Who's afraid of the big bad critic?
A couple of months ago, somebody wrote me who was just starting out in philosophy and apologetics. He confessed that he feared challenge and critique, not just because he'd lose face over it, but because he would fail the church because of it. I offered him my advice in reply and was just thinking it might be helpful to others, so I'm going to make a blog post out of it. Here ye go:
I think everybody, whether Christian or not, has experienced a little anxiety in a debate or when reading an opposing book or article. I think the primary reason we have this anxiety is because our ego is at stake. That's especially the case when you're in a face to face encounter. All of us, at one time or another, have discovered that we were wrong about something, and changed our minds as a result. But nobody wants to be proved wrong in the heat of battle because it stings our ego.
And people are sometimes very emotionally attached to their point of view, and it's painful to have to give it up. That's especially the case for Christians, I think, because of the emphasis we put on having a personal relationship with our lord and savior. Finding out he's not really our lord and savior is kind of like losing your best friend. If you had your whole purpose for living wrapped up in it, it's very scary to give it up.
There are a few things that have helped me with my anxiety when facing opposition:
1. Place a high value on truth. Maybe you ARE wrong about some things. We shouldn't fear finding out that we're wrong. We should welcome it. If we place a high value on truth, then we'll be thankful for whoever sets us straight. We should make a conscious decision to pursue truth regardless of whether we like it or not. As long as our goal is to discover the truth about things, we should never feel any anxiety about finding out we've been wrong.
2. Swallow your pride. You've heard the saying, "Pride goes before the fall." It's true. If you can't be humble, you can't learn. And if you can't learn, you're doomed to wallow in ignorance. Life will kick your butt if you're too prideful to be corrected or advised by other people. Solomon said, "Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; Reprove a wise man, and he will love you" (Proverbs 9:8). Be the wise man. Instead of digging in your heals when faced with a tough challenge, acknowledge the merits of the challenge. Admit you don't know something when you don't know it. Don't just make stuff up in an effort to save face.
3. Educate yourself. The more you know, the less anxiety you'll have about being wrong. Do the hard work of studying and refining your apologetic.
4. Read your opposition carefully. There's a tendency to gloss over what our opposition says because we're afraid. This is why there's so much misunderstanding between people with differing points of view. I have found that if I try hard to really understand what my opposition is saying, and to master it to the point that I could defend their position myself, the flaws in their arguments will become much more apparent than if I had just glossed over them. Sometimes an argument can seem persuasive at first glance, but when you dig a little deeper you find the flaws. Actually studying the deep atheist thinkers has increased my faith. It's like a kid who is afraid of the monster under his bed. Once he actually looks under his bed to discover there's no monster, his fear goes away.
5. Keep in mind the core essentials of Christianity. At a bare minimum, if God exists, if he imposes moral obligations on us, if we disobey them, and if he judges us, and if Jesus is the Christ, and if he died for sins, and if he was raised from the dead, then Christianity is true. Keep that in mind because the majority of our critics will attack things that have no bearing on the truth of any of these essentials. For example, you'll hear a lot about Bible contradictions, and you can get bogged down in endless discussions of contradictions and reconciliations, but none of that tells you anything about whether those core elements of Christianity are true. So when you're faced with a challenge you can't answer, just ask yourself, "If the other person is right, what bearing does that have on these core tenants of Christianity? Could Christianity be true if my opponent's arguments are sound?" I have found this to be very useful in my debates. I avoid rabbit trails or insignificant arguments. I don't even debate inerrancy with non-believers. Stay focused when you're debating on line, and keep in mind the importance of the topic you're debating and it's bearing on whether or not Christianity is true.
I hope this helps. I also recommend reading "The Ambassador's Creed."