The Benefit of the Doubt

A blog about Dialogue, Doubts, and Christian Faith ~Travis Dickinson~

You need community (including those who disagree)

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Christianity was never meant to be lived in isolation. Though there are ways in which Christianity concerns the individual (e.g., each of us must choose this day whom we will serve), the call has always been a call to community.

The need for community is especially pronounced when it comes to grappling with the deep and difficult questions of the faith. We need community. We need people in our lives with whom we share and think about our ideas on a deep level.

But not all community is equally good. A community full of folks exactly alike is not going to sufficiently challenge one to think carefully. Of course a community that is extremely hostile can also make it difficult since everything is under attack.

The best situation is to have community that is diverse.

Likeminded community

I think everyone needs a community of likeminded folks where we can together explore the implications of our view and think about it rationally. For the Christian, this is often a church community. When I go to church on a Sunday morning, I expect to be challenged in how to live my life in light of the gospel and the claims of the Bible (its implications). I don’t expect a defense of the Bible every single Sunday before my pastor preaches from the Bible. He doesn’t need to. Most everyone there already believes that the Bible is source of divine authority. It is typically appropriate for him to simply preach assuming its truth. But we should also, as Christians, think carefully about Christianity, including what evidence there is for believing it is true. It is okay for this to be a community of likeminded individuals with shared assumptions working together in this intellectual pursuit.

Friends who disagree

We should also have a variety of people with whom we disagree but are friends. It is ideal when these are genuine friends. In other words, it is a great blessing to have people in our lives who really do care about us, but take a very different view on matters. This way, discussions don’t reduce to mere spitting matches of who can best the other with wit and well placed zingers. There is trust and the discussion is charitable.

Disagreement in community is a very good thing. But of these two types of community, this is typically the sort we lack. Christians may know some unbelievers, for example, but the relationship is often hostile (that is, there isn’t that mutual trust and charity). Or we are only “friends” with that person insofar as there is openness to be evangelized. But once this option is foreclosed on, so goes the friendship. I think this is at our own detriment. We of course need to have people with whom we agree, but we also desperately need those with whom we disagree in order to grapple with the deep and difficult issues of the faith.

2 Payoffs

This sort of community of diversity has at least two payoffs.

First, having a diverse community helps us to not go off the deep end intellectually. It is much more difficult, though not impossible, to have crazy beliefs while in this sort of community. The reason why this is so is that those who come at the things very differently will almost certainly push on the weakest and wildest parts of our views. So if we’ve got something crazy and we are in genuine dialogue with those who believe differently, they will likely push us to have good rational reasons for those beliefs or drop them because they are, well, crazy.

Second, having a diverse community will help us not give up our core beliefs too quickly. What I mean is that some bit of intellectual tenacity is a good thing. This tenacity comes when we know that we have friends who share our beliefs and (hopefully) have good reasons for them. It’s almost a certainty that at some point we will get into a discussion and realize that we really don’t have a good reason for some belief. We may find we need to drop the belief. However, being able to pose the challenge to our likeminded friends, we may find there is plenty of good evidence for the belief. If we had dropped it simply because we failed to muster much in terms of evidence on the spot, this would have been much too soon.

Don’t go at it alone

In short, don’t go at it alone. Embed yourself with likeminded folks as well as folks with whom you disagree.

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