Are You Engaged in a Spirit of Contention or Mindful Apologetics?

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Defenders of the faith are inclined to be bitter until they learn to walk in the light of the Lord. When you have learned to walk in the light of the Lord, bitterness and contention are impossible. 
~ Oswald Chambers – Biblical Psychology, 199 R ~

Oswald Chambers – Biblical Psychology – Christ-Centered Solutions for Everyday Problems
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29 For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
30 Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.
(3 Nephi 11:29-30)

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One thing I have come to terms with is this: Mindful Apologetics is being present and aware of my own biased and prejudicial thoughts toward doctrine and scripture in order to communicate in a way that is respectful and kind. Unfortunately, this is not reciprocated. As true as when I first entered into the arena of apologetics – many still behave in a manner that is lacking of any Christ-like Virtue. The lack of respect towards another person, their personal values and beliefs, and ability to engage in reasonable and meaningful conversations does more harm than good. Much of the communication comes across condescending. Judgmental. Superior. Arrogant. And eventually leads to foolish argumentation where no one walks away having learned anything new. This is the heart of spiritual contention that stirs up our hearts with anger, frustration, and distrust in another person.

This article will explore 4 specific principles of mindful apologetics that may help better serve as a means to preach the restored Gospel to those who may challenge the doctrines and teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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Principle 1 of Mindful Apologetics – Essential Premise of Effective Communication

Our essential purpose is to communicate as part of our everyday life. Part of this communication focuses on how we express our own concerns and problems. This is because we count on others to help us identify and resolve any issues with particular teachings and doctrines. We want them to share in our own worries, personal joy of revelation, and finding encouragement to keep engaging in thoughtful and meaningful dialogue. Interpersonal mindful communication within the field of apologetics is central to our effectiveness in preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the life blood of meaningful dialogue where disagreements, conflicts, and personal perceptions abound. And since apologetics centers on how we communicate – our overall objective ought to be focusing on the effectiveness of how we are sharing ideas with others.

This occurs when we:

  • Treat others as individuals
  • Connect with identified personal knowledge
  • Engage in shared meaning with one another

And, when it comes to questions regarding the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ – we cannot avoid communication. Whether it is in person or through online interactions.

Mindful of the Individual

Foundation to this first principle is to treat others as genuine individuals. Here, we want to avoid speaking from any stereotypical role. We speak in a manner where we treat others (as we hope they treat us) as individuals. Sometimes this may not happen in the exchange of information and words. Yet, our objective is to set the example and speak to the other person with the mindful awareness of who they are and respecting them as an individual and not as an enemy.

Many times, in the course of online discussions, it may become natural to forget the other person is an individual. Specifically when we are engaged in online discussions. By being mindful of the other person – we are being understanding of their own uniqueness, fears, hopes, particular problems they are bringing to us concerning some of the teachings and doctrines. Through our example of mindfulness, we hope to build trust in order to enrich and deepen the conversation to a more personal level of discussion.

Through this process, an individual fosters the ability to build trust and allow disclosures of personal information where both parties gain insight concerning their own unique perspectives.

Personal Knowledge

Once we establish a personal and genuine connection with the other person, an individual may be open to disclosing personal knowledge and insights. This is helpful to understand whom with which we are sharing our personal knowledge with. Here, the idea is to foster a spirit of trust where those engaged in dialogue are able to feel comfortable with one another. Through this process we are able to gain greater insight, deepen our understanding, and challenges us to see things differently. Even if we may disagree.

This also helps when we are faced with some ethical dilemma regarding what is being shared and the knowledge we gain. The ethical dilemma is either focusing on strengthening our understanding, adaptability to learn new things, and come away with greater awareness. Or, to cause harm where an individual utilizes such knowledge to attack personal vulnerabilities, exploit personal weaknesses, or to casually dismiss personal insights and information as being invalid or untrustworthy.

Through our example of mindfulness, we hope to build trust in order to enrich and deepen the conversation to a more personal level of discussion

Create Meaning

Developing mindful awareness and treating another person as a genuine individual; engage in sharing personal information that fosters trust and shared insights; an individual moves to where mindful apologetics creates meaning. This does not mean we merely exchange a volley of words. Understanding how another may define particular words, what they may stand for and represent, and the behavior in relation to their attitude and viewpoint creates meaningful insights.

Here, we develop understanding and awareness of a person’s content meaning and relational meaning. Content meaning merely is based on a particular observation. Relational meaning concerns itself with the relationship developed between the parties involved with the discussion. This is based on the responsiveness of those engaged in discussion. The degree of positive or negative feeling being communicated. And the power balance (conflict) between those engaged in conversation.

