Use words if necessary

(Stan T. suggested that this bit on evangelism might be more accessible reposted as a standalone piece, and I think he’s right. To avoid simply repeating myself, I’ve also added one more item to the list.)

1. Evangelism is hospitality.

Hospitality means opening up your life to share it with others. Sometimes that means sharing your home or your food, but here it means sharing that which is centrally and essentially important to you, the core of your identity and your source of meaning.

That seems kind of overwhelming — a bit more fraught than just inviting someone over for a cup of coffee. But in either case, it bears keeping in mind that this is what you’re doing — extending an invitation. And that this is who you’re dealing with — guests.

Guests are not obliged to swallow everything you’re serving, nor should they be compelled or feel pressured to do so. Your job, as host, is to defer to the preferences of your guests. Guests are not prisoners or detainees. If your attempts at hospitality cause your guests to feel more like prisoners — if you can see in their eyes the look of someone desperate to escape — then you’re doing it wrong. Stop. Step away. Let them go.

When you invite someone over to dinner, they will sometimes bring something with them to share in return — a nice bottle of wine, maybe, or some pie for dessert. If you turn up your nose at this contribution then you’re not being a good host. You’re not the only one sharing here and it would be unfair, not to mention rude, not to appreciate and honor what they’re sharing with you.

When I’m asked if I can recommend a good book on evangelism, I sometimes jokingly suggest Emily Post’s etiquette manual. Except I’m not really joking.

2. Evangelism requires relationship.

Without relationship, it’s not really evangelism, merely sales. Evangelism should never be anything like sales. This is not a transaction, not commerce.

People who are in a relationship with one another talk about those things that they regard as important. Unlike many white guys my age, I am not a member of the Cult of Golf. But since many of my friends are also white guys my age I often wind up talking about golf a lot. Why? Because they are my friends and it’s important to them. That’s how human relationships work.

Evangelism directed toward strangers often seems awkward and weird because it is awkward and weird. Evangelism in the context of relationship, by contrast, is natural and organic. It’s not weird when two friends talk about the things that are important to them. It would be far stranger if they didn’t.

A word of caution: It won’t do to try to start a friendship with someone as a means to evangelizing them. A friendship that exists only as a means to some other ends isn’t really a friendship at all. It’s more like the unctuous faux-friendliness of the salesman. We can all tell the difference between such professional chumminess and the real thing it imitates. Your local car salesman is probably a friendly guy, but he’s not your friend, he’s your salesman.

Life sometimes conspires to create encounters that bring about something like the trust and mutuality of friendship even if they’re not really part of any pre- or post-existing relationship. The train breaks down in the tunnel or the elevator gets stuck between floors and soon you may find yourself having one of those sacred, crossroads-of-life conversations with a complete stranger. You don’t know this person’s full name, you’ve never met before and you’ll likely never meet again, but despite that — or because of it — you find yourselves telling one another things you wouldn’t be able to say to the friends and family you have to live with every day. The old man next to you on the train says he had a child about your age, and because the train has stopped there in the tunnel he tells you something about that child that he’d needed to say for a very long time but had never been able to before. And because he told you that, and because the train is still not moving, you tell him things you also had needed to say — hopes, fears, dreams, confessions — that you had never before been able to articulate aloud.

That happens sometimes, miraculously. I don’t know that such encounters quite count as “relationships,” but they also can be, sometimes, appropriate contexts for what might be called evangelism.

3. Listen.

Like improv, evangelism is usually more about listening than it is about talking.

The Cherokee Baptist theologian Bill Baldridge tells a story about white missionaries who arrived at the Indian settlement. “We are here to tell you the story of our God and of salvation,” they announced.

The elders welcomed them, brought them food, and gathered around to hear this story. The missionaries, pleased by this enthusiastic audience, decided to go with the Long Version. They started at the beginning and over the next several hours they told the whole great Christian saga of creation, fall and redemption.

When at last the missionaries were finished, the elders thanked them. “This is a good story,” the elders said. “Now we would like to share with you our story.”

The missionaries were furious. Hadn’t these people been listening? Didn’t they realize that they had just heard the One True Story and that their old story, whatever it was, no longer mattered?

The missionaries abruptly left, shaking the dust off their shoes and heading out to find some other group more receptive to to their message.

4. Your story is not an argument.

Evangelism is often presented as something that starts with a sales pitch and ends in an argument. That’s wrong from start to finish. At its core, evangelism involves telling your story. That’s not a debate or an argument, it’s a testimony, a narrative (one that hasn’t ended yet).

Arguments about religion can be a lot of fun and they can sometimes even be productive. Their usefulness, though, is almost never a matter of persuasion, but rather of two friendly foes helping one another to clarify their own thoughts.

That’s the healthy version. In the unhealthy version, it’s more about two unfriendly foes using each other to reinforce for themselves what they already believe.

That distinction between healthy and unhealthy arguments has to do with whether those involved in the argument are willing to listen to and to try to understand what the other is saying. If they both are, then the argument may prove enjoyable and useful — and perhaps even marginally persuasive. But if neither one is really listening or really interested in understanding what the other side is saying, then all that’s going on is two people with their fingers stuck in their ears shouting slogans in an effort to drown out the sound of their own doubts.

The unhealthy argument about religion isn’t really concerned with persuading those who disagree. It functions mainly, instead, to reassure those who already believe and to help them buttress their faltering faith.

Those in need of such reassurance would do well to avoid attempts at evangelism. Better that way for all involved.

Anyway, my point here is not to describe how best to argue evangelistically, but rather that evangelism usually ought to avoid argument. Your story is not an argument. Stick with your story.

That story should tell more than just how or why or when you began to be a Christian. That’s how we evangelicals are often taught to present our “personal testimony,” but that’s like telling a story that consists of nothing but “Once upon a time.” Telling your story means telling what it means to you that you are a Christian — why this is the most important thing to you, how it changes and shapes and directs your life, how you wouldn’t be you without the faith, hope and love you have found.

Of course, if you’re telling this story to a friend, to someone who knows you and has known you for some time, then they may already know all of that.

And if you’re trying to tell such a story but you realize that you can’t say how the faith you are trying to share actually does change or shape or direct your life, then you may find that you’re going to need to tell a better story.

And the only way to tell a better story and still have it be your story is to start living a better story.

That’s probably why so many people seem to find it easier to get in arguments than it is to tell their stories.

5. Disciples, not merely converts

“Therefore go and convert all nations,” Jesus did not say in the Great Commission. That’s what we evangelicals call the passage in Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus sends forth his disciples for the last time. What Matthew 28 actually says is this:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.

“Make disciples” is a rather different sort of project than “make converts.” It’s a longer-term endeavor. Just consider Jesus’ own efforts. He spent three years working to make 12 disciples and, for all that, he still only had a success rate of 91.6 percent.

Thinking about evangelism as making converts instead of making disciples tempts us to think we’ve finished the job when we reach the point at which it’s actually only just beginning.

Maybe that’s part of why “conversion” has replaced “making disciples” — because it seems faster and easier. If you’re interested in speed, efficiency and quantity then converts seems to be the way to go. You can probably make dozens of converts in the time it takes to make just one disciple. Even more, probably, since if speed and quantity are what you’re shooting for, then you’ll probably wind up converting some people several times.

Concentrating on conversion instead of discipleship is unfair to those we’re trying to reach. It also, I think, winds up distorting our own faith, training us to believe that conversion is the main event rather than Square One. If we go around trying to make converts instead of trying to make disciples, in other words, we wind up doing the same thing to ourselves — we become people who are converts, but not disciples.

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  • Dan Audy

    Still a great post. ‘start living a better story’ is pure gold.

    Too often I find that Evangelicals (and many other religions to be honest) treat charity as the unfortunate price to pay to force someone to listen to your message rather than a worthy cause of its own.  Like focusing on conversion rather than making disciples this only goes for the easy surface level of sharing faith and misses the whole point.

  • Matri

    Too often I find that Evangelicals (and many other religions to be
    honest) treat charity as the unfortunate price to pay to force someone
    to listen to your message rather than a worthy cause of its own.  Like
    focusing on conversion rather than making disciples this only goes for
    the easy surface level of sharing faith and misses the whole point.

    Worse. They give only to their church as an all-inclusive “charity”. Red Cross collection? Already gave to charity. Katrina fund? Already gave to charity. Japan Disaster Relief? Already gave to charity. Sickening.

    Didn’t they realize that they had just heard the One True Story and that their old story, whatever it was, no longer mattered?

    To me this, in a nutshell, perfectly describes everything I find wrong with evangelism, fundamentalism and creationism.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Ooh, I *love* point 5!

