Thursday, September 27, 2007

Listen, my children, and you shall hear ...

… of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.


A new blog post. Same thing. :)

In my last post, I touched on a discussion my friend and I had. Given the different viewpoints she and I brought to the table, it was only natural that we disagreed on a majority of what we discussed. However, there were also times that I felt her responses indicated that she wasn’t really listening to me, and that got me thinking.

How do we as individuals determine whether the other person is actually listening to us?
For example, take the problem of evil argument. I’ve found that when discussing the concept of a Christian God, with the omnipotence, omniscience and all-loving characteristics, it tends to slam head on into the amount of suffering we see in this world.

Now, the common response I often see runs along the lines of simply because bad things happen in my life does not mean that there isn’t a God. The problem with this is that those who use the POE hardly ever, if at all, use their lives within that problem (from what I’ve seen). They take the lives of others. They take events like the Holocaust, or Rwanda. They may also take “smaller” events, such as the rape and murder of a five year old, and try and reconcile that into the idea of God. So to me, the response indicates that the responder didn’t listen to the question, because s/he isn’t addressing any of the points raised in the question, but rather the questioner him/herself. The responder has reduced, almost radically, the nature of the question, and made it look as though the questioner was complaining.

The other common response I see to the POE is the nature of free will, and man can choose good or evil. I may be on shakier ground here, but the reason why I feel this also doesn’t address the question involving the POE is because when evil happens to a person, that person’s free will is getting violated.

Please note: I’m not actually looking for a debate on the POE, or the nature of free will. That’s not the point of this post. The examples above are simply used to try and work through how we determine whether someone or not listens to us.

One of the ideas my friend and I were discussing is the idea of God “fixing” everything in the end, and the knowledge that it doesn’t matter if you screw up, everything will still be completed in the end. It’s along the line of the reason used for not being environmentally smart: since the second coming will occur eventually/soon, and the Earth will burn and God’s going to create a new one anyway, why bother preserving it?

I told my friend the problem I had with this entire notion is how God gets used as an “escape clause.” If you absolutely believe that God is going to completely restore creation in the end, and that it will be fixed eventually no matter what you do, will you put 100% effort into trying to fix the problem? Let’s put it this way: if I know that I’m going to get an ‘A’ on a math exam no matter how much I prepare, what are the odds that I’m going to study that much, if at all? Why would I put 100% effort into studying, if I knew that I’d pass no matter what?

Her response to this was that if one person fails to achieve something, it doesn’t mean that God is helpless. The outcome will still happen, if it is meant to.

I told her she wasn’t listening to me. And I repeated myself, as people who don’t feel like they’re listened to are prone to do. She then repeated herself and we were in a cycle for a few minutes. Then we moved to a new topic (and a new cycle. We went through quite a few cycles, actually).

So what was I basing this “lack of listening” on? I think I based it on the fact that she wasn’t repeating my ideas back to me, but going in an area that I wasn’t even focusing on. At the time, I felt that her response indicated that she missed the point, and I’m wondering if I thought she missed the point because she didn’t agree with me.

The point of my question wasn’t “How can something happen if people don’t commit 100%?” Because I feel that’s the question she was answering, as though I were discussing the outcome. I wasn’t – the outcome wasn’t my concern. My focus was on the amount of effort applied to any situation, and why you’d even bother if you knew someone else, should that someone else will it, will see it occur anyway. You can tell yourself that you will commit 100%, but going back to the math problem, how feasible is it that subconsciously you won’t? (This may have gone better if I used the math example with her – I just came up with that example in relation to this post). I was focusing on the negative aspects of certainty. I mean, she even brought up the point that life here is horrible, but that’s what heaven is for – a place where no horrible things are. But that’s too close to the idea of simply enduring this life for a reward in the next, and with that mindset, why bother trying to make this life better at all? That was what I was trying to get across: the potential dangers that lurk in the viewpoint.

