Debating with Christians

“Why don’t we just start believing there’s a little green leprechaun on my lap waiting to grant my every wish while we’re at it?”

Question from Brian:
It’s me again. This Christian at my school is planning on debating me about religion this Monday. My problem isn’t really with the information, it’s just that people always think that I think I’m better than they are. What do you think?

Answer by Andrea:
Dear Brian,

First – Kudos to you for debating Christians! We need to have more of that in this country.

Regarding your question, during my college days, I would have said, of course I’m better and more rational than you, how can any sane person believe there’s an invisible wizard in the sky? Why don’t we just start believing there’s a little green leprechaun on my lap waiting to grant my every wish while we’re at it?

These days I’m more tactful, and in studying sociology and neurophysiology, I realize that people can genuinely believe they have had a supernatural experience, and not knowing brain neurophysiology, they attribute it to a supernatural force. Others don’t have the strength to handle life’s issues without a crutch, which can also result from improper upbringing in the formative years.

In answer to your question, however, I would touch on the following:

· Make it clear that everyone has a mixture of strengths and weaknesses including yourself, and no one is necessarily better than anyone else.

· Make people aware that you think they are entitled to believe whatever they want to as long as they don’t try to shove it down everyone’s throat.

· To bring people around to my way of thinking, or at least understanding it so they don’t fear it so much, I would mention some of the reasons why I don’t believe, which for me would be:
– Other than biblically-related writing, there is no secular proof of a man who could heal lepers, raise the dead or walk on water. There is also no proof of any apostles or most, if not all, the stories in the Bible (eg the great flood, etc.). There is secular proof of a King Herod, but he died 2 years before Christ was said to be born. There is also no proof of any mass slaughtering of male children.
– There is much proof that Christianity is merely a plagiarism of many mythologies preceding it (
see for instance “The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold and Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unveiled at URL: www.truthbeknown.com/christ.htm)
– How can one believe religion is a good thing when secular societies are so much more societally healthy, while the US, the most religious country in the industrialized world, has the most societal dysfunction (i.e., highest rates of assaults, murder, imprisonment). The second most religious country, Portugal, is also second most dysfunctional. See also Phil Zuckerman and Gregory Paul for stats.
– Mention the contradictions found throughout the Bible. I think if more people actually read the Old Testament, more people would be atheists.


Try also Secular Student Alliance for answers to your question and for purposes of community.
Hope that helps.
Best,
Andrea

Christian Denominations

“A Christian would immediately ask why you didn’t submit these questions to a Christian website to hear the answers from the horse’s mouth. I simply assume you’re after an external perspective which doesn’t favour one Christian denomination over another, and you’ll certainly get that here.”

Question from Tim and some other guy:
Hey, we are two students at an international school in Hong Kong. We have a project dealing with all the different denominations of Christianity. Would it be possible to answer a few questions regarding the existance of the thousands of denominations? Thank you.

1. What are the basic tenets of Christianity (the inclusive beliefs of all Christianity)?
2. Why is it that Christianity has broken up into countless numbers of denominations?
a. What caused this split?
3. Wouldn’t God want one, universal denomination of Christianity, instead of what it is now, split into thousands of sects?
4. Wouldn’t one inclusive group be more influential and attractive than split factions?

Answer by SmartLX:
A Christian would immediately ask why you didn’t submit these questions to a Christian website to hear the answers from the horse’s mouth. I simply assume you’re after an external perspective which doesn’t favour one Christian denomination over another, and you’ll certainly get that here.

1. All Christians believe that the “God of Abraham” exists, that He created the universe and that He designed human beings deliberately and specifically. They believe that Jesus Christ was God’s son, and/or a human incarnation of God himself, and that after he was crucified he rose from the dead. If you can find a self-proclaimed Christian who doesn’t believe even one element of the above, I can show you a lot of other Christians who wouldn’t regard that person as a Christian.

2. When a religion splits into two denominations, it’s called a schism (pronounced “SKIZZ-um”). People in the same denomination may argue a great deal, but when a particular dispute over religious practice, doctrine or dogma spreads far enough the two factions officially declare each other to be wrong in the eyes of their deity. That moment is when the schism happens, and afterwards the two groups are referred to using different names.

Christianity gets a lot of schisms because its doctrines are so extensive. There’s a mountain of individual points on which people can disagree. Another reason is that there are no real Christian theocracies left, and no denomination is able to force dissenters into line the way the Church once could. People are free to argue for their own interpretations of Scripture, which isn’t helpful when you want to keep two billion people unified.

3/4. If the Christian God exists, He probably would want Christians to unite under a single banner, and Christians of all denominations likely realise this. However, they reason, if the wrong denomination wins out and all Christians embrace the wrong doctrine, then nobody will really be doing God’s will at all. Those of each denomination think they’ve got the right one, and most often decide that Christian unity ultimately isn’t worth abandoning the “true” faith. It’s their way or nothing. Of course, this leaves all Christians at a gigantic impasse.

