I have some simple rules I apply to any argument I undertake, whether in person, in print, or on this site.
Tackle the ideas, not the person. If you can only win an argument by denigrating your opponents, you deserve to lose.
If the person is the problem, say why as clearly and as generously as possible. Don’t write people off because you disagree with them.
State the other person’s point of view fairly. If you have to distort what your opponents are saying to defeat them in argument, then you have lost, or ought to.
Put your own evidence fairly. Be open to the possibility you may be wrong, and be willing to be convinced by the evidence others offer.
It’s OK to make mistakes (occasionally). It’s OK for other people to make mistakes too. Mistakes do not necessarily indicate carelessness or dishonesty.
Yet despite these simple rules, when it comes to wretched hives of scum and villainly, Mos Eisley has nothing on the internet.
Here are the concluding paragraphs of an article by Kevin DeYoung on First Things:
Here, then, a little advice for the tough guys: Save the big guns for the big issues. Don’t try to die on every hill; the hills are crowded already and you only have so many lives to lose. Be courteous wherever possible (Col. 4:6). Drop the rhetorical bombs and launch the satire missiles only as a last resort. Be patient with those who really want to understand (2 Tim. 2:25). And remember, it’s ok to have an unarticulated thought (Prov. 18:2).
And for the tender ones: Dare to not qualify. Don’t pad your criticisms with fluff praise (Gal. 1:10). If you have affirmations of substances, go for it. But don’t be a self-protective flatterer. Don’t be afraid to be misunderstood. Don’t soften a needed jab of logic. And when you get an ad hominen right hook, don’t take it personally (1 Cor. 4:3–4).
And for everyone: please, please argue with actual arguments. Don’t just emote or dismiss the other side with labels. Explain why your side makes more sense. Try more persuasion, less pouting (2 Cor. 5:11). Give reasons, not just reactions (Acts 18:19).
Here’s hoping against hope that thinking adults, Christians especially, can sustain meaningful discourse without resorting to name-calling or cowardly equivocation. Christ calls us to love, which is something entirely different than being a jerk or playing it safe. A.W. Tozer got it right: “The kingdom of God, has suffered a great deal of harm from fighters—men who would rather fight than pray; but the kingdom of God has also been done great harm by men who would rather be nice than right.”