Please note #2: No comments about how if a person does this, they aren’t really Christian/Muslim/human in the first place, because one of the mandates is to help the neighbor. This isn’t meant to be a discussion in that area, and overall, this example is also used to explore the concept of listening.

But I want to go back to the agreement aspect – is that what we ultimately base listening on? There are quite a few bloggers who I feel “listen” a majority of the time, because when I post something, or comment in theirs, they respond in a way that indicates they understand what I’m saying. Much of this understanding circulates around agreement. It may not be 100%, but they’re agreeing with a majority of what I say.

And there are times when I feel, and I’m sure we all have, that someone has completely missed the point. We read the answer, and wonder if they even read our points in the first place. Coincidentally, these are the same people that don’t agree with a majority of what we say. So is there a correlation between those we feel listen, and those who agree with us? Had my friend and I theologically agreed, would I have felt that she had in fact listened to what I said?
I’m not saying that those who disagree are incapable of listening to opposing viewpoints. I just think it’s a lot harder to listen, because we tend to respond to “trigger” words with opposing viewpoints. Take universal reconciliation. A common response to universal reconciliation is that God is just: wrongs must be punished. Or why would someone who’s unrepentant want to be in heaven in the first place?

However, universal reconciliation is not the same thing as saying it’s okay to do whatever you want. It’s also not the same thing as saying God is unjust. But if I had someone respond to my universalistic tendencies in that God must be just as well, I would say that the person isn’t listening to me, because I never said God was unjust. I also never said that the person would always remain unrepentant.

Or take the reconciliation attempts between the idea of God being love, and the existence of an eternal hell. Aside from the whole “God is just as well” response, I also see responses in equating love with a “warm, fuzzy feeling.” Or a coddling type of love, that always lets you do what you want. With either of those responses, I would again feel as though the responder didn’t listen to me. First, because love isn’t separated from justice, and I never said it was. Second, because I never said that love coddled or was a “warm, fuzzy feeling.” However, the second clash would be a result of the different definitions of love: to me, love means that you don’t let the person do whatever s/he wants. If you do, you’re actually apathetic towards the person. If you let someone go rob a store, and say, “That’s okay, I’ll still love you,” then you aren’t loving that person at all. Love accepts you as you are, and then helps you be better. It challenges you. And it does correct wrong behavior, so that you stop doing that behavior, and stop finding joy in that behavior.

As stated, I would claim in both cases that the responder didn’t listen to me, based on their responses. I would feel that s/he was commenting on something I didn’t actually say. This would no doubt derive from the different concepts of the trigger words, such as “love,” “justice,” or “universal reconciliation.” In the responder’s case, s/he would say that s/he did listen. I think much of why I’d feel the way I would is because of the lack of agreement – but that lack of agreement stems in a large part from the definition of the words themselves.

So what criteria do we use to judge whether or not someone listened to us?


DagoodS said...

What? I’m sorry. Did you say something?

Just kidding. (It seemed appropriate.)

I think people are listening, if they understand my point, even while disagreeing with it. Again, this is easier in my profession, as compared to on-line theistic debates. We recognize the opponent will have a different perspective, and their client will present a totally different set of facts and opinions over what happened.

Because we will eventually be trying the case, or attempting to persuade our client to resolve it, we are forced to be in a position where we MUST listen to the other side (in order to learn), even when we adamantly disagree with the other side. At times, when attorneys get too hot we remind ourselves, that such disagreements are what makes horse races. It is why we even have trials—to let someone else hear both sides and make a determination.

I think you are correct that too often we equate agreement with listening. I find many people have a hard time with disagreement in these battles. I see discussions in forums where people are accused of not being willing to change their mind. Or that a person no longer chooses to discuss because the other person won’t agree with them.

I find that puzzling. I presume disagreement (especially when the combatants are an atheist and a fundamentalist Christian in some thread entitled, “Is Jesus God?” I mean really—are we expecting agreement? Are we that stupid?) What I work on is how to succinctly present my case so that it makes sense. If they are not persuaded…shrug…welcome to most of the world.

