I banned someone from my Facebook page this last weekend. It didn’t feel good, but for the sake of my own sanity and after some prayer, I did it.
I don’t like being one of those bloggers who kicks you off the comment box when you say something I disagree with, as though I need to keep my pristine echo chamber intact. That smacks of intellectual cowardice in my opinion.
But at some point, when comment after comment is full of things like this:
I get tired of it.
That statement, by the way, that “Bible reading was once forbidden by the Catholic Church” is not true. But good luck trying to tell that to someone bent on painting the Catholic Church as a demonic institution intent on holding humanity back from progress.
Still, I feel my banned interlocutor on my Facebook page deserves an answer. He represents a lot of people who assume horrible, horrendous things about the church. I have had a handful of long, difficult and frustrating conversations with friends, family and internet folks who feel I am dragging people into the pit of Hell.
I will not spend this post answering objections, but I did want to address some of the larger issues at play in these conversations and maybe lay some ground rules. When I meet another person like this, hopefully I can link this post and have a more fruitful conversation without feeling the need to kick them off my site.
If you are someone who wants to get into it with me, read on.
Don’t Be Arrogant
This goes both ways. I have certainly been guilty of speaking with an air of superiority. But the truth is, I know I have something to learn from every single person I talk to no matter what they believe. If I spend twice as much time listening and asking questions as I do talking, I learn.
For example, I learned, talking to this man on Facebook, that there are people who believe in something called the Enoch calendar and think the Apostle Paul was an anti-Christ. This was new to me.
If I can learn something from someone I think is totally and ridiculously wrong, they can learn something from me – someone they probably think is totally and ridiculously wrong.
The road has to go both ways. Let us humbly learn from each other.
What Do You Believe?
When you decide you want to dialogue with me, you have to understand I have no idea where you are coming from. I think Christopher Hitchens lamented this at one point. When he debated Christians, he had to first pinpoint what they believed before he could dig in.
Are you an atheist, a Jew, a Christian? An atheist Jewish Christian? If you are a Christian, what denomination do you most affiliate with? Do you accept the Protestant Bible? The Catholic one?
This helps me figure out how to talk to you and saves us valuable time. I am pretty sure neither of us want to get into a 100-comment conversation.
Stay on Topic
What is it you want to debate? Pick one, and let’s talk. “The church tortured Galileo, the Crusades killed millions of people, the Pope is the anti-Christ and Catholics are stupid!” are five different topics, each of which could not be addressed adequately without a 500-word post.
That is not feasible in a comment-box setting.
Set Aside Your Cynicism
Some people will never read an article from a Catholic apologetics website because, in their mind, those who wrote the article are biased in favor of Catholicism.
Here is the problem with that: people who write in support of Catholicism are usually people who favor Catholicism. So…. we’re kind of stuck here.
There has to be a modicum of goodwill. This was part of the problem with the person I was chatting with this weekend. When I offered articles from Catholic Answers that addressed many of his issues, he said, (and I’m quoting here), “No religion or preacher will ever admit to being wrong. The evil men of the Catholic church are no different.”
There was no indication he read what I gave him or any response to what the authors actually wrote. Just, “Catholic = bad.”
A conversation like that is going nowhere.
History has Nuance
I refer you back to the meme at the top of this page. What is the problem with it?
The problem is not the image. That actually happened. The statement at the bottom of it may be true as well. I have not looked it up, but I will grant it.
The problem with it is that there is no context. It is like a guy pushing an old lady out of the way of a moving bus, and the next day the local newspaper says, “Man violently pushes old lady in the middle of busy street!”
Many people don’t seem to know that the Crusades were in response to Muslims who had taken over Christian cities in Palestine and North Africa, or that Galileo was a friend of the Pope and was only put under house arrest and was even provided a servant – not tortured. Many don’t know that the Catholic church actually provided a version of the Bible in English for its people before the King James version was even created.
After knowing all that, could you still disagree with Catholics? Sure. But “Man violently pushes old lady” and “Bible reading was forbidden” are misleading. They are a twisting of the truth. There is no nuance or context.
I Agree with You: Catholics are Not Perfect
One point of agreement between me and every person I have argued with: the Catholic Church is full of sinners. Bishops sin. Priests sin. Regular Catholics sin. We all sin.
I wish it was not the case, but if you see some widespread problem in the larger culture like, say, pedophilia, abuse, and corruption, you are almost certain to find it to one extent or another in the church. I wish it was not like this, but it is. The church is always in need of reform.
History has nuance, but I am not going to defend a McCarrick or Renaissance pope on this website. No Catholic would.
Still, if what you are looking for is a perfect church, good luck with that.
Let Us Be Civil
I know I am using this poor guy, who is probably very nice in person and reasonable in general to make my points. My apologies to him if he reads this and is offended. I am probably explaining him out of context as well. But whether he is the perfect embodiment of everything I am saying here or not, my points still stand.
If you disagree with me, I welcome you. You have something to teach me. May we live life perpetually curious.
If all you want to do is bash my faith with no intent to listen, start your own website.
Don’t bother me on mine.
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