26 February 2021

On arguing

Bruce Gerencser's recent post "Why I Don't Do Debates" struck a real nerve with me.  As a former fundamentalist pastor turned outspoken atheist blogger, Gerencser is sometimes urged to engage in formal debates with Christians.  He also attracts a fair number of Christian trolls who attack him or otherwise try to provoke him into argument, usually without reading any of the material on his site which already addresses what they are saying.  He sometimes posts responses to the latter, while firmly refusing to be drawn into the endless and pointless rounds of bickering they seem to want.  As to formal debates, he gives two reasons for refusing to engage:

First, there are numerous atheist and agnostic debaters producing quality -- dare I say phenomenal -- content..... I see no need to add my weak voice to an already crowded field of expert debaters. I ask myself, do we really need another hamburger joint in town? The answer is no.

Second, I am a conversationalist, a storyteller.  This blog has always been one man with a story to tell.  I suspect that if I changed my focus to the rules of logic, philosophy, and debating, my hard-won audience would likely go elsewhere.  Most people who read this blog do so because they find my story resonates with them in some way.  When doubting, troubled Evangelicals show up for the first time, they find a man who understands their pain, what they have experienced and gives voice to their struggles.  Such people have always been my focus, and I see no need to change my course now.

Different people are good at different things.  The skills of storytelling and explaining overlap somewhat with those of debating, but debating is nevertheless a quite distinct thing.  Gerencser is very good at what he does.  It would make no sense for him to burden himself with further tasks which he judges less suited to his abilities.

A further problem with getting into arguments -- one very evident in Gerencser's occasional posts responding to Christian e-mail pests -- is the sheer repetitiousness of it.  Since none of them bother to read much of his site before attacking, each one starts from zero -- each one makes more or less the same kind of trite and shallow "points" and earns more or less the same responses, never realizing that Gerencser has heard the same from any number of previous trolls.  None address his story and experiences.  They just make assumptions based on their own indoctrination, and proceed on that basis.  I don't know how he has the patience to keep writing responses to such cookie-cutter sameness.

I have no such patience.  The "fight-picker" trolls who try to post comments here, similarly, almost never engage with what I say on its own terms -- they simply regurgitate their own talking points.  In most cases, these are tired clichés which others have addressed far better.

(And yes, there are a fair number of fight-picker comments, not to mention flat-out personal insults.  You just don't see them because of the comment moderation.)

Then there are the trolls who get irate about something in the link round ups and, bizarrely, attack me for posting a link to it rather than engaging with the author I linked to whose words actually angered them.  Even weirder are those who triumphantly proclaim "the person you linked to once did or said [bad thing], thus proving they are a bad person", as if that somehow negates whatever actual point the linked individual had made.  Would there really be any purpose in letting such comments through moderation and then trying to explain why they're irrelevant?  It would be like belaboring 2+2=4, and the troll himself would never get it.

Since the content of this blog is rather varied, not everything on it will appeal to every reader.  I believe I too am pretty good at what I do, and the steady growth in number of readers over time seems to substantiate that.  But as the comments policy says, this is a blog, not a debating forum.  The internet has a vast abundance of places where back-and-forth arguments are welcome.  This just isn't one of them.

Finally, debating is simply not something I want to do, and I consider this a perfectly legitimate reason for not engaging with fight-pickers.  Some people actually enjoy arguing back and forth, back and forth.  To me it would be a wearisome chore.  There are only so many hours in the day, and I already have a full-time job.  I choose not to devote any more of my precious time to the drudgery of bickering.


Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Oh, the armchair debaters. They're all over the internet. The funny thing is to me, they all sound like a version of Ben Shapiro: cagey, full of themselves and terribly insecure at the same time. They also literally look like Ben in my mind: all Children of the Corn and snarky.
I think Bruce is right on not debating them. It's a losing strategy: trolls don't listen. Trolls, well, troll. That's their raison d'être. They're not worth our time.
Oh, and one day you should post a collection of their stupidity. Just for shit and giggles.


26 February, 2021 03:43  
Anonymous Percy said...

What's the full-time job?

26 February, 2021 06:52  
Blogger Debra She Who Seeks said...

Yes, "do not feed the trolls" should be the policy of every blog.

26 February, 2021 06:59  
Anonymous Leonard Borchardt said...

My father used to tell me, "Let them laugh at you. They laughed at the Wright Brothers, too."

Then my Aunt Emma would say, "They laughed at the Marx Brothers."

Uncle Pete then said, "They also laughed at the Three Stooges. I'll never understand why."

People tell me that I have a weird family.