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Also, I suspect I’d have an embarrassing fangirl reaction if Fred wrote something that referred to a comment I made, but I think we’re all safe from that. Mostly seems to happen in response to accusations that he doesn’t mean what he writes or willful twisting of his arguments.

    *waves at Fred anyway*

  • ako

    This whole post makes me think of two Baptist outreach groups I saw in the Philippines.  One went to a shelter for battered women and one went to a shelter for abused children.

    The man who went to the women’s shelter would give the (mostly Catholic) women long lectures on sin and wickedness and how they needed to become Real True Christians to avoid Hell.  One of his favorite topics was the wrongness of overly sexual clothes, and he was fond of making victim-blaming statements about sexy clothes causing rape in front of rape victims (I suspect that, rather than being callous enough to say this in front of women when he knew what happened to them, he was merely callous enough to spout off without learning anything about the lives of the women he was ‘helping’). 

    A woman from a different church went to a children’s shelter.  As the children were mostly Catholic, she deliberately pitched her activities and statements as non-denominational as possible.  She spent a lot of time on topics like “Jesus loves you!” and when she talked about sin, there was a heavy emphasis on forgiveness.  And after her scheduled volunteer hours, she’d often sit there for another hour with whatever kid wanted to talk to her that day, just listening to their problems and being a sympathetic ear.

    Now I don’t know if either of them won any converts (and I’m not Christian, so I wouldn’t have done what either one of them did), but it’s pretty clear who was reaching out and spreading good news and who wasn’t.

  • Anonymous

    Not for nothing, but a man should not be going to a battered womens’ shelter, to preach or to assist, or… for anything, really..  What the heck was he thinking?  And what did he have over them that the people running the shelter couldn’t show him the door?

  • ako

    The woman running the shelter was a member of his church and completely convinced him coming over and preaching at the woman like that was a great idea.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    And the only way to tell a better story and still have it be your story is to start living a better story.That’s probably why so many people seem to find it easier to get in arguments than it is to tell their stories.

    This is very, very good.

  • Twig

    “He spent three years working to make 12 disciples and, for all that, he still only had a success rate of 91.6 percent.”

    You’re brilliant.  You know that, right?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_YSGZHT2A7NLFCHMGRTJI5FKRJE Michael

    The reason I became a convert and am becoming a disciple is because I found a church that lives this. I know that not everyone in my church agrees, but the pastoral staff is 100% on board. Also, the small group that I was led to embodied each of these steps to the fullest. I hope that I can live up to their example.

  • Anonymous

    brilliant explanation Fred, just brilliant.

  • Nepenthe

    “Arguments about religion can be a lot of fun and they can sometimes even be productive”
    Is this a trigger statement?

    I can almost, barely, imagine something that could be described as a “friendly argument”, though it strains the imagination.  But 99.9% of the time it is an oxymoron.  And worse, it gives encouragement to the people who don’t realize they are verbally abusive to people who dare to disagree with them.

    I’m sure my cat honestly beleives he and the chipmunk were just having a friendly little game.
     

  • Nepenthe

    “Arguments about religion can be a lot of fun and they can sometimes even be productive”
    Is this a trigger statement?

    I can almost, barely, imagine something that could be described as a “friendly argument”, though it strains the imagination.  But 99.9% of the time it is an oxymoron.  And worse, it gives encouragement to the people who don’t realize they are verbally abusive to people who dare to disagree with them.

    I’m sure my cat honestly beleives he and the chipmunk were just having a friendly little game.
     

  • Ursula L

    Well, we tend to have a lot of friendly arguments about religion around here. But “friendly argument” might not be the best term.  Lively and respectful discussion?  Scheduled flame wars? 

    Whatever you call it, it is fun when people who like and respect each other, and have a common interest but very different views on the topic get together and talk. 

  • Ursula L

    Well, we tend to have a lot of friendly arguments about religion around here. But “friendly argument” might not be the best term.  Lively and respectful discussion?  Scheduled flame wars? 

    Whatever you call it, it is fun when people who like and respect each other, and have a common interest but very different views on the topic get together and talk. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HGMZ6PZ2IXJHTE3XLXQIC22OMM Richard

    “I can almost, barely, imagine something that could be described as a “friendly argument”, though it strains the imagination.”

    I used to engage in friendly arguments all the time in college.  This is traditionally called a “bull session”.  I miss them.  The closest I have had in recent years was at a job where a bunch of educated people were stuck in a room doing an excruciatingly dull task.  (Legal document review:  anyone who has ever done it shudders at the mere words.)  We maintained our sanity by engaging in friendly arguments.

  • Nepenthe

    “Discussion” is about understanding other people’s views.
    “Argument” is about winning, and often involves making sure the other people realize they have lost.  That is what makes “friendly” (or “respectful”) argument an oxymoron.

    I miss college bull sessions, too.  (Though I don’t remember any that passed from “discussion” into “argument”.  Probably selective memory there.)

    I don’t miss the person (a superior I had to work with in an organization I was active in) who believed that,
    A) if he could browbeat you into backing down on a position, that proved you did not sincerely hold that opinion, and he could safely ignore it (and you);
    and B) that this was just good sporting fun, and only the worst kind of whiner would object.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=659001961 Brad Ellison

    “Discussion” is about understanding other people’s views.
    “Argument” is about winning, and often involves making sure the other people realize they have lost.  That is what makes “friendly” (or “respectful”) argument an oxymoron.

    I guess it depends on your definitions, both of “argument” and “friendly.”  My best friend and I, who love each other like brothers, routinely engage in what I would call friendly argument.  Usually about something trivial (whether or not Hal Jordan sucks, for instance, or who would win in a fight between Tony Jaa and Jet Li in his prime), but occasionally touching on topics like euthanasia, and whether physical death should be regarded as evil.  It’s pretty routine for these discussions to end up with someone in a rear naked choke hold, but not a serious one.

  • http://jakobknits.blogspot.com Jake

    I think it’s important to be sensitive to the reactions of the people you interact with, but I also think it’s very possible to have a friendly argument as long as the personalities of everyone involved allow for it.  For example, my supervisor and I (I’m a grad student) frequently have shouting matches when we disagree about the science we’re working on, or the courses we’re teaching.  People who don’t know us often think we don’t like each other, or that we’re angry, when in fact we’re both having a grand old time and are quite fond of each other, we’re just both very loud and opinionated people, and we’re both good at separating attacks on our ideas from attacks on us personally.

    Of course when I’m dealing with someone who’s quiet, tends to take things personally, or has low self-esteem I’m less likely to shout “No! That doesn’t make any damned sense!” and more likely to say something like “I don’t think I agree with that, can you explain it more?”

    I really think friendly arguments are all about personality.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    I’m reminded of the episode of My LIttle Pony: Friendship is Magic where Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie are going about playing harmless pranks on their friends, who each have a laugh when they see how they’ve been fooled. When Rainbow is setting up a prank, and Pinkie realizes that Fluttershy is the target, she insists that Rainbow stop, explaining that because Fluttershy is so sensitive, she’ll take the prank seriously and it will hurt her feelings. Rainbow Dash understands her point and doesn’t go through with the prank. Her old friend Gilda refuses to see this point, and winds up making Fluttershy cry through her insensitive behavior.

    Don’t make Fluttershy cry. It never ends well.

  • http://jakobknits.blogspot.com Jake

    I thought I made it clear that I, um, try not to make Fluttershy cry. Didn’t I?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    I thought I made it clear that I, um, try not to make Fluttershy cry. Didn’t I?

    Yes, I was agreeing with you. Sorry if I didn’t make that clear.

  • Anonymous

    >My Little Pony

    what

  • ako

    I thought you were going to give us the gift of your silence?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is a show about six young women who live and work in a small town not far from their nations capital. Despite their different personalities and outlooks, they are committed friends and work through life’s problems together. It teaches important lessons about respecting others’ differences, caring for others, and finding your place in the world while telling entertaining, funny stories through excellent writing, animation, and voice acting. It’s pretty much the best cartoon with combined appeal for children and adults since Avatar: The Last Airbender.

    Oh, and most of the characters are magic ponies.

  • Lonespark

    I have been hearing a ton of great things about this show, so I really should check it out and inflict it on my children.

  • Nepenthe

    “Arguments about religion can be a lot of fun and they can sometimes even be productive”
    Is this a trigger statement?

    I can almost, barely, imagine something that could be described as a “friendly argument”, though it strains the imagination.  But 99.9% of the time it is an oxymoron.  And worse, it gives encouragement to the people who don’t realize they are verbally abusive to people who dare to disagree with them.

    I’m sure my cat honestly beleives he and the chipmunk were just having a friendly little game.
     

