Wednesday, January 16, 2008

STA Answers Email: Talking about God

I was recently asked by a reader to talk a little bit about how to go about discussing God, particularly from a non-believer's standpoint. By the way, I welcome all emails at, and any comments you're willing to share here.

No Thanks
So how exactly do you broach the subject of God with a believer? Each encounter will be different, but is there some way of

When beginning a conversation with a Christian, the first step of course is to find out just what kind of "Christian" they. Are they fundamentalist or liberal? And to what degree? Do they believe the Bible is 100% inerrant Word of God, or that the Earth was created in a week? Do they believe in the Heaven/Hell thing, and is Jesus the son of God/savior/out to lunch but will be back soon, or what?

For almost *every* Christan, there is a new brand of Christianity. Simply, it's a cultural idea that is evolving. Every believer cherry-picks around their particular religion, or perhaps they'll choose bits here and there from among several religions or philosophical ideas. That's how religions are born.

Breaking the subject has as much to do with your reason for breaking the subject as anything. Perhaps you're ready to "come out" to a friend or family member. Maybe you're just making an off-hand comment, or you might be fed up with a certain someone at the office who's always spouting off about deities. Naturally, the point you're attempting to make will skew your approach. Now I don't necessarily think that a nonbeliever should seek debate. I much prefer to answer questions and react, rather than actively start disputes (because it's largely irrelevant to daily life), but to each his own.

Speaking of off-handed comments, I sometimes will reply "no thanks" when someone blesses me when I sneeze. If someone jokingly rejoinders "we're going to go to Hell for that, aren't we?" it provides a wonderful opening. I would also suggest investing in a t-shirt or hat or something that reflects your beliefs or lack thereof.
You just have to use the conversation or environment to your surroundings.

Chipping Away
Once I began to debate (both in person and online), I was amazed at how much of the common tactics were used by my opposition. It's like you can write a script for nearly every single encounter (at least the ones with those who haven't really debated before, or haven't given much thought as to why they think what they do), and it would almost always turn out the same:

  • Attack #1: Shift the burden of proof ("Can you prove God doesn't exist?")
  • Attack #2: What did God do to make you so angry?
  • Attack #3: Can you prove love?
  • Attack #4: Pascal's Wager
  • Attack #5: Watchmaker and other painter/painting Ray Comfort BS pesudo-arguments
  • Attack #6: Offer personal experiences (you can't say I'm wrong now...I just feel it!)
  • Attack #7: Since science doesn't know how we got here, it must be God
  • Attack #8: Everybody else believes in God!
  • Attack #9: Then what DO you believe in? (meaning of life, morality, etc.)
  • Attack #N: see Ways to Annoy an Atheist

Not only that, but every counter-attack has the opposite result: the more you show them there's no proof, the stronger they become in their belief! Faith, they say, is the evidence of what you can't see or prove. That's how you know, you just HAVE to know, and then you know. Obviously, this is bullshit and is no sane way at all of proving reality, but that's another topic.

Play It By Ear
Every person is different, with a different level of skill in communication, and differing knowledge on the subject. Like most other things, you just have to play it by ear and chip away at each retort.

If you've been in your opponent's shoes before, try to understand how they feel, and how they're thinking. I couldn't really blame some of the people I've talked to about god -- I'd probably have said the same things when I was a Christian.

It's also important to know what you're trying to get out of the debate or argument. I usually just try to plant little seeds of doubt and let my opponent question their own beliefs. I really want them to think about the questions after the encounter is over. If I can leave them with even a little hint of doubt, it might start a journey for them, which is often in attempt to restrengthen their faith.


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