My Comments Policy: Thoughts on Amiable and Constructive Dialogue

JesusAmongtheDoctors(Veronés)

  Paolo Veronese, Jesus Among the Doctors, c. 1560 [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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[latest expanded version: 7-22-17]

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GOOD TALK

In order to better understand each other, we need to communicate, listen to each other, and become friends, if possible. Experience and knowledge of human nature teaches us that good, constructive dialogue is not possible unless there is openness, charity, and respect and courtesy shown to the other person. I want dialogue to occur here, not lectures, speeches, and “mutual monologues.” By all means, render your own opinion, but then be open to talking about it and having it challenged in a friendly manner.

FREE SPEECH, RESPECT, AND COURTESY

This is a free speech forum, and people will not be banned, except under the most extreme insulting / trolling scenarios. I seek (and will enforce if necessary) charitable, amiable discussion carried out with respect and consideration of others at all times. Non-Catholics and Non-Christians (of any stripe) are most welcome, provided that they conduct themselves courteously, have a genuine curiosity about trinitarian Christianity, and do not try to overwhelm this forum with their particular agendas. I take an extremely dim view of trolls and loudmouthed one-track-mind preachers and irrational zealots. I foster an atmosphere of congenial respect for folks of all different worldviews and belief-systems, and will defend a non-Catholic being attacked here every bit as quickly and vigorously as Catholics being savaged. I utterly detest the “feeding frenzy” mentality that sadly characterizes so many venues: where, if someone dares to disagree with the “status quo” they are attacked by groups of cliques who wish to isolate and embarrass them. It will never happen here! You have my word on that. I know I have to prove it, because everyone says this. You’ll see.

STAY ON TOPIC AND MAKE A REASONED INTERACTIVE ARGUMENT

I am a stickler for staying on topic. Nothing is accomplished by being all over the ballpark, going down 49 rabbit trails, topic-switching when one has no rational reply, evasion, obscurantism and obfuscation, or outright sophistry, spin, propagandizing. Commenters are expected to stay on the topic of my post, in comments underneath it, and to interact with my reasoning / arguments; offering critiques and counter-replies. Any given combox is primarily about my opinion (agree or disagree). Criticize away. You need only stay on topic and be civil. Disqus does have a blocking function and rest assured that I will use it if I have to, to maintain my discussion guidelines.

A PERSON’S VIEWPOINT IS NOT THE PERSON

And holding strongly to one’s opinion (and even defending it vigorously) is not incompatible to listening to another position and respecting and liking the person holding it. “Rational argument” is not the equivalent of “quarrel” or “brawl”. Another way to put this is to say that “apologetics and ecumenism are complementary, not contradictory.” 

RESPECT OTHERS AND ACT CHARITABLY

Please keep in mind at all times that just because a person may hold what we believe is an erroneous viewpoint, that this is not necessarily (and, I think, relatively rarely) because they are wicked, evil, or obstinate. They may need to simply be more educated. They may have had extremely bad teachers and mentors, or a terrible life history (i.e., various influential and debilitating handicaps). They may in fact change their mind very quickly if shown another viewpoint. Act like Jesus did towards the Roman centurion. Give them the benefit of the doubt, and be unassuming about their motives and intents. We can’t read minds or hearts. In any event, “you catch more bees with honey, not vinegar.” Believe the best of others (1 Corinthians 13) rather than the worst. That’s what God calls us to do.

AD HOMINEM NONSENSE VS. CONVERSATION (ZERO TOLERANCE POLICY)

Personal attacks will not be tolerated at all on my page. I’ve learned in my 21 very active years online that these things must be immediately nipped in the bud. They get out of hand as quickly as fire in a barn filled with hay, during a drought. If people don’t behave and act like adults, they’ll be banned from this site as soon as that is apparent. Be civil and respectful and you can express any opinion you like. But you have to act in that fashion. I’m one of relatively few people who actually had a paid job as a forum moderator. I did this for the online forum at The Coming Home Network (Marcus Grodi) from 2007-2010. We had a policy of zero tolerance towards personal insults, and we enforced it fairly, firmly, across-the-board. I will do that here also (and on my Facebook page. 

