Last night I had an interesting and sad experience. One I’ve had before, but not recently. Someone followed my tweets and as is my custom, I go check out their profile and thank them through a direct message. Maybe I want to follow them to. The person I thanked immediately started asking questions. This should have been my first clue. I’m not talking about questions that show an interest in a person or topic, but questions about whether I have the right beliefs. Questions like “Do you believe the bible is 100% right?” Whoa. Talk about jumping into the deep end. My response was – “It depends on what you mean by that.” I don’t know who this person is or where they are coming from. I don’t know the intent of the question. I realized some time ago that holding a deep theological discussion in 140 character increments is not only inconvenient, but really impossible.
The conversation just went downhill from there. The person decided to bury me with Scripture verse after verse “proving” their wacky beliefs. I ended up telling the person that I was ending the “conversation” and blocking them. I don’t like to block people, but I determined that if I didn’t, this person would never stop.
Here’s what I learned:
1. Listen to the first things coming from someone. What are they interested in? If they are only interested in being right, then run away – fast before you get sucked in and think you can have a rational conversation with this person.
2. I don’t like feeling trapped. That’s how I felt throughout this. I knew exactly where the conversation was heading early on. This person was throwing so many verses at me at once that I had no time to consider them or to think about a response.
3. Life and God are not either/or – the world and God are not that simple. Don’t insult God by simplifying God that much. If I get backed into a corner and you come at me with something like “you are either with me or you are against me” don’t be surprised if I respond that I’m against you. But realize that you pushed me to that answer.
4. I appreciate it when someone knows Scripture. I am also aware that Satan was very good at quoting Scripture too. Throwing verse after verse after verse makes me shift from the first thought to the second pretty quickly – especially when the person doesn’t really care to hear a response but only to show they are right.
Final conclusion – the answer to the question “How do you talk with a fundamentalist?” You can’t. You can only be talked to because their world is black and white and any other possibility cannot be entertained or else their entire world will fall down like a house of cards. Fundamentalism is a person’s response to the fact that we are not in control of our lives. It is a person’s attempt to control their life through absolutes. If absolutes are the only thing – either yes or no, with or against – then realize that any response that falls outside of their foundation is considered to be in error. Context doesn’t matter to them. The person they are talking with doesn’t matter really. This may sound harsh, but it is the reality.
So how do you talk with a fundamentalist? I don’t know the best answer. Here’s what I did – As with anyone, I remained respectful of the person. I did not respond with anger or accusations. When I could see that the conversation only had one possible conclusion – to agree with the person – I politely ended the conversation and wished them well. When they persisted, I then responded in a manner they could hear since they weren’t listening to my words – I blocked them.
Sometimes we encounter people who live in a world with blinders on. We desperately want to reach these people. We want to have a rational conversation. We want to engage. But we can’t and we need to recognize this truth – you can’t engage with someone who doesn’t want to engage with you but only show how right they are. When you come across someone like this – it is best ultimately to shake the dust off your feet and move on and pray for the person. Life doesn’t always have a happy ending.