I am a person who is more often than not a detached observer rather than an active participant in discourse that descends into arguments and name calling. Sometimes this is amusing to me, as I see passions flare as elements of prejudice, and self-righteous statements betraying a certain hypocrisy, burst to the surface as each individual takes a defensive position.
The thing is, as an observer, I find that a majority of these arguments are rooted in what I've come to term "apples and oranges." All too often, these people who take fortified stands to do verbal battle with each other are not even talking about the same thing. Sure, there are parallels in what they are talking about, from the central subject and peripheral elements, but even if both parties are discussing a topic such as gas mileage or the very nature of religion's influence in society, they end up not talking about the same thing because each goes off into their own private stock of "what I believe in" versus "what I don't believe in" at a fevered pitch.
In many ways these arguments are fueled by two people raising different but related issues. They continue to go on about their deeply held convictions without really listening to what the other person is saying. It is "inspired" in many ways by black and white thinking, the sense that what you believe makes all peripheral arguments and issues true or false by association with the core belief.
I once watched two people have an argument fueled by the first seeing that the second owned a drove an SUV. The second explained that she needed the space because her four children participated in a lot of sports and other activities that required her to cart equipment around almost constantly, that it got thirty-eight miles per gallon and was actually a relatively small vehicle. The first continued to rant about the poor fuel economy of SUVs and how she was contributing to the destruction of the environment. The first person drove a 1987 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. They argued for about twenty minutes and reached no conclusions other than they did not like each other.
One's most deeply held convictions, when reduced to black and white thinking, cause a person to automatically reject any notion or idea that conflicts in any way with those convictions. I cannot count the times I've seen ridiculous arguments about the positive and negative attributes of "religion" where the two people are talking about two completely different things (many of these arguments litter this website). They start with a person who has a very negative image of religion or a very positive image of religion ranting in such a way it infers that anyone who disagrees with them is either wrong or stupid.
There is very little as openly nutty as one person ranting about how "religion" is foolish because it cannot be proven to be true and then stating arguments that supposedly prove it isn't, except for the person who rants about how there is proof of the elements of their religion due to the existence of holy books and writings and spiritual experiences. Both miss the point. Faith is based on believing what cannot be proven to be real. It is an apples and oranges argument where the first person is showing us an apple to prove oranges don't exist and the second person is trying to use an apple to prove that oranges do exist.
As someone who considers himself a follower of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, I am often amused by how often a person will invalidate these teachings because those teachings are "responsible for wars and persecution and hatred," citing wars fought in the name of religion, things like The Spanish Inquisition, etc. When I explain these things happened because of political entities using their interpretation of Christianity to flex their political muscle, they look at me as if I've lost the last quarter of my mind. "But they are following Christianity in doing those things..."
No, actually, they're not, but that's besides the point.
If the argument is clearly about established, religious based organizations operating as political entities, and does not devolve into an "all religion is bad" versus "all religion is good" declarations, then many of these points can be raised and countered with examples of how organized religion has done good things, such as helping refugees and feeding starving children. One still must see in shades of gray, as the argument of "all bad" versus "all good" is never going to be resolved by arguments. And yet, those adhering to an "all bad" or "all good" philosophy about anything will continue to hammer their "key points" from every possible direction as they continue to grow frustrated with their inability to cause their "opponent" to see the light.
And it simply isn't realistically possible to convince someone happy with an orange that they are better off with your apple. All of these black and white arguments are the same as the person with the apple and the person with the orange pronouncing the various positive elements of their fruit as proof that their fruit is better in every conceivable way than the other fruit in question. It is all a matter of personal perspective and achieving the ability to see things in shades of gray instead of clinging to black and white beliefs.
So many are talking. So few are really listening.
See also: Everyone is right