United Methodist Internet conversation is plagued by many logical fallacies. We invoke the slippery slope. We appeal to authority. We roll out the band wagon. The one that always comes to my mind first, though, is our rampant use of straw man arguments.
This is so common that it almost appears to be required, as if the Book of Discipline mandated its use.
The moves are simple. First you over simplify or mischaracterize a competing argument. This is setting up the straw man. Then you knock the straw man down, leading to the conclusion that your alternative must be the better argument.
The only solution I know for this problem comes from the counsels of active listening. When we want to describe the position or argument of a person with whom we disagree, we must first ask that person if the argument as we have described it fairly represents what they are trying to argue or say.
Only once we can construct our opponent’s argument in a manner that strikes them as fair should we critique it.
Now, of course, it often happens on the Internet that we cannot engage in the kind of back-and-forth that would allow us to get that kind of acknowledgment. But that should be a goal in all we do.
It is not as fun as knocking down straw men, but it is certainly more in keeping with the law of love.