Silent Disagreement

Yesterday, in an unusual turn of events, I left a Facebook group before I got thrown off it.  The group is called Progressive Christians, for anyone who wants to look it up, or attempt to join (it’s closed, so you have to be added by a current member).  I became part of a discussion that took an ugly turn, and led me to understand that the group does not live up to the first half of its name–and might not live up to the second, either.

Where the discussion descended into the abyss was when one of these “progressive” Christians said that disagreement was fine, so long as we disagreed “silently.”  I asked how that was even possible, or why it was desirable.  First, to know if we agree or disagree, we actually have to say something.  Secondly, when we must only disagree silently, we shut down discussion.  Thirdly, we only grow, mature, and learn by encounter with ideas that we do not currently hold.

I can think of nothing, in a “progressive” Christian community (online or otherwise) more life-giving than healthy, vocal disagreement.

When we must remain silent in our disagreement, bad things happen.  Very bad things.  To outline a few:

  1. Only one viewpoint is acceptable.  Every other viewpoint is “outsider”, anathema, “other”.
  2. Discussion is shut down.  I used to think it was just discussion of important ideas, but it is even discussion of trivia which is closed down.  If we can’t voice opinions–especially well-informed opinions–out of fear of making disagreement something other than silent, we silence all speech.
  3. Community becomes something else.  Community–real community, anyway–needs a variety of voices, viewpoints, experiences.  Those voices are inevitably going to be in tension and even dissonance occasionally (good music moves on dissonance, by the way:  Listen to Brahms’ First Symphony if you don’t believe me).  It’s that tension and dissonance that makes any resolution fuller, more satisfying, and richer.  When we don’t allow tension and dissonance, all we do is sit wordlessly, with nosepickingly stupid expressions on our faces (my guess is, it must be the same nosepickingly stupid expression on all faces involved).

The “gentleman” who insisted on silent disagreement as the only form of disagreement allowable in the church made several very nasty assumptions about me (including a very amateurish diagnosis about my mental and emotional health).  He concluded (perhaps rightly, perhaps not) because I did not agree with him on the need for silence in disagreement, we would not agree on anything.  Some of this was done within the group, some through exceptionally abusive private messages.  We won’t even say much about what happens when we assume things about people on little to no evidence.

The group–remember, this is “Progressive Christians” took the “gentleman’s” side, and joined in that I had “anger issues” (I disagree that “anger” directed at the institutional church is the very worst thing a Christian can express–and sometimes it is the most appropriate).

If any of them had been present at the events described in Matthew 21:12, they might have taken Jesus aside and admonished him to get help for his anger issues.

For myself, I’ve never grown, learned, matured when the only opinions I’ve encountered are the ones I already held.  I’ve always invited and sought ideas that rubbed up the wrong way against my own.  I’ve deliberately put myself in the way of people I knew were different–less because I wanted to convince others of the rightness and truth of my ideas, but because I wanted to try to see the rightness and truth of theirs.

That is impossible if all disagreement must be silent.  And if progressive Christianity has such an allergy to disagreement, I can’t be a part of progressive Christianity.  Because lively, heartfelt disagreement doesn’t have to be “one side wins, one side loses”.  It doesn’t even have to take sides at all.  It just needs to put lots of ideas–some in tension and dissonance–out for honest examination, to see the rightness and truth (and wrongness and falsehood) in all of them.

It beats sitting wordlessly with the same nosepickingly stupid expression on everybody’s face.


3 thoughts on “Silent Disagreement

  1. I don’t know the FB group, though I would be deterred by the use of the word ‘progressive’ in connection with Christianity.

    ‘Silent disagreement’ is a new one to me – attempts to keep the lid on a pressure cooker for ever are bound to fail, I would have thought, and the resulting eventual explosion is likely to be dramatic.

    Also, whether or not you are angry has no bearing on the validity of your arguments, does it? This is why good moderators are strict about upholding the ‘no ad hominem’ rule.

    We are struggling along, as we have been for many months, in an FB group called Good Disagreement. The problem is that, whereas the ‘liberals’ (for want of a better word) bend over backwards to be flexible, the Conservative Evangelicals keep repeating that we are going straight to hell for our twisting of the true religion, and can only be saved if we repent and agree with them.

    1. If I’m not mistaken, I got “added” to the group by a friend (can’t remember who), but I didn’t request it.

      I don’t mind the term “progressive” linked with “Christian”–I think progressive is the best way to *be* Christian. But it involves changing how we think and act, and that means exposure to new ideas.

      The moderators in the group are *not* good–but I’ve not had a good moderator in most of the FB groups I’ve been in. The “gentleman” began ad hominem against me after I asked a legitimate question (“Why must we constrain ourselves to disagreeing silently?”). I continued with my own “I’ve only ever learned when I’ve had to consider opinions different from my own” kind of line. I pressed it, he (nor anyone else) could give an answer why silence was preferable to putting divergent views out for general consideration. And not only he, but several *women* in the group got up my nose about “anger”.

      Emotional nonsense like always considering anger to be bad, rather than really thinking through why you are so allergic to difference and potentially having to adjust your own thinking, is no good. For anyone. And if you can’t change the people around you–you change the people around you. You just get different people.

      I tried the “Good disagreement” group for a while, but it was all on the one issue of sexuality (which, frankly, is beginning to bore me, and there’s so much more about which to disagree productively).

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