Basil the Great discusses twitter, blogging and online discussion fora

From On the Holy Spirit, 1.1:

I admire your proposing questions not for the sake of testing, as many now do, but to discover the truth itself. For now a great many people listen to and question us to find fault. . . . [T]he questions of many contain a hidden and elaborate bait, like the hunters’ snare and the military ambush. These are the people who throw out words, not so that they may receive something useful from them, but so that they may seem to have a just pretext for war if they find answers that do not accord with their own liking.

Via Joel J. Miller, quoting a modern translation.

The work of Basil on the Holy Spirit may be found in the old NPNF translation here.  It is addressed to his brother Amphilochius, another of the Cappadocian fathers.  After a couple of sentences we find:

And this in you yet further moves my admiration, that you do not, according to the manners of the most part of the men of our time, propose your questions by way of mere test, but with the honest desire to arrive at the actual truth.

There is no lack in these days of captious listeners and questioners; but to find a character desirous of information, and seeking the truth as a remedy for ignorance, is very difficult.

Just as in the hunter’s snare, or in the soldier’s ambush, the trick is generally ingeniously concealed, so it is with the inquiries of the majority of the questioners who advance arguments, not so much with the view of getting any good out of them, as in order that, in the event of their failing to elicit answers which chime in with their own desires, they may seem to have fair ground for controversy.

Anybody who has encountered atheist “questions” about Christianity online will be very familiar indeed with this form of trickery.  It is generally advisable, if we have reason to suspect that our enquirer is really phrasing a statement as a question, to ask a question about his own beliefs in return.  This will be dodged, for such “enquirers” have no desire to query their own beliefs.  Most of them live by convenience; I invariably say so, and ask why.  The answers are rarely satisfactory, but it at least puts a stop to the pleasant game of throwing stones at any Christian who may be entrapped into being their target.

2 Responses to “Basil the Great discusses twitter, blogging and online discussion fora”


  1. IG

    Great quote. Perfectly apt! I learnt this sad fact early in my life after expending much time and effort for naught, and enduring a few bruisings besides. Your advice to ask a question in return is very sound. My favourite: If I could prove to you, in a manner that is entirely acceptable to you, that there is a god, what difference would it make in your life?

  2. Roger Pearse

    I think we have all experienced this kind of attack. It’s like being stoned, and has nothing rational about it whatever.