The Importance of Listening
One of the things many Christians fail to do when having conversations with those outside of the Christian faith is listen. This is a terrible error for lots of reasons, three of which I'll mention here. First, if we fail to listen, we may end up attacking an argument they aren't making. I've seen Christians get all worked up trying to show how false a premise is only to find out that no one believes premise anymore -- not Christians -- not non-Christians -- no one. That's a waste of energy and intellectual capital; it's like bombing an empty field. We ought to be able to understand the other person's position well enough to describe it and explain it to their satisfaction. We ought to, in other words, seek first to understand then to be understood. Straw men make easy targets, but they make us look foolish -- like Don Quixote jousting with windmills.
Second, failing to listen can lead us to defend against objections to our faith that no one is actually making. This second reason is similar to the first, but it's the difference between offense and defense. When we rebut arguments they aren't making, it muddies the waters and threatens to cut the lines of communication altogether. After all, very few of us like to talk to people who put words in our mouths -- especially when those words are inaccurate. We should listen to objections and treat them as honest objections. That means being respectful, and that requires listening.
The third reason we must listen to people with whom we disagree is because we aren't infallible. We can't expect other people to listen to us with open minds if we haven't demonstrated that same willingness -- and that includes the willingness to entertain the notion that our thoughts and arguments may, in fact, be flawed.
Defending our position with bogus arguments is foolish. Our calling is to be humble and gentle -- while we are also attempting to demolish falsehood where ever it may be found. That's a difficult balance, but maintain it we must.
My commitment is to truth. I believe that the Christian faith isn't just better than all others; I believe it is true. I don't think I believe it to be true because I am a Christian; I think I am a Christian because I believe it to be true (though faith is a very complicated philosophical notion and cannot be dismissed as easily as I have done so here -- perhaps we can explore that phenomenon more later).
However, I also understand that I am finite and will never be able to grasp truth absolutely. It is always going to be certain that portions of my understanding are flawed and incomplete. But that doesn't mean I am going to give up on truth. I am going to continue searching, continue asking, continue learning so that my understanding will grow.
The only way that can happen is if I am willing to listen -- really listen -- to others.