Conversing with atheists and former christians

To follow up on a previous guest post I have had (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/how-does-the-online-ex-christian-community-affect-those-who-have-questions-of-faith-or-doubt/) I asked unkleE of http://www.is-there-a-god.info/blog/ to answer a similar question from a Christian perspective and to touch on what its like to converse with ex-Christians. UnkleE has impressed me on other blogs with his calm and considered responses to questions where others have become defensive and aggressive.

The below is his post for me on the subject of conversing with atheists and former Christians.


 

Human beings are tribal

Most people seem to like to be part of a group and to take sides against other groups. Football fans cheer, argue and sometimes even fight on behalf of their teams.

It seems that atheists and Christians are often tribal too. Each group has its own heroes and gurus, its own predictable arguments, and, too often, a penchant for scorning those they disagree with.

 

Justifying nastiness

Both sides can find ways to justify nasty behaviour towards their opponents. Some Christians argue that atheists are dishonest and rebellious, and need to be forcibly reminded of their perilous position. Some atheists, finding their arguments bouncing off, conclude that Christians are delusional, and since rational argument isn’t working, ridicule just might.

It rarely works of course, but who needs truth to justify tribal behaviour?

 

The web is a different ballgame to real life

Often we use pseudonyms. It is easy to feel anonymous or separated from others, and easy to press the ‘Post Comment’ button too quickly.

When I first ventured onto the web about 7 years back, I found myself in an argumentative and polarising environment. At first I argued back, but I now feel there is a better way.

 

The world doesn’t need any more aggro

I don’t think many of us think the world needs more aggro. Yet somehow, we can convince ourselves that our little nasty comment is OK.

But as a Christian, I believe humans are made by God to have worth, gifts, feelings and logical minds. We are made for relationship and we need some affirmation. People should be treated with sensitivity and respect, something the New Testament emphasises.

So I try very hard now, without always succeeding, to respect each person, and only make comments that add to the discussion, not attack them. I try to ignore barbs that come my way and not respond in kind, even if it means I miss an opportunity to ram a point home.

 

Responses

I find many atheists I talk with appreciate this. But unfortunately many atheists on the web still seem to follow the inhumane model of ridicule a lot of the time. To my chagrin, a fair number of christians are just the same.

Consequently, I avoid some forums and blogs, and I avoid or ignore some who comment. It’s just not worth the aggro. Fortunately, there are plenty of atheists and agnostics who are happy to play by rules of common courtesy, and I gravitate towards them.

 

Talking with ex-Christians

Talking with ex-Christians is a special challenge. I naturally feel sad that they have given up what I believe is the truth. But often they have been hurt by the church, sometimes leading to their change of mind, sometimes as they went through the process of leaving. I think they need special sensitivity and patience from Christians – fierce argument is likely to be specially harmful here.

It is easy to feel they have betrayed the team, and to wonder whether they were ever personally convinced or their ‘faith’ was just cultural. But I cannot know what has happened in their lives, so I should respect what they tell me.

Perhaps the hardest thing is when I feel they have rejected a form of Christianity I would reject too. I want to explain this to them, but sometimes they are not ready for anything except friendship, the wounds are still tender. Sometimes I think they are better off out of there – as long as they come around eventually to a more thoughtful form!

Ex-Christians often assume they have made a permanent and final change in their worldview, but statistics show that people who change once are quite likely to change again. So patience and courtesy are needed.

 

Ways forward

We all need to learn not to take offence easily, to have limited expectations of changing people’s minds and not to take it personally when others don’t agree with our arguments. We should enjoy getting to know and understand people who are different to us, and be willing to be in conversations for the long haul.

At the very least, we may help remove some misunderstandings, and who knows, we may even be part of a process of someone changing their mind. I still hope and pray for the people I talk with, for I do indeed want what is best for them.

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