Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Thoughts on talking to non-Christian relatives and friends during the holidays

So, suppose you have a relative or friend who grew up as a Christian but now they’ve fallen away and they are in some sort of situation where they are in continuous rebellion against God – e.g. – regular hooking-up, cohabitation, same-sex lifestyle, etc.. Although you might not see this person regularly, you may see them during the holidays at family gatherings, so let’s take some time to define goals and develop a strategy for those encounters.

I want to focus on two parts:

  1. What are you trying to communicate to this person?
  2. How much should you invoke Christian concepts with a non-Christian?

Let’s take a look at the plan.

Respect your opponent’s dignity and value

So for the first topic, I think that you need to accept the person as a person made in the image of God and therefore valuable and deserving of being treated equally. That does not mean you have to agree with them and celebrate their views when you disagree. They have equal dignity to you, but you don’t have to agree that their ideas are equally correct. It means that they have value because God made them and because he cares about them and wants to be reconciled with them. Whatever you say and do cannot set back God’s goal of being reconciled with them. When you speak, you don’t want to push them away from God. When you act, you don’t want to push them away from God. So you are striking a balance between respecting their dignity, but also not affirming them in their views. You can’t affirm something that is immoral just because they will like you, because you have to think of what God wants you to say to that person. You are his ambassador and that means you do your job for him first and foremost.

Christians often talk about the slogan “hate the sin, but love the sinner”, and I think that can be overused. You are obligated to love your family and your relatives. But the problem is knowing what the definition of love is. Love doesn’t mean affirming whatever a person wants to do whether it is right or wrong. Love doesn’t mean standing by silent while people do things when their beliefs about what they are doing are all false. To love someone means to tell them the truth, gently. And it means to be present and engaged in building them up in their relationship with God, however that might look given what stage they are at with God. Loving the sinner means investing in the sinner, and not wrecking the relationship by being unnecessarily hurtful while we can still have an influence. It’s a good idea when you disagree with someone about what they are doing that you keep in mind all the ways that you have rebelled against God in the past, and continue to rebel now, and will continue to rebel. If you keep in mind your own struggles, it will be a lot easier for you to hit the right note when discussing lifestyle with someone else!

Don’t answer “demarcation questions”

I was listening to the Dennis Prager show recently and he was talking about how people on the left are not really good at rational discussion because they are not able to state the views of people who disagree with them in a way that is respectful. He cited Jewish traditions on debate and argued that real debate requires that each side is able to outline the position that the other side holds and the reasons why they hold to it. And not in an insulting, straw-man sort of way, but in a way that the person on the other side can assent and say “that is my view, and those are the reasons for my view”.

People on the secular left seem to like questions that are really more like ad-hominem arguments, so that they can shut down debate. Prager’s example was “you do believe the Earth is warming, don’t you?” This question is designed to stop the discussion of global warming socialism by labeling you a nutcase for denying something that the questioner thinks is obvious. This is despite the fact that the IPCC has now admitted that there has been no significant warming in 15 years. They don’t want to hear your evidence, they want to humiliate you and dismiss you.

The one I hear around my office is “you believe in evolution don’t you?” This is how secularists in my office try to quickly dismiss me because I am not in their “tribe”, so they can cut short any serious critical thinking about their presupposition of naturalism. Thinking about the progress of science and questioning their assumptions is too much work for them, which is why they resort to these “demarcation” questions. Dividing the world up into “sensible us” and “crazy them” is very important to secular leftists – they would rather be divisive, dismissive and condescending so they can keep on sinning. After all, if you’re a total cretin, then they don’t even have to consider whether they are mistaken or not. If you believe in a flat Earth, then they don’t want to have to listen to the evidence for the Big Bang or the fine-tuning or the protein sequencing or the Cambrian explosion. They want to separate the world into black and white so that debate becomes unnecessary. Don’t fall for it.

