Thursday, June 16, 2005


An intellectually religious site I read, Internet Monk, has a melancholy passage about how difficult he finds it to convince unbelievers, and what approaches work best. I respect his writing, but the post he links to kinda freaks me out. This inspired general thoughts on relativism and political dialogue.

The next time you are about to begin an argument with someone, ask yourself this question: how likely are they to convince you of the opposing view? I’m not saying that the opposite view is always legitimate, or that in all cases people are equally combative or receptive. But the desire to spread your views to others and maintain your own certainty is pretty universal.

This is why our society for a while stopped arguing over religion. Michael, it is not simply a matter of you trying to tell some non-Christian (or in your case non-Calvinist) about the gospel, and whether that effort is worth the chance of them being saved. It is also about the effort they are going to expend to try to convert you.

Do you want to read a similar “letter from an atheist”? I’m sure I could find a heartfelt one for you. Do you think it will work and save you and your flock from anti-materialistic spiritual distractions? Certainly not, you’re far too proud and convinced for that. And I respect that!

Politically speaking, this applies to the dialogue we ask out of politicians. Many, many extremists demand that their party take harder lines, especially on issues where they may be in the minority (socialism, culture wars, etc.) and “convince” Americans or the other side of the worthiness of their cause. People feel strongly darnit, and if a thousand raging horses couldn’t convince you to oppose gun-control, what makes you think you could convince a GOP voter to support gun-control? (Or vice-versa as the case may be.)

Humility, the willingness to change sides, and a lack of fire in the heart is what characterizes political moderates. And this is why I continue to advocate for centrist politicians and institutions which support the power of moderates to tip the balance.


At 4:46 PM, Blogger DevP said...

Full-blown arguments are usually between extermists who won't every be swayed in the midst of the argument. (Despite the fact that everyone entertains a fantasy of doing so!) But, there's still value about collateral "conversion". When I debate with a NeoCon, I dont think I'm going to change his mind - but if there are people on the borderlines (or, people who may be ready later to change sides) they will taken notice, and respond later.

That said, a message like the "Letter I Cannot Send" is likely to not work even in this respect because it is so disjoint from the experience of its target. To some extent, you have to be a non-Christian to understand how non-appealing that message is, which is sad, and gets us into Terrible Qualia Hell.

If only there were a way to TRANSFER qualia between persons...

At 11:26 AM, Blogger Rousseau said...

To be clear, I didn't mean to be saying all arguments are useless and thereby insult the entire blogsphere. Just since he was agonizing over it, I wanted to point him in a new direction (and away from letter i cannot send).

At 10:02 PM, Anonymous little_e- said...

even in the case of people whom you think you'll never convince, arguments can seep back in later. i mean, when we first met, my worldview was pretty solid and sacrosanct... and yet so much of it has changed since then. the problem, as i see it, is finding a way to argue without alienating.

but by the same token, how much is it worth your while? you could argue with moderates who are likely to be swayed, or a hard-liner who might change his mind 2 years from now... obviously one disagreement is likely to be more productive than the other.

(and, hell, i'd like to think that being told "you're so set in your position that i do not believe you would seriously consider mine, anyway, and therefore it is not worth my time to argue with you," might have an effect on people which pure argumentation might not..)


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