Being provocative is good…REALLY???

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By Kenneth Justice

~ “Dude, that’s one damn provocative question!” he said

One of the things I love about hanging out with my Arab American friends is that we can have serious dialogue and debate, asking each other really tough questions and at the end of the day shake hands and not hold grudges against each other.

Not having been to the Middle East I can’t say whether or not that is a cultural trait of Arabs throughout the world or merely an antidotal thing I’ve experienced with my Arab American friends who’ve migrated to the United States.

The older I get the more I’ve noticed that much of American culture gets really defensive when you ask questions or make generalizations aimed at stimulating conversation. My uncle Bob was fond of saying that defensiveness is often the first response whenever someone is proposed a premise that contradicts their belief system.

—-) If I ask challenging questions about Christianity I’m certain to end up on the receiving end of some sharp criticism from readers and Christians

—-) If I ask challenging questions regarding science and scientists (as I did this past week) I’m certain to receive some rather piercing responses regarding the motivations and intentions behind my questions.

The reality is that many of the generalizations and questions I pose do not come from my own ‘personal’ opinion. I try to do my best at keeping as many of my opinions to myself in order to not muddy the water when it comes to intellectual dialogue.

I find it humorous that many conservatives believe I am a far-left liberal and many liberals believe I am a far-right conservative. I suspect these perceptions that people have of me are due to the way in which I ask questions and posit generalizations from all sorts of different perspectives.

The simple fact of the matter is that Western Culture has entered an era where people on all sides of the camp are more likely to be fundamentalist in their beliefs and behavior; and it is this prevailing attitude that I’ve attempted to address time and again in my writing.

In the past ‘fundamentalist’s’ were more or less confined to various religious sects, but as Western Culture became industrialized in the post-enlightenment era; suddenly agnostics, atheists, scientists, and people from all walks of life and philosophy were suddenly “acting fundamentalist” in their beliefs and dialogue.

The late writer and atheist apologist Christopher Hitchens was not merely an atheist, but one could suggest that he was something more akin to a fundamentalist atheist in the same sense that so many Christians and Muslims are fundamentalist.

At the core of fundamentalist behavior is an attitude that presupposes your beliefs are “right” beyond the shadow of the doubt, and if someone questions you or makes generalizations about your beliefs you are quick to become defensive and go on the attack.

Fundamentalist behavior and thinking often involves a strict hierarchal authoritarian structure; this attitude causes people to ostracize and attack any person who questions the status quo,

—-) I question whether or not having 70% of Americans on prescription medication is a good thing and people get pissed off at me

—-) I question whether or not Christianity in the Western World is doing more harm than good and people get pissed off at me

—-) I question whether or not the United States should be meddling in foreign affairs and foreign governments and people write me emails telling me I’m stupid and don’t know history

—-) I question whether or not scientists are making wise choices in their research and I get an email like I did yesterday in which I was told that I was anti-science right winged Christian fundamentalist who believes in fairy tales

I don’t mind getting nasty emails and contentious comments. I’m a big boy and it doesn’t bother me that people mischaracterize my position and beliefs. However, this prevailing attitude people have when their belief systems are questioned reinforces my thought that fundamentalism is alive and well in all walks of life throughout Western Culture.

Am I guilty of asking provocative questions aimed at inciting a certain response; I would NEVER do that!

………………………….ok, maybe just a little.

Back to my cup of coffee which is especially delicious this morning,






Categories: Culture & Society

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42 replies

  1. I hope you keep asking provocative questions, Kenneth. It keeps life interesting and may inspire some to think about the world in more critical ways. Things won’t improve otherwise, from my perspective.

  2. Do you, Kenneth, often see things through different perspectives?

  3. There is an arab saying … he who speaks the truth must keep one foot in the saddle.

  4. So, is this your opinion or are you keeping it to yourself again? 😉

  5. I think our media driven culture tends to promote this ‘fundamentalism’. I noticed while selling that many people would say that they didn’t like “aggressive” sales tactics. But it was aggressiveness which captured their attention and the sale. Being ‘reasonable’ and deferential got the sales person dismissed or blown off.

    People seem to need to know what’s going on very quickly. They have no time for questions. They want to know very quickly what you ‘want’. “What is it?” Fundamentalism of every stripe delivers this. It’s like fast food. It’s like those big signs which say, “EAT HERE”. It’s like the golden arches.

    • “people seem to need to know what’s going on very quickly. They have no time for questions”

      So true dude. Neil Postman said we’ve created a culture where people feel compelled to have an opinion about everything based on only listening to sound bytes. He said that it is liberating to say “I don’t know, let me think about it and study some more”

  6. great post! I am going to use it in my class.

