Religious debates online tend to be some of the most rancorous and bitter I’ve seen. It seems especially fierce between atheists and theists, but this does not diminish how awful some of the discussions I’ve seen were between Christian denominations or religions, including Roman Catholic vs. Orthodox vs. LDS vs. Protestant vs. Muslim vs. Buddhist, etc. This, to me, is unacceptable.
I am actually a graduate student in experimental psychology, and so I know why these types of discussions get so bitter. When people feel like their most fundamental grip on reality, truth, and error is possibly flawed or being attacked, they act like cornered wolves. Quite a bit of one’s personal social identity is wrapped up in one’s religion. Religion gives meaning and purpose to people’s lives, and it serves a buffer against existential anxiety caused by an understanding of one’s own mortality. As such, it is very difficult to have calm, polite, and respectful discussions about religion. Yet, this is absolutely what I expect on this blog.
One of the greatest things about my journey to understanding Orthodoxy is that none of the people I’ve interacted with, from laymen to priest-monks, have ever felt the need to build up Orthodoxy by attacking Mormonism. Mormons are very sensitive about unfair attacks against their faith, and most of those attacks are neither accurate nor informed anyway. This type of discussion is usually composed of people using the same words in different ways, and superficial barbs that seek only to make one’s opponent look bizarre or stupid. This leads me to believe that it is neither necessary nor even that smart to tear down someone else’s faith in order to build up your own.
Eastern Orthodox clergy can often be pretty critical of the consumerism of the West, but this is a discussion that is taking place in the West. There’s no getting around it. I am fully immersed in the culture of the West, and my hope is that Orthodoxy can carve out its own niche in the United States. But this means being aware of your audience. For instance, in the West, you can’t just push your opinion by appealing to some authority, nor can you “spook” people into believing you (for instance, by saying that they are on the verge of hell-fire or demonic possession if they don’t do whatever you say).
Instead, in the West, you show your ideas are better by showing your ideas are better. It is a free marketplace of ideas here. Orthodox readers could perhaps appreciate that this is exactly the culture that Paul discovered when he walked into Athens. Paul certainly couldn’t just appeal to the authority of some Christian or even Jesus, he had to argue the truthfulness of Christianity using reason and logic. Not long afterward, Greece was a Christian nation – it is possible.
So, I think that, whatever religion is true (if there is one), its ideas should necessarily be the best. Ideas should rule the day. As such, personal attacks, brute appeals to authority, small-mindedness, and anything I deem un-civil is not welcome at this blog. I realize how subjective this might be, and I ask for God’s help as I attempt to make these decisions.