Poster from the 1880s, regarding the famous novella written by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, published in 1886. [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
This very day, I received the following two remarkably divergent replies from atheists or agnostics here at Patheos, within a few hours of each other:
1) “I have only had the pleasure of interacting with you on here for a few weeks, but from what I have seen you are a very fair and honest person. You just happen to disagree with me on a major point of life … but there is a great deal of satisfaction debating with someone is honest and mature.”
Excellent. Thanks for the compliment. You seem the same to me, too. It’s always this way with atheist discussion and myself. If I show up in a new place where atheists and agnostics are, all hell breaks loose after I give a few arguments. Lot’s of ’em decide to get angry, insult, and they usually split. Then when the dust settles down a bit, a smaller number of thicker-skinned, more self-confident and tolerable atheists decide I’m not Vlad the Impaler, and might actually be capable of uttering a few cogent replies, and they stick around, and we have great discussion and fun. You’re of that type. Many atheists who have commented here are, sadly, of the other type. This is how it goes with me. Usually people love me or loathe me. Not much in-between. :-) That’s how it was (very much so) with Jesus and Paul, too (people wanted to murder them, and eventually succeeded), so I figure I’m doin’ something right.
There’s only one o’ me! It’s amazing that such contradictory perceptions of yours truly could take place in the space of one day. But perception, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, ain’t it? It’s affected by many factors, leading to widely different opinions of (in this instance) one solitary person.
I love dialogues so much, that I’m willing to put up with this nonsense 70-80% of the time or more, in order to get to a rare gem of dialogue. I think it was Socrates or Plato who said that true dialogue can only take place with some significant measure of mutual respect and even friendship. That’s why it is impossible to do with anti-Catholics, radical Catholic reactionaries, and the angry / arrogant brand of atheist, because they offer no such respect to orthodox Catholics.
So, in a word, it’s a case of the proverbial, “you can dish it out but you can’t take it.” Or, “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
1. Interact with such replies.
2. Admit that some replies have a point, and concede the point; possibly with retraction of stated contrary positions.
3. Refuse to interact and change the topic or obfuscate, so as to avoid the intellectual responsibility in dialogue of interacting with one’s opponent.
4. Insult and/or split.
Our (usually very intelligent) atheist friends too often choose option #4. It’s a great shame, because most atheists are sharp and interesting people. I love interacting with intelligent, thoughtful people. I don’t care what they believe. I’m impressed that they think [seriously, about competing ideas], in a world where most people don’t. I’m not claiming my points necessarily always overthrew atheist arguments. But they are replies, and lots of folks (even many brilliant folks) don’t want to hear replies or criticisms of their view.
It remains true as ever, that even the greatest geniuses can accept false premises and misunderstand various fields of knowledge. As a socratic debater, I always go right to premises, in talking with people who disbelieve a lot of what I believe. That was the purpose of my recent, highly controversial paper about atheism, that was clarified at length by a second paper. Many atheists and agnostics cannot handle that (just as many, many Christians, likewise, cannot handle strong criticism or critique of anything in their faith). They’re not used to being challenged, and are very used to being the “smart guys” when dealing with Christians insufficiently versed in their own theology or in (more often) apologetics, so that they can defend it against outsiders.
And so, not infrequently, they (i.e., the sort of angry / hostile atheist, so prevalent online) get mad and attack the relatively more informed Christian who deigns and dares to offer some — any — reply (whether good or bad is beside my present point); and they take their ball and bat and go home. I’m happy to let my readers (you) decide why that happened in specific instances: whether breakdowns of discussion happened because I was an insufferable ass and idiot, and supposedly attacked my opponents and deliberately misrepresented, or because my opponents couldn’t stand being given replies, and refused to counter-reply minus the (or instead of) personal attacks.
I’ll continue be here. I ain’t going anywhere. And I’ll keep seeking out atheists and agnostics who can talk calmly and rationally with Christians who offer critiques of their views, too. On the relatively rare occasions when true dialogue occurs, it’s usually very interesting and helpful to at least achieve better mutual understanding. Neither side gets anywhere not properly and accurately understanding the thinking (and moral character and intellectual acumen) of the other.