Conversing instead of arguing

Yesterday, it all got to be just too damn exasperating and I finally slapped a long-overdue IP ban on longtime reader/antagonist Jack Hudson. It's the first time I've ever banned someone who wasn't just spamming or being a dick just for it's own sake, and I think 99% of those cases were Dennis Markuze.

Not too long ago I had a fairly long conversation with my brother, who unlike me is still a committed Christian. We undoubtedly disagree on many things. But throughout our hour-or-so conversation, we never raised our voices, belittled one another or cut each other off. It really is possible to have a vigorous but civil discussion, so long as the goal is discussion rather than arguing for its own sake or attempting to "win". 

I've no doubt that Jack, his ego being what it is, will think that he was banned because his arguments are devastatingly incisive, and I the atheist just didn't have the cojones to engage him. I really don't care, because it's impossible to "win" with someone like him. The reality is that I banned Jack not because we disagree, but because he is literally incapable of maintaining a civil, open-minded discussion. He'll lie, backtrack and dodge simply to avoid the shame of conceding even the most minor point to the non-believers whom he looks upon with such snide condescension, all while peppering his posts with thinly veiled insults. Argue with someone like Jack long enough, and you'll find yourself becoming like them. Personally, I have no desire to sink to that level.

I reminded myself that you simply cannot force people to see things from your own perspective; all you can do is invite others to examine your views openly, critically and honestly. We apostates and non-believers often like to call ourselves "free thinkers", and it's because most of us did not arrive at our beliefs through rhetorical persuasion or emotional appeals, but through self-criticism and introspection. Intellectual growth requires the ability to critically examine one's own beliefs, and those whose conceit prevents them from such reflection cannot be argued out of a position.

I've changed my tune on several issues over the years. Obviously, I de-converted from evangelical Christianity, which took nearly a year. But I spent many subsequent years as a "theistic agnostic" who would use the moral, design and cosmological arguments to defend my position – one I did not concede easily. I've changed my mind about ontological naturalism and what it means to call myself an atheist, and I've been willing to concede a point when the facts turn out not to be on my side. I'm certainly not claiming to be immune from bias and I'm well aware that even now I could be wrong about many things, but I do try my best to hold no idea sacred and to approach a subject with thoughtful skepticism, even if it appears to reinforce my beliefs.

I've been civilly challenged on my views by believers and non-believers alike, and I'll continue to engage those who are seeking a thoughtful discussion. I think it's important to be challenged, and I publish this blog in part because I hope that those with thoughtful criticism will engage me. But just as I recently discussed the fact that I'm no longer interested in talking about apologetics on this blog, it's also time I make it clear that this blog is not a place for arguing. It is a place for discussion, and those incapable of doing so with courtesy, respect and an open mind are not welcome.

p.s. - H/T to Bruce for inspiring this post

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