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Principle 2 of Mindful Apologetics – Recognize Destructive Conflict within Apologetic Conversations

Due to the nature of conflict that arises, especially when it is through social media platforms, it is inevitable that the conversation becomes a destructive conflict. Much of this is due to the fact that emotions become highly charged. Here is an example of how quickly a destructive conflict may arise. This is based on a recent conversation I had through the comment section of Tekton TV’s YouTube Channel:

Timothy Berman

Timothy Berman 2 days ago Not only were men and women fashioned after God’s on divine likeness and image, they were brought together under the divine marriage of God. Suffice it to say, the Bible does clarify that man and woman were created after God’s divine image and likeness. https://mormonapologia.org/2020/09/26/does-the-bible-teach-that-god-is-spirit-in-john-424/

tektontv

tektontv 1 day ago Too bad the words don’t mean anything related to physical appearance.

Timothy Berman

Timothy Berman 1 day ago (edited) I am not sure you actually read the article and the points regarding scholarly research provided. If that’s the case then it’s too bad you neglect to read the information presented. As the article defines that man was created in exact appearance of divinity. How do you explain Christ being the creator. And how is it that when Christ returns, we will see him as we are resurrected with an immortal body? Being g dismissive is akin to intellectual suicide.

tektontv

tektontv 20 hours ago (edited)@Timothy Berman I am absolutely sure you did not read my book which debunks silly Mormon manglings of the Bible’s image language with serious scholarly research from scholars of the ANE. Been there….done that. Don’t waste my time, Mr. Nobody. PS — I went through and checked your silly article. Yes, your alleged “arguments” are nothing but the same old dried out goat turds I swept into the dustbin back when I wrote my book. Sorry, Richard Hopkins and Barry Bickmore actually look halfway informed compared to you. You really need to shut up and close up shop the way FARMS did.

Timothy Berman

Timothy Berman 17 hours ago@tektontv Then it appears there is no point in an intellectual discussion with you.

tektontv

reply tektontv 19 minutes ago@Timothy Berman You never had what was needed (an intellect) to begin with.

Maintaining a mindful and factual base in engaging in a conversation (regardless of whether there is consensual agreement or continuation of disagreement) is not usually respected. What this shows us is that the other party is not willing to engage in a more intellectual conversation. Instead, the behavior indicates a more childish and immature response. Continuing this type of conversation only proves to be counterproductive and will continue to devolve into more destructive criticism, defensiveness, and eventual contempt.

When one individual engages in personal attacks, the conversation may quickly escalate toward highly charge emotive reactions.

Therefore, mindful apologetics requires that we move away from destructive conflict toward a more productive conflict. What we want to do is be aware of the potential movement toward destructive conflict where there is no significant gain in understanding. Unfortunately, many Latter-day Saint apologists (myself included) and Evangelical and mainstream Christian apologists have fallen prey to the spirit of contention where

there is no real resolution to the conversation.

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Criticism and Personal Attacks (Ad-Hominem) Set the Tone for Destructive Conflict

Within the arena of discussion, one of the most prominent logical fallacies is that of Ad Hominem (argumentem ad hominem – abusive) (also known as: personal abuse, personal attacks, abusive fallacy, appeal to the person, damning the source, name calling, refutation by caricature, against the person, against the man).

Here is how this operates: Notice how the person responding (above) makes the following statements:

  • Mr. Nobody
  • Silly Article
  • Arguments are like goat turds
  • You never had what was needed – Intellect

Not only is this criticism destructive it is quite insulting toward another person. Despite these terms used to illicit a prescribed emotive reaction. The reality is that this individual is showing their own personal inadequate ineptness to engage in an honest and intellectual dialogue. This may be a form of projecting their own fears, anxieties, and lack of confidence.

When one individual engages in personal attacks, the conversation may quickly escalate toward highly charge emotive reactions. These personal attacks are designed to assign blame that the other person is not worth their time. There is a difference in stating that there is no point in an intellectual discussion with you compared to making personal (and childish and immature) remarks toward someone.

Destructive Conflict is Characterized by Defensiveness

One of my favorite quotes comes from George Bernard Shaw:

Jeremy E. Sherman Ph.D provides this insight into what it means to wrestle with pigs:

Remember as a child getting into fight with someone who simply said, “I know you are but what am I?” in response to any and all arguments? “I know you are but what am I” is a formula. It can be applied to any argument, it has nothing to do with content and it deflects self-doubt. Indeed, like many formulas it deflects self-doubt by imposing doubt on one’s opponent.

Sherman continues:

Is “I know you are but what am I?” a credible counter-argument among children? We must distinguish two kinds of credibility: credibility to the self-fortifier and credibility to everyone else. The child who uses the “I know you are but what am I?” argument thinks he’s winning regardless of whether his challenger does. Thinking he’s winning is why the pig likes it. It’s an added benefit if you can get others to side with you. Gangs of bullies are made of people who employ the same fortifications to deflect the same self-doubts.