And in the situation with your friend, you might have to back up and re-try it from a whole different route. Try it backwards. Try it with examples. Try it with different analogies. Explain that you are not trying to persuade her as much as present an alternative view that you would like her opinion on. Make it non-confrontational, and more that you are interested in her expertise. That will make her want to listen more, as she will want to present a better-informed “expert opinion.”

In the end, we can’t make other people listen, of course, unless they want to.

Heather said...


**Just kidding. (It seemed appropriate.)**

It is, considering this entry took up four pages in Microsoft Word -- I think it's my longest post.

**I think you are correct that too often we equate agreement with listening.**
And I think this stems from the idea that if a person truly understood our point, then they'd agree with us. You would have an advantage over most, because of being a lawyer. You're trained to evaluate the opposing side, and actually listen, so you can better deflect their arguments. I presume disagreement as well. It's to be expected, especially when questioning a core doctrine, even after reading the Bible. Where it seems to quickly fall apart is after Person A feels that they logically presented their side, person B responds, disagreing -- which was expected. Person A simply has no idea what person B is disagreeing with, because person A can't find his/her argument in the rebuttal. Person B instead just picked up on the "trigger" words, because person B (to use a fundamentalist as an example) are told what a liberal Christian, or an atheist, is like by their pastors, rather than asking a liberal Christian him/herself.

**Make it non-confrontational, and more that you are interested in her expertise. That will make her want to listen more, as she will want to present a better-informed “expert opinion.”**

I think the complication with this is that I've presented a few things to her, that she wasn't familiar on at all. SHe made a mention of hell a while back, about the fire that never quenches and the worm that never diess, and I asked if she was referring to the garbage heap concept. She repeated what she said, and I asked again if she were referring to the garbage heap -- Gehenna, and the literal place it pulled from, where the fire didn't die, and a particular worm did live there. She said she had to research this, and get back to me. I made another mention of the univeralististic ideas in the Bible, and commented that God would eventually be all-in-all. She said the Bible had a clear, non-universalist message. I asked again about God being all-in-all, and she asked where I heard that from. I told her it was in 1 Corinthians 15 -- and I'm telling this to a person who has the Bible memorized. She said she'd research this and get back to me. She didn't.

This is also a friend who holds to a 6,000 year old Earth, and has siblings who very much follow Ken Ham and the creationist stuff. There's a part of me that's worried about "cracking" her faith, due to all the de-conversion stories I've read out there. Her entire family are Baptists. If something does happen to her faith, it doesn't just affect her. It affects her family. It affects pretty much every other relationship she has, aside from me, because everyone else she knows is the same type of Christian. I feel that our conversations could cause a lot of damage. And maybe I'm giving myself too much power. I don't think I am, though, because I'm the only close contact she has that is "non-Christian." She was homeschooled. She went to a Christian college, as well, so I may be the first person who is giving her expanded knowledge.

Aside from that, I'd have another complication because I quickly get impatient in these discussions now. It's like what I posted in your blog -- I don't care if there's disagreement, but disagree with the argument, not what your side says the argument is. My understanding of the Answers in Genesis website is that they don't approach evolution as biologists describe it.

SocietyVs said...

"So what criteria do we use to judge whether or not someone listened to us?" (Heather)

I think if they can enter the discussion and re-itterate in the point that is being made - they at least heard it correctly. I think the problem Heather we are dealing with here is lack of framework for most of the things we are saying - they are essentially 'new' to the ears of the listeners. I give them the benefit of the doubt - I think they read it all - I just don't think they quite get the depth these blogs are going into.

I have spoken to quite a few conservative Christian folks and noticed they have a tough time slicing the teachings the same way I am presenting them - almost as if they never heard any of this perspective before - 'having ears to hear but still not hearing'. I think a lot of it is the new perspective we are putting on these writings - it's almost foreign to think Jesus would want us to be important (or involved) in all of this stuff we talk just ain't there babe.

