Some of the most enjoyable time I spent online was as a volunteer AOL messageboard host in the Spirituality area. I saw some examples of great discussions among people of different persuasions, as well as examples of how NOT to engage in discussion. Here are some tips you might find useful:
Know Exactly What You’re Talking About
In many cases, people attack a belief system or set of beliefs without actually understanding it. Examples include some people with a Oneness view accusing Trinitarians of believing in multiple gods or some non-theists assuming all Christians are fundamentalists. If you have a basic understanding of the other person’s actual beliefs, you will be in a better position to reasonably discuss the issue at hand. Each of us will make mistakes with our information sometimes, it’s whether we learn from it that makes the difference.
Don’t Be Disrespectful
Implying that somebody else is stupid, brainwashed, etc. because they don’t see your view won’t get either of you anywhere. Derogatory comments against other peoples’ beliefs (magic sky God, Paptist, PROtestant, tritheist, etc.) are often seen as inflammatory and usually only make people angry. Two good rules of thumb:
- Give others the same respect you expect to be given to your beliefs.
- Prefacing a statement with “I believe that” or “I don’t believe that” sets a more positive tone.
Use Intelligent Discussion Techniques
Do your own “homework” on issues you don’t agree with or have trouble understanding. While it’s tempting to rely on “copy and paste” arguments, don’t make the mistake of letting others think for you. When your discussion involves Scriptural passages, avoid proof-texting and read them in context. Using logic and reason in your discussion makes a huge difference.