The Value Online to Change Your Mind

Debates are a lot like spoilers on a car. They’re all for show and nobody looks better by utilizing them. I am not much for arguments and debates; I try to avoid them as much as possible. Comment wars, however, are as ubiquitous as the blogs that spawn them; they can’t be avoided forever. But by engaging in these debates we can actually help expose the blind spots in our own opinions.

I suspect most of us are prone to only listen to the voices that agree with us. A pastor’s library will reflect largely his theological convictions, and a person’s news station will reflect their particular political bent. This was true for me too as I surfed blogs that generally agreed with my views and opinions, and ignored the obvious “haters” that were always challenging the “truth” I’d come to accept.  But the more that I allow myself to read the comment sections of blogs and interact with them, the more I see the weaknesses in my own positions. Balance is not an easy thing to achieve, and more often than not we will fail at it. But the more that I read blog debates, the more I find myself nuancing my views. And nuance is an important feature of any position. Through reading blog debates I’ve found that they can serve to challenge us in three particular ways.

COMBATTING EXTREMISM

First, blog debates cause us to see the foolishness of our positions in extreme form. Not all comments are created equal. Blogs have a tendency to draw out the most eccentric and ignorant web-prowlers. They present their comments in bold, ALL-CAPS, and without any sensitivity. They tend to be utterly dismissive of opponents. It is only ever begrudgingly that I admit that they reflect a form of my own position. But by reading these types of asinine comments I am forced to consider carefully the tone I use to express my position, and, even more, the addition of nuance to that position. So, while I might agree with the man who affirms male headship in the home, after I read his ridiculous assertions about the “unbiblical nature of women working” I am going to be forced to add some nuance to my expression of Complementarianism.

NEW PERSPECTIVE

Second, blog debates offer a fresh perspective to a sensitive subject. There are some subjects about which I should always welcome an alternative perspective. After all, I am not a young black woman. My opinions on racial and gender issues are often skewed. I’ve found on several occasions that carefully reading a comment war exposes my own prejudice. When forced to consider how certain issues play out for African Americans or for women, I see that, once again, my views need to be refined and reshaped.

BEYOND REDUCTIONISM

Thirdly, blog debates remind me that very few discussions are black and white. It is important to be confident of your views; if you can’t hold them with some conviction then why hold them at all. But if we can learn anything from Postmodernism it is that staunch confidence in our understanding is often absurd. Forgive me if I sound like a relativist; I am definitely not. But nothing is as simple as quoting a few Bible verses. Few things are so easy that one argument can undo them. And often the failure of so many opinions is that they lack sensitivity, careful consideration of alternatives, and … here’s my word: nuance. The more you thoughtfully and reflectively read comment wars the more that you realize there are smart people on both sides of a debate, no one side lacks for intelligence or idiocy. And there is always a perspective that you haven’t considered that warrants more careful consideration. Maybe hearing from the atheist won’t change your views on evolution/creation, but it might cause you to rethink that “fail-proof” defense. Maybe you’re convinced of male headship in the home, but hearing from a battered wife will definitely give you some perspective.

It’s not that I can’t get be exposed to new insights and views by a book, but there is something about the immediate response of the blogosphere that drives these issues home. Seeing the tit-for-tat of two intellectuals unfold before my eyes forces me to wrestle with how I’d answer hard subjects in a way that a solo-authored book just can’t. In fact, it was through the blogosphere that my own views regarding a certain pastor were changed. I had long embraced everything about this minister’s style and methodology and was unwilling to hear critiques. But eventually after seeing the same criticisms leveled against him again and again I began to take notice. Eventually my views were completely altered through carefully listening to another perspective. Sometimes our words are just that powerful.

It’s too easy to be isolated in your opinion bubble. But a good challenge can help us reshape and express our opinions in better ways. That’s what blog wars, on their best days, can do.

Dave Dunham is associate pastor at Revolution Church in Portsmouth, OH. He is not a hipster, he does drink too much coffee, and he blogs at www.christinthecity.wordpress.com. Follow him on Twitter: @pastor_dave619.

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