To Debate or Dialogue, that is the question…

Here’s a worry.

I like debating, but I am in the business of dialogue. I know that sometimes a debate can be a dialogue, especially if it is between two people who, like me, find that the best way to open your mind up to another’s point of view is to have a bloody good argument with them in which you both push your point of view so hard and so inflexibly that you begin to see how ridiculous your own point of view is and come to appreciate the view of the “opposition”. In this way you can often creep up on Truth by creating a noisy diversion.

There are not a lot of people like me (thank God).

Most people are either “dialoguers” who would run a mile from a real, honest to goodness “debate”, or “debaters” who are not really interested in what the other person thinks, but rather in scoring points against them.

That’s why the upcoming round of “debates” between Dr Peter Barnes (of Sydney’s First Presbyterian Church) and Diaa Mohamed of the Australian New Muslim Association beginning at the Bankstown Town Hall on Friday night (Feb 17th), scares me witless. There are to be three debates, one on Friday, one on Saturday and one Saturday week, on the overall theme of “Christianity or Islam: which is from God?”

If I were in Sydney, you couldn’t keep me away from this event (that’s the debater in me speaking), but at the same time if I had half a chance I would grab both parties by the ears and say “What on earth do you think you are doing?” (that’s the dialoguer in me—I think…). The flyer I saw said that there will be “coffee and tea afterwards so that everyone can mingle and chat”. Yeah? I hope so. Mingle and chat is what you do during a dialogue event (see the last blog); debates tend to get feelings rather more heated up. Does Sydney really need this at the moment—especially in the context of the Cronulla riots and the Danish cartoons?

Now, in case you are wondering, I understand that this event has been organised by the ANMA, not by the Presbyterians. I know that there is an obligation in Islam to take Christians to task on matters of faith, just as there is in Christianity to be ready at all times to give an account for the faith that we have, but is this the way to go? I’m as keen for serious scholarly and passionate debate as the next bloke or blokette, but let this be done in a controlled environment, eg. over a meal and glass of red—or coffee, if it is with our Muslim brethren and sistern. Not in public in a heated atmosphere where tempers could flair and insults be hurled etc. etc., where the good things that both have to say will be lost in the desire to “score points” and “to win” the debate. What will they suggest next? A “worm” to see what the audience approval is?

I commend ANMA and the First Presbyterian Church for coming together to discuss such important issues. I hope and pray that when it comes to coffee and tea afterwards people are still in the mood to “mingle and chat”.

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One Response to To Debate or Dialogue, that is the question…

  1. Maryam says:

    Hi David,

    This reminds me of the debates that the various religious societies at Uni would occasionally put on (I’ve been to ovarious organised by Christians, Muslims and Baha’is too hehe.) They are interesting but largely unsuccessful at gaining converts for any side.

    I can’t remember where I read it, but I remember some Muslim chap saying that he had never come across a convert that was convinced from one of these debate type events. So…. bit of mass debating methinks!

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