Charitable Intellects: The Solution
I’ve been thinking about the previous post on this blog, put up by our own Stephen Hale. His discussion of the reasons for arrogance from Christians in religious discussion was certainly valuable, and I appreciated his brief trace of the historical intellectual power of the Church. I do not believe Christians should be arrogant when discussing religion (nor do I believe Mr. Hale would say such a thing, even if he does not argue one way or another concerning the assumption of a hidden authority in discussions), but I was not exactly sure what could be done to fix that, except that we assume that we are not always right. This is particularly difficult for religious people, as they tend to have based their lives upon the beliefs they hold.
Since I wanted to write a post about how to be a better Christian and person (which I personally hope are one and the same) in the context of discussing religious beliefs, I began to look over some of our older posts for ideas. I respect my fellow writers, and wondered if they could provide insight now that I was looking with a new purpose. I stumbled upon Nathan Bennett’s post concerning Charitable Reading, and gave it another read. I also clicked the link he provided, and would recommend you all read it as well. And this is where I found my post topic.
Christians, and likewise every religious believer, hold very strong opinions concerning things like the nature of the universe, the nature and purpose of man, and the way in which one achieves a better afterlife. If a coworker brings up a religious matter, our desire to evangelize moves us to speak with an air of authority. This comes off as arrogant, regardless of whether or not we are actually right. And this is why we need to have charitable intellects.
When we interact with a person who we believe is wrong, do we assume they are wrong because they are foolish? Do we believe they are in the wrong because they are not as smart as us? That is often the assumption, even if we do not realize it on the surface. This is why our arguments take an intellectual nature; our beliefs are smarter and we are smarter, so we just have to convince our ‘opponent’ of that. Declaring to an unbeliever that their ways are foolish, especially in a social setting, rarely has any effect.
When facing an idea that you believe is truly wrong, such as a religions conviction that differs from your own, take a moment and try to figure out what exactly the other person believes. They are, after all, made in the image of God. Perhaps they have been deceived, but they may have arrived at their conclusions as honest intellectuals. If that is the case, treat them with respect. If they only believe what they do because they have always blindly accepted it then an argument would not be difficult to win, should you feel the need. Ask some questions. Figure out what they believe and why. An atheist who thinks well and has arrived at their beliefs through careful contemplation may be deceived, but they have more respect than some believers who have never given their ‘faith’ a second thought. Knowledge has always been important in the Kingdom of God, and today that is even more relevant.
I am not speaking here specifically about interacting with other believers, though the same thing applies. When interacting with someone who has doctrinal differences we should provide the sort of grace and charity that we would want ascribed to us. The discussions of pre-destination and free will, and of egalitarianism and complementarianism are prime examples of places within the Church where we should be as charitable as we can, even as we fall firmly on one side or the other.