Top Ten Tips For Reaching Out To Religious Believers

I apologize again for my unexpected writing hiatus of the last few weeks. I expect to have my writing energies finally free for blogging again once I am finished writing my students’ study guides. In the meantime, I recommend readers look at my posts with tips for reaching out to religious believers, which I originally published in October 2011. 

1. Don’t call religious believers stupid.

2. Make believers stay on topic during debates.

3. Don’t tell religious believers “what they really believe.”

4. Clarify what kinds of evidence warrant what kinds of belief.

5. Help break the spell of religious reverence.

6. Don’t demonize religious peoples’ motives, focus on their objective harms.

7. Take philosophy seriously.

8. Both refute the best counter-arguments you can think of and create Gestalt shifts.

9. Be unapologetic, rigorous, patient, and gracious with religious believers.

10. Love religious people.

Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • smrnda

    In some of my discussions with religious people, I feel that they’re not providing clear, meaningful statements. What’s a good way of dealing with mystical sounding nonsense? I once had a discussion with a person who kept talking about ‘wholeness’ and ‘Being’ with a capital B and other such. When I accused him of using words without adequately precise definitions, he just kept going on that words I used (words like harm, consent or such) were not defined well. (In my defense, I think he was using words that were vaguer than mine.)

    What do you recommend in cases like this? When I simply ask “can you rephrase that?” I just get more inflated jargon in many of these cases. Also wanted to add, I don’t think in these cases people are using obfuscating language consciously – like many religious people, they’re just repeating formulas they heard from someone else that the likely accepted without examining too closely. Is there a good way to handle this? It didn’t seem to fit any of your 10 points so I wanted to ask.

    • Kodie

      Your words being vague don’t clarify his. Tu quoque. I don’t know if they’re doing it on purpose. Sometimes I think there is a strategy to just keep baiting, blaming you for being too ignorant to understand what they are saying, or they are using a perfectly valid dictionary definition (like the 4th one or something) and there’s something wrong with you if you need them to use different words. I might (haven’t done so before) link them to an online thesaurus. I also think there are people at the top, the authors, bloggers, and speakers, who might have put it in terms that the arguer is unable to recapture. It just makes sense to them but they are unable to explain it to you.

      If someone says your words aren’t clear, maybe that’s true too, but obviously if two people are having trouble understanding each other, the conversation won’t get very far. Try again, link them to a thesaurus, or whatever. If that doesn’t help, I tend to assume they’re doing it to be difficult.

  • A Theist

    You sound like a Chris Stedman sympathizer.

    Remember what JT said…he is a “dishonest little shit”.

    • Daniel Fincke

      I prefer to read Zach Alexander on the subject of Chris Stedman.

  • Michael R

    11. Life without a god is about enjoying yourself. So, share some emotionally fulfilling activities with your religious friends, and show them what it’s like to live as a humanist. Look them in the eyes while enjoying an activity and, implicitly, teach them what life is all about. Create an emotional bond with them, and then they will be more likely to open up to you, and you can use steps 1-10.

  • Bret Alan

    I prefer to use religious tactics. I go for them when they’re young and/or vulnerable, then I show them the joys of laughing at religion.

    • Sunny Day

      Go for them when they are young and vulnerable and teach them about Greek and Roman gods. When someone tries to introduce them to Jesus they will ask what makes him so different than Zeus.

  • conrad

    It might be best to ask what is the function of religion not how it is practiced. That may derail their thinking and make them really think. But remember thinking is hard so do not expect too much.

  • Marnie

    I generally don’t engage people in these discussions, unless they broach the topic with me. My general rule of thumb is to listen and then ask them questions, instead of talking at or over them.