COMMENTS ARE FAIR GAME TO END UP IN DIALOGUES

As anyone familiar at all with my website these past 18 years knows, I love to put up dialogues with those who differ from my viewpoint. I am a Socratic. I’ll definitely be creating new papers and dialogues drawn from this blog, because that is part of my teaching and pedagogical function as an apologist. I want people to see how two different viewpoints interact with each other, and to help them develop their critical thinking, and to make intelligent, informed choices. If you comment here, expect that that may happen, and be “forewarned.” I don’t run from criticism and ignore it. To me, this involves a matter and principle of intellectual integrity, honesty, duty, and of a crucial openness to other viewpoints, challenges, and critiques.

ANTI-CATHOLICS, RADICAL CATHOLIC REACTIONARIES, AND THE HOSTILE BRAND OF ATHEISTS

I’ve learned from long, sad experience that these categories of folks are literally impossible to engage in a constructive and civil dialogue with. And so I don’t do so anymore. In 2007, I gave up trying to dialogue with anti-Catholics (i.e., those who think Catholicism is not a species of Christianity and that you have to be a bad, disobedient, dissenting Catholic in order to be saved and to be a true Christian).

Radical Catholic reactionaries (my coined term) are those Catholics who habitually bash the ordinary form Mass, Vatican II, ecumenism, and recent popes, and get right up to the edge of schism and denial of the indefectibility of the Church. In a word, they are “doom-and-gloom” naysayers, and lack the attribute of a sunny, optimistic faith and hope in God’s promises. I have little time for them, either, though on occasion I reserve the “right” to make an exception to my self-imposed restriction.

I have had very excellent discussions with atheists and other “exchanges” that were as absurd and ludicrous as pigs wrestling in mud. It’s a mixed bag. The former are always welcome; the latter will be avoided like the plague. If you are an “angry, irrational atheist” who can talk of nothing except how rotten and evil and wicked Christianity is, and how stupid, gullible, and infantile “all” Christians are, this forum is not for you.

Additional Thoughts After Yet Another Ridiculous Free-for-All with Atheists [July 2017]

I ban people (since several people mention that) for violating my discussion rules, which don’t allow gratuitous insults from anyone. Period. End of story. If an atheist comes by and “argues”, for example, that all Christians are intellectually dishonest simply by virtue of being Christians, that’s banworthy, because no possible constructive discussion can result with that attitude. If a Christian says all atheists are going to hell or are all filthy morons, he’s gone in a heartbeat. It’s not about worldviews, it’s about behavior and civility.

Many atheists, however, don’t have to play the game of relentless insults of Christians, and they are there on my site (right now), and will be till Kingdom Come, as long as they abide by a simple standard of being civil to those with other views, and extending basic benefit of the doubt as to sincerity, attempted honesty, etc.

I know from experience that my explanation won’t matter a hill of beans to those whom I’ve banned, and their buddies. They can pretend that I’m scared of them if they like. It’s a joke. If I were so deathly afraid of atheists I certainly wouldn’t have begun this recent critique of deconversions, and I wouldn’t have literally scores and scores of dialogues and debates with atheists on the very extensive atheist web page on my site: including many with atheist professors (going back 20 years).

I allow anyone back who acknowledges that they stooped to (primarily) insults and are intent on ceasing. I’ve done it many times. All anyone who is complaining about being banned, need to do is just that, and I’ll immediately unban them.

I’m glad you [an atheist] have highlighted the example of “all atheists are going to hell” as something banworthy. That is extremely uncharitable, it simply can’t be stated, according to consistent Christian theology (which holds that we have no certain knowledge of anyone going to hell or not, save the devil and his demons), and it immediately crushes any hope of Christian-atheist discussion.

