Discussions are two-way, usually. Debates are between two people that state their point of view and there is little attempt to understand the other side. The goal is to best them, verbally. Dialogues, on the other hand, are different. There is still the exchange of viewpoints, that there may be intense disagreement on, but there is more emotional intelligence involved.
There was an ongoing discussion between a Christian family member and I about my changed religious views. My goal was not to convince them to change their minds, but I thought it might be helpful for them to hear about my experience in order to better understand why I left Christianity. Hearing or reading about the experience of atheists you do not know is one thing. But hearing about that experience from someone close to you, is another.
However, the discussion isn’t going anywhere.
We both accept that the other person isn’t going agree with some of the statements we make. That’s good. But I can’t seem to break through the assumptions on their part that I am in “rebellion against God”. They also seem to be mostly interested in a monologue-type conversation (which isn’t a conversation at all): they say what they want, with little to no response from me. Unless my response is “You’re totally right” and I re-dedicate my life to Christ. There is also little understanding that their point of view about God and Christianity, was exactly my own point of view when I was a Christian. Hence, I am quite intimate from where they are coming from, but they seem to think I do not understand at all (even after I expressed that I did).
So on that note, I will more than likely drop the conversation. To be fair, I think they want to have a discussion…or think they should want to have one (you know, defending the faith and all), but it’s too much work. Responding to theological questions, many of which don’t have a clear answer, is time consuming. Frustration on their part sets in, there is lots of talk about their faith being strong and they wonder what the point of the discussion is. Perhaps I have a need or an agenda and not quite sure about this atheism thing, hmm?
I think discussions are always worthy. But not when empathy and compassion for people is not present. And when talking with some religious people, that is how it goes. There is more concern for the feelings of a invisible entity you cannot see, hear or feel, than for the person standing right in front of you.