Disagreeing with Respect

Given that this blog is designed to be a forum where people who believe different things can exchange ideas, it seemed wise to have the first post focus on disagreement. If we are to have a discussion that is healthy and helpful for all involved, it is crucial that we be able to disagree – especially over fundamental issues – with respect. Unfortunately, I feel that in many ways our country has been losing its ability to disagree fruitfully over questions of faith, religion, meaning, and ethics.  While we have little problem confronting one another publically over topics such as politics or the natural sciences, faith seems to fall into a separate category.  We are generally not comfortable with challenging each other’s core beliefs in any type of public forum.  In fact, we tend to equate such challenge with ignorance, insensitivity, and even downright bigotry.  A person’s beliefs about God and the meaning of life are his or her own choice – indeed, freedom to believe as one sees fit is one of our country’s most basic human rights.  And it should be.  However, in our zeal to protect an individual’s right to believe whatever he or she wants to believe, it seems as though we have come to view any challenge to a person’s faith assumptions as an inherent infringement on this right – and therefore something that is ultimately disrespectful and even hateful.

But must we equate challenge with disrespect and hatred?  It is clear that challenging someone’s core beliefs can be done in remarkably unthoughtful, arrogant, and hateful ways. Challenge can often be used as a tool of alienation and exclusion.  But are hatred and disrespect intrinsic elements of every challenge to a person’s worldview?  Must it be totally off limits to question another person’s fundamental assumptions about God, life, and meaning?

In my mind, if this is the case, we must resolve ourselves to having meaning-of-life conversations that remain, essentially, fluff.  We cannot afford to do this.  The questions of God, life, and meaning are the most fundamental ones we have – and the world is splintered over what many of the answers are.  If we are really concerned with finding these answers, then it is crucial that we engage in real dialogue where we are honest about our differences.

In fact, I would go as far as to say that we owe it to one another. If we just write our beliefs off as individual rights and preferences, we will coexist and smile at each other’s differing opinions – but we will not move forward.  We will not have the benefit of having our core assumptions questioned by someone who believes something completely different from us.

Opening ourselves up to this type of dialogue can be a scary process.  But in the end, there is no need to fear truth.  If I am challenged and freed from a life assumption that is in fact false, it may take a while for me to recalibrate, but I will only have gained from the discovery.

Knowledge is empowering.  Still, many of us are afraid of knowledge that asks for change.  Many of us will choose to stick with something we know to be false (or think will be found false if we question it too much) rather than walk through the uncertainty of a revolution or reorientation of self.  Change is indeed scary.

But let’s brave this together.  My hope is this: I want this site to be a place where people can honestly and openly seek the truth together.  I want it to be a place where respect for one another is assumed, especially in the context of passionate disagreement.  I want everyone involved to listen to one another, to avoid making quick assumptions, and to be gracious with one another.  I want The Public Square to be a venue where we can dare to wrestle with real questions, and where we don’t have to be afraid to say what we really believe.  If we approach one another humbly, thoughtfully, and honestly, this site has real potential to be a place of fruitful interaction and discovery.