Since I began this blog of mine at Beliefnet.com, “At the Intersection of Faith and Culture,” it hasn’t taken me long to elicit a not insignificant number of visitors. And even though the overwhelming majority of comments that some of these visitors have taken the time to leave have been negative in nature, I am nevertheless as thankful as I can be, and for two reasons.
First, the more traffic that my blog attracts, the better it is for me.
Second, for however adverse to my thoughts my detractors undoubtedly are, that they have seen to it to expend energy in responding to my writings, in many cases over and over again, proves that they find it worthwhile to respond.
The satisfaction I’ve received from all of this is not, however, unqualified. It is, in fact, accompanied by some measure of disappointment. You see, it has only been in a minority of instances that any of my respondents have challenged the substance of my arguments, and even then, the challenges have been delivered as part of a package that consists of ad hominem attacks.
To sum this up, my disappointment stems from the realization that the people from whom I have heard lack either the intellect or the will to articulate their disagreements with others in a manner that is at once intelligent and civil. Perhaps many of them lack both capacities. But judging from the quality of some of their comments, I am more inclined to think that, for the most part, it is the will that is lacking.
In order to argue well, you must first understand your opponent. It is clear to me, though, that my interlocutors have taken little time to actually read what I have written. Instead, they recognize from early on—possibly as early as the title of the post—that I approach the issue from a perspective that they do not share. As a result, like the proverbial bull in a china shop, they rush in—not really to critique, for a critique is supposed to be aimed at the content of the position to which it is directed—but, well, to have to their say. And like the bull for which the sight of the matador’s red cloth induces in it a furious, irrational rage, my respondents appear similarly incapable of resisting the raw emotions that my postings ignite in them.
I find myself in something of a dilemma. On the one hand, for however downright ugly and foolish some of these commentators can be, it is my blog posts upon which they are commenting. That is, while there can be no question that this is the last thing that they intended when they indulged their obsession with the ad hominem fallacy, in doing so they are helping me, and in ways that they haven’t been able to imagine. So, I confess, I feel almost obliged to at least answer them.
On the other hand, not being the best tempered person myself, I am well aware of the temptation I face to reply in like fashion to every smug, confused, arrogant, hate-filled comment that I receive. This, I do not want to do, for my religion—Christianity—identifies arrogance, cruelty, and hatred as vices, sins, and, thus, demands of its adherents that they repent of them. God counsels as well against folly. But by responding to folly, I become the fool.
What’s a guy to do?
I think I have found something of a way out of this troubling situation. My solution is two-prong.
First, unless I find a comment to be totally beyond the pale, I will, all things being equal, approve of it. This way, the person who composed it can at least enjoy that small satisfaction for which he yearns, the satisfaction of having others be able to read his “thoughts.” This will be my way of repaying him for reminding me that my articles are being read. With this token of my appreciation, I should think, my logophobic respondents should be well pleased, for it is a foregone conclusion that except for at my blog, no one will ever read his thoughts again. This goes without saying. Those who do nothing but hurl insults at those who dare to assert and defend their views are too fearful to do the same.
Second, with all of the writing I do (not to mention my other responsibilities), I simply have neither the time nor the patience to reply to many of the comments I receive. Even if some of them warranted a response—clearly, I do not think that most of them do—I wouldn’t have the time to supply it. So, I will try to address some of the points—when they are discernible—in future articles, not comment threads.
One more thing. To show how grateful I truly am for those who take the time to comment, I will happily link to or otherwise mention their blogs. For some reason, however, for as brilliant as many of these people presumably think they are, I just don’t see them being nearly as eager to state their blogs as they are to state their insults.
The reason for this should be obvious.