Responding to Christians

“I have handled what I felt was their ridiculous religiosity in many ways and some have panned out, while others brought me lasting condemnation.”

Question from Patricia:
Most of my family are born again christians, and have been for at least 34 years now. I would like a good response to my father and brother especially,when they answer their phone with Praise God! I have been listening to their ignorant rants for far too long! I would appreciate whatever help you could give. Thanks.

Answer by Andrea:
As a child brought up in a born-again Christian family, and now a proud born-again atheist (after all we’re all born atheist until the culture we’re born into gets their mitts on us), I just want to say, I feel your pain.
I have been maligned by many family members, including my (now) ex-husband, simply because I didn’t subscribe to their delusions.

I have handled what I felt was their ridiculous religiosity in many ways and some have panned out, while others brought me lasting condemnation.

You don’t say how old you are, but when I was in my early 20s, I declined their offers of a Bible as present, my aunts never forgave me for it.

Another aunt now knows that I will not pray to a god for my food at her dinner table (who would I pray to? I once asked her), but she and I are still good friends to this day and get along great provided we don’t talk religion.

When I told my dad I didn’t think there was a god he shook his finger in my face and told me in a quavering fire-and-brimstone voice that I could “rest assured” there was a god. We also never discuss religion anymore. I also don’t want him to spend his old age worrying that I’ll be frying in hell for eternity.
My mom and sister and other family members, in the mean time, are becoming increasingly unreligious, so at least there’s balance.

I could make this into a very long post but to spare you, I’ll just make a few points:

1) If you start trying to talk to people into not believing, you run the risk of turning out to be as obnoxious as born-again Christians and missionaries and anyone else who claims to be privy to “the truth.”
2) Also, maybe your dad and brother don’t have much else in their lives or even hate their lives, and the thought of a heaven is the one thing that keeps them from the depths of depression.
3) The way you approach it should depend on your knowledge of what the person can handle, and approach it with compassion and sensitivity. I have often explained to friends my reasons for my disbelief and at least three of them plunged back into their addictions with drugs and alcohol, so I do feel guilty about that, even though a majority of born-agains seem to be somewhat unstable anyway, so many of my friends say those friends who went back off the deep end would have likely ended up there regardless of what I said about their belief systems.
4) Always be courteous and polite and don’t let yourself be drawn into arguments. You are the more critical thinker, you are the bigger person.
5) There are up to 17% nonreligious in this country, and atheism is the fastest growing ideology in not only the US, but globally, so you’re in good company.

You are a true critical thinker, and that counts a lot in this world.

Answer by SmartLX:
If you are in the mood for confrontation and you’re just looking for straight comebacks, they’re endless, though they’re not all terribly good.

“Praise God!”
“Which one?”

“Praise God!”
“Oh, sorry Praise, must have a wrong number, I was trying to call my brother.”

“Praise God!”
“Why, does he still have low self-esteem after all this time?”

“Praise God!”
“Okay…He’s so loving and good that the whole thing with Jephthah burning his own daughter as a sacrifice was probably a BIG misunderstanding.” (Much is made of the fact that in the other story God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son. Jephthah wasn’t so lucky.)

Conversions

“It is certainly possible for the mind of a Christian to change. Whether they change as a result of outside influence or internal reflection is more of a philosophical matter.”

Question from Brian:
Is it actually possible to change the mind of a christian? It seems like they’re just so cemented in their ideas that it’s impossible.

Answer:
It is certainly possible for the mind of a Christian to change. Whether they change as a result of outside influence or internal reflection is more of a philosophical matter.

Check out Convert’s Corner on richarddawkins.net, where people describe exactly why they no longer believe in whatever gods they used to. Plenty of the contributors are ex-Christians.

Regardless of former religion, though, you’ll notice as you read that they generally see it as an internal process. What they were reading and who they were talking to is secondary to what they reasoned and realised and how they felt. The other thing you’ll notice is that deconversion takes a good long while, and is rarely complete at the end of a conversation.

Therefore, from your perspective as an advocate of atheism, even if what you say to a Christian is what ultimately convinces them that Christianity is false, they’re unlikely even to admit that you have a valid point while you’re talking to them. Encouraging deconversion often lacks the instant gratification of seeing people go, “Wow, you’re right!” About the most you can hope for is a look of frustration, then confusion.

Two other reasons why you’re not likely to see immediate change are peer pressure and doctrine.
– Evangelicals especially know that their fellow Christians will turn on them, in a sense, if they show doubt.
– It’s a common teaching that any words which sow doubt are ultimately from the Devil, so that doesn’t help your credibility among your audience.