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    Many atheists  automatically go into argumentation mode when simply baring witness yields much better results.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     Many atheists  automatically go into argumentation mode when simply baring witness yields much better results.

    Don’t say that too loud.  They’ll call you an accomodationist!

    Unless you are actually a believer, at which point they’ll call you much, much worse…

    Also, too, while I once identified with the New Atheist movement, they’re really starting to piss me off these days.

  • http://mmycomments.blogspot.com/ mmy

    Also, too, while I once identified with the New Atheist movement, they’re really starting to piss me off these days.

    And here I didn’t realize that there was a formal movement out there. With its own constitution and bylaws and everything. Please be so good as to post there url so we can all go and read their manifesto.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    And here I didn’t realize that there was a formal movement out there.
    With its own constitution and bylaws and everything. Please be so good
    as to post there url so we can all go and read their manifesto.

    Um, any time there are a large number of people who profess to move in a similar direction they have created what is called a “movement.”  There does not have to be a formal constitution and there do not have to be bylaws.  There do not have to be leaders.

    However, there is a large, general agreement on what the New Atheists are (or, more appropriately anymore, the “Gnu Atheists”) and they will more or less agree amongst themselves.  Moreover, there are world atheist conferences, like, every three weeks.  Just go over to Pharyngula some time and look at all the posts where he says, “I’m going to be here speaking at this conference, then going over there to speak at that conference.”  Or look at Richard Dawkins’ speaking schedule.

    By the time you have a lot of people attending conferences everywhere, you have a goddamn movement.  If you’re going to try to argue otherwise based on a lack of a written constitution and bylaws then you’re splitting the your hairs really fine…

    Also, too: if the global atheist community doesn’t count as a social movement, nothing does.

  • http://mmycomments.blogspot.com/ mmy

    Geds — you are being disingenuous. If you read / listen / discuss things which the various individuals who are lumped together as “new atheists” believe you find as much disagreement among them as you do among “old atheists” or, indeed, Catholics. 

    And I have attended many a conference that was also attended by many other people who shared my views on something such as political science but we were scarcely a movement. People attend conferences because those conferences provide a place where they can discuss differences.

    So (and I am an atheist) please quit telling me I am part of some movement when you lump within the same movement people who disagree greatly from me. This is like an atheist decided to lump together all the Roman Catholics, Mormons, Anglicans, Greek Orthodox, etc…. as one thing and deciding that a select group of sub-group of people can be said to speak for the entire collection.

    This is especially angering when many of the statements that people who like to make a movement of us claim specific individuals have made were either a) not made or b) completely taken out of context.

    There are very few things that one can honestly (and informedly) say about most of the people charged with being “New Atheists” agree on:
    a) They do not believe that human beings have  been given any reasonable empirical indications that such a thing as “god” exits
    b) Atheists should refuse to sit at the back of the bus and speak very quietly and pretend to pray.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    So (and I am an atheist) please quit telling me I am part of some
    movement when you lump within the same movement people who disagree
    greatly from me. This is like an atheist decided to lump together all
    the Roman Catholics, Mormons, Anglicans, Greek Orthodox, etc…. as one
    thing and deciding that a select group of sub-group of people can be
    said to speak for the entire collection.

    I’m an atheist, too.  I read Pharyngula multiple times every goddamn day and wander about all over the atheist areas of the blogosphere.  Shortly after I left Christianity I pretty found myself on the exact path to being a New Atheist.  And then I realized that all the people who wander in to places like Pharyngula and accuse the people there of being an echo chamber were extremely close to the truth.  I also realized that the people who were starting to call the New Atheists “fundamentalists” were surprisingly close to right, and all the responses of, “We are not fundamentalists, since you can’t be a fundamentalist without a holy book,” were making an extremely stupid and disingenuous counterclaim.

    The fact of the matter is that it is a movement.  And by saying, “Well, I disagree with those people, so they are, by definition, not part of my movement,” you’re just splitting hairs.  Remember last year when Jerry Coyne went off and defined the term “fatheists” as a derogatory phrase for people who call themselves atheists and yet spend all their time (in the definition of the proper atheists, natch) being accomodationists (which, in and of itself is used derogatorily)?  Yeah.  That word is everywhere.  And, see, this right here is the problem:

    There are very few things that one can honestly (and informedly) say
    about most of the people charged with being “New Atheists” agree on:
    a) They do not believe that human beings have  been given any reasonable empirical indications that such a thing as “god” exits
    b) Atheists should refuse to sit at the back of the bus and speak very quietly and pretend to pray.

    The problem is part B, there.  Increasingly, I see the practitioners of not sitting at the back of the bus using that as an excuse to go on the offensive and smear all religious people for the actions of a few.  It’s becoming a self-fulfilling argument from bad faith and it started, at least as best I can tell, precisely when the whole fight over who was being an accomodationist and who wasn’t started to get really heated.

    This, by the way, is where the correctness of defining certain atheists as fundamentalists comes in.  They stand up and say, “If you do not promote your atheism in the same way I do and if you dialogue with religious people in ways that I do not approve, I will marginalize you, mock you, and do my best to make sure everyone knows that you’re a rotten accomodationist/faitheist/whatever.”

    Just as the movement is starting to gain real momentum, it’s also starting to eat its own.  I see that as a problem.  Especially since even the most moderate of religious folks tend to go after atheists.  Hell, I’ve seen Fred, FRED take shots at the Four Horsemen.  Not lately, but occasionally I come across stuff in his archives where he lays in to Dawkins or someone based on a complete misread and I’m shocked.

  • Caravelle

    They stand up and say, “If you do not promote your atheism in the same
    way I do and if you dialogue with religious people in ways that I do not
    approve, I will marginalize you, mock you, and do my best to make sure
    everyone knows that you’re a rotten accomodationist/faitheist/whatever.”
    Just as the movement is starting to gain real momentum, it’s also starting to eat its own.

    I’ve started to notice something. I don’t doubt it goes on everywhere, all the time, but I’ve only recently started to be seriously ticked off by it.
    It’s this thing where you have a bunch of people who constitute a group.
    And at some point there arises a disagreement in that group. Let’s call the people on one side of the disagreement subgroup_1 and the people on the other subgroup_2. Of course there are people in the group that are in neither subgroup, or both, or in between, but whatever.
    And there will be some people who think this is terrible. That the group is being torn apart by this trivial disagreement when they should concentrate on their common goals. I think this is perfectly defensible.

    What ticks me off is when someone makes that argument, and makes it very clear this is all subgroup_2’s fault.

    No. If the priority is group cohesion and this is much more important than a trivial disagreement, then there’s no reason not to work with both sides. If you think one side is wrong, and think it’s important enough to point it out in an appeal to group cohesion, then you’re not calling for group cohesion you’re engaging in the argument itself.

  • Beau Guest

    You know what actually bothers me the most about this trend? It’s not the stupid infighting. It’s not even the alienating of moderate religious people who believe in a secular public sphere and should, rightly, be our allies. 

    No, what really pisses me off is that I see the atheist community (as a publicly noticed community, not as individuals) spending more time talking about how fucking great we are and how much everybody else sucks … and precious little time acting on values that are, to me, central to being an atheist. Like, say, the bit about there being no God so humans are the only people that can help other humans. 

    I want a national Atheist Day of Service. I want us to be opening shelters and feeding the hungry. I see all this momentum and all these people just getting channeled into meaningless Internet flame wars, and it breaks my heart. 

    TL;DR … “Discipleship, not Conversion”: It applies to atheists, too. 

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    Forgive me for going off on a rant, but…

    No, what really pisses me off is that I see the atheist community (as a publicly noticed community, not as individuals) spending more time talking about how fucking great we are and how much everybody else sucks … and precious little time acting on values that are, to me, central to being an atheist. Like, say, the bit about there being no God so humans are the only people that can help other humans. 

    Gay rights. Female genital mutilation. Anti-vaccination campaigns. Global warming. Women’s rights. Abortion access. Health care reform.

    Which side do you find the atheists on? Which position is being driven by demands that decisions be made on the basis of reason and evidence versus tradition and religion? Go ahead and find me a social position that hurts other humans instead of helping them that atheists support and endorse based on evidence.

    Most scientists are atheists, but you don’t want to credit atheists with the improvements that come from science? Because I’m pretty sure if the Vatican came up with the smallpox vaccine, clerics would be preaching about it monthly.

    Atheists are fighting the good fight when they attack homeopaths selling malaria “medicines”. They’re trying to help other human beings when they point out that vacinnes don’t cause autism and never have. They’re out there pushing an evidence-based agenda that says “I don’t care if your religion says two men loving each other is wrong, the evidence shows marriage is a social good as long as it’s between consenting adults, and it’s wrong if it isn’t, even if your holy book says otherwise”.

