A Skirmish

Backstory: 

Confrontation, in my book, has always ranked right up there with real fun stuff – going to the dentist or perhaps poking myself in the eye with a sharp stick.  I expend a fair amount of energy trying to prevent it or avoid it.

I grew up in an authoritarian family, and my father had some what they call "anger management issues" these days.  I learned very early on to avoid the hot zone.

I also experienced an (unrelated to the above) terrible act of family violence. Among many other life changing affects, it tranformed my avoidance of conflict into more of a phobia. 

Just the thought of arguing makes my stomach turn.  There are some discussions I just won't have because of the potential for conflict.  I can force myself to do it if I really feel I need to, though. My position at work requires me to participate in technical discussions that sometimes disinigrate into arguments. If I want to get what I consider the best position heard, I sometimes have to fight for it. Sometimes I will, sometimes I am unable. It's a limiting factor for my career, but that's been okay with me.

I do force myself far beyond any other situation when it comes to doing the right thing for my children in maintaining consistent rules and discipline at home. My daughter is a natural born lawyer and has a never ending supply of arguments why she should be able to do what she wants to do, and she will use every trick in the book to get it. So I persevere more than I would. Sometimes it comes down to ugly conflict. I do it for them, but it has been a real struggle.

Current Story:

Last night, my friend Alexander* and I met some friends from another website we hang out at. Paulina* I had met once before, and have had a natural easying going relationship with her. She brought her boyfriend Craig*. I know him through the site, but not well, and this was the first time I was meeting him. Alexander had met him before, and warned me he was a big personality – very loud and opinionated.

We started off a bit awkwardly, but Craig started bringing up fairly interesting subject to discuss. He said that he and his friend always hung out on Thursday nights, discussing and debating the big topics – politics, gender, philosophy, media, etc.  Apparently he really wanted to get our conversation going in the same vein, because he started baiting the table, stating positions analogous to what you would see from a troll in forums. Normally, I just refuse to get into these kinds of discussions. However, because I am trying to think less of what *I* want and more of what other people need, I tried to consider that this seems fun to him, and I will try to make him comfortable, so okay, I'll play. Plus, I've been studying the basic principles of logic, so perhaps there was a little urge to test out my wings with some friendly debate. 

I'll admit – he got a heated debate started when we stated that women always play games, and men never do.  Harumph. 

The details of the conversation that ensued are irrelevant. But the important thing is that as I started to deconstruct his position using the few principles I've studied thus far, I started to see how he was coming from a morally relativistic viewpoint.  And oh hey!  I knew something about this!  And I knew why that was bad. 

 I found myself starting to defend absolute truth and Christianity in short order. I prayed to the Father for an emergency dispatch of the Holy Spirit, because I was going to need it!

Now, I've only just begun my study, and there are so many things to learn, but it's so amazing how clear the fundamental truth of the matter has become to me, and how incredibly important.  I can't really remember all the things I said over the course of the debate that followed, but Alexander told me later I represented my position and Christianity very well.  He was astonished at how I remained composed and calm even when Craig was getting pretty personal in his arguments. There were many things I had to say that I didn't know the answer to, but it felt so good to be confident in the answers I did know.  I had something for him to consider.

I prayed to keep my ego out of the discussion, and keep myself gentle and respectful. I don't know that I succeeded completely, but I do know that it was far, far more than I could have ever done before, and certainly not something I would have or could have done on my own. Especially towards the end of the conversation, he took two final swipes:

First, he said that if I were a Christian, he couldn't convince me of anything because I would always come back with faith as an answer. To this, I pointed out that the number of my arguments that were based on faith during our entire conversation were exactly zero. I asked him to give me an example of one that I had not based in history or reason, and he could not. I honestly think that surprised him.

Second, as we were wrapping up and calling a truce, he was trying to mollify Paulina, who apparently felt a little ignored and upset at the conversation. (I do feel bad for that part, and I will have to call her this morning to apologize.) Craig stated that this was all in fun – that I had made good arguments, and that if were honest, I would concede his points. I asked him at that point (nicely) did he just state that I was being dishonest? That I was lying? The amazing thing is that he denied it right away! He said point blank that he had not said that. Of course, Paulina and Alexander jumped in and told him, yes indeed, you just did say that. We all laughed, but it wasn't very comfortable.

