The old adage of dealing with conflict was “fight or flight.” As humans, we learned about fight or flight in our anthropological heritage. When threatened, we weren’t too well 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.
What happens when you are on a break in the office coffee room, the teachers room, the doctors break room, or you are sitting outside on a bench with fellow country club members, or someone makes a derogatory comment on your Facebook or Twitter page, or you are 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 two 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
Humans can fight or flee as animals, or we can do what they cannot do: We can talk. We can discuss, argue, reason, debate, make a point then a counterpoint. God wasn’t fooling when he made man the dominant creature of all living things by giving us an incredible brain, the ability to think, and 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?
Fight or Flight
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 beliefs. 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 flee. 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, the Jesus Christ, 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?
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.
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. 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, shake the dust off your feet, and walk away.
In his book Arguing Religion, Bishop Robert Barron lays out some conditions for discussing religion in a rational way in today’s cultural mix. The book is not about arguing religion in a way 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 you enter conversations about religious matters with others and not create conflict?
If you are a genuinely and authentically good, kind, and honorable office worker, teacher, doctor, golfer, father, mother, brother, sister 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 taking a risk with some of your emotional capital and offering reasonable religious commentary without spewing fire and brimstone! There are some prerequisites for arguing religion; absent them, you may be impotent in your 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? 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. When the opportunity arises, don’t fight; don’t run away rather talk lovingly, kindly, compassionately, steadfastly and softly. You do have the courage or chutzpah to say or write something? Then you have enough emotional capital in your relationships to make a comment.
The refusal to take sides on great moral issues is itself a decision. It is a silent acquiescence to evil. The tragedy of our time is that those who still believe in honesty lack fire and conviction, while those who believe in dishonesty are full of passionate conviction.” (Ven. Fulton J. Sheen)