I was getting drinks with a friend of mine a few weeks ago and had an enlightening conversation with him. He’s been with me and my family through all the ups and downs of our conversion to Catholicism. He doesn’t land anywhere in particular spiritually other than having a sense of God’s hand in the world, and he isn’t anywhere near Catholic. But during that whole roller coaster of our conversion (me and my wife’s) he kept an attentive eye and ear.
Things have settled a lot since I had all those arguments with my Protestant friends. It’s been years now. I guess we all agreed to disagree in a way. But that whole season of my life came up again in our conversation, and he said something that struck me. He said he hated those times. He hated seeing all of us arguing. It completely turned him off to Christianity – or at least to that version of Christianity that’s going to argue about Christianity… which, now that I think of it, is pretty much every version of Christianity.
I kept this in mind, and a few weeks later, another friend posted online that she was totally sick of people arguing politics on Facebook (FB) – or arguing politics at all. She wanted everyone to just get along. All the division between the Clinton camp and Trump camp thoroughly disheartened her. She felt disgusted by how hateful everybody seemed to be. Then not long after that, a friend of a friend posted this meme:
Apparently the person who posted this was so bothered by arguments, he decided everyone who read his stuff shouldn’t tell him they disagreed, which, really, is kind of brilliant. Stop the argument before it even starts by surrounding yourself with people who think just like you do and/or will never challenge you.
Now understand, I truly hate arguing. I mean, you wouldn’t think so, considering how many arguments I get into, but I really do hate it. I say what I say or type what I type with tremendous trepidation when I’m really getting into it with a friend, or trying to confront someone. Sometimes I literally shake. And yes, absolutely, we can go too far in a fight. People (and I’m guilty of this) battle way past any hope of convincing each other, not realizing they might as well have stopped ten minutes ago. We use snide remarks and speak cutting words in the heat of the moment.We start belittling each other and not just each other’s ideas. We start enjoying the fight in a perverse way. I found myself, at one point, going to a particular person’s FB page just to hate-read his posts which were regularly offensive, and I got kind of disappointed when he suddenly began to stop putting offensive stuff up and started saying really endearing things. Call it a besetting sin (one of many).
But given all that, I still wonder sometimes if we’ve gone too far in the other direction as well, which is also highly tempting. We all want peace, don’t we? We would all love to enjoy each other’s company and relish in happy, low-drama relationships. Can’t we all just hold hands and sing “We are one in the spirit”? Is there anything really wrong with that desire? Of course not. But to fulfill it requires that we all lie to each other.
A Dominican priest made the point in a video I was watching that we don’t really tolerate the people we love. We don’t tolerate the people we really care about. We tolerate the people we don’t care about. Also, I would add, we tolerate the opinions of others when it comes to issues we don’t care about. Let me explain.
If Brazil and Argentina, for example, were playing soccer in the last World Cup and you rooted for Brazil, I (being the pure-blooded American-Argentinian I am) would be relishing your team’s defeat. I would ask that you let go of your support of the clearly inferior Brazilian team to join the ranks of fans of the proud, noble, and highly talented Argentinian side. After all, we had no less than the greatest soccer player in the world: Lionel Messi! But if you decided to stick with Brazil, I could tolerate that. Why? Because at the end of the day, I don’t really care what team you root for. And I really shouldn’t because it doesn’t matter.
But if you come to me and tell me that you are thinking of getting an abortion, and I really love you, I will do everything I can to convince you not to go through with it. I’ll reason with you, ask to talk with you as many times as you are willing, offer as many alternatives as I can, beg, cry, and weep to get you to keep your baby. I might even, in my weaker moments, get angry and frustrated in front of you. One thing is for sure: I will argue with you, as much as I need to, to convince you to not go through with it. Why? Because I care about the baby growing inside of you. And just as important, I care about you.
More than that, what does it say when we don’t care when it comes to something that really matters to us or our friend? What happens when we all say, “Let’s just not argue about anything”? We end up never really allowing ourselves to know each other. We never enter into the messy and glorious mud of deep and committed relationships. It could be said that a married couple argues so much because the two mean so much to each other. I don’t care about whether some stranger on the street thinks I’m a good father, husband, or general human being. I care very, very much about whether or not my wife thinks so. Her opinion of me carries serious weight with me. And similarly, she cares about what I think of her. It’s a sign of our deep friendship and affection for one another. But that inevitably leads to pain and conflict as we wrestle with the reality of who we really are before each other.
When people argue their political points on the internet or in person, they almost always do it because they care about their country. It bothers them that someone who could possibly be a sexual predator (Trump) or someone who wants to repeal the Hyde Amendment (Clinton) might rise to the most powerful office in the world. When my Protestant friends and family argued with me to keep me from joining the Catholic Church, they did it because they cared about me. And while we probably argued well beyond a reasonable limit and didn’t always speak in charitable ways, I have to admit that, in a way, the louder and more passionate they got, the more convinced I could be that they really gave a damn about my life.
I don’t want to admit that. Like I said, I hate arguing. It leaves me with a pit in my stomach. Sometimes it takes me a day or two to recoup. But oftentimes, it can’t be helped. Oftentimes, it’s the only honest way to say, “I love you.”