How to convert me: Part II
Hello everyone! Dave Muscato here again.
First off, a huge thank-you to everyone who upvoted, shared, and commented on Part I of this article. We got about 58,000 visitors, making it the second most-read article in the history of this blog (224 articles since April 2011). We’re very glad you enjoyed it.
We got such a huge response to the last one that I thought it would be helpful to address some of the things that came up in emails, on Twitter, in the comments, and so on. There was a LOT of excellent feedback and I’m very grateful to hear from all of you!
And so, for your reading pleasure, here is some MORE advice for evangelicals on how to convert me:
- Discuss, don’t preach. This is such an important point, I’m going to go into some detail about it. Discussion means listening, being willing to change your mind if you’re shown to be wrong about something, and understanding that no one has all the answers. Be ready, willing, and able to learn, as well as inform. When I go into a discussion, it is with an open mind, and I except the same from my conversation partner. I know it’s counterintuitive, but if your goal is to convert me, you are not going to get very far by preaching. I arrived at my conclusions after many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of hours poring over history and evidence, doing lots of reading, studying logical arguments, and reading the Bible and other holy books. Simply telling me “Jesus died for your sins” is not going to do anything at all to change my mind. I’ve read the Bible, too. The issue is not that I don’t know what it says; it’s that I don’t believe what it says.
- Don’t just tell me what you believe. Tell me why you believe it. Remember that the point here is “I am not convinced your beliefs are true.” I know it’s easier to fall into the routine of retelling what you believe, but once we’ve covered it, tell me your story. The important part (to me) is not what you believe; it’s why.
- Make an effort to learn the standard arguments. There are really only about 10 or 12 of them. As I said in my last article, I am always happy to go over these again and again if it helps someone see things differently, but it is a huge time-saver—not to mention that I will be impressed with you—if you know these at the outset, or at least are passingly familiar with them. Here and here are two excellent resources to help you get started. These are very familiar to atheists. I sometimes hear from believers that they are shocked at how knowledgeable many atheists are about such a wide variety of subjects, from evolutionary biology to geology to cosmology to ancient history. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: We’re not necessarily; it’s just that there really only are about a dozen of these rebuttals for us to learn
- When it comes to ethics, don’t make assumptions. Ask, listen, and learn. There is this idea circulated by Christians and other religionists that atheists are immoral, amoral, unethical, or all three. This is simply an attempt to demonize us and if you want to have any success discussing religion with me, you’re going to have to start by not thinking of me as evil. In fact, many atheists have spent a great deal of time and energy studying ethics, and many have a higher ethical standard than you yourself might. Since we do not rely on arguments from authority, many atheists have arrived at their conclusions on ethical principles by careful study of the philosophy of ethics, and we can often provide detailed analyses about why we believe what we do. Don’t assume that we’re somehow lacking ethically just because we don’t believe in your god, or heaven, or hell. In fact I can think of few things more important to me than living as ethically as I can.
- Don’t end the discussion, especially prematurely, by saying “God bless” or “I’ll pray for you.” Many atheists, myself included, see this as the ultimate in arrogance and an attempt at one final dig before prancing away. I know that some of you actually mean it sincerely, but if you want to build rapport with me, please, just pray for me on your own some other time. My usual response to “I’ll pray for you” is “If you actually believe prayer works, for Pete’s sake, don’t waste your time on me. There are starving children in Africa.” If you absolutely must pray for me, I will respect you much more if you ask for my permission first. And don’t forget Matthew 6:5-6!
I hope that these are helpful for you, and I look forward to hearing how they work out in your own discussions! Have a great one. Until next time!
Dave Muscato is the Kansas/Missouri-Area Volunteer Network Coordinator for the Secular Student Alliance. He is also a board member of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A non-traditional junior at Mizzou studying economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday and twice monthly for the Humanist Community at Harvard. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com
and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!
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