In a recent installment (Christian Standard, April 16, 2008) of “And So It Goes” titled “Can’t We All Just Get Along?” Paul S. Williams wrote:
Many of the things on which we differ matter greatly. That is why we express such passion in our rhetoric. I’m good with passion. I just recoil when passion devolves into vitriolic attack. That is when my heart grows heavy and the light in my soul goes dim. That is when I want to say with Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”
I know there are times we all become angry about what another has written. But unless we have additional reason, we have no right to attack the author. After all, that person is a pilgrim on the journey, just like you and me, trying hard to get it right.
I hope we never quit challenging one another’s thoughts. There is no other way to grow. But I also hope we can learn to leave the meanness where it belongs—under the hard and fast control of the Spirit of Christ.
I agree that we can and should dispense with “meanness.” This word implies nastiness, and a case of the nasties can be, well, nasty.
But I find it interesting that he also rejects “vitriolic” attack. An attack that is vitriolic is scathing. Now, while “scathing” can indicate a harmful attack, whether or not this is a bad thing depends upon exactly what you are attacking. If you attacking a person, that attack is not only un-Christian, it is also illogical, since personal attack is a logical fallacy.
But if you are attacking a faulty, dangerous-to-the-faith position, a scathing attack can be appropriate. If you don’t think so, reconsider some of the things said by the Apostle Paul about false doctrine.
The culture of Christendom is often just “weeniefied” about this matter. We think - for no good reason - that strong attacks are never justified, no matter how ridiculous or even horrible the position we are attacking might be.
There are some views with which we not only can’t, but shouldn’t “get along.” Sometimes even very well-meaning people can very innocently promote very damaging ideas. In cases where those people have an easily-influenced audience, it may be our duty to offer an attack, even a scathing one, of the damaging idea - not the person, but the idea. Some Christian publications promote some very bad ideas. I have even seen a bad idea now and then in the publication for which Paul Williams writes.
We must keep in mind the fact that in our culture, an attack on a person’s ideas will often incorrectly be seen as an attack on the person. That people sometimes make this mistake is no reason not to attack bad ideas - no matter who the author might be.