Hi guys! Love your ministry…I’m wondering what your opinion is about engaging ‘non-believers’ on the internet. – Mary M.


 

Much like interacting with non-believers face-to-face, the answer to this question really depends on the person, and the context of the situation.  The goal of an ambassador for Christ should always be to engage in meaningful, open-minded dialogue.  But much as our mothers told us that it “takes two to argue,” it takes two to have a meaningful discussion—if the non-believer isn’t willing to have that dialogue, and only wants to lob attacks at Christians or at Christianity, then we can’t force them to have that dialogue.  So to the non-believer willing to have a meaningful discussion, the internet is nothing more than another method through which we can reach more people.  To the non-believer who only wants to launch attacks and engage in an angry “Twitterbate,” the discussion is helpful for no one.

Think of it this way: Jesus had two very different approaches for dealing with two very different kinds of people.  He would often take time and teach with compassion those whom he perceived as being “sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).  On the other hand, when he came across those who were only interested in discrediting his message with dishonest attacks and leading the people he was trying to teach astray (such as the Pharisees), he did not treat them as sheep without a shepherd.  Rather, he exposed them to the people as hypocrites (see Matthew 23, for example).

However, unlike Jesus, we do not have the supernatural ability to look into someone and see which of these skeptics they are.  We must use discernment by looking at what they say and how they say it.  If someone starts off with an angry ad hominem attack and inherently refuses everything Christians say as the babbling of idiots and morons, then that person has revealed themselves.

For others it is more difficult.  But if we are to err, it would be better for us to err on the side of grace.  So until the person has revealed themselves in that manner, I would treat the non-believer as though he or she is willing to have a meaningful discussion, and then come to them where they are at, in the medium of their choice.  So whether that be Facebook, Twitter, email, or some other medium, we ought to come to the person where they are at.  If the choice is ours, the more private a conversation, the better—that helps keep the discussion from turning into a public debate forum.

In short, the internet is just another tool to do the same thing we have always been tasked with doing—teaching the good message that is Jesus Christ.  But as always, we must do so with the intent to engage in meaningful discussion and bring the lost to Christ, not out of some imagined obligation to always be on the winning side of a debate.  Jesus has already won the fight, and he certainly doesn’t need our cyberspace screaming matches.

19 COMMENTS

  1. Hi guys! Thank you so much for addressing my question for your Q&A post! Logan, you are such an inspiration, and your wisdom and intellect is inspiring. Yes, as ambassador’s of Christ, we should always ask ourselves, “what would Jesus do?”. Thank you for the reminder. Regardless of the situation, we must try to make it meaningful. I’m praying for discernment, as we all should.

    Keep of the great work guys. God Bless!

    Mary

  2. Hi Logan

    It may depend on the circumstances. In a philosophical or academic discussion it seem important to argue boldly, for as the Dalai Lama says, ‘Without contradiction there is no progress’. But for everyday discussion, evangelising, winning friends and missionary work your approach seems correct. My problem is getting the two situations muddled up and arguing inappropriately, so thanks for the reminder.

    A problem arises from the perception that a reluctance to argue may imply an inability to make a decent argument, but maybe there’s no avoiding this one.

  3. Speaking as a non-believer, I can cheerfully agree with Logan on this issue. There does exist a sub-culture of people who simply want to be vitriolic towards theists and the religious, and it can be nigh-impossible to have a productive dialogue with such people– incidentally, there are (of course) theists and religious people who bear a similar attitude and with whom dialogues are similarly unproductive.

    However, there do exist those of us who really are interested in the conversation, and who truly are trying to discern truth from falsehood. I’ve had a number of very productive conversations with Christians and other theists, and I hope to continue having such conversations in the future.

    • Wise words. “…There are (of course) theists and religious people who bear a similar attitude and with whom dialogues are similarly unproductive. However, there do exist those of us who really are interested in the conversation, and who truly are trying to discern truth from falsehood.” Hope to never be in the first camp of people, and always part of those trying to discern truth. Thanks for your comment!