Patience with these people - if we keep on talking - at some point they will 'get it'. Listening is only 1/2 the battle - understanding is the other 1/2 - and I am not sure most of them are ready to challenge the very paradigm of the faith they built upon.

Heather said...


**almost as if they never heard any of this perspective before - 'having ears to hear but still not hearing'.**

I've found this as well, and in real-life as well. I'll give an alternate explanation, and it's like they literally did not hear any of the words I said. I'll try saying it another way, and the response is, "Well, we disagree." And it's fine to disagree -- I'm just not sure they actually mentally walked through my interpretation, or if their response is a knee-jerk reaction to an interpretation that is "not right."

**Patience with these people - if we keep on talking - at some point they will 'get it'.**

I definietly don't think they are ready to challenge their paradigm. I try to keep that in mind. It's just frustrating when you're aware that they're figuratively hanging a neon "UNSAVED! UNSAVED!" sign over your head. In one discussion I had with a friend about four years ago, she told me she's terrified of getting to heaven, and not having everyone she loves there. I am in that category, simply because I don't believe correctly. Battling against that, when you are good friends with someone, is incredibly hard. It's also draining, because there's this unspoken elephant that surrounds us. I do have patience (well -- try to): but I also have to fight against their fear.

I'm not sure that some ever will "get it," at least not in this lifetime. Some will. Others won't. Unless we're qualifying those who get it as though who seek out dialogue with other viewpoints. Even then, I don't see us being a catalyst. We'll be a seed, nothing more.

Pastor Bob said...


Very interesting post. I've done a bit of marriage counseling in my time and sometimes ask each member of the couple to say in their own words what their partner has said until the partner agrees it is what he/she said. Only then can the person listening respond. As I watch people, (including myself) too often we are so busy thinking of what we are going to say in return that we don't actually hear what the other says. It is my personal experience as a husband that when I do that the argument lasts a whole lot longer than it has to. But if I listen carefully enough to say back to my wife what her position is, then we can come to an agreement, even if it is to agree to disagree.

It is my personal opinion that evangelism begins with loving the other enough to really hear what they have to say. Only then does one earn the right to speak his/her own position.

Anonymous said...

It's just frustrating when you're aware that they're figuratively hanging a neon "UNSAVED! UNSAVED!" sign over your head.

Trust me that I hear you on this one!!!!

Not only am I unsaved, I know nothing of God or God's ways, I have no part of God, I'm blinded to the truth, etc. etc.

I always like how these folks have all their excuses in place for when people won't see things their way. You have to become like a child, you've been blinded, Satan is deceiving you, only some are given to understand, and it goes on and on. Never is there any thought to the idea that perhaps others don't see things YOUR way because YOUR way makes no sense to anyone but YOU? Yeah, I know. Impossible.

Oh well, I'm getting more used to dealing with this. People can think what they want. I know who I am and how I live my life.

I actually wrote a post where I wondered if maybe it's a bad thing to try to get one-wayers to see things differently. Maybe they're only capable of one way views. I'm going to dig it up and post it. You can come over and poke holes in my logic! It's just something I was thinking about one day...


MICKY said...

Three years ago I was wandering around [mental hospital] completely shattered physically, emotionally and spiritually. The mental torment I was experiencing was absolutely terrifying. Every waking second, I was having horrifying images from my past. I thought I was being punished for my past sins. My whole life flashed before my eyes and I felt I had failed miserably in my journey through life. The whole experience was an awakening [THE LONG DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL] a metamorphosis. God was slowly penetrating the shield I had put up all those desperate years. I had no “I” - that is what God wanted for me, to become Christ cantered, not “I” cantered [in retrospect]. There is nothing in this world, but the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. He eventually delivered me from my HELL; when I got down on my knees and asked Him for mercy and forgiveness for my sins. Praise the LORD!!

Samanthamj said...

Heather -
Another good read here, thanks. Lots of good questions, points, and feedback.

I liked Yael's comment -

"I always like how these folks have all their excuses in place for when people won't see things their way."

I feel like that to.

What it boils down to, I think, is that most people will only hear what they want to hear.

