Monday, May 25, 2009

The Scourge of Niceness

Have you ever been in a conversation where there are differing, even opposing, points of view, and then someone squashes the conversation by accusing the participating interlocutors of "attacking" each other and in so doing violating charity?

I would like to call this, "The Scourge of Niceness."

Now, to be sure, there are plenty of occassions when a disagreement among adults can become heated and the conversation most inappropriate--a violation of charity toward one's neighbor.

But, some people make the mistake of finding every firm disagreement--i.e., every argument--downright sinful. This is not so. This is a consequence of placing the value of maintaining an external appearance of niceness (meaning in this case never deliberately opposing the ideas of another) over and above the value of allegiance to the truth.

Any argument should be engaged with respect for the opposition. Shouting an opponent down, ad hominems, or other displays of disrespect should have no place among Christians. But to care enough about the truth to engage in an argument--if the setting permits this without violating prudence--shows a genuine form of love for your opponent, for yourself, and for Christ (who is The Truth).

The Scourge of Niceness is false charity. Provided we maintain personal control and keep respect for all involved, entering into an argument--making our points with firmness and vigor but without any malice--is a virtue highly important for the health of society. Who wants everyone going around avoiding every debate for the sake of keeping up (false) appearances? No, true charity actually demands--when prudence judges the time and place are right--that we have an obligation to seek out the truth with our fellow man. And at times this means having a good argument.

Not to contend together for the sake of truth out of a misplaced notion of niceness is to take too lightly the gift of human reason. It is a form of casual indifference to the great gift of the intellect which God has given us. Often this gift in order to see as far as possible into the truth of things must be exercised in the context of charitable yet vigorously-pursued argument. With grace, we can do this. Let us not be afraid. Down with the scourge of niceness!

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