    If anything, remarks like yours are part of the problem. Every major advance in sanitation, medicine, and technology came from evidence-based reasoning and thinking, and not from relgion or theology. But because I’m pointing this out, I’m “spending time talking about how fucking great we are” and not “doing anything”. Credit where credit is due, that’s what atheists want. “God is great”, but clean drinking water is a product of skepticism and the scientific method. It’s not about patting ourselves on the back, it’s about demanding others recognize what has (and hasn’t!) moved us forward as a species, especially when it comes time to debate how vital and important a role religion ought to play in how we make decisions.

  • chris the cynic

    Most scientists are atheists
    Can you cite a source on this?  I’d be particularly interested in knowing (aproximately) when atheists became a majority in the scientific community.

  • Anonymous

    As it happens I’m reading The Science of Superstition by Bruce M. Hood, and in chapter 3 it says that a 2007 study of “1,646 academics from twenty-one top U.S. universities” reported that 40% of the physicists, chemists, and biologists they interviewed didn’t believe in God.  Unfortunately the book doesn’t say what the numbers were for any other types of belief.  Going by that, atheists aren’t an absolute majority, but they could be the largest single group, I suppose (it annoys me to no end that there’s no info provided on the percentage of agnostics, Christians, etc).  It is however four times higher than the percentage of atheists among the general US population, which is supposed to be around 10%. 

  • chris the cynic

    Spalanzani, thanks.

    When I tried to look things up the results I mostly saw things about non-religious which is fairly useless when trying to find the proportion of atheists.

    If we were to assume that all people who are not religious are atheists, that would make me an atheist which I am not.  It is possible to believe in god without having a religion.  I think that a not insignificant portion of the population without a religion does (though I cannot for the life of me remember where I saw the figure indicating that.)

    Church attendance is a similarly useless figure if the question is whether or not people are atheists.

    That you have a figure specifically saying the proportion that don’t believe in god is much more helpful than the stuff I had to work with.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    40% =/= most

    21 US universities =/= the world population of scientists

  • chris the cynic

    Spalanzani isn’t the one who made the claim.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Yeah, I know. Sorry–to be clear, my point was that the evidence Spalanzani presented doesn’t back up Chris Doggett’s claim.

  • chris the cynic

    Ok, I just wanted to make sure Spalanzani wasn’t getting flack for the evidence not matching someone else’s claim.  I asked for actual figures, Spalanzani provided some* along with their source.  So basically Spalanzani has been nothing but helpful and deserves credit for that.
    Thank you for clarifying.

    -*They’re not ideal figures (as you say, 21 US universities =/= the world population of scientists) but that isn’t Spalanzani’s fault.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Agreed. Shake hands?

  • Anonymous

    A bit late, but yeah, I wasn’t offering those figures as support for Chris Doggert’s claims, but just as information on the subject of the percentage of religion among scientists.  And I only have those figures because I happened to come across them last weekend.  There are probably more recent and more comprehensive surveys out there.

    Besides what you and chris the cynic have already said about them, it occurs to me that The Science of Superstition doesn’t really question the idea (apparently given in The God Delusion) that the members of the US National Academy of Sciences and the Fellows of the Royal Society comprehensively represent leading scientists, at least in the US and UK.  I’m not very informed on these sorts of organizations, but it seems to me that a term like “our best scientists” (as TSoS phrases it) would pretty much have to be open to debate.  I wonder how many Nobel Prize winners describe themselves as religious, for instance?

    Also, TSoS says that only 25% of the Fellows of the Royal Society even responded to the survey.  The author speculates that religious members might have been hesitant to respond.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=581585394 Nicholas Kapur

    There seems to be an assumption (by Chris Doggest and even in TSoS to a
    much lesser extent) that what the majority of scientists believe about
    religion must represent the most valid sciencific view of the matter,
    but obviously that’s not necessarily true.

    Even worse than that, actually. Chris didn’t just assume that all scientists are atheists, or that this implies atheism’s correctness. He took atheism’s correctness as a given, used that to assume that all scientists are atheists, and used that to assume that atheism itself is thus responsible for all scientific achievement.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=581585394 Nicholas Kapur

    So I just lost a 45-minute post to a browser crash and clipboard malfunction in support of Geds, but I’d still like to talk about this:

    If anything, remarks like yours are part of the problem. Every major
    advance in sanitation, medicine, and technology came from evidence-based
    reasoning and thinking, and not from relgion or theology. But
    because I’m pointing this out, I’m “spending time talking about how
    fucking great we are” and not “doing anything”. Credit where credit is
    due, that’s what atheists want. “God is great”, but clean drinking water
    is a product of skepticism and the scientific method. It’s not about
    patting ourselves on the back, it’s about demanding others recognize
    what has (and hasn’t!) moved us forward as a species, especially when it
    comes time to debate how vital and important a role religion ought to
    play in how we make decisions

    Uh, no. Not “because you’re pointing it out”. Because you’re somehow, against all reason and evidence, equating “evidence-based
    reasoning and thinking” with “atheism.” As an atheist myself, that’s really goddamn arrogant.

    You do realize that not all scientists are atheists, right? And that, statistically speaking, most scientists are not? And that historically, the vast majority of major scientific discoveries were made by people who were, you know, religious, what with the vast majority of people being religious at the time?

    And please stop talking about “atheists” like we’re a single group with the same views and political positions. We’re not. It only looks that way because in the US, none of us can be Republicans.

    Look, it’s not that you are going “too far” in the “atheist” direction. It’s not a Religious to Atheist spectrum. It’s more complicated than that. Dawkins isn’t wrong because he’s really, really atheist, and should be less so. Hell, when he’s talking about actual science or atheist oppression, he’s generally right (last time I checked). But he’s also wrong when he compares religious belief to mental illness. Or claims that religious belief inherently makes one less capable of reasoning.

    As an atheist, I am concerned with raising atheism’s visibility. I am concerned with generic yet religious statements, like at the start of every congress, or in the pledge of allegiance, or in the National Day of Prayer. But the fact that atheism is stigmatized and marginalized, to whatever degree, does not make it ok to take sweeping shots against religion in general or dominant religions (like Christianity) specifically.

    This goes both ways. Dawkins being a jackass does not mean it’s ok to assume atheists are jackasses. But someone unfairly assuming you’re a jackass does not make it ok to be a jackass.

    So yeah. Some atheists are out fighting for LGBT rights. And some atheists (see: libertarians) think they should quit whining. Some atheists are fighting for women’s rights. And some atheists are indignant if you complain about their sexist language and rape jokes. And some atheists don’t care about women, but are against religious justifications for laws. And some atheists are for women’s rights in theory, but don’t care and won’t be bothered to do the slightest thing about it. And some atheists do all of the above at the same time.

    It’s more complicated than that.

  • Lonespark

    Right and it’s not like all religious people, or all religious traditions, are against QUILTBAG rights, or strong separation of government and religion.  It can be tricky for atheists and minority religions to make common cause, but I think we get a lot farther when we do.

     

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Gay rights. Female genital mutilation. Anti-vaccination campaigns. Global warming. Women’s rights. Abortion access. Health care reform. Which side do you find the atheists on?

    Chris, I really hope you didn’t mean to imply that the “not atheists” are on one side of any of these issues. Because the divider here is between conservatives and progressives, and that is not the same groups as religious/atheist at all. If you’re conflating the loud voices in American politics with the rest of the world, stop it.

    In my experience, the only one of the issues you listed where the ‘sides’ are divided more strongly by religion than political philosophy is abortion.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Oh, and cite pease?

    Most scientists are atheists

  • Anonymous

    Because I’m pretty sure if the Vatican came up with the smallpox vaccine, clerics would be preaching about it monthly.

    I believe Jenner was an Anglican.

  • Lonespark

    Global warming?  The Angry White Doodz in my old office screaming about how their fellow scientists were being hoaxed by Obamacommunism to believe it was a problem were definitely not religious people.  They tended to view religion as a weak and womanly way of relating to the world.  Christianity and Judaism were suspect in that way (and they were super bigoted against Muslims) but indigenous and neopagan religions got so much virulant crap.  I know these guys aren’t necessarily the main base of the global-warming-denying party, but I have seen this strain in various places in the conservative movement. 

    (Damn, that was a hostile workplace.  And damn, I miss my job, even so.)

  • http://twitter.com/shutsumon Becka Sutton

    I’m one of these moderate religious people and I agree with this.

    Living your ethics is always the best way to sell you worldview.

