Could You Pass as Your Ideological Opponent?

I read with dismay this story about town hall meetings, which have gotten more contentious in recent years.

So what happened to the town hall?

...[T]he tools of citizenship and activism have changed with the advent of YouTube and new, more aggressive strategies from activist groups on both sides. Somehow, an event that was once all about listening has become all about shouting. It now counts as a defeat if one’s opponent is allowed to make a point in peace.

Incidentally, the comments prove the article's point.

By contrast, consider the Ideological Turing Test. A group of atheists and a group of Christians were asked to answer questions anonymously (e.g. what's your best reason for being a Christian/an atheist?). The goal was to pass themselves off as members of the other group. Through open voting, readers tried to discern whether "person #6" was an atheist posing as a Christian or a Christian speaking as herself, and vice versa for the atheist questions.

The responses and results are fascinating and fun. I haven't crunched all the numbers or read everything on the site, which is not scientific, it should be said. But I did note that in the atheist contest, the top three people identified as atheists were actually Christians. In other words, the Christians were able to represent the atheist point of view well enough to fool the audience.

I'm not sure what to make of that. My initial thought is that doubt in God is actually a component of religious faith, not the antithesis to it, so it's not hard for a self-reflective Christian to put on that point of view. Or maybe we just fake sincerity really well? (It's a joke. No pile-ons.) There were also atheists that were able to "pass" as Christian, but not as many as the other way around. But numbers aside... what a cool experiment.

Adam Hamilton, a pastor whom I admire greatly, did a sermon series several years ago on world religions. The purpose was to build respect and see what Christians could learn from other forms of religious piety. He interviewed interfaith leaders in his community and even included video of these leaders in the service. He said his goal was not to build a straw man to knock down, but to represent the other religion's point of view so accurately that those religious leaders could sit in the front row of his church and say, Yes, that is who we are.

It's the Atticus Finch thing: "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." I do that sometimes as an intellectual exercise, when I hear something on the news that really ticks me off: What might lead a person to come to that conclusion? But it's hard work, and I don't do it enough.

We don't do it enough.

But we could. And the world would be a thousand times better place.

Fewer Angry McShoutertons, please.

More Adam Hamiltons and Ideological Turing Tests.

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footnote: the original turing test