  7. “One of the things I love about hanging out with my Arab American friends is that we can have serious dialogue and debate, asking each other really tough questions and at the end of the day shake hands and not hold grudges against each other.”
    What about your other American friends (Irish, Asian, Russian, German, etc)? Can’t you have the same with them? I wonder why you selected your Arab American friends.
    Is not war the main cultural trait of Arabs today?
    I also like “provocative questions”. .

  8. Such a timely post. Yesterday, I wrote a six-word story on a Facebook group of the same name. All I will say is that it was about a divisive issue, and although unintended, it was provocative. Most of the comments that ensued were derisive, mocking and belittling. I found it amusing that my “story” aroused such reactions. What it came down to is that my story was not in accordance with their beliefs, thus, I was subjected to ridicule. It was amusing. Keep on being provocative, Kenneth. Hopefully, we as a society learn from discussing the hard questions. Blessings, Lydia

  9. I too have found the same response from most people when I asked ‘provocative’ questions or made such statements. I personally cannot stand the conflicts that this brings forth, but that’s mainly due to my mental health problems. I am at a point where I can talk openly and honestly with only a few really close friends about such things. I am too fearful to talk about these things with anyone else for fear of blow back and being misunderstood.

    In essence, Western Culture has made the shift from fundamentalism in religion to fundamentalism in everything else. I can’t see that this is any improvement as now everything has strict dogma that all ‘adherents’ must hold to or risk being cast out of the sect. I do not believe that any one person or group has a monopoly on truth. In fact, the more I learn and the more I read I figure out that there is always that much more to learn. Sadly, the Western culture does not put any value in being wise and intelligent anymore. We are nothing more than dogmatic conformists. This makes me both very sad and very angry.

  10. It’s such a shame that some people aren’t grown up enough to accept that others may hold opposing views to them and still be nice people. A shame that they can’t look at an opposing belief to see if there’s any possible merit in the argument and occasionally question why they accept their own beliefs without question.

  11. I thank goodness there are still people like you left who will not only pose hard questions on the internet, you are not afraid of the answers–and the inevitable negative responses–that come your way. People have grown allergic to both facts and opinions, especially when they don’t match their own. I think it’s a sad state when Western society has no room for debate, only name-calling and finger-pointing. I completely agree with @davidprosser. When did we stop being adults who could handle that the real world was not black and white? To hear a lot of people talk now–in society and on the internet–you would swear they were entitled, selfish, spoiled kids with no empathy for anyone else. I remember the courtesy and careful intelligence of my grandparents and parents with fondness. The world could use a lot more doubt in it right now, and a lot less self-righteousness.

  12. I agree with your observation that many groups take a “fundamentalist” approach to defending their position. I did want to point out that fundamentalism is one of those words that has gotten twisted – sometimes they are called weasel words – so that they no longer mean what they originally did. Orthodox Christians in the early 1900’s called for a return to the fundamental or foundational beliefs of the faith. They got labeled as fundamentalists and it came to mean backward, primitive, or intolerant when what they were striving for were the necessary tenets of Christianity.

  13. The dynamics of life revolve around one and only one issue. Survival. Most “provocative questions” make the listener feel that the view other than their own is a clear and present danger.

    Rather than provocative questions, which usually represent a challenge, an explanation of the benefits of your position is most likely to produce a positive response. If it doesn’t sway the listener enough to cause them to change their views, at least they will understand why you think as you do. But it is critical to point out specific benefits from which the individual listener will profit, not general, global, abstract benefits those can be explained later.

    The second factor in a provocative challenge is anger. Anger is ALWAYS the result of perceived disrespect. Waiting in line, being cut off on the road, or listening to your neighbors loud music when you are trying to sleep, disputes of national lands, water conservation, rules, not being able to access your money in the bank, etc etc etc from the most minor of issues to issues of religion, or national pride when the issue results in anger it is always the result of a person feeling they are being disrespected, cheated, or abused or accused.

    It is not likely that you can stop someones anger if there is no clear benefit to them, try telling an angry neighbor that staying awake all night listening to music they hate is beneficial to them! HA! That is where you need to stop asking provocative questions and step into their shoes for a moment and examine whether your position is in fact of no benefit to them. If it is, then its best to keep your mouth shut, at that point you are only being provocative to satisfy yourself. It is no longer a conversation it is a lecture.

  14. Meaning? Your good? Provocative?
    Provocative could be a good thing, or trouble too; either way I like it, it’s challenging . Kill two birds with one stone!

  15. I’m going to agree and state the sweeping general assumption that maybe western culture is so tied to its various belief systems because people are not very secure in their beliefs. They really want to believe something, anything, so they pick something and run with that. Amending beliefs takes time and careful consideration. It’s easier to tell you that you’re wrong than to consider thoughtful questions. There’s probably some fear wrapped up in there too. But provocative questions, however disquieting, are essential to the progression of a society. So, keep up the good work.