Alexander and I dropped Craig and Paulina off at their hotel and went out for some coffee so I could recover from the stress of the conflict. He knows me pretty well, and was there to listen and make me laugh at stupid things.

I don't know that I've made any difference in Craig's opinion, but this discussion validated some things I have been thinking, even moreso than I ever would have suspected.

  • Jesus is making a HUGE difference in my life.  (Yay!)
  • Apologetics is really, really important for my own faith.
  • Apologetics is really, really important for talking to other people in ordinary ways.
  • I'm happier than I've ever been. 

Life is good. Thank You, Father.
*Pseudonyms

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “A Skirmish

  1. I’ll admit – he got a heated debate started when we stated that women always play games, and men never do.

    Guess he never heard that all generalizations are wrong. Oh wait… :-)

    First, he said that if I were a Christian, he couldn’t convince me of anything because I would always come back with faith as an answer.

    If I had a nickel…

    Random blabbering:

    I’m glad you were able to be respectful; that’s so important. Calling a truce is a good thing: Generally, because of pride, you won’t be able to win a person over to another position right then and there. So the important thing, I’ve come to think over the years, is to find out the fundamental areas of difference, highlight them, then call it a truce so that (a) they don’t become obsessed with beating you, (b) they will have seen the point, and it will work subconsciously on them, “in the background” (as us old UN*X programmers say), and (c) so that they understand they’ve brushed up against an argument which could possibly beat theirs, but also a person who has the grace not to crush their face into the ground and rub it in, once the weakness is exposed.

    Meekness: Strength under control.

    It’s much easier to win debates when you’re simply saying the truth. I almost feel, sometimes, like it’s cheating. It’s like standing uphill when fencing. (Or so I imagine, as I’ve never fenced.)

    I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

    Wahoo! :-)

    God bless you.

  2. Tim said:

    So the important thing, I’ve come to think over the years, is to find out the fundamental areas of difference, highlight them, then call it a truce so that (a) they don’t become obsessed with beating you, (b) they will have seen the point, and it will work subconsciously on them, “in the background” (as us old UN*X programmers say), and (c) so that they understand they’ve brushed up against an argument which could possibly beat theirs, but also a person who has the grace not to crush their face into the ground and rub it in, once the weakness is exposed.

    Thank you for those wise words, Tim. Very good to commit to the heart.

  3. This personal report is well-written and telling on a number of levels, Tracey.

    1. You are already learning a foundamental principle of Christian witness and apologetics: the necessity of humility. Humility, however, is not incompatible with arguing strongly for one’s position if one relies on logic and not ego. A class book on humility is “Humility” by Andrew Murray, a solid devotional writer from an earlier generation.

    2. Many are surprised if not stunned to find a Christian who defends her view as true and reasonable and who does not rely on “faith” (as a separate and mysterious category of knowing). One of my former students told me yesterday that he had a multi-hour conversation with some of his community college students after class on the existence of God. At the beginning of the time, all were atheists. At 1:00 AM all were theists. This change happened because Lukas knew his arguments for the existence of God. One student was angry because he once went to a church and asked for arguments for God’s existence. He was given none and thought there were none!

    3. Being a thoughtful Christian means taking a wise and godly stand even when it is not “comfortable.” This is the meat of Christian character development. “Deny yourself. Take up your Cross. Follow me,” said Jesus in Luke, chapter nine. And there is Life therein.

  4. Pascal's_Revenge

    As a philosopher by profession, a Christian by grace, and a “debater” by nature, I’ve long struggled to remember in the heat of the moment that it’s about winning hearts, not arguments.

    Glad to see that you you’re learning that lesson well. (Indeed, arguments are often won in the “background” as an earlier commenter has noted.)

