While doing some guest blogging for my friend Megan McArdle, I noticed that the people who normally train their hatred on her were targeting her stand-ins. I won't direct you to the website where the worst of them resides, if only because that particular essayist's commenters were even more vile, quite literally using nearly as many profanities as regular words to heap up their scorn.
Someone reproached the essayist, suggesting to her that she won't advance civility and understanding with such hateful rhetoric. She retorted that she isn't interested in civility or understanding. Beginning from the assumption that her worldview can't be in error, she is forced to conclude that those of us with differing worldviews must cling to them out of jaw-dropping stupidity, or sheer evil.
This got me thinking about what we do when we argue with someone. Now, a Christian won't hurl vulgarity at his opponent as a means of argumentation, because this is not what a Christian does. We have to separate sheep from goats here, of course; there are people, after all, who go about with swastikas etched into their skin who call themselves Christians. So we'll speak here of those who aspire to the Christian walk, as opposed to those who aspire to the Christian label.
Back to the Christian. He won't curse and scorn his intellectual adversary, but is that enough? My wife has been reading George MacDonald, and she recently shared this quote with me:
"When I am successful in any argument, my one dread is of humiliating my opponent. When a man reasons for victory and not for the truth in the other soul, he is sure of just one ally---the devil. The defeat of the intellect is not the object in fighting with the sword of the Spirit, but rather the acceptance of the heart."
I was humbled, because all too often when I have argued with someone, it has been for victory. Not just victory, but visible triumph. It's one thing to line up the cannons that are our facts and doctrine, and light fuses one by one. It's another entirely to speak truth but with compassion and humility. It doesn't mean compromising what is true, of course, but instead, I think, it means having a very different heart attitude.
God, after all, doesn't need any of us to get the doctrine right for Him, or to defend His honor in an argument. He does call us, however, to speak truth in love. All too often I've been caught up with the former and neglected the latter.