  • Caravelle

    No, what really pisses me off is that I see the atheist community (as a
    publicly noticed community, not as individuals) spending more time
    talking about how fucking great we are and how much everybody else sucks
    … and precious little time acting on values that are, to me, central
    to being an atheist. Like, say, the bit about there being no God so
    humans are the only people that can help other humans.

    Really ? To just take Pharyngula, I see a whole lot of calling attention to what PZ feels are injustices and calls for fundraising or petitions for various causes, atheism-related or not.

    I want a national Atheist Day of Service. I want us to be opening
    shelters and feeding the hungry. I see all this momentum and all these
    people just getting channeled into meaningless Internet flame wars, and
    it breaks my heart.

    Why ?
    I mean, what is the added value of creating an “atheist” shelter or food bank as opposed to contributing to those that already exist ?
    I can see the value of creating a shelter or a food bank where it’s needed but why tag it with “atheist” ? The only reason I can see is to promote atheism but I don’t think that’s the best reason to open a shelter or a food bank.

    TL;DR … “Discipleship, not Conversion”: It applies to atheists, too.

    I don’t know what that means. What’s an atheist “disciple” and an atheist “convert” and what’s the difference between the two ?

  • Lonespark

    This comes up in Pagan circles, too.  I don’t think starting your own food bank is necessarily the way to go, but possible starting your own fund-raising group or political action committee could simultaneously serve your goals and raise group visibility.  Getting credit for the good you do doesn’t hurt.

  • Lonespark

     I don’t necessesarily think talking about how great y’all are is in any way bad for a movement, especially one whose views are marginalized.  It can be tricky when some of the movements leading figures are privileged on many other axes, though.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    Especially since even the most moderate of religious folks tend to go
    after atheists.  Hell, I’ve seen Fred, FRED take shots at the Four
    Horsemen.  Not lately, but occasionally I come across stuff in his
    archives where he lays in to Dawkins or someone based on a complete
    misread and I’m shocked.

    Do you mean where Fred laid into Dawkins for claiming that raising a child in a religious environment was worse than repeatedly raping them?

    That’s not “going after an atheist.” That’s pointing out how utterly monstrous someone’s attitude toward their fellow human beings is. Exactly like what Fred does with L&J.

  • http://jakobknits.blogspot.com Jake
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    Just go over to Pharyngula some time and look at all the posts where he
    says, “I’m going to be here speaking at this conference, then going over
    there to speak at that conference.”  Or look at Richard Dawkins’
    speaking schedule.

    Aren’t most of those science conferences?

    While I find it very hard to love Myers and Dawkins, I do feel the need to point out that not everything they do is about their religious ideas.

  • Anonymous

    Many atheists automatically go into argumentation mode when simply baring witness yields much better results.

    Damn skippy. Another blog that I am on has a bunch of rather outspoken atheists, who are about as charming when they state flatly that their beliefs are correct, self-evident, and that the world would be a better place if everyone adopted them as evangelicals are when they say the same.

    I’ve mentioned this a few times.

    Several of them do not seem to get it.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    Concentrating on conversion instead of discipleship is unfair to those
    we’re trying to reach. It also, I think, winds up distorting our own
    faith, training us to believe that conversion is the main event rather
    than Square One.

    Evangelical Christianity as we have it today is a pyramid scheme.  That’s it.

    The concept of “Good News” isn’t actually, y’know, Good.  Or, really, News.  The Great Commission was originally supposed to go back to that bit where Jesus proclaimed the release of the captives and the year of the Lord’s favor, which was the bit that was News and, also, Good.

    Now, Evangelicalism just wants everyone to go out and preach the news that you, too, can be a Christian.  Mostly that seems to involve being yelled at about your perceived sins, being judgmental, and going out and telling other people that they, too, can be have the fun job of going out and telling other people about how they can tell other people to tell other people to tell other people…

    I didn’t realize how good of an evangelist or how natural of one I was until after I left Evangelical Christianity.  There are so many things in my life that I enthusiastically tell people about specifically because I like them, they make my life better/more interesting/more fun and I think that those things will make other people feel the same way, so I want other people to hear about them.

    That’s what evangelism is.  And Evangelical Christianity doesn’t offer anything to fit that bill.  All it offers is a dreary life of moralization and pointless self-denial and shame because you’re not getting other people to sign up every single minute of every single day.

    Who wants their friends and loved ones to experience that?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HGMZ6PZ2IXJHTE3XLXQIC22OMM Richard

    The distinction between disciples and converts deserves to be a recurring theme here.  It summarizes so much that is wrong in modern Evangelicalism.  The obvious point is the modern “seeker friendly” church which neglects, or even abuses, its current members in the quest to get ever more new butts through the door.  A less obvious point is that it rebuts the “mission support” argument.  This argument is considered unanswerable in Evangelicalism.  Criticize a church for being shallow or heretical or downright vile and someone will pipe up in its defense that it supports missionaries.  This is taken to place the church above reproach, since anyone criticizing it is undermining these missionary efforts.  Even apart from the logical peculiarity (if the church is teaching heresy, in what way are missionary efforts to spread this heresy a good thing?) the recognition that our commission is to create disciples, rather than merely converts, buts the lie to the defense.  Bravo!

  • Mike Hodge

    REALLY good post, Jay.   This ought to be adopted at Annual Conference as our “missional priority.”    (Won’t hold my breath, though!)

  • Mike Hodge

    Whooooops!  It’s “Fred” — not Jay.  Sorry.  Still a great post!!

  • Tom

    5. Disciples, not merely converts…Sort of like aiming towards being married rather than just having a wedding.

  • http://profiles.google.com/stantaylor Stan Taylor

    Thanks, Fred. You rock, as usual! Now to post on Facebook.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jon.maki Jon Maki

    He spent three years working to make 12 disciples and, for all that, he still only had a success rate of 91.6 percent.

    Obligatory only partially-remembered Simpsons quote:

    Homer:  Just like Jesus had seven apostles.
    Marge:  There were twelve apostles, Homer.
    Homer:  Wow, that’s a big staff.  And he still wasn’t that funny.

  • P J Evans

    I think it was John Le Carre who put it another way:
    Jesus only had twelve, and one of them was a double [agent].

  • Reverend Ref

    Discipleship vs. converts.

    I’ve been preaching this for years.  It is NOT our job to convert people; that’s what the Holy Spirit does.  We are called to be and make disciples.  And I could argue that we have the tougher job between the two because we live in the “Okay, I’ve converted; now what?” mode.

    “Now what?” is living the gospel.  It’s being hospitable to strangers.  It’s helping visitors with the Episcopal book shuffle and calisthenics.  It’s not being pissed off that somebody new is sitting in “your” pew.  It’s talking to people you don’t know during coffee hour.  It’s knowing how to share your story.  It means hanging out at the bar and having a conversation rather than telling people why they’re going to hell because they drink.  It’s realizing that what happens “over there” also affects us  here.  It’s respecting the dignity of every human being.  And that’s hard work.  But it’s also who and what we are called to be as Christians.

    We are not called to put notches on our crosses every time someone we invite to church actually bothers to show up.  What we are called to do is to follow the path of Jesus as his disciples; which, if you’ve been paying attention, eventually leads to a very lonely death.

    And now I need to stop before this turns into a sermon.

  • Emcee, cubed

    Except that large portions of your rant depend on a major fallacy, that being that science and religion are mutually exclusive. They aren’t. Saying that theology hasn’t been responsible for any major scientific advancement is sort of like saying that librarians haven’t been responsible for putting out any forest fires. It is true, but it means nothing. Science isn’t the purpose of religion.

    Even if it is true that a majority of scientists are atheists, I guarantee you there are plenty of church-going scientists as well. The large majority of those don’t bring their religion into their lab. So claiming that every scientific achievement is the result of atheism is bull. Of reason, of logic, of the scientific method, yes. Those things are not specific to atheism.

    And I have met plenty of homophobic atheists. And sexist atheists. And pro-life atheists. And climate-change denying atheists. And anti-vaccination atheists. (okay, the female genital mutilation thing is primarily religious based, so you are likely correct on that one.) Trying to say that all atheists have the same views on these issues is disingenuous. Their arguments are different, sure, but I know a number of Republican atheists. (I mean Republican voters, not candidates…)

  • Emcee, cubed

    And I see Nicholas already said it better than me.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    And I see that Nicholas and Emcee already said it better than me.

    Please, everyone, if you have a complaint about conservativism make a complaint about conservativism. If you make it about group x who in your opinion/experience/part of the world correlates somewhat with conservativism, you’re going to heartily piss off group x members who are vehemently anti-conservative themselves.

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/index.php Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    Someone many of us know very recently wrote, to great community approval, “A common way to get yourself into hot water is to jump into a
    conversation about the behaviour of prejudiced members of a group to
    which you belong… with an angry assertion that you may be a member of
    this group but you’re not a bigot, and it’s offensive to assume that you
    are.”

