“What About The What-About?” — The Worst Debate-Baiting Ever


Every time I’ve expressed a pretty clear opinion, someone always asks, “What about ___?  What about ___?  And what about ___?” 

Of course, it’s absolutely necessary to ask questions in discourse.  We need open dialogue and hearty discussion, and it’s okay to disagree.

But missing a “what-about” doesn’t mean I suddenly endorse the opposite of what I missed.  Because I’m human, and I miss certain angles, and I’m not always balancing my opinion with a billion different nuances — I am bound to leave cracks in opinions. 

We are way too quick to demonize each other on these openings, and you see it happen in the blogosphere like we’re just waiting for a lame duck to attack.  I wish I could address every single exception, and maybe we should try it, but to strive for an economy of words while balancing them is always an uphill task.  We could offer a bit of grace here.

If I say, “Love everyone” and you say “What about the Nazis?” — I’m not endorsing Hitler and eugenics and White Power.

If I say, “Have grace and be patient” and you say “What about my drug-addicted wife-beating money-stealing friend?” — I’m not endorsing heroin or spousal abuse or bank robbers.

If I say, “Don’t be a religious overbearing guilt-tripper” and you say “What about some grace for those guilt-trippers?” — then please know that I include myself in what I’m saying, and I’m not above my own criticism.

All this is the worst sort of logical fallacy that wouldn’t hold up with a college freshman in Intro to Law.  It’s a bizarre straw-man that makes us look tough by beating up a cartoon.

Can we maybe stop forcing words into other peoples’ mouths?  I regret doing this too.  It’s a misquoting massacre.  There are so many times someone misunderstands me and I want to get snarky and yell, “Yeah that’s what I was trying to say.  You totally figured me out, champ!  You showed me.”  But I just get sad about the whole thing.

Even if it sounds like you or I are making an implication: a slippery slope is not a cliff, and making arguments out of implications is the behavior of young children in a playground.  Dialogue is for grown-ups.  I’m terrible at this sometimes, but that’s exactly why we need grace.


When someone misses an angle and doesn’t cover all their bases, this does NOT make them an ignorant anti-polemical a-hole.

I suppose if we were to look line-by-line in even the most careful articulate blog, we could conclude “blasphemous heretic” or a “lying witch abortionist” (both of which I have been called), and we could find easy doctrinal flaws and supposed contradictions.  But we would’ve still failed to remotely come close to knowing a real opinion or knowing this person as a human being, and instead managed to hold up a hologram version of the person that we would all easily bash, too.

If you absolutely have to call out someone in disagreement, at least consider NOT speculating on what that person really believes. This is how we end up with quote-by-quote counter-arguments and all kinds of endless stupid semantics and pointless blog drama. It’s healthy to debate sometimes, but not when you attack someone’s character for the sake of hearing your own voice. Presumption will always make us pretentious.

I’m trying to remember that the person who expresses incomplete ideas does not mean this person is evil. It’s easy to ask for clarification without being a jerk. It’s easy to extend grace when you ask “What about ___?” It doesn’t have to escalate into blogger assassination. We are way better than this.

I’d imagine that if you and I could sit down for coffee and wrestle with these things, we would find we actually have a lot of common ground and even come to like each other. You’d see I am a little more conflicted and layered than you had assumed, and I’d find that you have insight which I never even considered, and we would exchange life in such a way that does not demean one another, but builds a bridge to a greater good. We might not agree, and that isn’t even the point.

It is the civil sharing of our commonalities that humanizes us into real individuals, and reminds us why we even fight to express ourselves at all. Over coffee, face to face, eye to eye, it all changes. I will only say to you what I can say to you across a table: and I will love you as a human being who struggles as I do.

— J.S.

13 thoughts on ““What About The What-About?” — The Worst Debate-Baiting Ever

  1. I guess we should have been alerted by Jesus’ title of “logos” that we would have to study logic to function well as Christians. What a different world it would be if we all started to function with the mind of Christ!
    The crazy thing is, God doesn’t just zap us when we are so messed up. Somehow He manages to love us (and even use us) anyway.


    1. Yes, I’m reminded of John Piper’s book Think, and how each of us are tainted a bit (or a lot) by sin in our thinking, but Jesus had no such disadvantage. I’m sure from Jesus’s point of view, he probably wanted to sigh most of the time. Hah!


  2. Listening helps. Considering that there may be a view other than my own helps. Thinking before responding helps. Exhibiting grace helps. Understanding that there has only been one perfect communicator in history – and neither of us are that person – helps.

    Taking attention off of myself, and placing it on others, is the key.


  3. I have often noticed that “do to others what you would desire they do to you” is a one-way street for a lot of people – always in their direction! Or when Paul writes “consider others as better than yourself” some people wait for others to do that for them first, and then never get around to their part.
    And God says we are supposed to love them. Isn’t God the weirdest most wonderful eternal wing-nut?
    And I want to be just like that.


  4. It is like this in blogging and I find it is also like this in preaching. It is impossible in one 20 minute spoken essay to completely cover the counsel of God on anything. Disagreement with a point in a sermon does not necessarily mean the minister is a bad preacher!


    1. Yes, absolutely my point! I think naturally we all have a spirit of backlash and refutation, so we dig our heels into anything for a fight. Then the assumptions of character are made.


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