Friday, August 24, 2007
Blognerian Opera: The Pitfalls of Online Discussions
Recently I have been discussing some matters with an online Catholic acquaintance. What has prompted this post is my questioner's sincere belief that I have not answered any of his questions, in spite of my sincere attempt to do so. As I have admitted to another Catholic brother, I have the ability to be a bit of a wise**s at times. Therefore, the question with which I have to examine myself is, "Is this response honouring to God?" Sadly, the answer is sometimes "no."
The real disadvantages of online discussions where face-to-face communication is not occurring become acute. Since we cannot hear or see each other, the words are all-important. What we say and how we say it are subject to connotation, misinterpretation, miscontruing and so forth. Without body language and the ability to immediately address incorrect presuppositions, the presumptive accusations can easily fly.
On this current post I have decided to separate from the original thread everything that is a question directed to me to which my questioner would like a direct answer from me. Now there is a danger in this. Lifting the questions out of context can leave the wrong impression. But I think the questions are straight forward enough that the answers I give should be sufficient for this post. The original thread of our comments in their context can be found on my book review post of Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberly Hahn here. They have some direct bearing on the book review itself but can be read and understood completely apart from the review.
I have decided on this format for posting because it seemed to me that our discussion was going nowhere. I think these questions are good and pertinent, and hopefully they and their consequent answers will be for the edification or enlightenment of other readers.
Below are all of the questions explicitly asked in the thread that are directed to me specifically. If my interlocutor would like to ask further questions or clarify something, or if any reader has anything they want to follow up, please feel free to do so in the comments section. I would be happy to further clarify anything I can.
From Comment 1:
Q: What is this desire to be somehow linked with the Catholic Church without actually being linked to Her?
A: I was born and raised Catholic. I still have Catholic family and friends. I still feel a kind of "link" to the Catholic Church which I believe will never really disappear all together.
Q: What I want to know is, what is it that makes you tick?
A: I like to write, and I really enjoy discussing theology with people of different communions, especially Catholics because of my history. I like to challenge people to think, but I am not in it for the purpose of proselytising.
Q: If you don't believe that the Catholic Church is the One True Church, why does She interest you so?
A: Whether I believe the Catholic Church is the One True Church or not is insignificant to the millions who do believe it. I want to know why these true believers are convinced that their Church is the One True Church.
Q: Why post on Her?
A: I have many questions which I think Catholics are uniquely qualified to answer. I have read and heard many Protestant statements about what Catholics believe. I want to know what is accurate and what is not. The best way to do that is to ask Catholics what they believe, and read the source materials from which they derive their beliefs. (Scroll down on my left-hand side blog column to the statement "Why Do I Post Links to Sites with Disparate Views?")
Q: Why invite Catholics to dine at your table only to pull their food away if they don't placate your desire to be ecumenical?
A: I am not always the sharpest tool in the shed. I apparently misunderstood what you were asking in the original thread. If you will patiently explain your analogy to me, I'll try to answer the best I can.
Q: If you don't believe in the Catholic Church, why is dialogue with Her members so important to you?
A: When I left the Catholic Church at age 17, I cannot say that it was for theological reasons. If I'm going to stay out of the Catholic Church, I want it to be for theological reasons.
Q: Why are Her doctrines and teachings of interest?
A: They are the doctrines and teachings of my family and friends. In relating to them, I find it inconceivable that I should ignore them.
Q: Why would the Church concern them (my Protestant friends) if they simply don't believe in Her claims?
A: I too am not at this time concerned about the Catholic Church's claims over my own spiritual life. But I think it proper to examine those claims and see if I am in error. The fact that I currently do not think of myself in error does not mitigate my responsibility to search these things out.
From Comment 2:
Q: Did you ever study debate?
A: No, I have never studied debate. Of course, I prefer to think of my communications with Catholics as discussions, not debates. But not having any formal training in this area, perhaps I come across as a debater. Yes, I have strong beliefs, but it has always been my intention to discuss, not debate. Sometimes I find myself drawn into a debate when I really just want to talk. I think it's just a matter of knowing when to let things go, that God may be glorified in our behaviour toward one another.
From Comment 3:
Q: Why not draw the distinct lines and then argue your points without using defense tactics when you realize that your worldview is under attack?
A: I have never felt that my worldview was under attack. In my universe, there is the theist worldview and the atheist worldview. When you told me that I am passive-aggressive against devout Catholics and that my invitation to dialogue is insincere and founded on a pretext, it upset me and made me feel defensive. It goes against everything I have tried to accomplish with my blog, and goes to the very heart of my motivations for having even started it.