Monday, January 16, 2006

A Gentle Admonition

Despite the energizing pleasure I recieve from it, recent events would suggest that I now have more important things to do with my life than spend untold hours of it embroiled in unproductive debate with Christian fundamentalists in online forums. Therefore, I posted a goodbye note this morning in one of those forums. Below is a very slightly modified version of that post:

You believe that you and the other Bible-believers who have taken issue with my posts are expressing God's Truth, and that I am expressing falsehood no doubt stemming from my own prideful egocentricty or, worse still, from Satan's diabolical manipulation.

And so it seems that we have reached an impasse or, perhaps, merely reverted to the same impasse we’ve reached time and again before. And so it also seems that there may not much more for either of us to say to one another here and now that is worth saying. However, I would like to leave you with this gentle admonition.

I assume that one of the reasons why you participate here, aside from wishing to fellowship with other Bible-believers, is to lead stray sheep into the fold, so to speak. But I respectfully suggest that you cannot hope to do a better job of this unless you learn to listen more carefully to the earnest questions and objections that nonbelievers such as myself raise, and discover more effective ways of addressing them than by saying, in effect, that we are simply holding on to our sinful ways because we proudly refuse to subjugate ourselves to our Lord and Master.

Perhaps this is a true enough characterization of some. Different people do or refuse to do things for different reasons. But the reason some of us don’t worship the biblical God is because we have very compelling reasons for doubting that he exists. Listen to these reasons more closely. Try harder to place yourself inside the minds and hearts of those who state them. I know you tell us that you’ve already stood where we stand and asked the same questions and raised the same objections we have, but whether you have or haven’t, please listen more closely to what we have to say and take greater pains to answer us with less quantity and more quality, with less dogmatism and with more empathy and thoughtful consideration of our questions and comments. It is not enough to simply say that anyone under any circumstances can freely choose to believe in the biblical God, or that one can have belief simply by asking God for it. For what you continue to overlook is that one cannot sincerely desire and ask to believe in a God in which one does not already believe, or simply will away pressing and reasonable doubts. And when you say that there are no reasonable doubts because you personally don’t have any, or that God is plainly evident in all of creation because you personally see him there, you discredit your faith and do a grave disservice to those you’re trying to help.

No, your mission, should you decide to accept it, should be to help people to strengthen their longing for Truth and to resolve their doubts that you have that Truth by providing them with empathetic and thoughtful responses to their doubts and, most importantly, by exemplifying for them, in your demeanor and conduct on and away from these forums, the unconditional love and divinely moral principles that you claim to embrace. Without this, your preachings are proverbial and ineffectual “clanging symbols,” and unproductive debate will never blossom into productive dialogue.

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