The Less it Matters, The More I Know

Dear Debate Partners:

Here’s my opening disclaimer: This is not a musing about gun control. The most recent tragic carnage in Parkland, Florida, has occasioned my musing. Believe me, I have my opinions about firearms, and I’m pretty sure most of you would not find my policy proposals satisfactory. I’m also sure some of you would respond quickly and aggressively to my ideas. That’s what has me musing—how is it that people of similar experience, education and good will can be so diametrically and aggressively poised against each other?

I have a few theories about our disagreeable nature; hopefully, these are far less contentious than my bone-headed attitudes about the Second Amendment. My goal here is to lower the temperature of civil discourse, to provide some accounting for our incapacity to find compromise for the sake of a common good, or, at minimum, to create a case for constructive engagement.

I’m also not interested in suggesting civility is some treasured skill once commonly held in a pre-internet past; human history is littered with evidence of our inability to listen to one another. I would suggest it is in our nature to argue. When God asked Adam and Eve if they had eaten of the fruit, they both immediately changed the subject and blamed someone or something else.

What confuses me about most arguments over several policy issues is how aggressively we can battle over things that we most likely will never have to endure. I believe the further we are from a direct experience of a matter, the less it directly affects our lives, the easier it is for our attitudes and beliefs to become unyieldingly entrenched. Consider with whom you are most likely to start an argument. People who have little interaction with the impoverished and are the least likely to find themselves in poverty seem to have the most aggressive attitudes regarding the causes and character of the poor. Individuals living in homogeneous neighborhoods are pretty opinionated about diversity, and I hear the most confident theories about childrearing from the childless.

I am reminded of my mother, who told me a few months back they had a special program at her assisted living facility given by a nice young social worker. Her topic was “growing old gracefully.” She said the residents found her insights extremely entertaining.

My observation has been that I can most aggressively defend positions and attitudes that I am least likely to test. We tend to make up our minds about things that we will never have to mind, and there we find our temptation.

Avoiding that temptation is why I find myself spending less and less time talking about heaven or hell because it turns out my opinion will have little impact on what is objectively true. The likelihood of eternal damnation does not magically increase simply because I believe that should be your eventual destiny. 

The stuff I have experienced is significantly more ambiguous than the things I haven’t. It’s much easier for me to articulate a coherent policy on social media security than it is for me to figure out what group should use the Fellowship Hall when we’ve accidentally double-booked. My problems are complicated; global issues are easy.

Working hard to avoid pointless fights, I remain,

With Love,
Jonathan Krogh
Your Pastor