Those of you who know my writing mainly through blog postings here and elsewhere might be surprised to know that my twice-a-month column for the Indianapolis Star is much more restrained (or so I like to think). I measure my words in that venue carefully—in large part because I only get 500 of them, and it can be hard to make complex points within that limit. (Try it if you don’t believe me.) I also try to hold down the snark and make my points politely and reasonably, on the assumption that my readers (inexplicable as it seems) will not all agree with me.
Nevertheless, I get some email and snail-mail that is critical of my motives, my intellect, my personality and occasionally my parentage. Last Wednesday I got snail-mail that included a recent letter to the editor criticising a column I’d written. (It was a perfectly reasonable criticism, which makes me doubt it was written by my correspondent.) The letter itself—in its entirety, capitalization, etc. in the original—read as follows:
“SSK—the only good jews are the messianics who read and understand the O.T. and its prophets. You have alot to learn. Hitler’s holocaust will seem like a tea party compared to the coming tribulation where you and yours will be snared. In addition you are a big S.O.B. -- X”
I’m quite sure the person who penned this charming message is not a reader of blogs, but just in case, if you’ll bear with me, I’d like to respond with an open letter to “X.”
I have received your letter, and having read the Old Testament, I certainly understood your none-too-veiled reference to The End Times. I know that Christians who are biblical literalists believe that when the End Times come, they (and only they) will be “Raptured” while all the sinners (defined solely as those who fail to believe what you do) will burn in perpetual agony in hell. With respect to my prospects for the hereafter, I’m prepared to take my chances, since I’m inclined to think that a God worthy of the name would be favorably disposed to those of us who spend our energies working for a more tolerant and compassionate world, whatever our faults.
Religion aside, I’m always bemused by people who cannot respond to ideas with which they disagree by specifying the nature of the disagreement. If I have written something with which you have a dispute, why not explain the basis of that dispute? Did I have my facts wrong? Which ones, and how do you know? I’m certainly capable of making mistakes, but if you cannot explain what they are, correction is unlikely.
I’m tired of ad hominem attacks, whether they are attacks on me or anyone else. Responding to a policy argument with the equivalent of “I hate you and your mother wears combat boots” is neither persuasive nor witty. What do you think you are accomplishing by expressing such vitriol? And what was it that I wrote that so agitated you that you could not frame a meaningful response? Have you considered why my opinion—whatever it was—hit so close to home that you felt compelled to lash out with venom? (And I’m curious—is this sort of behavior consistent with your definition of being a good Christian, worthy of being Raptured?)
Finally, why not sign your name? Are you too embarrassed by your own inability to articulate your criticism? Does some small part of you recognize that failure to take ownership of your correspondence implies cowardace and intellectual poverty? Maybe my columns are riddled with errors. Perhaps my policy prescriptions are facile or unworkable. But I sign my name, because I want to play fair. I want serious, thoughtful people to feel free to engage in dialogue with me, to point out holes in my logic or mistakes of fact. That is the only way I’ll learn.
Until you are equally willing to own your words, equally willing to defend your beliefs in calm, reasoned discourse, don’t expect me—or anyone else—to take you seriously.
Yours truly, Sheila Kennedy”
I feel better now.
[UPDATE]In case my reference to the End Times eluded you, THIS explains it all.