I’ve been triaging email as well as comments, but when someone contacts me for a Q&A and the first three questions are Q: Jen Fulwiler (another atheist-to-Catholic convert) recently pointed out that we Catholics are fond of giving atheists books on the faith. What do you think of this approach? and Q: Are there any books that you would recommend sharing with loved ones who are atheists? and Q. How big of a role did books play in your own conversion?, well, I guess Shameless Popery had my number. I’ve previewed two questions below, and you can read the rest chez lui.
Q. Jen Fulwiler (another atheist-to-Catholic convert) recently pointed out that we Catholics are fond of giving atheists books on the faith. What do you think of this approach?
I love giving people books on anything. But I think you have to gauge what engages the person and what background they’re coming in with. Some books might have good data, but bad tone (for example Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition has a really good introduction to Aquinas, but your atheist friend would have to have the patience of a saint to get past his snide asides at atheist writers).
And, ideally, any book exchange would be two-way. Ask your friend to share with you the books (philosophical or not) that have most informed their worldview. That way you’re tailoring your pitch to what your friend actually believes, not a straw man. If both of you are sharing recommendations and asking hard questions, it will push you both into a deeper consideration of your position, and, hopefully, the harder and more honestly you question, the easier it is for the truth to win out.
Q. In your interactions with Christians, what were the most productive techniques that you saw used in evangelizing for the faith? What were the least productive (or the counter-productive) techniques that you encountered?
In college, I ran into tabling Christians who had pretty much no familiarity with standard atheist objections (How are the truth claims of your sect differentiated from those of everyone else? Aren’t some of your requests (pray/read the bible until you feel God’s presence) tests that can never fail, even if your claims are false?). If they hadn’t grappled with common objections, I didn’t have a lot of confidence in their conclusions, whatever the pitch.
I was in a philosophical debating group, so the strongest pitch I saw was probably the way my Catholic friends rooted their moral, philosophical, or aesthetic arguments in their theology. We covered a huge spread of topics (R: Defeat McCain, R: All the World’s a Stage, R: Eat the Apple) so I got so see a lot of long and winding paths into the consequences of belief. I know this strategy may not be available to everyone, but all the more reason to bring back debating salon culture!
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I like talking much more than I like writing, and two religion-related radio shows were kind enough to invite me on for conversation. They each have some stuff you’ve heard me say on the blog before (everyone has to cover the background) but there’s some new stuff I liked commenting on.
Religion News Godcast: This is a new podcast (mine is the third episode), and I had a lot of fun talking with Dan and Kimberly. Near the end, I got to talk a bit about how postmodernism and the rhetoric of tolerance has taken the pressure off of fights, much to my sorrow. You can download the episode (and subscribe for their upcoming chats) at the link above. If you don’t have iTunes, use this link.
Drew Mariani Show on Relevant Radio: To get to this one, click on the link at left, and then go to 29:50 of the Hour 2 clip on June 22nd. Our discussion includes the following:
People are often made happy by things they shouldn’t be and not made happy by things they should be. And we know that’s true because there exist serial killers and people who don’t love math.