I enjoy vigorous debate especially on Facebook. I appreciate the people who join in the debate with me because I am kind of old-fashioned. I think that ideas are meant to be talked about. I was thinking about the nature of debate on Facebook or social media in general today because people get so upset about it. Debate has been part of the Western tradition for centuries, and debate has never been associated with so much negativity as it is right now. I think there are multiple factors that contribute to this development. I’m going to start with one today, but this is going to be our topic for the rest of the week along with how we, as Christians, can engage effectively in this climate.
First, we have to begin with the obvious difference that separates online debate from any other debate in the history of mankind. You do not have to sit in the same room with the person you are debating with. I can say inflammatory things on Facebook, and I literally do not need to see the hurt I have caused on somebody else’s face.
I suppose that perhaps there were telephone debates or video debates in the past, but those are also fundamentally different than an online debate. You still had to interact with some personal characteristics. You had to listen to the other person’s voice or watch his or her image projected on a screen. That is different than sitting behind a keyboard watching words pop up under that controversial article I just posted.
The thing about seeing words just pop up is that they are just words. They are just like any other words in any book I have ever read, and I am disconnected from the author of those words. Interestingly though, I’m not really disconnected from the person I am going to be responding to on Facebook. They are going to see the comment I write back. Maybe an author might read my review of his or her work, but they don’t have to. It is at least not going to pop up a notification on their Facebook page that I responded.
Now, it is important to point out that I am not just saying that we need to artificially preserve other people’s feelings or we can never say anything that makes people upset. That would certainly be hypocritical of me given all of the controversial things I have written over the years. I certainly think that the debate is valuable as I argued at the beginning.
What I am saying is that it is really easy to assume that we can write back whatever we want without consideration for the other person in the debate. One of my favorite commentators, Ben Shapiro, is famous for saying, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” That’s true. Facts really don’t care about your feelings. However, as fellow human beings, we ought to consider the way that we associate with other people in the way that we present those facts. As Christians especially, we have a calling to love our neighbors, and the way that we disagree with people is a big part of that.