Free expression of intelligent disagreement

My goal in dealing with an ex-Christian involved in a bad lifestyle is that I want to be their friend, but they must be aware of my view. That is a condition of me being their friend. And I want an opportunity to discuss these things should they come up naturally. I don’t want to be the initiator, but if the topic comes up, I want freedom to state my view, and respect to complete my thoughts and state my evidence. My goal with this person is not to give tacit approval to what they are doing by just acting like one of their normal friends and keeping my mouth shut so as not to offend them. My goal is to be present in their lives as someone who they know for sure disagrees with what they are doing and is intelligent and informed about his disagreement. In short, I am willing to trade spending time with them and doing activities with them (what they want) in order to get the freedom to intelligently and respectfully disagree with them about their lifestyle ( what God wants me to do with them, as his ambassador to them).

Moreover, if the opportunity never arises to state and defend my disagreement with their lifestyle, then I’m going to allocate less and less time to that relationship, since God is not being allowed into the relationship. I work for God, and I want him to be a factor in everything I do. In what I say, in how I spend my time and money, and so on. When I started my first job, the atheists used to offer to discuss spiritual things with me if I had a beer with them. I agreed to that, because they knew that I would only give them what they wanted – friendship – if I got what I wanted – the opportunity to be myself and be given time to explain my beliefs and my reasons for holding them without being interrupted or mocked. They were willing to let me do this, though, because they knew what I was talking about, so that’s on me to prepare to sound intelligent in order to deserve the opportunity to be heard. You have to decide if this person is going to allow you to be an ambassador. That is the criterion for deciding whether to have a relationship with them or not.

Should you bring up the Bible and sin?

It depends. I think if the person is claiming to be a Christian, and under the authority of the Bible on moral issues, then you should investigate how they square their views with the Bible. You might have to pull in Robert Gagnon or Scott Klusendorf or some other expert to make the case that their behavior is against the Bible. But in my view, their claiming of the Bible as support is likely to be a smokescreen. Sinful people choose their behavior first, and the Bible is not going to be relevant to their decision making once they are into the lifestyle of sin. Labeling their behavior as sin, citing Bible verses, citing Christian leaders… that’s all going to be as useful as you citing a Hindu or a Mormon to convince me of an eternal universe would be. I don’t care about religious opinions when it comes to the universe, because I have a prior commitment to science. A smart ambassador knows not to use authorities that are not accepted by their audience. People who are habitually sinning do not accept the Bible as an authority. You can clarify what the Bible says if they bring it up, but don’t rest on the Bible to make your case.

The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle

So what can you do to make your case? Well, your goal is to be allowed to express your disagreement and to state your reasons for disagreeing without being silenced or sanctioned. When they give you your opportunity to speak, you need to have prepared to sound as intelligent and relevant as possible. That means that you need to hit the books before you are asked, and find the reasons and the evidence for your view first. If the issue is binge-drinking and hooking up, you need to hit the books so you can find the peer-reviewed papers to deal with that. You might talk about oxytocin to counter casual sex, or you might talk about the cohabitation-instability link, or you might talk about how children are harmed by fatherlessness, etc. The point is that you want to have the perception among non-Christian peers that you are competent and informed apart from religion – which they don’t even accept. I find it amazing that Christians seem content to invoke their supposed righteousness in debates with people who don’t even accept the Bible. We need to not be so insulated in our own little Bible-cliques that we are no longer able to understand how to be persuasive to people who are outside the faith. You can’t invoke superior piety (alone) as an argument to someone who isn’t pious and doesn’t want to be pious.

Smoking is bad for your health

Basically, you want to make a case using mainstream sources that is equivalent to the case that you might make against their smoking, if they took up smoking. Your approach should be along the lines of “you don’t accept Christianity, and that’s fine, because I have a million non-Christian reasons why you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing, too”. You want to get to the point where you can show them that it’s not just a case of opinion against opinion, but a case of rebellion against evidence. Don’t be afraid to encourage them to look at the long-term effects of what they are doing either.

