#1 - The Relative Truth
Before anyone can even have a debate at all, we need to agree that the truth exists. As crazy as this sounds, more people than you think deny this simple fact without even knowing it. The topic of truth requires much more attention than I can give here, but making this distinction is a critical first step in determining why people are becoming so quick to dismiss legitimate ideas from the start. [For further explaination, go to Aaron's January 9th post about truth or read the book by Greg Koukl and Francis Beckwith entitled Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid Air.] What I mean by truth is our ability to know the way things really are. Knowing moral truth simply means that we can know what actions are good and which are bad. If you've never heard of relativism before, this may sound strange to you. While most people don't have any disagreement about observable facts such as the sky being blue or simple math like 2 + 2 = 4, in moral matters people often hesitate to claim that one answer is more accurate or better than another. What is right and what is wrong becomes more like an opinion that can't be judged better or worse than any other. It's no longer about what is real or true, but rather what is preferred or appeasing. A relativist might say "I like to get wasted on Saturdays so that's okay for me, but you're a Christian so that's bad for you." The relativist focuses on who's doing the drinking to determine morality whereas the realist focuses on the act of drunkeness itself. The moral realist might respond, "Getting wasted is wrong no matter who's doing it." We can debate on whether drunkeness is immoral, but the point is to illustrate how relativism and realism are vastly different. People who follow moral relativism tend to avoid making statements about bad behavior out of a fear of being intolerant. However, even relativists know there are some actions that qualify as objectively bad behavior and should not be tolerated (harassment, gaybashing, judgementalism, etc). Ironically, since the relativist thinks all ideas are equally valid, they are in no position to make such distinctions. So the relativist paints himself into a corner. As long as we can't call any behavior bad, we can't point out the truth. Therefore, anyone who attempts to deny that objective "right and wrongs" exist will continue to have this problem. We can't point to any immoral act and say "That's wrong!" when it's all about personal preference. Rather, we can only say that "I don't like that." As more people begin to reject moral truth, fewer conversations will be about getting at the truth and more about defending unshakable ideologies. After all, if there's no truth and everyone's opinion is of equal value, none of us can be right or wrong anyway.
#2 - The Painful Truth
While listing to Dennis Praeger's radio show the other day, I heard him artfully define political correctness as "the denial of uncomfortable realities." Political correctness is another barrier to truth. Sometimes, as the saying goes, the truth hurts. Typically, no one likes to hurt other people's feelings, but can be necessary to get at the reality of the situation. For instance, if you are prone to a deadly illness and your doctor fails to tell you how to increase your chances of avoiding it for fear of upsetting you, you would be wise to get a new doctor (and maybe a good malpractice attorney!). On a cultural level, we have become increasingly intolerant of unpleasant truth. Now compare the previous example of the doctor to a real life scenario. Over the past few years, we have seen AIDS infection, drug use, infidelity, domestic violence, and depression rates increase disporportionately higher among those engaged in homosexual lifestyles than for heterosexual ones. While true, these facts hurt. No one should desire any group of people to suffer like this. Similarly, no one should want to hide the facts from those who may be disuaded from this hazardous lifestyle if given the truth. Yet the denial of truth continues and we encourage everyone to just "be yourself" for the sake of political correctness. Christians are not immune from this denial of truth either. The divorce rate among church-going couples is much higher than it should be, yet this is another fact commonly ignored. Some pastors refuse to preach on the divorce problem for fear of offending divorced members of the congregation. But the only way to heal the problem is to admit that it's real in the first place.
#3 - The Biased Truth
Finally, there are some people who are only concerned with advancing their position regardless of what the truth of the matter is. They may have justified a certain idea to themselves or are otherwise emotionally invested in it. The question that usually flushes this out is this: what kind of evidence would it take to change your mind? If you've already asked them what convinced them in the first place, compare that burden of proof with what they require to change the position. If the amount of evidence they need to change positions is higher than what led them to their view in the first place, you should point this out to them. A tell tale sign of someone pushing an agenda or demonstrating ignorance is when they can't even cite opposing arguments or name experts who can. The best thinkers know both the strongest and weakest arguments on each side of the issue. The other indicator is the inability to engage in a civilized conversation. If the response to a simple question like the one above sets them off angrily, you can bet the frustration comes from a lack of will or desire to provide reasons for their belief. If you've ever heard criticism of something you hold dear, you know it's hard to hear, but we need to occasionally step beyond our comfort zone for the sake of learning and growth. I don't like when someone criticizes the church or the behavior of individual Christians, but sometimes they have valid points which deserve to be addressed. Likewise, pro-choice or pro-gay marriage supporters need to check within themselves to see if there is any evidence that would convince them of the other side. If they refuse, as in the case of Rafael, then perhaps they are no longer concerned about the truth but only about pushing an agenda.
Giving the Truth:
While the truth must be told, we need willing ears to hear it. And that means having a compassion for those who may not be ready for it. Consider examining other viewpoints and communicating your own with truth in love (Eph 4:15). This means to begin by challenging your own thoughts to verify the information is reliable. Then share the news tactfully, with a sincere heart, and in a loving manner. If we speak the truth, but no one is willing to listen, our words are wasted. Let's be understanding of how difficult it may be for someone to accept what you have to say if this person may have regretable actions in their past relating to the topic at hand (abortions, sexual infidelity, drug abuse, hurtful behavior, divorce, etc). We need to appreciate the emotional barriers to the truth and earn the right to be heard. Be patient. Build relationships. Show genuine concern. Share the hope (1 Pet 3:15).