Where was I going with this?

26 February, 2021 07:39  
Blogger Mike said...

I will engage with the "fight-picker" trolls in certain circumstances. Mainly when they are a friend of a friend and they are trying to bait our common friend. And our common friend doesn't want to upset the apple cart. I'll step in for them. And what I step in with is not just a random argument. I go to Snopes and other such sites to show them why they are wrong. Not with my opinion, but with fact-checked information.

And I'm sorry to say (or not), I can be relentless. I can beat them at their own game.

26 February, 2021 09:48  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Sixpence: I'm sure mine wouldn't listen either. They're not religious (mostly), but it's the same deal -- stuck in broadcast mode, absolutely certain they're right and that their role is to "correct" me into the True Faith. I've already had a couple on this post -- hardly surprising.

Percy: Nice try.

Debra: If I could just find something to feed them to.....

Leonard: Not quite sure.

Mike: If you find it agreeable or at least tolerable to engage with them, that's fine for you. The nature of my problem is rather different. I don't doubt I could beat them, logical-argument-wise. But it would be a repetitious chore, and they themselves would never get it, and it wouldn't be of much interest to anyone else.

26 February, 2021 09:57  
Blogger Lady M said...

Internet balls! It amazes me the things people say to each other over the internet that they would never say to my face. It is quite appalling. This is your space and I applaud your choice not to feed the trolls - it just keeps them coming back for more.

26 February, 2021 11:24  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's face it. There is nothing more tedious than [someone else's] religion [and ideas about it].

26 February, 2021 12:12  
Blogger Bruce Gerencser said...

Years ago, I changed the commenting rules on my blog. Instead of allowing Evangelicals to run wild, I give them one opportunity to say whatever it is they think God wants them to say. If they show they can play well with others I might allow them to comment again. This policy has greatly reduced my interaction with Evangelical (and Catholic) trolls. Some of them choose to email me. Sometimes, I use their email as fodder for a post. This can be fun if the commenter is a pastor. I leverage my blog traffic numbers in Google search.I write a post about Pastor Dick’s email and soon when someone searches for Pastor Dick’s church, they find my post ranks right below the church. Score! 😂😂 Drives Fundamentalist preachers crazy. Well, crazier than they already are.

27 February, 2021 03:42  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyhow, why did people laugh at the Three Stooges?

27 February, 2021 12:25  
Blogger Kwark said...

But it is funny (for a few minutes) to hear two fanatical followers of different religions beat each other over the head with their versions of revealed truth. Of course we're so much now (/s) since we've been killing each other over those differences for millennia. Religion: the bane of mankind.

27 February, 2021 17:45  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Lady M: Thanks. They may not go away if I block them, but they certainly won't go away if I engage them.

Anon: Often it's tedious. Sometimes it's menacing.

Bruce: That's great! Leverage their humiliation for everyone to see.

Anon: Because they were sometimes funny?

Kwark: Actually I wouldn't mind if the real extremists were still killing each other off, so long as they left the rest of us alone. The world is safer without them.

28 February, 2021 03:36  
Blogger RO said...

Wow! This is a really interesting post and so very true. It reminds me how much I used to debate with friends when I was a kid (lol), and it drove them bonkers. Certain topics really get people going, so I totally know what you mean. To me, domestic violence is wrong and a crime, yet some people still find a way to make it right, or turn it on the victim, so verbally, I've been attacked in person. Not so much on line except for on Reddit many years ago.(lol) Like you, I feel that it's interesting to hear other opinions but when the back and forth arguments and personal attacks begin, that's just rude and mean-spirited and unnecessary. Nothing will ever get solved that way. I welcome listening and learning from others even when there are differences. I agree - no need for all the drama. Love, love this topic! Hope you're doing well. Yay to Percy for giving it a try.(lol) Hugs, RO

28 February, 2021 05:13  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

RO: Thanks! On the issue of domestic violence specifically, it's hard to imagine that verbal arguing does much good. Anybody who thinks such abuse is acceptable has deeper problems which need other strategies to reach. I do think things like the personal stories of victims can sway people, but such testimony is not really the kind of thing people can productively have arguments about.

02 March, 2021 01:33  
Blogger run75441 said...


First; Thank you for posting us at C&L.
Secondly; Nice read and comments. I agree.

02 March, 2021 05:51  
Blogger Charles Watkins said...

It would be fun to hold a real debate, not just a flood of comments. Organize participants into sides and present a resolution to be argued. Track the arguments made and the rebuttals offered. Have a panel of judges render a decision.

03 March, 2021 16:22  

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