In Defense of Dissent

Travis Rogers, Jr.

In Defense of Dissent

4 mins
October 19, 2020

Well. In the last month I have “been called everything but a child of God,” as a Black friend’s mother once said to me. Communist, Socialist, Marxist, Liberal, “garbage”, fool, rude, unAmerican, unChristian, and so forth. All because I dared to disagree with someone in our (Nicole’s and my) own newspaper. 

First things first, while you may feel free to read, comment, and/or be angry with the Sentinel & Rural News, you can write letters in dissent and you can express yourselves freely, and we will print even the ones where I get called “everything but a child of God,” you may not tell us what to write or what to print.

Second, if you think that calling me all of the above-mentioned names is going to make me back down…well, you just don’t know me, at all. I’m not that thin-skinned.

Now to the point, if you think that I am any of the above-mentioned names simply because I disagree with your pet ideology, if you break friendship with me simply because I have a dissenting opinion than yours, if you can’t stand to read someone’s viewpoint that differs from your own, then just maybe you should be careful about throwing around the term “snowflake.

Aristotle wrote in The Metaphysics, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” In other words, we can listen to another’s thoughts, and even appreciate them, without being persuaded to change our own thoughts and beliefs. We do this all the time. We can listen to another’s reasoning and even see how they arrived at that thought without being converted to that thought.

A theologian named Paul Ricoeur influenced me greatly. When I was criticizing the beliefs held by someone else, Professor Ricoeur explained how he could never hold such antagonism to someone else because of what they thought. “Everyone has come to their beliefs and opinions by a difficult road. You may not agree with their reasoning but you should be compassionate as to how they got there.

He was explaining that you may greatly disagree with a person’s position while maintaining friendship and openness to the person. I tried to do that in my disagreement with Dr. Pam Jaffke a few weeks ago. I explained in my opening paragraphs that I have great respect for her and I still do. 

Then everybody lost their minds.

Apparently, some people cannot see the difference between attacking an argument and attacking a person. Back to Aristotle, he wrote about fallacies in logic and one of those fallacies is called Argumentum Ad Hominem or an argument against the person. It would look like this:

Person 1: “Your belief that all Miami Dolphins fans are terrorists is not borne out by any verifiable observation.”

Person B: “You would say that because you’re nothing but a Muslim-loving Communist.

In other words, attacking the person and not the argument.

For whatever reason, the Communist-Socialist-Marxist slur has come back into vogue. I haven’t heard of the word being used so much since the McCarthy hearings.

Here’s a tip: if you think all Democrats are Communists-Socialists-Marxists, if you think all believers in equal rights are Communists-Socialists-Marxists, if you think all immigrants are Communists-Socialists-Marxists, if you think all people who support labor unions are Communists-Socialists-Marxists or if you think all pro-choice people are Communists-Socialists-Marxists, then you might be politically illiterate.

John Adams—that colossus of Independence, Thomas Jefferson called him—once wrote, “I am not afraid of any book.” Neither am I. I can read another’s writings and entertain his or her thoughts and I learn why they think what they think and never lose myself along the way. And every time, I learn something.

When I was living with the Jesuits in graduate school, we used to play pick a topic/pick a side in which we would choose a topic—say, capital punishment—and choose for or against. After 15-20 minutes, we would switch sides. It drove into me the idea of audi alteram partem, “listen to the other side.” It made me appreciate the views of the other side and to see how others came to their opinions.

The right to disagree is completely American. The defense of the weak and poor and oppressed is completely Christian. Maybe not your kind of Christian. And that’s okay, too.

Every Friday morning, I meet with some friends for a study of a particular book of the Bible. There are Catholics, Baptists, Non-denominationals, Lutherans, and more. And, every Friday, we disagree on certain points. I always represent the historical-critical school of thought and another is more of an inspirational mindset and yet another sees more of a foretelling sense of certain scriptures. But never, not once, have we walked away angry at each other because of how we think and believe.

I completely disagree with the opinions expressed by Dr. Pam, Chris Kulinski, and others in their Letters to the Editor but it won’t stop me from respecting, admiring, and, yes, loving them.

Unless they are New York Yankees fans. I can only go so far.

This article was orginally reported by
Travis Rogers, Jr.

Travis is a contributor in religion and entertainment.