When someone goes out of their way to make personal insults, childish statements and remarks, and even verge onto the highway of slander: remember that they expecting you to waste mental energy and exert your efforts in defending your personal character and integrity. It is also a form of distracting from the original argument – or presentation of information. This type of behavior also appears to be based on pride, egotism, and arrogance. Some who use this tactic may do so with calculating efforts in order to flex their own superiority complex.

When one individual engages in personal attacks, the conversation may quickly escalate toward highly charge emotive reactions

According to a healthline article – What is a Superiority Complex? by Kimberly Holland:

A superiority complex is a behavior that suggests a person believes they’re somehow superior to others. People with this complex often have exaggerated opinions of themselves. They may believe their abilities and achievements surpass those of others.

Holland outlines characteristic traits and concludes:

Acting superior or displaying other characteristics of a superiority complex is usually a way to mask or hide feelings of inferiority. If you believe you have a superiority complex, treatment from a mental health expert can help.

And since this is an aggressive communication tactic – the end result is to evoke a prescribed response from the other person. This is known as a defensive form of communication where there is a need for self-protection. It is a means to deflect one’s own inadequacy because of fear, potential threat, inability to take personal responsibility for one’s thoughts and feelings, or to dismiss any new information that may enlighten and encourage healthy discussion.

When such defensiveness becomes a dominating factor in apologetic discussions, there is the inevitable destructive outcome. The dialogue is no longer about sharing insights, knowledge, and information. All it boils down to is a pissing contest of insults and degradation.

This defensiveness creates a destructive environment when:

  • Judgmental and critical language is employed to evoke a defensive response from the other person.
  • It is a means to control and manipulate the argument that diminishes the purpose and meaning of engaging in healthy communication
  • Does not encourage problem solving and resolution to a define set of agreements and understandings
  • It is strategic and purposeful to inflict emotional and mental harm and anguish
  • Becomes dismissive and authoritarian in order to maintain a one-sided dominance over another
  • A sense of superiority over equity and equality
  • Presumptive certainty rather than genuine and mindful provisional respect

In a sense, the conversation is moved from the arena of intellectual discourse and onto the third grade playground of schoolyard infantile war of words.

Dismissive and Withdrawing from the Conversation – Stonewalling and Contempt

The inevitable downward spiral of destructive communication comes in the the form of stonewalling. Looking at the interaction above one will see how this works. This is evident by the following statement: You really need to shut up and close up shop the way FARMS did

Stonewalling is a behavioral tactic to remove oneself from the conversation by being dismissive of the individual. When someone uses this tactic, they are behaving in a manner that shows they are no longer interested in any information, evidence, or source. In their mindset, it appears they are not fully invested in giving respect and attention to the conversation. In other words, their own mindset is concrete. This is where we derive the idea that someone is closed-minded or narrow-minded. They are unwilling to consider any information, especially information that may challenge their presently held worldview. It is rigid and inflexible.

What is interesting to note is that stonewalling may become quite toxic when it comes to communication. Within the field of apologetics a person who stonewalls may retreat within their own cocoon. Again, there may be some sense of inadequacy, threat, or even cognitive dissonance at play. This behavior enforces a person’s inflexibility (or rigidity) to engage in a healthy and intellectual conversation. It is also a manipulative means to control the nature of the discussion.

This leads to the next nature of, and final, stage of a destructive conflict. The nature of contempt. Typical of destructive dialogue – contempt is where one sees the utilization of mockery, put-downs, personal insults, hostile corrections, and crouched in sarcasm, ridicule, and outright hostile joking.

Within healthy discussions, especially when it comes to religious teachings and philosophy, there is a natural conflict where there is exchange of information, understanding, and mutual respect for one another. In destructive conflict, contempt shows up with the first hurling of insult. It is then sustained by a defensive response of sarcasm and mockery. Again, the conversation devolves into a pissing match and showmanship of ego driven postulation.

The end result is that both individuals engage in a spiritual contentious battle where the nature of discussion is no longer intellectual but childish and vain.