Most importantly, none of this means that you are not having an effect.

SmartLX

What was a question that made you question your faith?

“For me it was the Problem of Evil, the apparent contradiction between the existence an all-powerful, all-loving God and the horrible things which continue to happen in the world.”

Question from A:
What was the question that made you say, “that doesn’t sound right?” For me it was when someone told me that I wasn’t going to heaven on my being a good person. When I asked why they told me I had to believe in Jesus and if I didn’t nothing else mattered, it didn’t matter that I was naturally giving and compassionate. The thing that would send me to hell was the fact that I didn’t believe. I thought, “well that sucks!”

Answer:
For me it was the Problem of Evil, the apparent contradiction between the existence an all-powerful, all-loving God and the horrible things which continue to happen in the world.

Of course there are lots of answers to that question: God’s testing us, Satan is responsible for the bad stuff, it’s a necessary consequence of free will, it’s our own fault things have been crap since the Fall, we only perceive things as evil when in fact they’re all part of God’s plan…and so on, or combinations of that lot.

If my inherited Catholic faith had supplied just one answer, I’d probably have accepted it and carried on, but it coughed up this whole mess of answers, some compatible, some contradictory. It really drove home that even the priests and bishops didn’t really know what’s going on, and if they didn’t, nobody did. Thus came the first desire not to simply accept what the supposed religious authorities told us kids.

Not long after that I was an agnostic, and my slow journey to atheism had begun.

SmartLX

Christian Atrocities vs Atheist Atrocities

“What’s more important is whether the atrocities were committed because of Christianity/atheism, either in an effort to specifically spread Christianity/atheism or because some tenet of Christianity/atheism commanded it.”

Question from Brian:
I’ve debated many christians in the past few weeks, and they all seem to think atheism creates evil. Can you name a few christians that have committed atrocities? (Besides Hitler, we all know that one)

Answer:
My go-to guy is Sir Thomas More, pious 15th-to-16th-century Catholic who put people to death for the crime of owning Bibles in the English language. Incidentally, he was English. Here are some more. And a whole pile of awfulness went on during the Thirty Years’ War between Protestants and Catholics.

Thing is, you’re not going to get far in an argument by comparing kill counts between Christians and atheists (though you might surprise some people when you have something to contribute). What’s more important is whether the atrocities were committed because of Christianity/atheism, either in an effort to specifically spread Christianity/atheism or because some tenet of Christianity/atheism commanded it.

Atheism comes out of such comparisons rather well, because
1. it was the Communists who forcibly spread atheism the most, and only because Communism declares itself ideologically incompatible with major religions, and
2. there are no tenets of atheism, besides statements of its actual position. Nowhere does it say, “There is no God, therefore do this.”

SmartLX

Where’d it all come from? Religion, that is?

“The Christian religion three days after Jesus’ death, if you believe any of what’s written, was fewer than twenty people, none of whom had yet written anything of note.”

Question from Caalia:
Did the bible start the Christian religion? In other words, were there believers in yahweh, his creation,the ten commandments, etc. before the compilation of the bible?

I heard the bible was written years after the said events (be they fictional or factual). If so, where did the believers in Yahweh before the compilation and writings of the bible get there ideas from? What was there source, if not the Torah, or the bible?

Answer:
There were certainly believers in Yahweh, creation and the Ten Commandments before Christianity, and before the Bible as we know it was completed, because those are all Jewish beliefs as well as Christian.

These events are all laid out in detail in the Torah, which is actually the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy from what’s now the Old Testament. As far as anyone knows it was started over a thousand years BC and finished five to six hundred years BC. People believed in these things and passed them down through their families long before they wrote about them. Literacy was hardly widespread in the ancient world.

Specifically Christian beliefs, i.e. those pertaining to Jesus, began during Jesus’ supposed lifetime, with people claiming he was the Messiah. Stories about his resurrection began soon after the supposed date of his execution, and the Gospels were written something like five to fifty years after that when there was already a fairly large population of Christians.

Generally speaking, “sacred” texts are written to spread beliefs, not to start them. They’re written by people who already believe, or at least want others to believe. The Christian religion three days after Jesus’ death, if you believe any of what’s written, was fewer than twenty people, none of whom had yet written anything of note. Only years later did they commit it all to parchment.

SmartLX

Changing Christians

Question from Brian:
Hi, I’m a recent christian turned atheist. I’ve found multiple atheist friends at my school, and they’re closer than I’ve ever had before. But there’s only one problem: I love this girl, but she’s a hardcore christian. She refuses to even consider anything beyond her blind limitations. Do you have any ideas for me? I’d really appreciate it.

Answer:
Just as there are as many specific rationales for Christian belief as there are Christians, there are as many specific escape routes as there are ex-Christians. There’s nothing which works for everybody, and the process can take so long that you don’t know what really did it. I took 15 years.

