Christopher Hitchens is an atheist. He obviously doesn’t like religion and has written a book about it entitled God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. I’ve not read the book but I have good intentions. I’m not shocked when an avowed atheist makes derogatory remarks about believers. But I was taken by surprise (perhaps I should have expected it) when, pointing to the debate between “evangelicals” (for lack of a better term) and Mormons regarding Mitt Romney. He said to the host of the show, “You can see how Christians love one another.” The implication, of course, is that Christians talk about love but don’t practice it.
I hate to admit that he has a point. (I won’t take time now to go into the fact that he, in his ignorance, has lumped Mormons and Christians together. Mormons consider themselves Christians. But, keep in mind that, to a Mormon, the rest of us are “Gentiles.”)
I know that I became angry and confrontational in religious discussions in my previous life. It took me a while to realize that my actions and attitudes were not only wrong, but counterproductive and contradictory to my mission. One of my teachers (himself a debater) used to say, “He who is convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” All I did in such contests was to polarize the opposition and harden their resistance.
In pointing out the futility of hostile discussions, I often refer to a conversation I had with an old preacher. He did a lot of debating in his day (and probably thought he won them all). In reference to one of his opponents he boasted, “I skinned him with a dull knife and nailed his hide to the wall.” I wish I had replied, “Congratulations, you have gained a life-long enemy who will never listen to you, or anyone connected with you, ever again.”
That was years ago and I don’t remember the subject of the debate but I can confidently tell you, he didn’t win it. We never win when we bring combative attitudes into any discussion. We might beat someone into silence, but we have convinced no one.
One can say almost anything to almost anybody (even your spouse) provided it is done with gentleness, respect and grace. When we decide these elements are not important, we betray an arrogant ignorance of God’s will. Listen to what the Holy Spirit has to say:
Let your gentle spirit be known to all men (Philippians 4:5)
Remind them to…malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men (Titus 3:1-3)
Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1)
The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition (2 Timothy 2:24,25).
…sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15).
But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth (Colossians 3:8).
Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person (Colossians 4:6).
Those who are under the impression that rancorous debates and hostile arguments are “defending the truth,” must realize they are not accomplishing that goal but are instead:
- Closing minds to the truth,
- Polarizing the opposition,
- Making enemies when we should be making friends,
- Portraying an unloving attitude to the world and each other and,
- Flat out disobeying Scripture!
Let’s you and me decide right now that we will enter the public debate with all vigor but we will never give Satan (or the atheists and pagans) a foothold by engaging in any discussion without attitudes of gentleness, respect, patience, consideration and reverence.