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Principle 3 of Mindful Apologetics – Improve Your own Personal Perception and Communication

Mindfulness involves awareness. This includes becoming aware of our own personal perceptions and how they are subjective and partial. This is because we are not fully able to conceive every detail and information. Our perception is also subjective because of influential factors:

  • Cultural and Ethnic identity
  • Religious worldviews beliefs and values
  • Family of origin
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Intellectual capacity of understanding (Cognitive Abilities)
  • Personal experiences
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Social construct

And since our personal perception is subjective and partial – we develop particular biased and prejudicial viewpoints. Mindfulness draws us back to self-reflection and awareness of how these biased and prejudicial viewpoints prevent us from engaging in authentic and mindful apologetic discussions. This means we ought to consider developing personal awareness where we:

  • Notice our own prejudicial and biased influences
  • Organize information
  • How we interpret information

We construct defined meanings and inferences that related to how we process and determine something that is of worth and value. When it disagrees with our worldview (whether true or not) causes us to respond out of our own biased understandings. In reality, what we may perceive to be wrong might not actually be erroneous. However, if we are rigid in our partial and subjective worldview we are preventing ourselves from expanding and learning.

To step out of this we want to strive toward accepting our perceptions as subjective and partial. Refrain from being critical and judgmental. Prevent ourselves from behaving in a manner that is contrary to our own personal values and integrity. It is when we operate out of our faulty perceptions that we engage in destructive communication. Mindfulness helps us be aware in order to respond appropriately with dignity and respect.

Mindfulness helps us be aware in order to respond appropriately with dignity and respect.

Disengage Self From Mind-Reading

One of the limited patterns of thinking (or cognitive distortion) is to engage in mind reading. This is where our assumptions reside. It is the very act of presuming we know exactly what a person thinks, feels, believes, or understands. It is as though an individual has direct personal knowledge of another person. The toxic and harmful danger of mind reading is how one may misinterpret what another person says. Or, it is a way to put words into someone’s mouth when it is not what they may be thinking or sharing.

Another harmful trait of mind-reading is personalization of what someone says. Or, misinterpreting someone’s words in a manner which presumes some unfounded judgment or criticism. For instance, this may show up in this type of statement: You think I am stupid and ignorant. It is a personalized statement of a personal belief projected onto another person. It is done in a way to mitigate any personal responsibility of how one perceives themselves. It is a defense mechanism of self-preservation from one’s false belief.

Check to Ensure Your Perception is Accurate

Probably the most problematic factor within dysfunctional communication stems from our lack of checking to ensure our perception is accurate. Since it is partial, subjective, and influenced by our potential to mind read we want to clarify with the other person as to the accuracy of where they are coming from. Seeking to clarify involves mindful and thoughtful questions.

If I understand you correctly, are you saying?

Here is what I am understanding, is this accurate?

I want to clarify something because I get the impression…

Notice these examples utilize statements that focuses on our own understanding and perceptions. It invites authentic dialogue because we want to have a mutual understanding toward one another. Without a mutual understanding (which does not mean we come to agree with their position) we get caught up in our own defense mechanisms and biased beliefs.

Another aspect of checking to ensure our perception is accurate is to prevent our tendency to come across as accusatory. On the other hand, it keeps us focused and mindful to ensure that what we are interpreting and what is being said match up. Because what we may interpret as being insulting and accusatory may very well be our own faulty interpretation.

Through awareness and understanding of how our own personal biased and prejudices influences how we may perceive what is being shared we become better in sharing ideas and are receptive in what someone else may say.

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Principle 4 of Mindful Apologetics – Overcome Mental Barriers

The final premise of mindful apologetics is recognizing and overcome those mental barriers that prevent us from engaging in healthy discussions. First, we recognize and remove our tendency to be preoccupied. Second, we develop awareness of any prejudgment associated with the individual and what they are contributing to the discussion. Third, be aware of emotionally loaded language. Fourth, develop an understanding of our own personal lack of effort.

In addition to these mental barriers, we do well to be mindful of the following:

  • Develop awareness of how we may engage in pseudo-understanding
  • Be mindful and aware of our tendency toward selective reading
  • Be aware of how we may be prone to read in order to be defensive and engage in ambushing
  • Be aware of how we may engage in literal reading without understanding the relationship and meaning

Once we move past our own personal barriers – we are empowering ourselves and others to engage in a healthy dialogue. Sure, there is going to be conflict between two opposing views. We may either choose to be destructive about it or engage in a conversation where there is agreement, mutual respect, and dignity of sharing information. Regardless of whether both come to an agreement.

This is difficult in apologetics since the focus is on giving a defense of one’s position. However, being mindful and aware, we are capable of adequately provide an intelligent response where there is flexibility and willingness to adapt to new ideas. It also means we are able to come to see how another person may come to understand the information. How they may perceive and interpret. Does it mean they are in error? On the contrary.

Far too long Christian (and for that matter Political) apologetics has been a minefield of two opposing views that never come to an understanding of one anthers position. The normative end result is that both individuals walk way with contempt, disdain, and disrespect for the other person. Both end up losing the argument due to the fact that neither are mindful and genuine in their capacity to learn from one another.

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