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The Table Video

Richard Mouw

How (Not) to Wage War Over Ideas

President Emeritus and Professor of Christian Philosophy, Fuller Theological Seminary
August 9, 2015

Do you ever feel like a conversation is a battle? What starts out as a friendly conversation about religion or politics or morality turns into a fiery debate to the death, where only one side can be victorious? Richard Mouw discusses the dangers and problems of seeing disagreement dialogue as a battle. And points out that learning civility starts with family and kinship relationships.


Indeed, it seems like the metaphor for argument is largely taken from battle, right? We defend our theories or we attack the opponents or we marshal our arguments.

Defeat an objection.

Yeah, we defeat an objection. Perhaps that is implicit to argument, but are there ways of thinking about this kind of dialogue with difference that can round out that battle metaphor? How do you think about what is actually taking place when I am reasoning with another person who differs from me? What metaphors do we need to carry within us, which ones are biblical, what is the inner way of viewing what’s taking place here?

Well, I think a lot of it has to do with family relations. You know Aristotle pointed out that the earliest ways in which we learn to be polite is with kinship and then we extend it to friendship. And then ultimately to the public square where we take another person as human simply because they’re human not because they’re our kinfolk or because we know them well. But we recognize their humanity.

But that first stage of kinship I think is so important. When I’m arguing with my wife, we disagree about things, but that’s not battle, it’s a conversation and it’s a desire to better understand each other, a desire to come to some kind of peaceful accord where there may be things that are causing tension or friction or when you’re arguing with your kid.

That’s not warfare, although they can be very deep disagreements about things and so, in kinship, in familial relationships, and in close friendships, we do encounter those disagreements and I think one of the big problems today is that we’ve so weakened family relations and friendship relations that we haven’t been the school for civility yet. And that, to me, is a real problem.

Continue the conversation with this article from Richard Mouw.