I noticed something interesting in the comments to my article last week. Several of the earlier ones paraphrased to, “Well, I really can’t argue with this.” Stephen chimed in soon afterward, trying to stimulate conversation, I suppose, with, “Who disagrees? Why would they disagree?”
Hmm. “Think, think, think,” quoth Pooh.
Two weeks ago, I proclaimed my intention to “misbehave,” to stir the pot, be surprising, challenge the status-quo, et-cetera, et-cetera. Looking at those comments, I wondered, “Am I still settling for the conventional? Am I spouting safe ideas and taking comfortable positions anybody can accept without much thought?
Blogging is supposed to be interactive. I write something, then the readers line up on both sides of the issue, charge their muskets, and open fire. When the smoke clears, the battlefield is strewn with punctured rhetoric, and everybody on the ’net is talking about that epic conflagration over at Speculative Faith and reenacting bits and pieces of it on their own blogs. We’ve gone viral.
However, if my opinion piece is as provocative as a well-fed hamster, nothing much will happen. We’ll get a few shoulder shrugs. A couple of loyal readers might log in with, “Hey, there goes a hamster,” and “Yep, it’s a hamster, no doubt about it. Can’t really argue with that.”
Controversy gets people talking. It’s the friction point where the sparks begin to fly. If you’ve spent any time at all around here, you’re familiar with some of our collective hot-buttons, and may have noticed a spike in comments when they’re in play. For example:
- Characters should/shouldn’t swear in Christian fiction.
- Christians should/shouldn’t criticize Christian writers.
- The gospel should be presented obviously/subtly in Christian fiction.
- (Insert name here) is/isn’t a universalist.
- CBA-allied publishers and booksellers are helping/hindering Christian spec-fic writers.
- J.K. Rowling is/isn’t the Devil’s stenographer.
Controversies have expiration dates, though, and after the fourth or fifth go-round, people lose interest. “C.S. Lewis and Purgatory? Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Bored now.” It’s not enough to hit on a controversy, it’s got to be crisp and prickly with a succulent, chewy center, like a fresh artichoke.
Should I try to be more controversial? That’s a lot of work. It’s hard to maintain a steady level of volatility, unless you’re talking about politics. Speculative Faith focuses on Christianity in fiction—religion can and does inspire folks to combat, but somebody will eventually toss a box of baking soda on the grease fire with an appeal to be kind and loving, like Christians should, buttressed with an apt Scripture verse or two. Everyone will retire to their corners, vaguely ashamed of themselves, and all conversation will cease.
I’m not talking about a reaction motivated by rudeness or lack of respect here—simple disagreement is often enough to bring out the volunteer fire department. From one perspective, we’re being better Christians—nobody’s arguing, so nobody’s going to get hurt—but what’s the point of having a discussion forum if we only discuss an issue until somebody feels uncomfortable? I guess we could steer clear of all controversy and offer nothing but supportive book reviews and an exchange of trivia from our favorite books and movies.
Is there a middle ground? How might we explore areas of fundamental disagreement between people without creating animosity? It may not be possible—it helps to be courteous and respectful, but some folks will always feel personally threatened by an opposing view, no matter how gently offered.
I know some of you don’t like open-ended questions, but I don’t have answers for these. I want to see this forum live long and prosper, and I want to do what I can to help that happen.
What I do know is that it’s not going to help anybody if all I do is serve up hamsters.