A Guide to Debating Online (Without Losing Friends)

Posted on July 15, 2014 at 11.23 am

My latest piece at Relevant offers some tips for how to have online debates about theology without being totally rude. 90% of this works for politics, too.

Another day, another Facebook debate.

It’s all too common. You’re scrolling through your feed and you see someone arguing a point that you know is wrong and you’re certain you can prove it. So you type in your two cents, positive that any thinking person will see the sense in your argument and back down.

And not two minutes later, your “friend” responds—not only unconvinced, but undeterred and perhaps even angry that you don’t see her side. She responds with even more nonsense that you know exactly how to counter.

Game on.

Of course, strident disagreement, especially in the area of theology, is nothing new. The Apostle Paul wished that false preachers would castrate themselves, and the Martin Luther Insult Generator will give you an idea of how the Father of the Reformation talked about his challengers. (My favorite: “Even if your writings were from an angel from heaven I would take this horrible document, and, after having used it as toilet paper, wipe its nose.”)

But debating online doesn’t have to involve insults and farewells. We can take our stances seriously and still be on speaking terms when the debate is over.

My own history of blogging about controversial topics has been remarkably conflict-free. With 100,000+ followers and 6,000+ posts on my political blog, I can count the amount of hate mail I’ve received on two hands … well, maybe a couple toes, too. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years:

Tone Is Everything.

You can disagree vehemently with other Christians and stay (or become) great friends. The key thing is to maintain an empathetic tone and only go after beliefs, not people. As Thomas Jefferson wisely said, “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”

Be Open to the Possibility That You are Wrong or Haven’t Heard all Sides of the Story.

This is really cliché advice, I know, but it’s so important. I’ve had to publish corrections when readers have pointed out that my original posts were inaccurate, and it can be really embarrassing. But it happens, and I promise it’s much less of a big deal than it feels like it is. Your readers will respect you more, and even if you never end up on the wrong end of a discussion, maintaining a humble attitude will always make you more persuasive.

Pay Attention to Your Own Reactions.

Did your face get red when you read that rebuttal of your latest point? Do you feel prickly all over when you scroll through the Twitter feed of a famous pastor whose theology you don’t share? Maybe something more is going on here than just a debate on the Internet. If you find you’re unduly emotionally worked up about an online conversation, consider sitting this one out.

Read the whole thing here.

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This week’s column is inspired by Glenn Beck’s decision to help the undocumented children at the border (which I blogged about here a couple days ago). Sometimes I think we need a reminder that as much as protests, constructive criticism, and politics are important, there’s a lot we can do right now which doesn’t require government at all:

Teenage Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai, while visiting The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, expressed this possibility perfectly when she explained why she took action:

Why shall I wait for someone else? Why shall I be looking to the government or the army that they will help us? Why don’t I raise my voice? Why won’t we speak up for our rights?

We should be inspired by Malala to ask the same questions: Why should we wait for Washington to act? Why should we look to the government to fix our problems? To order our society? To decide what’s good for our families?

Why don’t we raise our voices?

Government is notoriously lethargic. It’s simply not practical to wait for every problem to be solved by the state or for top-down solutions to emerge. While DC is busy wasting and waffling, we can actually make a difference in our communities and around the world:

  • If you care about bringing peace and prosperity to the Middle East, put your money where your mouth is. Organizations like World VisionOperation USADirect Relief, and more work in war-torn and generally impoverished areas worldwide to provide much-needed relief aid. If you’re not sure where to give, check out www.CharityNavigator.com. Personally, I like to support aid to regions where my own government is a source of the conflict. I may not be able to convince Washington to stop their wars, but at least with a tax-deductible donation I can divert a little bit of money away from the war chest and toward peacemaking activities.
  • If you care about inflation and crony capitalism, reevaluate where you bank. Particularly if you use a national or regional bank, look into your bank’s history of interaction with the government, and especially with the Federal Reserve. Are you banking at an institution that contributed to the financial crisis? Does your bank make risky loans that leave low-income families homeless? Local banks and credit unions are much more likely to be a positive financial force in your area. You may also want to look at what kind of special treatment and subsidies other businesses you frequent get from the federal, state, and local government.
  • If you care about health care, poverty, and abortion, does your lifestyle make that obvious? Do you buy goods and services with the producers in mind? Do you take care of family and church members who can no longer work or have hit hard times? Would you open your home to a single mother-to-be needing a place to stay? Would you give her rides to pre-natal check-ups? Would you pay for those check-ups? Are you willing to actually lower your own standard of living to raise someone else’s? In short, do you truly live a charitable lifestyle—or do you just have inspiring political ideals?

Politics is important. It’s a big part of my life. I write and think about it all the time.

But politics only gets us so far.

If we really want to make the world freer, safer, and more prosperous—let’s stop waiting for the government to fix our problems and fix them ourselves.

Read the whole thing here.

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War is just one more big government program

Posted on July 7, 2014 at 2.16 pm

My latest at Rare makes a fiscal case for cutting back the warfare state:

Consider the following:

  • What if I told you there’s a government program which will cost taxpayers more than Obamacare will over the next ten years?
  • What if that program was just one function of a sprawling government agency which has not been audited in two decades?
  • What if that agency was the third-largest contributor to our $17 trillion national debt, which breaks down to $55,000 per citizen?

What if the same agency wasted tens of billions of dollars annually on projects and goods unrelated to its mission? (Like a study on “whether men holding pistols are viewed as taller, stronger and more masculine than those wielding objects such as saws, paint brushes and caulking guns.” Or “a conference that included a session titled ‘Did Jesus Die for Klingons too?’” Or “research on what the behavior of fish can teach us about democracy.”)

  • What if it also regularly paid hundreds of times the market value for commonplace items?
  • And squandered billions more on outdated equipment which just doesn’t work?
  • And prioritized cuts in vital programs rather than big-budget flops?
  • And lost hundreds of millions to waste and corruption in foreign programs?
  • And destroyed valuable equipment rather than repurposing it?
  • And blew big bucks on cross-promotions with superhero movies?
  • And gave high-dollar contracts to companies known to engage in fraud—contracts totaling more than $1 trillion in the last ten years?
  • And built buildings which will never be occupied?
  • And reported to Congress that it simply couldn’t account for $1 trillion (yes, trillion) it had spent?
  • And yet it still plans to spend the equivalent of the entire GDP of Sweden on a single purchase over the course of the next fifteen years?

What if this agency regularly and intentionally doctored the books to hide these wasteful practices from taxpayers?

For any fiscal conservative, the conclusion must be that this incredibly wasteful, deceptive, and nonproductive government agency is seriously overdue for audits, possibly criminal charges, and huge—massive—ginormous spending cuts. Right?

Right.

That program was the War in Iraq. That agency is the Department of Defense. That spending is war spending. And the DoD does indeed waste absurd amounts of money on unrelated projectsgaloreincredibly overpriced purchasesobsolete weaponrypoor prioritizationnation-building projectsdestroying equipmentpromoting the recent Superman flickfraudulent contractorsempty buildingsunaccountable spending, and planes that cost as much as Sweden’s GDP. The DoD has been caught doctoring the books on a grand scale.

Yes, war really is just one more big government program: It’s costly. It’s wasteful. It’s poorly managed and rife with incompetence and fraud.

Read the whole thing here.

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