So, help us out by providing the answer to this question: why, as specifically as possible, does your girlfriend believe in the first place? If you know this already, or if she’ll tell you when asked, great, otherwise try to figure it out. I don’t think you’ll get far without this information.

Get back to me in a comment and we’ll have a think about it.

– SmartLX

Disrespectful Friend

“It’s ultimately God himself who’s supposed to do the converting, and the prescribed way for mortal Christians to help is to keep Him in your face.”

Question from Rick:
I have a friend who is a christian. He is aware that I am an atheist, and do not believe in god/gods or anything like that. But when we talk he always seems to slip a bible reference in there. And I don’t mean scriptures. For example, we’ll be having a conversation about women (as most guys do) and he will always say something like, “well that’s how they are, its right there in the bible, you know what I mean?” And I always respond like “I hear you talking, but you know I don’t believe that.” And that starts a whole argument about who’s right or wrong. I like him as a person, but dislike him as a christian. Any thoughts on how to handle the situation?

Answer:
It’s hard to go on the words alone. The way in which he says such things would tell us a great deal more. He might simply not consider your atheism before referring to the Bible as if you’re about to agree with him, implying that he’s inconsiderate or simply a bit self-absorbed. (Perhaps he doesn’t have many atheist friends.) Or, perhaps he has you pegged and he says things like that to draw you into a religious discussion, which apparently works like a charm.

I tend to suspect the latter, in the absence of context. Christians are told to spread the capital-W Word whenever possible, and very little emphasis is placed on making it stick. The idea is that the more a man simply thinks about God, even in terms of denial, the more likely he is to come around. It’s ultimately God himself who’s supposed to do the converting, and the prescribed way for mortal Christians to help is to keep Him in your face.

Back to your friend…if you don’t like to hear about the Bible, someone like this isn’t going to lay off if you don’t straight up ask him to. If you do ask, and he carries on, maybe you’ll know more about why. Or you could just ask why.

Keep us posted, Rick. Anyone else have friends like this?

SmartLX

“I don’t understand.”

“Nice people and nasty people can be right or wrong about the same things.”

Questions from Jaselynn:
If you take the subject as a sign that I am a pushover, do not be fooled. It is true that I grew up in a “Christian” home…and it is also true that the home fell apart, but not because of God. Because of my father. My father molested my sister. Horrid, I know. But despite how much I tried, I could never hate him. I hate what he did, but not him. Would you have me hate my father? I don’t. I love him. I really don’t hate anybody.

I used to be consumed by anger. You know nothing of anger unless you have felt what I have. It was like a fire burning in me at all times…just waiting for an excuse to explode. I could have killed someone once. Thank the Good Lord that I didn’t! I hated God. Everything I did was just a show. It wasn’t real. And then it changed…it was slowly…an evolution, of sorts( I mean no disrespect when I say that.)

It started with a friend. Just one person. Someone reached out to me. Of all the people in the world Christians, Athiests, Catholics, Mormans, Hindus. And I know people of each of these religions or nonreligions as the case may be. And only one friend reached out. And she was a Christian. I know that some Christians are fake. I know that some of them are the most horrid people in the world…but that is because they don’t really Know God. But Emily was different. She actually cared. She lived it.

What do you say about the Christians who do live differently? Do you believe they exist? I’ve met them. The real Christians give from thier heart, put others before themselves, give to the poor, and love no matter what. NO MATTER WHAT. Do you think that it is a different God? I just don’t understand how you can lump all Christians into one catigory. You get angry when we lump you laws, theorys, beliefs in one category, why do you do it to Christians.

Answer:
All we tend to say about Christians in general is that they are most likely wrong about one specific set of beliefs: those related to the truth claims of Christianity, like that a god exists and that Jesus rose from the dead. I guess that’s just one category, but it’s a very broad category.

That doesn’t stop Christians from being kind, loving, forgiving, generous people. As you mention, neither does it guarantee that they will be thus, as some Christians simply aren’t. Nice people and nasty people can be right or wrong about the same things. So we call Christians out when they do bad or dishonest things, just as we would anyone, but we try not to generalise their character to encompass all Christians. Few generalisations apply to two billion people at once.

Emily apparently did a great thing for you, helping you forgive your father and deal with your rage. Christianity is the tool she used to do it, though she might have used others. (For example, what would it say about human beings if the only good reason to forgive someone were because we’ve been ordered to by an authority?) The fact that it worked says little or nothing about the actual existence of the god by which her actions were inspired.

Therefore I’m glad Emily was able to help you, and I think she’s a good person, but I still think she’s probably wrong about God nonetheless. There are good Christians just are there are good Hindus, good Muslims, good atheists and good agnostics. Simply having the wrong or right religion, if any, doesn’t say much about a person’s character.

SmartLX