Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sincere advice for the proselytizing Christian

An article on WikiHow, entitled "How to Persuade an Atheist to Become Christian" has been making the rounds on various skeptic and atheist forums these last couple of days. I'm not sure if it's been going around the various online Christian communities, but just in case it has, I would like to offer some advice to any Christian who's thinking of employing this particular strategy. I'm not going to pick apart its various faults or attack Christianity, rather, I'm going to explain why you're probably just going to find yourself frustrated more than anything, and maybe I'll be doing you a favor by saving you some time.

The first thing that I should note is that not all atheists are alike. I can only speak for myself, and I became an atheist through skepticism. This is not true for all atheists. There are lots of reasons why people don't believe. However, I know a lot of atheists who approach the issue of religious faith the same way that I do, so even though this is from my point of view, I feel confident that a lot of atheists will agree with what I'm saying.

Also, I'm not going to go through each and every point. No doubt there are all sorts of people doing a thorough analysis already. I'm just going to point out a few things that jumped out at me.

1. It starts off with a pretty bad premise when it gives the following bit of advice:
Put yourself in your friend's seat. First, they don't have your concept of salvation, as "to be saved from The Law of Sin and Death", or that "all have sinned and deserve judgment".
One thing that I find odd when I debate with Christians is that they often talk about some of its basic principles as though I've never heard of it before. This article assumes right from the get-go that the atheist has no "concept" of some pretty basic Christian ideas.

I think a better bit of advice, especially if you're living in a Christian-dominated country, is that you can assume that there's a good chance that they know the basics. Not only that, but you have to realize that many atheists are former believers. Some of them were fervent believers, and some of them were even pastors. They can talk the talk, and they've walked the walk. Sure, there are some people out there who don't have the faintest clue about Christianity, but don't this idea makes the mistake of thinking that people reject the idea of the Christian God out of ignorance. And I don't mean to be snarky here, but let's face it - Christianity is an evangelizing religion by nature, and it's not like you're the Druids.

And if you're tempted to tell the former believer that he or she was never a "true" Christian in the first place, well, good luck with that. Trust me, it's not going to get you very far.

2. The second point under "preparation" goes as follows:
Before starting a discussion, you must expect that they have a non-religious orthodoxy with their evidence aligned in their favor, as they see it, regarding origins from the vacuum of space, universe and life from a black hole, from nothing but (mindless) energy changing to matter by no plan, yet results so astonishing, with no design -- matter "rattling around" to create all the orderly, interdependent processes -- as the basis of theories of origins (unobservable stuff form into theories of what they believe) may be arguable, perhaps logical, but how so?
If this is the best way that you can articulate the atheist position, then don't be surprised if the atheist rolls his or her eyes at you. Try reading up on what the actual science says, as theories are NOT formed from "unobservable stuff".

3. The fourth point under preparation says:
Verify that the Bible is scientifically correct every time it mentions science, even though it isn't a science text.
Not even all Christians will try and tell you this. As I stated before, I'm not interested in getting into debunking Christianity, but don't expect to find agreement with this premise. In fact, expect to find a long list of refutations with specific examples.

4. The fifth bit of "preparation" advice:
Be prepared to have a genuine conversation with them. Show interest in what they are saying. If you are going to convince him or her of anything one-on-one, you have to first take a genuine interest in that person's point of view.
The article doesn't state this, but a "genuine" conversation and sincere "interest" means that you're willing to consider that the other person is right. If you don't think that there's any way you can be wrong, then you're already failing this step. (And this is probably the biggest failure of the article, as it the writer doesn't understand the premises behind his/her own advice.)

5. I should first note that much of the advice is good stuff that could be useful no matter what you're discussing. However, it starts to assume too much with point number five under "Discussions":
Explain why Christianity helps people to live better lives.
Don't be shocked if the atheist doesn't even accept the premise of this. Has Christianity helped some people lead better lives? Absolutely. Some people kick drugs, alcohol, abusive relationships, etc. with Christianity. The same can be said of other religions. More importantly, there are atheists who don't feel as though they're somehow living an "worse" life than the average Christian. In fact, many of us feel the opposite, if anything. Be prepared to have the atheist point out that places that are more religious/Christian (the "Bible Belt" of the U.S.) tend to have lower standards of living than places with less religiosity (Scandinavia).

6. Again, some more good advice is given, but step 3 under "Long Term Goals" is curious:
After their arguments about any advantages of being atheist, say that their arguments are perfectly good points, but not enough to convert you to atheism.
In other words: "Make sure your mind is sufficiently made up and unwilling to change when given new evidence or a different perspective." I don't know about you, but I always assume that I can be wrong about anything and everything. I'm willing to  convert if given proper evidence (I don't care about "arguments" for belief) and I can spell out for you numerous examples of what that evidence would look like.

This relates back to point number 4, as it's not a genuine conversation if you're unwilling to even consider that you might be wrong.

7. The seventh point under "Long Term Goals" states:
As your friend listens (or just allows you to pray), pray that God will bless your friend and draw closer.
Honestly? Go ahead and pray for your friend. But don't do it in front of him or her because they're likely to view that as condescending. It carries the assumption that there's something wrong with them, and I hate to break it to you, but most of us atheists don't feel like we're missing something. Even if you're right, this will likely only turn the atheist off entirely.

Overall, I think that the article comes from a good, sincere place, and the writer wants to help people. However, it makes a few fundamental mistakes that will likely set off several alarm bells for atheists rather than have them consider converting to Christianity.


Anonymous said...

Great blog. Thanks for sharing.

Tony from Pandora said...

I couldn't get passed the lame artwork from the linked article to actually read it...

Ron Nicolas said...

Nicely done.

Richard Neel said...

I enjoy your non-dogmatic approach to atheism. Most atheists don't realize this, but they can seem just as dogmatic as many Christians. I'm always open to the possibility that I might be wrong about my world view. In fact, I've changed my mind about many things in my life. My sincere hope for our planet is that people can eventually begin to understand that we don't all see things from the same perspective and be OK with it. We can still respect one another even though we disagree. Alas, I fear we have a long way to go. Thanks for your words.

Lance Johnson said...

Thanks for the kind words.

The way I see it, I just want to know what's true and what isn't. I realize my fallibility though, and I try my best to adopt an approach that will lead me to the truth - whatever it is.

Rob said...

Excellent reply!