  4. Much like interacting with religious believers face-to-face, the answer to this question really depends on the person, and the context of the situation. The goal of such discussions – vis-a-vis religious belief versus rational thinking, evidentiary standards, and critical scrutiny – should always be to employ and promote rational thinking, evidentiary standards, and critical scrutiny, and to point out and critique the pervasive factual errors and conceptual fallacies found in the rhetoric of religious belief. If the religious believer isn’t willing to have such a substantive dialogue, and only wants to lob attacks at atheists and atheism, and preach nonsense like creationism pseudoscience, and defiantly ignore any and all facts that prove the many statements he makes to be in error no matter how obtuse this demonstrates him to be, that’s perfectly fine. You can’t force a religious believe to think rationally, to apply critical thinking, to appropriately revise statements he has made based on the facts that show his claims to have been obviously wrong, to even deal with the substantive points at all.

    Keep in mind that that only goal most religious believers have in regard to engaging in such discussions with you is (1) to try to prop up their bogus beliefs in the face of the cognitive dissonance threat you represent as someone who simply doesn’t buy into their fantasies, from the very basic fantasies on, and (2) to try to “convert you” into a religious believer. The vast majority of such religious don’t have a clue what open-mindedness is. Oh, sure, they might know the word, but they’re so closed-minded tightly wrapped up in their little circular reasoning box of religious belief presuppositions built on their particular holy book and cultural religious traditions that they are deliberately unwilling to think straight in regard to anything they see as a threat to their “religious worldview.” Deal with the fallacies in their rhetoric and fix them? They’re not gonna do it. Deal with the facts you’ve presented and explained to them personally that shows why the statements they’ve just made to you are bogus? Not gonna happen. Which is why in public forums on the internet, engaging these religious believers in discussion is typically useful for the purpose of public demonstration only – (1) demonstration of how much religious rhetoric really is pervaded with fallacies and factual errors, and (2) demonstration of how much the religious mindset itself is fundamentally averse to rational thinking, averse to genuinely dealing with genuine evidence, and averse to critical scrutiny, and (3) exposing the sheer hypocrisy of religious rhetoric in regard to how religious believers try to arrogate words like “truth” and “honesty” and “morality” to themselves as if their particular religion has some magical monopoly on them, even while they’re demonstrating by the very manner of their discussion, through their own words showing their unwillingness to deal with fact and logic, just how anti-truth, dishonest, and defiantly against being honest they really are in regard to promoting their religious beliefs at all costs like any good snake oil salesman.

    So even discussions with such religious believers is helpful, in regard to publicly demonstrating the error-ridden and fallacy-permeated nature of religious rhetoric, as well as the hypocritical nature of that rhetoric, it’s sheer two-facedness.

    Of course, yes, sometimes you’ll encounter a religious believer who talks about things like “meaningful, open-minded dialogue” and *really means it*. After all, this is exactly where a huge number of atheists today have come from – they were religious believers genuinely open-minded and genuinely willing to deal with substantive points of logic and substantive points of fact, and who did so and realized how lacking in justification their religious beliefs really were. The scientifically bonkers nature of creationism belief is just one kind of avenue by which such realizations are catalyzed, for example. (But apparently a really significant one – Barna Group did a survey a few years ago that found that anti-science attitudes of fundamentalist/evangelical churches is the number three factor in causing young people to leave their church; not that all of them relinquish religious belief altogether and became atheists, of course, but many of them do, the anti-science nature of religious belief being one important factor in this.)

    So, again, in regarding to the interaction of such discussions, the question really depends on the person, and the context of the situation. We must use discernment by looking at what they say and how they say it. If someone demonstrates that he’s unwilling to deal with the substantive points of fact and logic that show that what he is saying is false, and/or otherwise fallacious, and can’t even seem to comprehend basic logic or revise his remarks in light of even the most obvious facts, then that person has revealed themselves, and even this is useful in the public venue, serving to publicly expose the inherently irrational nature of the religious mindset of believing in religious doctrine on the basis of religious faith regardless of fact and logic.

    But until the person has revealed themselves in that manner, I would treat the religious believer as though he or she is willing to have a meaningful discussion, and then come to them where they are at, in the medium of their choice. So whether that be Facebook, Twitter, email, or some other medium, we ought to come to the person where they are at. If the choice is ours, the more public the conversation, the better – this helps keep the discussion in the public eye so that regardless of what kind of person you’re dealing with, the information you’re taking the time to impart, the points of fact and points of logic you’re taking the time to articulate and explain, and explore the details of, may be useful to many more people than just the religious believer you’re interacting with. Additionally, there is the consideration – and this may be more important than you think – that one of the most effective ways by which the the irrational nature of belief in religious doctrines by religious faith is exposed is by religious believers themselves articulating their own argumentation and thus showing, “out of their own mouths” so to speak, just how anti-fact and anti-logic religious belief really is.

