Thinking Christian

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On Stereotypes

Posted on Jul 12, 2013 by Tom Gilson

I hate to leave my blog without any updates for this long — it hurts the traffic numbers — but that's the way it's been lately. I'm starting a new job, clearing out details from my previous one, and doing a lot of reading in the midst of a fair amount of traveling. I just finished reading Nathan Schneider's God In Proof, and I'll post a review on it within a few days. I’ve been looking at stereotypes along the way.

I had a very fascinating dinner last night with David and Kelly Kullberg. David is a novelist; Kelly is the founder of the Veritas Forum, and she's currently leading efforts to bring a biblical (and rational) viewpoint to immigration reform legislation in the U.S.

There's a lot I could say about our discussion, but I think the main thing relevant here would be how gracious they were to me. That's in stark contrast to some of the Amazon reviews on David's book, that would have us think of him as “rabid, hateful, foaming-at-the-mouth.” Nothing could be further from reality. It's not just that we got along because he hold some viewpoints in common. He was equally gracious to the waiter who dumped a full glass of ice water in his lap.

This meeting came about because of a connection we made at the Xenos Summer Institute in Columbus. One of the speakers here, my friend and fellow author Doug Pollock, brought in a couple of unusual presenters to help him lead one of his sessions: two local atheist leaders. His purpose was to give the Christians here the opportunity to listen. And yes, it was a listening session, not a debate.

We have a lot to learn about how to treat other people as people, even when they disagree with us. It can help correct our unfortunate tendency to stereotype members of other groups. Internet-fostered tribalism has made it all too easy to hang out with people who will reinforce our belief that members of other groups are all blithering idiots. That prejudice is much harder to maintain when we actually spend time with them and discover they are, in fact, people like us.

Stereotyping remains one of the few things that everyone recognizes as wrong. That's why I find it so sadly disturbing when people assume without actually knowing him that a man like David Kullberg is rabidly hateful, or when they call (as another reviewer did) for “more lions. A lot more lions.” These are stereotyped responses made in complete ignorance of the man.

There's a story there related to Nathan Schneider's God In Proof, too. Don't misead that: Schneider is not one to stereotype, at least not in his book or in the few articles of his that I've read. He came close once, but he responded well to further information. That's the kind of interaction we need. It's the kind of thing I want to learn from myself.

I would go so far as to say that if someone presented atheism to me in such a way that it made more sense than my current Christian beliefs, I would go with what seemed more reasonable and drop Christianity. I would also say that, given the reasoning I've seen from atheists, there is very little chance of that happening. On a lesser scale, though, I can always learn from another person, whether it be something of their professional expertise, something from their experience, or even how to correct my own ways and become a more complete person myself.

I'm not sure how clearly that shows up in my interactions with skeptics and atheists on this blog. The environment here is not conducive for real personal connections with people of different persuasions, such as I might have (and have had) at various coffee shops and homes. At Starbucks I can offer the kindness of picking up someone's cup of coffee for them; here it's structurally difficult to bring anything to the table but the argument.

So I'm not quite sure how to close this out, but I need to end it somehow so I can get back to the conference. John Lennox is speaking this morning. There's going to be a lot of traffic between here and there, too — and not the kind I was talking about when I started this morning's rambling.

 

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3 Responses to “ On Stereotypes ”

  1. Ray Ingles says:

    Internet-fostered tribalism has made it all too easy to hang out with people who will reinforce our belief that members of other groups are all blithering idiots.

    That’s the main reason I make it a point to spend time on websites that I disagree with.

  2. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    Curious. What you quote is one of the reasons why I spend little to no time on websites I disagree with.

    No, I am not being whimsical or ironical.

  3. Andrew W says:

    I suspect the wise choice is to figure out who you consider the “best” (ie intellectually and rhetorically strongest) of those you disagree with and interact with them. ie people who will push your thinking, not your buttons.

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