For example, if they are in a same-sex relationship and they want to have or adopt kids later on, have them defend why it is right for them to intentionally deprive a child of a mother or a father. If they are in a cohabitating relationship and have not yet gotten pregnant, have them defend having an abortion or raising a child fatherless. It’s amazing how people in these sorts of sinful lifestyles get blinded by their feelings and cannot think about what comes next. That’s your job – to be the sober analyst who asks “what comes next?”. And don’t forget to consider whether what they are doing is not only bad for them, but bad for people around them, and society as a whole. For example, if society has to pay increased health care costs for sexually transmitted diseases or for social programs to deal with the breakdown of the family and fatherlessness.

Please leave your comments about how you are dealing with ex-Christians in rebellion in the comments, and what you think of my approach, too.

UPDATE: I got some advice from a well-known Christian apologist. His point was that if all you have is the family meal, then it’s better to spend most of your time listening and just ask a few questions. That’s a good defensive strategy suited to the situation you are in at a family meal.

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How I talk to my mother about Christianity

I could write a lot about this, so I’ll just try to provide a brief insight. I should probably put up a poll to see what my regular readers are more interested in: 1) news or 2) apologetics and mentoring.

A word of warning

One thing I’ve noticed about women is that they like it when men treat their mothers nicely and what they mean by that is never judging or disagreeing with their mothers, and never trying to change their mothers. This view of love is, of course, false. I want my mother to go to Heaven and to know and love God, so I have to talk to her about these things and disagree if she is wrong about them. So I think that disagreeing with her about spiritual things is being nice to her. But read on and judge for yourself.

The plan

My plan for my mother is not to begin by convincing her that Christianity is true. Instead, I begin by convincing her to approach religious issues just as she would approach any other area of knowledge, such as investing, or nutrition. If she agrees to treat religion as any other area of of knowledge, then I think that she will eventually conclude that Christianity is true. Currently, she is forming her beliefs about God’s existence, character and what he wants from her, using subjective mechanisms, i.e. – intuitions and experience. I want her to try a different method.

Goals

My goal for my mother, as with anyone else, is to try to get her to accept Christianity as objectively true, based on arguments and evidence. I don’t think that a person can be an authentic Christian if Christianity is just wish-fulfillment. I don’t think that a person will stick with Christianity when it goes against their own self-interest, unless their belief is anchored on arguments and facts. People act on what they really believe is true, when stressed by reality.

So, what I need to do is to argue for a method of discovery that is not dependent on emotions and intuitions, but is more rigorous. I need to offer my mother tools, such as the laws of logic, historical analysis and the scientific method. These tools can be used to investigate whether God exists, and what he is really like, and what he wants from her. By using these tools instead of intuition and experience, my hope is that I will be able to get her to arrive at a view of God as he really is.

Questions

The first question to ask her is “Does a Creator and Designer of the Universe exist independently of whether anyone thinks so or not?”. And then I ask the immediate follow-up question “How do you know that?”.

The second question to ask her is “What is the Creator/Designer’s character like?”. And again, the immediate follow-up question is “How do you know that?”.

The third question to ask her is “How does the Creator/Designer expect you to act?”. Once again, immediately follow up with “How do you know that?”.

Discussion

And the results of the inquiry were as follows: 1) she thinks that God is exactly like her and approves of everything she does, and more importantly, 2) her method of investigating religion is basically to invent “God” using her own feelings and experiences. Her method of arriving at these conclusions was by using intuition and experience, and she was resistant to the idea of using logic, science and history to find out the truth about God, his existence, his character, and what he wanted.

The next thing I did was to argue that her method of arriving at her religious beliefs was subjective and unreliable, and that she would never use that method of determining truth in any other area of life. I made a list of everything she cares about and started approaching each topic using her subjective method of determining truth, in order to expose the disastrous consequences that would occur if she made decisions in these other areas using intuition and experience.