If I allow that sort of garbage, then visiting atheists who see it will get a wrong impression of my approach and what I am trying to achieve. They themselves write about how offensive and absurd such sweeping statements are. I agree! I’ve written posts about legitimate atheist anger at how many dim-witted, uncharitable Christians treat them. So it can’t be allowed. Conversely, atheists saying that all Christians are stupid, infantile, or intellectually dishonest, are not allowed. Both attitudes kill mutually respectful discussion. Since that is always my goal, I simply can’t allow either.

But it’s enforced fairly. I know how to moderate and to do it fairly, not playing any favorites. People get mad when they are banned, just as we have disgruntled former employees, athletes angry when they are ejected from a game, etc. That’s just how it is. But it ain’t my problem. The umpire (or judge) is always unpopular with the ones he disagrees with.

My approach to moderation and system on my blog have worked very well for 20 years, so I will keep deploying them. We have discussions which are constructive and fun, not pie fights and mud wrestling. It takes work to foster such an environment, and I have done that work.

I have plenty of great discussions, including with atheists (the best one I ever had of my multiple hundreds, was with an atheist, on “the problem of good”).

What I do know for sure is that many online atheists are extremely insulting towards Christians, so we would fully expect that people like that would be banned from Christian sites, just as insulting, stupid Christians are banned from atheist sites (though not as much, because atheists love to interact with dumb Christians: it confirms to them that they were right in rejecting Christianity (baby-bathwater stuff, but still . . .).

Atheists have a vested interest in thinking that Christianity is stupid and that Christians are imbeciles. And I’m the first to admit that Christians often have the same unsavory attitude towards atheists. Both are wrong, and I’ve always condemned both attitudes.

My comments policy is not a whit different from the “Comment Policy” of popular atheist blogger Neil Carter (Godless in Dixie):

Rule 1: It’s my blog; I can do what I want. This blog space isn’t a democracy. It’s a personal blog, not a government entity. You can whine all you like about free speech, but in here bigotry and verbal abuse will not be tolerated, and in here it is up to me and the other moderators to determine when that is happening. I’m a patient person, but if you verbally mistreat me or my readers, I will remove you from this space and not lose a second of sleep over it.

Rule 2: Refrain from personal insults or you will be banned.

Goose and gander. Someone doesn’t like it? Tough. Go cry in your beer and moan and groan to some bartender or patient shoulder. I will continue to run a blog with substantive, mutually respectful discussion, just as I have for 20 years.

My view is that uncivil disagreement is uncivil and not worth anyone’s time. I don’t allow that, so if someone doesn’t cease doing that after fair warning, they’re gone.

There is no one more open to debating others and entertaining other viewpoints than I am. But I also have a strict moderating policy, which is in place to foster good discussion, not to stifle it. It’s precisely my love of dialogue and exchange of ideas which leads me to have my policy, so that those who clearly aren’t so interested don’t ruin it for the hundreds of us on my blog who want to do that.

You [atheist Jonathan MS Pearce] choose to moderate very lightly. I moderate much more strongly. These two approaches lead to vastly different outcomes and “fruit.” Your combox (in these two instances, anyway, where dastardly Dave Armstrong is the target) are an endless parade of personal insults. One doesn’t see that on my web page because I don’t allow it. Atheists are over there right now, being treated with courtesy and charity and not roundly insulted, as I am here.

I think my approach leads to a better result and much, much better environment for adult, constructive discussion. We profoundly disagree.

I think there is a third choice [between no moderation and banning all who disagree], which my blog is: an open forum (loving all dialogue and free discussion) which simply requires civility, too.

Related Reading:

Comments Policy to be Strictly Enforced! Atheists in Particular . . . [8-20-15]

I Actually Enforce My Discussion Policy (What a Novelty!) [10-31-15]

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