  16. I’m coming to the conclusion that other’s opinions don’t matter, which is easy to say. And this coming from a recovering people-pleaser. People are looking for authenticity, not political or even religious platforms. And that starts with being real with yourself and real with your relationship with Christ. Good post. Again.

  17. People say bad things to others when their beliefs are threatened, when they are afraid, or when they aren’t sure of what they actually believe themselves. I’m sure there are a lot other reasons as well, but I think these might be a few of them. Some people just think they know everything and they are always right. It’s easy to walk away from those people in real life, not so easy when they write on your blog. And what’s wrong with provocative questions anyway? They aren’t boring and they can be fun and get a discussion going. If it’s a sensitive issue, people who don’t like it can skip.

  18. Questions absolutely must be asked, and about everything, too. Remember when they said autism was from vaccines? Did you see how many years and how much research went into debunking and disproving his false claim? What a colossal waste of time and money and effort. But we got the hard science now, supposedly. Don’t just trust, don’t just have faith, please question. Even if we don’t get an answer, the questioning should be done. How else can we learn, or remain open to learning?

  19. Sometimes, I don’t think people realize the ‘fundamentalist’ ideas they have. They don’t see it as an opinion, they see it as reality. So, when someone questions why the sky is blue, the gut reaction is to wonder if they are sane. It’s not that they are stubbornly holding on to their opinion that the sky is blue, but that a blue sky is reality to them. It never occurred to them the same sky they see may be another color in someone else’s eyes.

  20. Truth is worth it… its worth it to ask the hard questions.

  21. If you are asking questions that evoke such harsh responses from people you are definitely asking the right questions.

    The so called “leaders” of their time were angry with Jesus when He called them out. Of course He didn’t stop, and don’t you stop either. Your sincere voice represents “the rest of us” who seemingly have no voice because of the “fundamentalists” whatever their soapbox, overshadow common sense and decency with their propaganda.

  22. “I don’t mind getting nasty emails and contentious comments. I’m a big boy and it doesn’t bother me that people mischaracterize my position and beliefs.”
    –I actually laughed out loud. I know it’s not really a funny subject. People can get really sensitive and defensive when their beliefs are questioned or disagreed with. But I do find it funny that you actually get emails that are so harsh. I, for one, am very thankful for your posts that cause people to think outside their box. I know I used to be very fundamentalist and legalistic. I guess time and growth have taught me a few things, and I am a lot more open now. And being such a strong feeler, sometimes trying to make sense things and not knowing how to put things so much into words, reading a post like yours, or talking to my hubby about questions I have, is very refreshing.
    Soooooo, no harsh emails from me, my friend. Just big smiles.
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 (enough smiles for ya?)

  23. I have observed it too. I don’t know whether to call it fundamentalism, lack of respect or closed mindedness. The issue I see is that it results in abusive behavior.

    its so tricky though, because there are times when you have to stand up for what you believe, even while you can acknowledge there are different perspectives. I guess the point is to do it respectfully, even if you completely disagree…

  24. Provocative questions – good. But what is the correct response?
    – To consider the question on its own terms, not to assume motivations of the questioner.
    – Then to formulate an intelligent response. The response may be to change one’s own beliefs, or to try to demonstrate why those beliefs are correct.

    Abuse and name-calling – bad. Ignore such people. They gave an incorrect response.

  25. What bothers me the most about fundamentalists of any group is their assumptions that their point of view is the only “logical” answer or the only “correct” response. They seem to forget that we are all different, come at life from differing perspectives and from different experiences. Many that I have met do not value any dissenting opinions and eschew thoughts that it is possible that others have thought just as deeply about a subject at hand and yet still arrived at a different conclusion than the one they have reached. From my personal experience, fundamentalism is just another way of saying close-minded. YMMV

  26. “Am I guilty of asking provocative questions aimed at inciting a certain response; I would NEVER do that!”

    That is what you do best. I enjoyed the questions that you asked me on the podcast because it led me to explain myself. It turns out I am something of a pro-life fundamentalist.

    Btw, I am a big fan of Christopher Hitchens for his focus on morality. He had a method that was very different from others. He was an inspiration to me.

  27. Reblogged this on Treasure Hunting for a Good Time and commented:
    Thanks to the fine blog “The Culture Monk” for a great post on the dangers of closing an open mind — no matter what door you slam shut. Read the entire post here.

  28. THANK YOU for putting words to what I currently am experiencing “when you ask questions or make generalizations aimed at stimulating conversation”. Thank you.


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