and the fantasy genre, I won’t play D&D or run it as it is currently written or published. But listing the reasons for my position, however gently and politely stated, was apparently upsetting enough for a bunch of ‘flames’ (internet slang for unkind responses) to be tossed in my direction from multiple posters on multiple waves of postings.
On another occasion, I found myself on a BBS (or “bulletin board system”–I’m afraid this dates me quite a bit) dedicated to writers and freedom of speech. The denizens there assumed that anyone in favor of an upcoming ballot measure regarding homosexual activity could have no motivation other than hatred, bigotry, and a burning desire to incarcerate citizens behind razor wire.
Again, I posited otherwise. And again, I found myself the target of faulty logic and personal attacks. Sad, but true.
Today, in the age of Facebook, just about anybody can debate just about anything. I find myself doing so most about human life issues and the veracity of the Catholic faith. I find most profanity and personal attacks come from pro-abortion “choicers,” while the worst examples of circular logic come from the more virulent anti-Catholic Protestants and atheists.
So why bother?
Three Reasons to Argue
First: You are debating with an audience.
Former atheist and current Catholic writer Jennifer Fulwiler noted that, during her days as an atheist, she monitored the chat rooms and conversations that people had on the subjects of religion, human life, and other key issues of the day. Mrs. Fulwiler was eventually led to conversion to theism and then to the Catholic faith through other means, but the first steps she took were the result of watching intelligent responses from Catholics to their detractors in a series of Internet debates.
Second: We’re supposed to speak up.
As the adage goes, all evil needs in order to triumph is for the good person to do, or say, nothing. When people make accusations against the faith that are untrue, using historical events that have been inaccurately re-written by our culture, such as (drum roll for the old standbys!) the Crusades, the Inquisition, or Galileo, we ought to educate ourselves as to what really happened, and set the record straight. And we ought to do it with as much zeal as we would when correcting a lie about our own family members, because, truthfully, the Church is our family, with all its members, living and dead, as our brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Furthermore, Christianity is not a religion of people who hide behind walls, or keep their faith out of sight where it won’t offend anybody. Christianity is, first and foremost, a missionary religion. And whereas for most of human history one needed sums of money, time and energy to be a missionary, the opportunity to be a missionary is literally at the fingertips of any member of the Church who knows their way around a laptop.
An Illustration and A Call to Action
By way of example: Many commentators noted that the presidential election of 2004 was decided, among other things, by the reaction of independent bloggers to the Killian Documents, a series of letters allegedly critical of George W. Bush’s 1970s performance in the National Guard. Bloggers took to their laptops, PCs and other implements, dissecting and analyzing the forged works. And people reading the blogs listened, learned that 60 Minutes had aired unreliable documents, and voted. Even those who did not particularly want President Bush to win could not deny the impact that independent Internet writers had on the election. Imagine if that type of response were used every time someone tried to re-frame Pope Francis’s words? Imagine if Catholics truly educated themselves on the reality of the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the Galileo controversy or other historical events that have been twisted by anti-Catholics, and then spread this information as effectively as was done in 2004 with the Killian documents?
True, you might not convert the person you are debating. But you aren’t called to convert every person you debate, per se. Christ called us to preach the Gospel to all nations, not to successfully change the hearts of every person they encountered, at the moment they encountered them.
There are, of course, caveats.
As I mentioned in a previous article here on Catholic Stand, we have to speak both to our fellow Catholics and to non-Catholics with charity. Karl Keating stated it best in Catholicism and Fundamentalism when he said that you should argue to explain, not to win. Arguing with charity means that when third-parties see your opponents screaming at you in FULL CAPS with personal attacks and profanity, your responses will gain all the more credibility for their rationality. Conversely, if you attack to the same degree with anger and viciousness, you make the other side appear more credible than your own. Be forewarned!
In the end, defending the faith is a great calling. And we have as lay Catholics more opportunities than at any point in history to participate in the spread of the fullness of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church. Those who would listen to naysayers, those who would say such an exercise is pointless, underestimate the impact a lone person can have at the right time and place.
Unless, of course, you really do think the point of the Internet is to display what you made for dinner and watch videos of cats. The choice is yours.
And for those who’d like to educate themselves for their next internet debate on the subjects of the crusades, inquisition and Galileo, please try our friends over at Catholic Answers: