Dialogue Without Diatribe

How can we learn to disagree without being disagreeable?

I was recently speaking at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, where I’d been asked to address the topic “Does Religion Poison Everything?” During the lecture, one student at the back of the lecture room gesticulated wildly every time I made a point with which he disagreed. At the end of the talk, there was a time of Q&A and this student was among the first to raise his hand. He began by self-identifying as an atheist and then proceeded to ask a series of increasingly complex questions about moral philosophy. After the event was over, the student found his way to the front and continued his questions and we went to and fro for about half an hour across a range of issues: Can you be good without God? Do you need God for moral values? What does the good life look like? Finally the student shook my hand and said, “I’ve disagreed with almost everything you’ve said in the last 90 minutes. But this has been the most fascinating conversation I can remember and you’ve given me much to think about. Thank you.”