In one of my previous posts about the world of online apologetics, I compared apologetics to choosing a restaurant (apologetics is not homogenous in approach, tone, or tenor) and the participation of others to the soccer rowdies.
If we are talking about choosing meals or rooting for a soccer team, the decisions ultimately reached are neither long lasting nor ultimately critical. The same cannot be said for spiritual decisions, however. I can get over a bad restaurant choice in a day or two, but a bad spiritual decision could have repercussions for years or generations. Quite honestly, there is much more on the line with religious apologetics than heartburn and whose team won.
Seekers, already at a loss for an answer, often find themselves navigating the rough philosophical waters created by the apologetic practitioners and observers. With decisions being critical and the stakes high, a misjudgment here or there can be tragic.
With that in mind, I’ve put together a few ideas for how seekers should approach the sometimes enlightening, often shocking, and periodically brutal world of online apologetics—as I mentioned that I would. These ideas are offered in no particular order, but should be considered in their entirety.
- Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet, especially from unknown or untrustworthy sources. We are prone to believe that anything we read on the Internet is true, but that is a dangerous belief to hold.
- If you don’t find spiritually satisfying answers in the first place you look, look some more. I’ve never run across a question for which an answer (or multiple answers) didn’t exist.
- Learn to appreciate ambiguity and nuance. For many questions there isn’t a single, one-size-fits-all answer. This can be troubling to those who would much prefer a black-and-white approach to their concerns. A good skill, therefore, is the ability to recognize the complexity of an issue and to understand and appreciate multiple potential answers simultaneously.
- It is your responsibility to feed yourself. If you have questions about non-core gospel areas or about interpreting historical events, you probably won’t find the answers by attending Sunday School all your life. It is not the Gospel Doctrine teacher’s responsibility (or anyone else’s responsibility at Church) to find the answers for you.
- Your bishop doesn’t have all the answers (and that’s OK). Before he was called to be bishop, the guy in the chair was in the pew next to you. He didn’t get infused with knowledge and experience by virtue of the call. (He receives inspiration, under the right conditions, but his inspiration won’t necessarily answer your questions.) If you have a smart bishop who has satisfactory answers, that’s great. If you don’t, charitably cut the guy some slack. It doesn’t mean there aren’t answers or that the answers are being hidden from you.
- Don’t stereotype all apologists or apologetics by the actions of a few. In the world of restaurants, is it fair to judge Marcel’s by what you find at Taco Bell? No; seek to find apologists and apologetics that match your approach and temperament—and don’t be a jerk toward the rest.
- If you want to maintain your faith in the face of doubts, seek answers from those who have stood where you stand and maintained their faith. They can provide guidance as to what helped them. (If you aren’t interested in maintaining your faith, then why look for answers at all?)
- Online empathy is cheap. It is easy to find people online who are happy to empathize with any pain you may choose to share. The ease is because those people don’t have to put anything more of themselves on the line, in your behalf, than a cheerful word and an emoticon or two.
- Don’t take online expressions of empathy as evidence that your chosen direction—whether it be toward or away from belief—is a correct choice on your part. It is much better to find a true disciple of Christ who is willing to help bear your burdens and lift up the hands that hang down.
- Better decisions can be made in quiet, one-on-one interactions with others than in the boisterous atmosphere of a message board, reddit feed, or twitter stream. For the most part, religious message boards are where apologists and observers meet and sometimes tussle. It is not a place to feel the promptings of the Spirit.
- Forget “reviews” of apologists or apologetics. You aren’t picking a restaurant, but seeking for answers. Those who “review” either apologists or apologetics are generally observers, trying to justify their own decisions, score rhetorical advantage, or downright cause mischief. The longer they’ve been observing (and “playing the game”), the better they are at well poisoning.
- Learn to recognize the Spirit. Those observers (or outright critics) who play at apologetics often seek to minimize or dismiss the power of the Spirit, but I can assure you it is real. This is why missionaries, early on in teaching investigators, talk about the Spirit and try to get the investigators to recognize it. If you forget how to recognize the Spirit in your seeking, how can you ever expect to find real spiritual answers? (Hint: You can’t.)
- If you find yourself getting angry about what you read online, then it is time to disconnect. Anger greatly reduces the ability to recognize truth. There are other ways to find answers that don’t engender anger.
- Remember that faith precedes the miracle. You must exercise faith (yes, the counsel of James in this regard is appropriate) and then the Lord can bless you. You should recognize that He may or may not completely remove your doubts—that is up to Him. What He can do, if you let Him, is to speak peace to your soul and comfort to your heart.
That’s it. Do you have other constructive suggestions for seekers entering the world of online apologetics? If so, feel free to share them in the comments, below.