“I’ve decided to stay out of those discussions, until I’m sure we can have a non-hysterical conversation.”
A non-hysterical conversation … When a friend casually uttered that phrase, I was immediately struck by its simple and profound wisdom. It’s increasingly difficult to have a good, old-fashioned conversation these days. Much more so, a debate.
I recall with fondness all the late-night theology scrums at Bible college. In a non-denominational school like Providence, my friends (and professors) represented a wide variety of theological views, and we enjoyed (a) spirited discussions and (b) the ability to go out for coffee the next day, because friendship and fellowship weren’t based on 100% theological congruence.
Conversations involving politics and/or religion have always been meme-worthy for their ability to devolve into polarized shout-downs. That was true when I was a kid, and it appears even more vociferous today, thanks to (anti)social media platforms that reduce meaningful dialogue to soundbytes or less.
“Theology by zinger” is the predictable byproduct of a culture that prizes the ability to reduce complex ideas to a bumper sticker or tweet.
Casualties of the theological zinger approach include: nuance, context, comprehension, and friendship. We stop asking questions in order to understand, and focus instead on gathering ammunition for the ultimate zinger. Once zinger-ology corrupts the conversation, you can’t even legitimately “agree to disagree.”
Sigh … We need a revolution of listening.
Conversation is an art form, as is respectful “help me understand” dialogue. Where the end goal isn’t gathering zinger ammo, but to understand and be understood.
“Agree to disagree” may still be the result, but in the context of healthy relationships, that’s still an improvement. And – dare I say – non-hysterical, zinger-free dialogue will look, sound, and feel a lot more Christ-like.
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience (1 Peter 3:15-16).”