  5. Craig

    This story fired me up, I could almost picture the group sitting together in dialog. I am continually disheartened by the prevelance of anti-intellectualism in the church, including among my Christian friends who tell me that apologetics is “good for you (me), but it isn’t everyone’s thing”.

    I recently terminated a 3 month internet conversation with myself, and about 8 or 10 fairly hostile naturalists. The more sound argumentation I presented for Christianity, the grumpier they became with me – interesting. I realized with this particular group that they had already made up their minds and when I answered their questions about Christianity well (I had the help of many good books!) it seemed that they really didn’t want answers to these questions. They wanted to argue for the sake of argument, and wanted to knock Christianity down and make it out to be laughable. These guys had already made up their minds about their views and it seemed that no amount of rational defense of Christ was going to matter with them. I learned that some people will never listen regardless of the arguments presented… which is no fault of the argument and no knock on Christian truth – they just don’t WANT it to be true. It’s a matter of the will.

    In the beginning of these conversatios I was called a “fundie” (Fundamentalist) and a “troll” (beats me) repeatedly. But over time I was called “a smart Christian” and “thoughtful” by some of them, while the others just sort of disappeared only to reappear to cuss me out on occasion.

    A friend (Dr. G) warned me in the beginning that the medium was disingenuous and that I was probably wasting my time, but I responded that this was “good practice”. Well, it was good practice, I learned a lot more about the commitment to naturalism and scientism as to be prepared for future witnessing opportunities, but I also think I got too comfortable hiding in cyberspace which detracted me from fruitful opportunities to engage people personally.

    No matter where you are, the mission field surrounds you.

  6. These guys had already made up their minds about their views and it seemed that no amount of rational defense of Christ was going to matter with them.

    I’m being a broken record (to Tracey, anyway) but I’ll say it again: I think the reason so many ‘sceptics’ (of various flavors) think that Christians just believe things based on emotion, or have created a God in their own image, is because that is precisely what they have done, and cannot (i.e. are not allowed to) imagine that their opponents might lack their own flaws.

    The word is ‘projection’, seeing one’s own weaknesses in one’s perceived enemies.

    Don’t get me wrong: I believe there are geniunely intellectually honest atheists or agnostics out there. But they are, in my perception, the exception, not the rule.

    As such I wonder if my own emphasis on logic is so missing the point: you can’t solve a problem by addressing a symptom. But it can, I think, bring you to the point you seemed to have experienced, Craig, where it strips off some of the detritus and gets down to the core objection.

    Good for you, by the way. I hope you’ll be able to be helpful to those friends.

    I’m going to write something personal here, forgive me for blathering on even more in your comments section: When I started to look into atheism, my father discouraged me from it: “Don’t tempt yourself…” he said. “Tempt yourself?” You think I want to believe this? Or do you think that perhaps this isn’t true, and, if so, we shouldn’t love the truth, whatever that is?

    I wonder how many Christians out there really, deep down inside, believe their beliefs aren’t true, and are afraid to look elsewhere, for fear they would be wrong? I believe that deep inside, many “angry” atheists are acutally really scared or hurt theists — after all, nobody gets mad the Easter Bunny doesn’t exist. You don’t expend a lot of emotions on truly nonexistent objects.

    Likewise, I wonder if the converse is true: if inside many apparently outward Christians, there are really atheists lurking. I mean, when we engage in hypocrisy, or some secret sin, aren’t we really saying we think the biblical God doesn’t exist? Likewise, I think some Christians don’t want — for example — The DaVinci Code to be shown because they themselves aren’t sure it isn’t true — the mirror image of the annoyance displayed by Craig’s friends.

    Not for me to judge — that’s God’s problem and all — but I still sometimes wonder about these things.

  7. chris

    Yah, I just love those kinds of confrontations, not!

    All you can do is plant seeds, someday something you said will be triggered in his/their memory and it may make sense to them then. In the meantime, keep them in prayer…..

    cc

  8. David

    Wow…this is truly challenging to me. I’ve clammed up when things got real because I don’t like conflict, and you have better excuses. :P lol

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