    I suspect that when Ged says that there are trends in the New Atheist Movement that bother him (and others, like myself, agree), mmy and other regulars here are not among the atheists he’s talking about.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=581585394 Nicholas Kapur

    For the record, the term “new atheist” is not a generic pejorative for “extreme atheists”. It’s pretty specific. I’m only concerned with definition haggling if someone self-identifies as a “new atheist” but disagrees with Wikipedia’s description of what that means and who is prominent in the movement.

  • Anonymous

    Our story is not an argument? You’re wrong, but in a sense, right. If I point at the sky and say “the sky is blue”, and someone says “NO IT’S GREEN”… Just what can one gain by trying to see it from their perspective? All you can do is hand down to them the Truth, and let them make of it what they will.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=581585394 Nicholas Kapur

    …and here comes the Jackass Brigade (Religious Edition), to make me look like an idiot for complaining about Dawkins.

    Also? That’s a shitty example. If someone honestly and earnestly says to you that the sky is green, then that’s actually an extremely interesting perspective, and one about which I would like to know more. Is this person merely unfamiliar with English color names? Do they come from a culture where, for some reason, their equivalent term for “green” takes up so much of the color spectrum that “blue” as we know it hardly exists? Do they have some sort of color-blindness, either optical or neurological in origin, that prevents them from differentiating between blue and green? Are they intentionally diverging from standard cultural definitions of the words “blue” and “green” to make some sort of artistic, social, or political point, however obtuse that may be?

    Or, perhaps, are they trying to warn you that there’s a tornado inbound, and you have your arrogant head so far up your arrogant ass that you are literally unwilling to even look at the goddamn sky to see if it’s actually blue or not?

  • Anonymous

     Do they come from a culture where, for some reason, their equivalent term for “green” takes up so much of the color spectrum that “blue” as we know it hardly exists? 

    Actually, that’s not far-fetched.  Many human languages lack the distinction between green and blue found in English, and they use one word to cover at least parts of the green-blue spectrum that English traditionally divides.

    Notably, traditional Welsh and the other Celtic languages used the term glas for blue, (some) green, and grey.  Modern usage imports the distinction, however.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=581585394 Nicholas Kapur

    Your link is broken, but very interesting. It’s also exactly why Monoblade’s example was so astoundingly idiotic. We haven’t even had a real person claim that the sky is green, and yet we (or at least I) have already learned more about other people’s cultures and perceptions.

    Monoblade, by contrast, could apparently encounter a real, live person, whom you could actually ask questions and stuff, and do nothing more than assert the sky’s blueness and walk away with the certainty of his own correctness. It’s theoretical, but I’d say this makes for a nice case study proving Fred’s original point.

  • http://brandiweed.livejournal.com/ Brandi

    Monoblade, by contrast, could apparently encounter a real, live person, whom you could actually ask questions and stuff, and do nothing more than assert the sky’s blueness and walk away with the certainty of his own correctness.

    Frankly, I suppose we’re lucky if he doesn’t start dry-humping them while shouting “GOD’S THE ALPHA MALE! GOD’S THE ALPHA MALE!”

    (Why yes, I have watched entirely too much Harvey Birdman, why do you ask?)

  • Dan Audy

    This makes me think of a rather amusing (only in retrospect) argument I had with my father as a teen.  At that point my relationship with my father had deteriorated into an epic ongoing hateful argument where we both antagonized each other constantly in a never ending fight to prove that the other person was wrong (having long since given up being right). 

    My father yelled at me ‘You would argue with anything I say.  If I said that the sky was blue you would insist that it wasn’t’.  I, of course, disagreed angrily (thus proving him right) claiming that ‘only an idiot would think that the sky is blue – it only looks that way’, before going into a long and insistent argument about how something appearing a colour due to refraction was fundamentally different than an object reflecting non-absorbed wavelengths.

    So there you go a real live person who asserted that the sky was in fact not blue.  Not my proudest moment but pretty darn funny 15 years later.

  • Rikalous

    Monoblade, your plan will just lead to a shouting match about color. Neither of you will learn a thing or change your minds, and you’ll be mad at each other in the end. If you actually take some time to try and understand them, however, you’ll have a better idea about how to change their minds.

  • ako

    I’m pretty sure Monotroll doesn’t care about that.  The troll is quite happy, when faced with anything other than instant agreement to give up on persuasion and actively castigate people like Fred who try to explain their perspective and listen to what other people have to say.  The troll is not interested in making disciples or winning converts, merely in contradicting people and garnering attention.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Also, how is the colour example a story? If someone said to me “the sky is blue” I’d think they were a shitty story teller and I wouldn’t be inviting them to story time in future.

  • Anonymous

    Do you really think that was my point? Do you? No, you know that wasn’t my point, and are being a petulant smartass. It’s a metaphor. If you give to a person sufficient evidence to make a judgement, and they still don’t do so, they are being willfully ignorant. This is why it’s a waste of time to evangelize to christians: if they know the truth, yet are weak in faith, it’s because they WANT to be. Maybe the next altar call they answer will be genuine, but, I’m not betting on it.

    Back to my point: You tell the person the gospel, and then when they attempt to sway you to their viewpoint, you listen politely, then YOU BLAST IT FULL OF HOLES LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW. Tell them why being an atheist is intellectually unsustainable, tell them why agnosticism is dishonest, tell them why Christianity is the answer to Judaism, tell them the pagan origins of Islam, tell them how paganism is worshipping the creation rather than the creator, etc. whatever beliefs they hold in opposition to his Word, do EVERYTHING you can to make sure they walk way without it. 

  • ako

    Tell them why being an atheist is intellectually unsustainable, tell
    them why agnosticism is dishonest, tell them why Christianity is the
    answer to Judaism, tell them the pagan origins of Islam, tell them how
    paganism is worshipping the creation rather than the creator, etc.
    whatever beliefs they hold in opposition to his Word, do EVERYTHING you
    can to make sure they walk way without it.

    Are you actually Jack Chick?

  • http://brandiweed.livejournal.com/ Brandi

    Back to my point: You tell the person the gospel, and then when they attempt to sway you to their viewpoint, you listen politely, then YOU BLAST IT FULL OF HOLES LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW. Tell them why being an atheist is intellectually unsustainable, tell them why agnosticism is dishonest, tell them why Christianity is the answer to Judaism, tell them the pagan origins of Islam, tell them how paganism is worshipping the creation rather than the creator, etc. whatever beliefs they hold in opposition to his Word, do EVERYTHING you can to make sure they walk way without it.

    I’m surprised you’re actually using the word “person” and not “animal”.

  • ako

    It’s Godly contempt!  Monotroll only despises us the way God wants him to despise us!

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Do you really think that was my point? Do you? No, you know that wasn’t my point, and are being a petulant smartass.

    I’ll happily concede to being a smartarse, but no way was I petulant. I can vouch that I posted in good humour, and continue to do so.

    And my point was that you were disagreeing with Fred’s statement that your story is not an argument. “The sky is blue” is not your story.

    I understand your point. I just think it’s wrong. I know I didn’t become a Christian because anyone told me the things you just wrote. Did you?

    PS: Your awesome cheery pic is really helping maintain my good humour, because nothing cracks me up like the juxtaposition of shouty text and a big anime grin :)

  • Caravelle

    That strategy works fine… Against people who are completely ignorant of the argument at hand. And that goes to the quantity vs quality thing : if you convert an ignorant person, you’re exposing yourself to the risk they’ll deconvert as they learn new things.

    Because you do realize there are tons of people who believe those things you’re blasting full of holes, but have answers to every one of your bullets, right ? What do you do when they reply ? Do you call them “willfully ignorant” and run away your tail between your legs and your hands on your ears ? Or do you study their arguments, try and find flaws in them, try and understand why they are advancing such arguments to better convince them ?

    That will result in a bracing discussion where both of you learn more of the other’s point of view and refine your own arguments. But it’s highly unlikely to result in a conversion. Especially if you make the other side dislike you by your behavior.

    Are you interested in converting people here, or just “winning an argument” ? (“winning an argument” is the most trivial of goals because everybody tends to come out of those things thinking they won)

    And, fun question : are you aware of any anti-christianity arguments ?

  • Rikalous

    tell them why agnosticism is dishonest

    OK, now my curiosity’s piqued. I’m agnostic, because I figure that there’s no way us pitiful mortals can determine the characteristics, including existence or lack thereof, of an omnipotent being. An omnipotent being can, by definition, fudge the data however ze wants. I don’t consider such a being’s characteristics very important, because we should try to do the right thing regardless of who’s running the universe.