I'm probably one of them for all I know... although, I try real hard not to be.


Anonymous said...

"I told her she wasn’t listening to me. And I repeated myself, as people who don’t feel like they’re listened to are prone to do. "

Is it possible that she was listening but she wasn't smart enough--or knowledgeable enough-- to grasp your point? Let me explain.

I remember being in Math class in junior high. To me the stuff was like poetry. I could follow the teacher's every calculation. Some of my other classmates, as hard as they tried, were totally lost.

I feel that's what happens when I talk to people about spiritual matters. After all, I have spent years analyzing the Bible and the Christian concepts. Many Christians, conversely, only go to church on Sundays and fail to bother thinking about it during the week.

Maybe the analytical side of their brain hasn't developed as much as ours.

I am not saying that we are better or smarter. We just have used our brain for those matters more often and are, therefore, more equipped to argue on issues that require critical thinking. I am sure that they outdo me in some other areas like baking a perfect apple pie or fixing a car, because that's what they occupy most of their time on. Unlike geeky me who ponders the illogic of religion every time I have time in my hands.

Heather said...

Pastor Bob,

**It is my personal opinion that evangelism begins with loving the other enough to really hear what they have to say. Only then does one earn the right to speak his/her own position.**

Perhaps this could be taken even further -- true evangelism shouldn't require a verbal response. IN today's time, someone who truly listens can be a rarety, and that alone might be convincing enough as evangelism.


I'm glad that you have found a sense of peace, and no longer live with that sense of hell.


**I'm probably one of them for all I know... although, I try real hard not to be.**

I think you might not be in that category. You've already been in the category of only hearing what you wanted to hear, and are now on the other side. You're probably really sensitive to being in that position again.

Heather said...


**Is it possible that she was listening but she wasn't smart enough--or knowledgeable enough-- to grasp your point?**

You didn't have to explain -- I knew exactly what you're talking about. Because I've wondered the same thing, and then wondered if that makes me arrogant. I mostly conclude 'no,' because I"m sure there are areas that have points I don't grasp. I just don't know what those are (yet), or I'd grasp them. :)

The catch here is that she does study the Bible. A lot. She was in AWANA, and is very, very familiar with it. But! The catch to that catch is that she's doctrinally familiar with it. Society made a point earlier that he often surprises people with a different approach, as they never looked at it that way. So in a way, I would say that my friend does analyze it, but was trained to analyze it in a certain way only. I've mentioned other interpretations before, and have just watched a blank look appear.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, your friend has been brainwashed. She studies the Bible the way I studied geography: I memorized the stuff with the assurance that the information was correct.

I did the same for the first five years of "true" Christianity. Then I started to analyze the doctrines; particularly, when I noticed that most people didn't practiced what they preached.

Pastor Bob said...


You agree with St. Francis!

He said "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words."

Heather said...


**when I noticed that most people didn't practiced what they preached.**

I think this is a big thing working against Christianity. ONe of the things that always got to me about the Bible is that we are to know people by their fruits, and also what the fruits of the Spirit were. We can see both in non-Christian religions. We can see those fruits in atheists and agnostics. We can see a complete turnaround in non-Christian religions. The only thing that seperates each are a set of beliefs -- and yet we're supposed to judge who is working on God's behalf through actions.

Pastor Bob,

I do, indeed. :) When I think back on the Christians who would've been most likely to convince me, it wasn't the ones that drowned me in the spiritual laws. It was the ones who I knew had a connection to the Divine before they even said something. They just radiated light.

Anonymous said...

LoL! I think we all listen like my kids, selectively. A lot of it can depend on the mood someone is in. If they feel disagreeable, they will hear what they disagree with. If they feel agreeable, they will look for what they do agree with. It also depends what another person's mind is already set on. They will tend to hear what goes along with their current line of thought. There are so many variables to consider. Maybe a good technique would be to listen first and program your words accordingly!

Great post, heather.


OneSmallStep said...

Thanks, Pam.