Saturday, April 14, 2007

What Now?

This post is part of an ongoing dialog between my friend Ernie and me about the validity of Christian belief. It is a response to My Bad.

Ernie's Ashes to Ashes and my response, Dust to Dust pretty clearly showed that our conversation had gotten to a point where we were frustrated with each other. After some down time, Ernie responded with My Bad. We have exchanged a couple of emails since then, since, while I appreciated his response, it left me a bit confused, particularly about what he meant by scare-quoting "repent", what were his mistaken assumptions, and what he meant by his unqualified "I concede."

Other readers may have been similarly confused. However, my intention here is not to explain that in detail. I will just summarize by saying that we agree that if we are going to continue our discussion, we need to adjust our approach to be less contentious and more cooperative. But how will we make that work? I am not sure I have a good answer.

Let me shift now to addressing Ernie more directly...


You asked [via email] about my thoughts on why our diablogue has had difficulty converging on a mutual understanding. I have already acknowledged in prior posts as well as emails to you that imperfect communication skills are one factor. In re-reading old posts, I am aware that, while my meaning was perfectly clear to me, it would not have been so to others, particularly those operating under different assumptions. As an important example, I failed to provide an early, clear explanation of the relationship between ethical paradigms, ethical systems and metrics, and even when I recognized that you had a different relationship in mind, my attempt at clarification was insufficient.

That problem is sometimes compounded by another. Sometimes we need to slow down. We need to reformulate things less often and take longer to develop ideas from a single perspective. This, I fear, is one area where I have been frustrated by you trying to "drive" the conversation. My impression of our conversation is often that you propose looking at an issue from some perspective, I respond to that perspective, and then you propose another perspective. While in some sense, the new perspective is a response, it tends to jerk things around a bit too much. It doesn't really feel like a response. Rather than continually trying new ways of looking at things, can we just take a little bit longer to develop some depth?

I've sat here for awhile trying to develop some other ideas, writing and deleting. What they come down to, I guess, is mutual respect. This is a dialog, perhaps sometimes a debate, but not an interrogation or an interview. It is not a Socratic dialog, not a dialog between teacher and pupil or between doctor and patient. There needs to be symmetry, at least on the larger scale. If we are not both ready to learn, we should not continue.

Having said that, I vacillate between curiousity and disinterest. Disinterest may not be exactly the right word, but I sometimes wonder if this dialog has been or will be worth the effort. Has it helped you in any way? It has helped me by driving me to clarify certain ideas, and probably to be more aware of the diversity of Christian beliefs. It has not yet given me reasons to think those beliefs might be correct.


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