    So now you know my viewpoint, Mono. Let’s see if you can actually do some evangelism, by anyone’s definition.

  • Anonymous

    You can’t honestly claim to NOT know of God’s existence. The Word says that His signs are written across the heavens. If you know, yet claim not to know, you’re being dishonest, by any definition. They are truly without excuse.

  • Caravelle

    Now aren’t you just adorable ?
    What sign exactly are you talking about and how do you show it could only have been put there by God ?
    How do you know Satan didn’t put all those signs there ? Or Shiva ? Or super-intelligent and powerful aliens ?

    EDIT : sorry, forgot the most obvious one. How do you know the Word is true ?

  • cyllan

    You can’t honestly claim to NOT know of God’s existence. The Word says that His signs are written across the heavens. If you know, yet claim not to know, you’re being dishonest, by any definition. They are truly without excuse.

    You can’t honestly claim to NOT know that you’re a computer simulation.  The Manual says that The Signs are written into the source code. If you know, yet claim not to know, you’re being dishonest by any definition. 

    Seriously? This is your best argument? I weep for our educational system.

  • Anonymous

    “There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays.
    And every single one of them is right!”

  • Rikalous

    I just went out and looked at the sky. It was cloudless and lovely and I couldn’t find any messages in it, let alone one saying “The Christian God is real. Go forth and be smug.” Do I have to wait until the stars come out? Do I have to stand there watching a while until it appears? Is it like one of those magic eye things where there’s a shark hidden in the picture of a school of fish? That last one might be a problem, because I could never make those work for me.

    Kissing Disease, I am literally asking you to lay some Truth down on me, and this is the best you can do? I’m disappointed. I was led to believe my position would be blasted with holes and through the power of capital letters, and that sounded like an interesting discussion.

    On the other hand, you did encourage me to get off my computer and look at the pretty sky for a bit, so thanks.

  • Anonymous

    No.

    I will give you something that will do far more good than any exposition of the Gospel can do for someone with your attitude at this point.

    I will give you my silence.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=659001961 Brad Ellison

    I will give you my silence.

    God be praised, brother.

  • Rikalous

    So you’ve accepted that your arguments and attitude do more harm than good, evangelism-wise? I’m glad we had this little chat.

  • Caravelle

    Good job !

    Okay, post-game analysis now. Do you think your part in this discussion was an effective evangelism tool ? Why or why not ?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=581585394 Nicholas Kapur

    If I can do a little armchair quarterbacking, I’m gonna go ahead and suggest that the main problem was too much listening and not enough talking. Don’t get me wrong, we saw plenty of condescending and inflexible out there today, but it still felt like it lacked certainty. I don’t necessarily know what the solution is, but I’m thinking something with a little more impact, you know? Maybe next time Monoblade could try some bold or capslock, or maybe just copy the content of any given post four or five times before hitting the submit button. Or try a sort of hand-made “sig” — I’m thinking something like:

    “Everybody’s wrong but me.”

    — Monoblade

    Personally, I think the extra step of explicitly attributing the quote to himself really drives home the fact that he doesn’t listen to anyone else in the entire world, but it can obviously be customized. And, of course, Monoblade would never, ever adopt a new idea from another person anyway, so I wouldn’t put money on any of these ideas getting put into practice.

  • http://jakobknits.blogspot.com Jake

    Seriously?  Pathetic.

  • ako

    The Word says that His signs are written across the heavens.

    Have you actually gone out and looked?  Because a lot of people, myself included, have looked at the sky and not seen anything that we recognize as signs of God’s existence.  If you’ve actually looked and found those, maybe you could start pointing them out?

    If you’ve only read it in a book and assumed it to be true, you’re pretty much useless.

  • Consumer Unit 5012
    The Word says that His signs are written across the heavens.

    Have you actually gone out and looked?  Because a lot of people, myself included, have looked at the sky and not seen anything that we recognize as signs of God’s existence.  If you’ve actually looked and found those, maybe you could start pointing them out?

    Actually, all the stars in the sky are in fact arranged to spell out a divine and glorious message to God’s most important and beloved creations.  
    But we’re not them, so from OUR insignificant dust-speck of a planet, the stars just look random.

    Do You Believe That?

  • http://dumas1.livejournal.com/ Winter

    Since someone’s going to post it anyway:

    It reads “We apologize for the invenience.”

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    10 years last month since he died.

    *is sad*

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    Let us all be thankful that the stars are arranged as they are, for only so do the Old Ones cease to live. Once the stars are right, and Great Cthulhu leads them forth from the drowned city of R’lyeh, we shall have all the signs we could ask for.

  • ako

    The Word says that His signs are written across the heavens.

    Have you actually gone out and looked?  Because a lot of people, myself included, have looked at the sky and not seen anything that we recognize as signs of God’s existence.  If you’ve actually looked and found those, maybe you could start pointing them out?

    If you’ve only read it in a book and assumed it to be true, you’re pretty much useless.

  • http://jakobknits.blogspot.com Jake

    Oh this is one of my favourites.  Ok, The Word (by which I assume you mean the Christian Bible) says that.  I’ll believe you on that.  Next question: How do you know that the stuff written in that book is true?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    Actually, technically the Word, used as a proper noun, refers to God. (John 1:1)

  • http://jakobknits.blogspot.com Jake

    Oh this is one of my favourites.  Ok, The Word (by which I assume you mean the Christian Bible) says that.  I’ll believe you on that.  Next question: How do you know that the stuff written in that book is true?

  • Rikalous

    Something else occurred to me: Your argument would apply equally well to atheism. Why is agnosticism dishonest while atheism is merely intellectually unsustainable? I’d expect that you’d consider the position farther from yours to be malicious and the one closer ignorant, rather than the other way around.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    So your argument is that God exists because the Word (i.e. God — see John 1:1) says so. Do you not see how this fails to convince those who do not believe already?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    So your argument is that God exists because the Word (i.e. God — see John 1:1) says so. Do you not see how this fails to convince those who do not believe already?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    Attacking someone’s beliefs doesn’t cause them to reject those beliefs. If anything, it will cause them to redouble their commitment to them, which can be an unfortunate situation when the beliefs involve things that have direct evidence for and against them in the real world — the most obvious way to confront counterfactual beliefs, such as the belief, for example, that homeopathy is effective as something other than a placebo, is to present the facts in opposition to the belief, but this often means that people who are emotionally invested in those beliefs will ignore the facts.

    Leaving aside the truth or falsity of your belief in Jesus, what you are describing is an entirely ineffective method of evangelism, that will leave people thinking you are an arrogant jerk, rather than converting them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    Attacking someone’s beliefs doesn’t cause them to reject those beliefs. If anything, it will cause them to redouble their commitment to them, which can be an unfortunate situation when the beliefs involve things that have direct evidence for and against them in the real world — the most obvious way to confront counterfactual beliefs, such as the belief, for example, that homeopathy is effective as something other than a placebo, is to present the facts in opposition to the belief, but this often means that people who are emotionally invested in those beliefs will ignore the facts.

    Leaving aside the truth or falsity of your belief in Jesus, what you are describing is an entirely ineffective method of evangelism, that will leave people thinking you are an arrogant jerk, rather than converting them.

  • Anonymous

    If you think Judaism is a single question with a single answer, (and that that answer is Christianity) then you know absolutely nothing about Judaism.

    And if you think that Islam has pagan roots and Judaism and Christianity do not, then your ignorance of religious history in the Middle East is damn near complete.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=581585394 Nicholas Kapur

    I believe it is you who knows nothing about Judaism. Everyone knows Judaism can be summed up in a single word:

    Jesus?

    The answer to which was of course found by enlightened scholars two millennia ago:

    Jesus.

  • Anonymous

    wtf

  • ako

    I think (and hope) it was meant to be sarcasm. 

  • Anonymous

    Our story is not an argument? You’re wrong, but in a sense, right. If I point at the sky and say “the sky is blue”, and someone says “NO IT’S GREEN”… Just what can one gain by trying to see it from their perspective? All you can do is hand down to them the Truth, and let them make of it what they will.

    Not every culture treats blue and green as distinct colors. So if someone says, “No, it’s green,” it is entirely appropriate and entirely correct. Just because you have a particular cultural bias, does not mean that bias is shared by everyone else.

  • Anonymous

    Our story is not an argument? You’re wrong, but in a sense, right. If I point at the sky and say “the sky is blue”, and someone says “NO IT’S GREEN”… Just what can one gain by trying to see it from their perspective? All you can do is hand down to them the Truth, and let them make of it what they will.

    You must be a ton of fun at parties.