For example, I explained my theories on how watching TV produces university degrees, how chocolate causes weight loss, how fruits and vegetables cause cancer, etc. All of this to show that subjectivism is not a reliable method of arriving at truth in any area of knowledge, especially in religion. The desire for happiness should not drive the search for religious truth. People need to avoid inventing a self-serving view of God, just because it gives them a feeling of security without any moral demands.

Finally, I introduce a reliable method of arriving at the truth in any area, including religion. I’m sure that you all already know about the concepts of propositional truth, the correspondence theory of truth, and the test for truth (logical consistency, empirical validation, experiential relevance). And you all know about how to use science/history/logic to confirm/disconfirm religious claims, etc. If necessary, I would apply these methods to other areas to show how they produce real knowledge.

A useful thing to do is to show how well-accepted facts like the origin of the universe from nothing and the crucifixion of Jesus falsify various world religions. This helps to make the point that a lot of people believe things that are false. That way, you motivate the question – “am I interested in knowing what is really true or am I interested in engaging in wish-fulfillment and projection in order to make myself feel better about my own selfishness and insecurity?”.

Some things I found out

I found that engaging in these discussions brought out some very interesting data that reminded me of what I see in the church. Each of these is worth a post, so I’ll just throw them out there in point form.

  • She viewed my efforts to get her to employ logic and evidence to determine her views as being critical of her
  • She felt “constrained” by allowing logic and evidence to override her “freedom” to invent a self-serving God
  • She didn’t want to know about the laws of logic, or how religions make conflicting truth claims
  • She didn’t want to know about what science and history could confirm/disprove religious truth claims
  • She thought that it was better to let everyone believe anything they wanted to believe
  • She thought that religion was mostly for making people believe things that made them feel happy and secure
  • She didn’t think that God expected her to act morally if it didn’t make her feel happy to do so
  • She didn’t care to find out the truth about whether God exists, what he was like, and what he wanted from her

Note: we didn’t get into any fights over this, it was just a friendly discussion, although I could sense her resistance.

My biggest concern about this view is that if it were a common view among Christians, it would increase the incidence of several non-Christian ideas, like moral relativism, inclusivism, postmodernism, pluralistic salvation, the non-reality of Hell, etc. And I think that if a lot of Christians believe Christianity is self-serving, then we will be perceived as being hypocritical by non-Christians when we don’t do the difficult things we are supposed to be doing. Non-Christians want to see some consistency between out actions and what the Bible says.

In a poll of my friends I did a while back, I found that people thought that talking to relatives about Christianity was the most difficult thing to do, higher than talking to people at work. So I’d be curious for readers to share their experiences about who is harder to talk to, and what you found in talking to people.

Mentoring

Apologetics advocacy

And here are some lectures that got me interested in apologetics.

Filed under: Personal, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why won’t Christians defend their faith in public?

UPDATE: The Pugnacious Irishman has linked to me! Thank you for the link Rich! EVERYONE: GO READ HIS POST RIGHT NOW!

UPDATE: Neil Simpson has a debate going on about whether faith is opposed to reason. 50+ comments so far.

Shout out: Brian Auten of Apologetics 315 helped me to make this post nicer. He’s much nicer than I am.

I would like to describe a situation that arises frequently that concerns me. The situation I describe below brings out a flaw I see in the way that rank-and-file Christians respond to criticisms of Christianity in the public square.

Here is the situation

Eve is busy programming away at her desk, rushing to check in her unit tests so she can spend her lunch hour reading the latest Stephenie Meyer horror novel, or looking through an Avon catalog. Suddenly Eve hears Alice talking to Bob on the other side of her cube. She stops typing to listen to the following unencrypted conversation.

Alice: I was watching a documentary on the Discovery Channel last night that said that the universe has always existed, so there is no God!

Bob: I was watching a documentary on PBS last night showing simulations of how the first life started on Earth! God didn’t do it!

Alice: I saw “Inherit the Spin” on the weekend! The only reason people oppose evolution is because of the Bible! Not because of science!

