Evangelizing: Do you fight, flight or talk?
The old adage of dealing with a conflict was “to fight or flight”. As humans, we learned about fight or flight in our anthropological heritage. When threatened we weren’t too equipped to fight…we learned how to run, leap and hide…flight is what saved our butts. If trapped, we had no other option but to fight it out.
We as humans can fight or flight as animals or we can do what they cannot do; we can talk. We can discuss, argue, reason, debate, make a point then a counter-point. God wasn’t fooling when he made man the dominate creature of all living things by giving us an incredible brain, the ability to think and then to develop language. When it comes to talking about religion generally, and the Catholic Church and Jesus Christ specifically, where are you with the old adage? Do you fight, flight or talk?
Fighting is never a good idea unless you’re fighting to defend yourself or your family. Fighting usually creates huge schisms among people, families, communities, countries and cultures. Historically, religious differences have been the cause of terrible wars. Even today radical Muslim groups put people to death if they do not succumb to their particular religious belief and then Muslim leaders wonder why so many of their followers are leaving their religion. A recent world report on religious migration noted that over 10 million Muslims have converted to Christianity in the past few years. I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to shove an ideology down someone’s throat…any ideology. All you do is drive people away.
I suppose the easiest and maybe the safest thing to do is to flight. Why bother getting upset over something or someone that doesn’t matter that much to you. But, then again, suppose that “religion” does matter to you. Suppose that “someone” does matter to you. Do you still want to just leave? Do you want to put yourself out there in the social context you are in and engage in the religion discussion, the Jesus Christ discussion or the Catholic Church discussion? That can be a very intimidating and daunting task. Isn’t it true that sometimes the best thing to do is to remain silent? And just walk away.
Communication experts tell us that for a message to be effective it should be timed so that that the receiver is ready to hear your message? Even Jesus experienced the wrath of his own townspeople when He addressed them in their place of worship (Jesus at synagogue in Nazareth). They weren’t ready to hear what he had to say to them. His own townspeople were ready to throw him off a cliff, but he walked away. In another instance, Jesus told his disciples to leave a community that doesn’t welcome you, stump the dust off your feet and walk away. Walking away from a discussion about religion is always an option, but sometimes a discussion about religion is not even an option.
I remember being invited to a friend’s sister’s house and my friend’s sister made it quite clear that there would be no discussion about politics or religion in her house! All the guests honored her request. It was her house and her dinner party; end of discussion.
Well, where are we in deciding how to approach discussing religion, Jesus Christ or the Catholic Church? We can engage ourselves in some sort of conflict…fight. We can decide not to discuss…flight. Or, we can choose to discuss…talk…argue…reason.
In his new book, Arguing Religion, Bishop Robert Barron lays out some conditions for discussing religion in a rational way in today’s cultural mix. The title is not about arguing religion that sets up a conflict or a fight. Reasoning Religion might have been a better title because that is what Bishop Barron is truly advocating. How do we enter conversations about religious matters with others and not create conflict?
We can attend Bible study, go on retreats, attend conferences and engage ourselves with like-minded religious people. We can do any one of these or maybe all of them and the expectation of religious conversation is accepted positively and desired, but what happens when you’re on a break in the office coffee room, the teachers room, the doctors break room or your sitting outside on a bench with your fellow country club members or someone makes a derogatory comment on your Facebook or Twitter page or you’re about to have dinner with your family and the topic somehow turns to religion. Do you sit there and not say or write a word? Do you put your 2 cents into the conversation? If you say or write a word or two what will it sound like…some fanatical religious zealot or will you offer some sort of reasonable comment or point of information? Do you have the courage or chutzpah to say or write something? Do you have enough emotional capital in your relationships to make a comment?
If you are a genuinely and authentically good, kind and honorable office worker, teacher, doctor, golfer, father, mother or practicing catholic, then you most likely have built upon your relationships and, in fact, do have the emotional capital to make a comment. People, even relatives, listen to people who are genuine and authentic.
A very brave thing to do in this day and age is take a risk with some of your emotional capital and offer reasonable religious commentary without spewing “fire and brim stone”! There are some prerequisites for arguing religion; absent them, we become impotent in our arguing. Bishop Barron offers five prerequisites for cultivating rational speech around matters of religion.
“The restless men and women of our current culture must come to understand-and put into practice: (1) the convictions that authentic faith is not opposed to reason; (2) that scientism must be put to rest;(3) that mere toleration must not be tolerated;(4) that voluntarism must be eschewed;(5) that opponents must seek to really listen to one another.”
Bishop Barron goes on to propose that St. Thomas Aquinas’s method is an optimal example of engaging religious or any dialogue for that matter. You need to take the time to learn about St. Thomas’s method. If you want to argue religion learn how to argue. Do your due diligence.
What’s a Christian to do? Fight, flight or talk? Me? I say talk…evangelize with faith, reason and knowledge. If the center of your life is tuned into Jesus Christ, then you will be amazed at how many times during the course of an ordinary day the opportunity arises to thank Him, to praise Him, to trust Him and to evangelize Him.