    Do you have no curiosity at all about why someone might perceive the sky differently? Do you not have something in common, in that you agree the sky is there, and has a quality of color?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Monorail. Monorail. MONORAAAAAIL.

    *Mono-d’oh*

  • hagsrus
  • ako

    I wish the troll was Graham Chapman.  It would be far funnier.  

  • Anonymous

    Today’s 365 Tomorrows story seems particularly appropriate. http://www.365tomorrows.com/06/16/abaddon/

  • Anonymous

    interesting discussion I must confess I don’t know that much about different atheist opinions and sides.

    So as somebody who has seen what happens when churches start infighting, so that people walk away from it:it isn’t a pretty sign.It can become pretty vicious because it can become a matter of pride and ego and a lot of people aren’t willing to work together on the things they must do.

    by the way.

    Monobraincell you might want to read Fred’s article because you aren’t helping.

  • http://brandiweed.livejournal.com/ Brandi

    Now I sort of feel like pointing people to the concepts of grue and bleen.

  • Anonymous

    tell them why Christianity is the answer to Judaism

    What was the question?

  • Consumer Unit 5012
    tell them why Christianity is the answer to Judaism

    What was the question?

    “Oh, Lord, why does this shit always happen to US?!” would’ve been an appropriate one prior to about the 1800s or so.   (Then Islam also jumped on the Antisemitic bandwagon, compared to their previous tolerance.)

  • Rikalous

    Oh, Lord, why does this shit always happen to US?!

    When the big guy chooses a people, he chooses them for tough love. No wonder they let his kid get nailed to a stick.

  • MaryKaye

    I have a friend who is tetrachromatic–she has one more color receptor than most people.  (One of her three daughters inherited this but the other two did not, making for interesting home-decorating arguments.)  She can therefore split green wavelengths substantially more finely than I can.

    If she says “These two things are different colors” and I say “No, they are the same color” we are both speaking absolute truth about what we perceive.  But we don’t perceive things the same.  Both sets of perceptions are filters–there is no objective answer to “what color is that?” though there can be such an answer to “what wavelength is that?”  The greenness is somewhere in the eye/brain interaction, and having different eyes and  brains, we see different colors.

    I think this is very cool.  I wish there were some way I could see her colors temporarily.  (She could probably be made to see mine, via filters which narrowed the transmitted “green” wavelengths, but seeing less colors is not as interesting as seeing more.)

    Oliver Sacks has written some very thought-provoking stuff on color, especially the section on the color-blind painter in _An Anthropologist on Mars._

    If I know anything about the gods for sure, it’s that they made us CURIOUS.  An incurious human is a sad creature indeed.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    If she says “These two things are different colors” and I say “No, they are the same color” we are both speaking absolute truth about what we perceive.

    Of course, the semantically CORRECT thing to say would’ve been “These two things seem to me to be the same/different color/s”.

    I’ve always liked Robert Anton Wilson’s take on General Semantics, and his lesson that just because we can SAY something that sounds absolutely certain doesn’t mean we should be is one that I think ought to be taught in gradeschools.

  • MaryKaye

    I am a scientist (evolutionary biology) and a Pagan, and I deeply resent any implication that I don’t exist or that I don’t do valuable science.

    In my lab I have had Catholics, Protestants, Pagans, Jews, agnostics, atheists, and people who don’t talk about religion.  We have a trade-off system whereby we cover each others’ holidays, religious or otherwise.  Every one of those people has been a dedicated scientist or programmer.

    No group of people has a monopoly on reason, logic, or dedication to the welfare of humanity.  Nor, alas, does any group have a monopoly on stupidity, willful ignorance, or bigotry.

  • Lonespark

    That holiday thing is one of many good reasons for diversity in hiring.

  • Go_4_tli

    MaryKaye: I wish there were some way I could see her colors temporarily.

    I know what you mean.  The mantis shrimp can see into the infrared and the ultraviolet, but even more interesting to me is that they can detect light polarization.  This isn’t just like seeing a new color — this is a sense we completely lack.  I wish I could see things the way they see them for a little while.

    Oh, and your point about curiosity is an excellent one, too.  I used to reflect much of Monoblade’s monomania, and one of the things that drove my faith to within a hair’s breadth of the breaking point was the deliberate incuriosity of my fellow Christians.  They not only didn’t understand my difficulties — they refused to talk about them and insisted that they didn’t even really exist.

    My faith has strengthened, but it saddens and frustrates me that I still can’t find the company of genuinely curious people among the Christians I know and fellowship with.  For that, I have to go to my agnostic, atheist, and Pagan friends.  Which is profoundly depressing, since you’d think of all the people on Earth, Christians would be all about trying to figure out what God is really like by coming to His creation and seeing what it’s really like with as few preconceptions about what they’ll find when they look as possible.  (Don’t you run the risk of idolatry otherwise?)

    It’s not really a good reflection on whether or not someone is honest if they make claims to know all about something while simultaneously refusing to look at it when it’s right in front of them.  This is true whether you’re talking about natural phenomena or other people’s beliefs.

  • Rikalous

    I’ve had friendly arguments before. I’ve also had friendly wrestling matches, and I think they’re pretty analogous. From the outside, it looks like the arguers or wrestlers are enemies, but beating them is a cherry on top, not the entire point. It’s really more about the joy of the struggle and about demonstrating your skill, wit, and courage.

  • Rikalous

    I’ve had friendly arguments before. I’ve also had friendly wrestling matches, and I think they’re pretty analogous. From the outside, it looks like the arguers or wrestlers are enemies, but beating them is a cherry on top, not the entire point. It’s really more about the joy of the struggle and about demonstrating your skill, wit, and courage.

  • BC

    Thank you, Fred.  This is the difference between the Billy Graham Crusade, which was in town for a short while and had many thousand converts, and a church in a neighborhood.  The church in a neighborhood will make the disciples.

  • Michael Straight

    Arguments about religion can be a lot of fun and they can sometimes
    even be productive. Their usefulness, though, is almost never a matter
    of persuasion, but rather of two friendly foes helping one another to
    clarify their own thoughts.

    “two friendly foes helping one another to clarify their own thoughts”

    What a great motto for talking about religion or anything we disagree about.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, what’s written across much of the sky (in the Northern Hemisphere, anyhow) are constellations whose designs long predate Christianity, many of which are drawn from Greek myth.  Heracles is up there, as is a unicorn and a physician holding a snake.  Also a housefly, for reasons I’m unclear about.

    On a whim, I wondered whether there have been any attempts by Christians over the years to remove all the “pagan” imagery in the constellations, so I did a Google search, and sure enough!

    Why do we live under a pagan sky? … Insofar as Christians are concerned, what now leers down at humanity on a nightly basis is something akin to a sleazy soap opera.  What ought to be the cosmic equivalent of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is, instead, a billboard advertising the grotesque superstitions of a bygone age.  Rather than landing atop the trash heap of history where they belong, the idols and cult figures of the ancient world ended up stitched over our heads across the fabric of space.

    (Emphasis mine.)

    The author redesigns the sky to remove all those antiquated gruesome images, replacing them with friendlier, more inspiring Christian fare like … Sodom’s Cinders.  Whoops!  Also, you’ll never believe this, but there’s a guy nailed to a cross up there now.

  • Anonymous

    Bu-bu-but…there’s *already* a cross in the sky.  Yeah, you have to go to the southern hemisphere to see it but it *is* there.

    http://ecuip.lib.uchicago.edu/diglib/science/cultural_astronomy/phenom_stars_images-2d.html

    Maybe the person you quoted would be happier living in Australia. 

  • Lonespark

    Hey, don’t forget the Spindle.  And Earendil’s Toe.  Also a wagon?

  • Bernard

    No comments?  Erm – late as it is – it’s worth observing that Jesus didn’t only have
    the Twelve as disciples.  The Twelve were those who became *apostles* – well,
    apart from Judas.  And apart from the elected substitute for Judas.  And apart
    from Paul.  And … at some points in the Gospels Jesus seems to have quite a lot
    of disciples.  At one point (variously related) he doesn’t even seem to have Peter.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Comments on older posts are only visible if you turn off javascript.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    This shouldn’t qualify as an older post though.  It’s post transition and the posts on either side still have their comments intact.

    I’ve just noticed that it actually does tally up the comments, sort of.  If I follow I link directly to your comment I will be told there are 146 comments.

    If, on the other hand, I follow a link directly to the page I’ll be told there are four.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Actually, there are comments.  There’s just something broken that is preventing them from showing.

    Patheos people, if you’re listening, there is a need for tech support here.

  • Caravelle

    Yeah, I am fairly confident that such an iconic post that I remembered what it was just from the title would have had a significant comment thread associated with it.


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