Bob: I’m going to see “The Va Dinci Code” this weekend! It says that the Gospels are unreliable and that Jesus didn’t even die on the cross!

Alice: I just bought the latest Dichard Rawkins book “Christians Should Be Fed to Lions and the Bible Should Be Burned”!

Bob: I will read that as soon as I finish Histopher Chritchens’ book “Why God is the Evilest, Stupidest Person in the World”!

Eve double-majored in business and computer science at the Indian Institute of Technology, and has an MBA from the London School of Economics. She has spent a ton of time, effort and money studying very difficult subjects for her job, and she even publishes research. She works full-time and runs her own business part-time, and earns about 200K per year. She lives in a huge house, drives a huge car, and goes on vacation abroad to all the best vacation spots.

Eve thinks she is a Christian. She has attended church since childhood, her husband is a church elder and she sings in the church choir. She reads the Bible and prays. She gives money to the poor. She teaches Sunday school to children.  She has even read all of the Narnia novels three times!

But even though God is being maligned in Alice and Bob’s conversation, Eve is not going to stand up to defend God’s reputation to them, (or even to her own children, who are both committed atheists).

Why won’t Eve stand?

I am wondering if anyone can explain to me why it is that most church Christians are not able or not willing to make a public defense when God’s reputation is called into question. It seems to me that there are two bad effects that follow from Eve’s unwillingness to stand up and invite Alice and Bob to lunch so that she can address their questions and concerns.

1) God’s reputation is being trashed by Alice and Bob on the basis of lies they’ve swallowed from pop culture. These lies about God’s existence and character could be easily corrected with a minimal amount of study, which Eve is capable of.  If someone said similar lies about her husband or children, she would speak up, but she won’t speak up for God.

2) Alice and Bob are bound for Hell unless someone cares enough to correct their mistaken beliefs, which, along with their sinfulness, is what is keeping them from a relationship with God that would go on in Heaven. If Eve’s husband or children were mistakenly about to drink poison thinking it was Aspirin, then Eve would speak up. But to save her co-workers from Hell, she won’t speak up.

Eve is capable of studying to defend the faith, because of her great success in other areas where so much time and effort were required to master difficult material. So why has she not applied herself to answering public challenges to her Christian faith from her professors, teachers, actors, the media, politicians, scientists, historians, etc.?

It seems to me that if she did spend some time studying, and then made her defense to her co-workers, then two things would follow:

D1) Eve would be demonstrating her love for God and her friendship with God by protecting his reputation when it is called into question by unbelievers in public settings. That’s what friends do – if Eve wanted to be God’s friend, she would care that no one believed lies about him and told lies about him in public settings.

D2) Eve would be demonstrating her love for her neighbor if she was able to correct some of these false beliefs, such as that the universe is eternal, or that a historical case cannot be made for the resurrection, or that evil is not compatible with theism. It’s important for Alice and Bob to know that Christianity is not stupid.

So why is it that Eve is able to go to church for 20 years, sing in the choir, read the Bible, read the Narnia stories, pray on her knees, and yet still be unwilling to do the best thing for God and the best thing for her neighbor?

Questions for my readers

Can anyone help me to understand why Christians are willing to accept this? Why is this not being addressed by churches?

Do you have an experience where a Christian group stifled apologetics? Tell me about that, and why do you think they would do that, in view of the situation I outlined above? My experience is that atheists (as much as I tease them) are FAR more interested in apologetics than church Christians. Why is that?

My answers

My answers to these problems are given in the following previous posts.

In general:

Also, this debate I blogged about before talks about postmodernism and relativism, which has infected the church and has an impact on this question of whether we will study and defend our beliefs in public. I highly recommend giving it a listen – you will learn something about how we got to this point.

Disclaimer:

I want to clear that this is a problem for male and female Christians. I have seen it manifested by equal numbers of men and women in leadership roles. I picked these names because there is a running gag in computer network security where these names are used to describe the actors. Eve is the eavesdropping hacker, get it?

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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