Ten Ways How To Resist Preaching to the Choir

I have extensively read both atheist and Christian literature, their blogs, journals and books, along with listening to their videos and podcasts. What I have discovered is that most people are preaching to the choir. They do not step inside each others shoes to understand where they are coming from. They do not meet on common ground, assume common assumptions, and common understandings. They are talking past one another like ships that proverbially pass each other in the night. Instead, they are speaking to people on their own side more than anything else, who seek to confirm what they have already come to accept. There is a time and a place for this, I admit. But I see it almost everywhere I look. More often than not each side speaks from a position without trying to really understand the position of the people they are trying to reach. I’ve thought a lot about this, so in the interest of starting up this conversation let me offer ten ways how to resist preaching to the choir, with specific reference to how skeptics/atheists can do this.

1) Understand science, theology, and philosophy better than believers do. This is a tough one if you do not have the requisite knowledge. The more knowledgeable you are then the better your efforts will be, and that’s all I can say about it. You must want to learn about these subjects. You must read the requisite literature, lots of it. If you’re not willing to put the time and effort into this then I understand, but the more you do the more effective you will be.

2) Grant as much as you possibility can allow for the sake of argument. Don’t major on the minors or engage every little objection you can think of if the objections are not to the heart of the issue. Say something like, "Okay, I’ll grant for the sake of argument that there was a historical figure behind the Jesus cult and that the early disciples believed he had bodily raised from the dead” if you can. It doesn’t hurt to allow this, for even then there are still plenty of reasons for not believing Jesus was bodily raised up from the dead. Do what I have done:

Did Paul Conceive of a Resurrected body?

The Jesus in the Gospels Never Existed.

3) Adopt the principle of charity when dealing with a believer’s argument. Assume the argument in it’s best form even if stated badly. No strawman caricatures. If you are unclear what the argument is, then ask the believer to clarify it. Use the Socratic dialogue where you ask the believer something like this: “Are you saying that because science has not discovered the answer to this question that therefore you can insert the god of your choice?” Then if the answer is yes, you can go on to ask, “What justifies you inserting your god at this point when there are so many conceptions of god to insert?”

4) Use the Bible against the believer. For most Christians the Bible forms the basis, or part of the basis, for what they believe. Therefore inform them of what it says. It debunks itself if properly understood. In doing this you should properly understand what it says. The better you understand the Christian responses to their own Bible passages then the better you can press home your points. You just cannot quote the Bible when believers have been thinking about the Bible for nearly two millennia. We don't accept quote mining from Christians. So why should educated Christians accept quote mining from us?

5) Use other Christianities against each other, something I do quite frequently. That way it's not an atheist argument, so-called, at all. The arguments are coming from other believers. See this here:

When Christians Criticize Each Other They Are All Right.

How To Debunk Christianity.

6) Don’t claim more than what an argument leads us to conclude. The problem of evil, for instance, does not lead a believer to atheism. If successful it only shows that one or more of the attributes normally thought to apply to western monotheistic gods is false. Such a god may exist who is less than good, less than omniscient, or less than all-powerful.

7) Whenever possible admit when you hadn’t considered something before. If you learn from believers something you hadn’t considered before then be a human being towards them and admit it. Be nice. It has a way of softening tensions. It allows believers to see us as real flesh and blood people. It makes them a bit at ease to discuss things with us. None of us know it all. So admit it if possible. It will go a long way toward reaching out to them.

8) Treat the views of believers with a modicum of respect. Why not? I realize this is very hard to do. I also recognize we cannot always do this, nor is it always the best policy, nor have I always done it myself. But when you are engaged in an argument with a believer if you wish to try, really try, to meet him or her on common ground then you must do this if your goal is to help change their minds.

9) Treat believers as persons with a modicum of dignity. After all, they are people, just as you are. I like to treat people I meet on the net as if we were having a discussion over coffee or a beer. That’s the goal. I know none of us do that all the time. Sometimes people have a history of dealings with each other where this is probably impossible. But it’s still something to aim at.

10) Go to where believers are found. I don’t personally do this much myself. Sometimes they come to me here at DC. But if you want to reach out to believers then you need to meet them on their ground. If you’re preaching to the choir inside your own conclave then you’re in the wrong place if you want to reach out to them.


Dana said...

Really good points to ponder prior to discussing religion with a theist. I think one can really do more harm than good if a discussion is approached from a position of superiority or a lack of respect. I think it is easy to forget that the ideas are what are to be argued, instead of directly attacking or disrespecting people. I especially liked the first point. Being educated on the material is a must.