    In short, discussion forums on the internet are just another tool by which rational thinking, evidentiary standards, and critical scrutiny can be promoted – and, in this context, promoted in countering those who oppose them in seeking to promote their false religious beliefs.

    • Hi Steve

      “In short, discussion forums on the internet are just another tool by which rational thinking, evidentiary standards, and critical scrutiny can be promoted – and, in this context, promoted in countering those who oppose them in seeking to promote their false anti-religious beliefs.”

      There, fixed that for you.

      Do you imagine that all religious thinkers are fools? It seems so. Maybe you live in the US where religion does seem to have become rather weird, leading to its opponents becoming equally weird. If so I can understand why you would confuse religion with irrational a belief. .

      Your comments are wonderfully patronising.Perhaps you could explain why a religious thinker cannot be a ration thinker or what is rational about assuming this is not possible. .

      This sort of stuff makes me mad. It is not thoughtful. .
      .

      • Hi Peter,

        Apparently you didn’t realize how I was – purposely – more-or-less “mirroring” the original essay (with just a couple of novel points, I believe). I’m the one who fixed the original essay.

        And, of course, this means that your comments apply to the original essay. So I’ll just use what you said, as well…

        Do you imagine that all critics of religious belief are fools?

        The comments of the original essay are wonderfully patronizing. (Except, “wonderfully” is probably the wrong word to use here.) Perhaps you could explain why a critic of religious belief isn’t supposed to point out the irrational rhetoric employed by Christian apologists all the time. Take the original essay for instance. Just read the final paragraph – not a rational point in sight. I was just as patronizing as the original essay. I did it on purpose.

        The sort of stuff as the original essay makes me mad. It is not thoughtful.

        Not to mention the patronizing attitude of pretending my response was not thoughtful, which you use precisely for the purpose of not actually addressing any of my substantive points.

        Also – I’m now branching away from your remarks – rational thinking, evidentiary standards, and critical scrutiny are hallmarks of, for example, the scientific method – but they are certainly *not* hallmarks of religious faith and religious doctrines believed on the basis of religious faith and made up on the basis of religious myths and superstitions written down in some pretended holy book. Are you Mormon? No? Are you Muslim? No? Well, then – so you do actually know exactly what I’m talking about, since you don’t buy into the Book of Mormon or the Qur’an either. Religious faith isn’t reason. Religious faith isn’t evidence meeting the standards of good evidence. Religious faith isn’t critical scrutiny. (If it was, we wouldn’t have hundreds of millions of young earth creationists, old earth creationists, and intelligent design creationists – i.e., anti-evolutionists of various religious stripes.) Religious faith is religious faith – religious belief in religious notions regardless of critical thinking and even despite good evidence against them – because the pretended holy book says what it says, and what it says somehow came from some god, therefore it’s divine wisdom/knowledge, and who can argue against the obvious superiority of the mind of a god? Yes, religious faith is irrational, exactly as I pointed out. It is a fallacious epistemology, by the very nature of what it is.

        I found this red herring rather amusing, too – “Maybe you live in the US where religion does seem to have become rather weird, leading to its opponents becoming equally weird. If so I can understand why you would confuse religion with irrational a belief.” Yes, I totally agree. Catholic religious beliefs are weird. Episcopal/Anglican religious beliefs are weird. Lutheran religious beliefs are weird. Etc. Now, I’ll totally grant you that Mormonism is even weirder, not to mention Scientology, but Mormonism and Scientology certainly don’t hold any kind of monopoly on the weirdness of religious beliefs – and the traditional Christian religious beliefs are no less weird just because they’ve been around longer and are bought into by more people. The virgin birth myth is bizarre, and it’s plugged into an even more bizarre Christian soteriology story. A triune god (weird) impregnates a virgin (weird) to give birth to a god/human (weird), who then must be killed/sacrified to himself (weird) in order to forgive people. (If someone today tried this routine, claimed to be born of a virgin and claimed to be a god in human flesh, he wouldn’t be taken seriously, because it’s so weird.) And that’s not all the weirdness – this whole sacrifice theology actually derives from primitive tribal traditions going back thousands of years, from the animal sacrifices to various gods practiced by tribes of various cultures thousands of years ago. This is extremely weird stuff. (And don’t get me started on the utterly bizarre Catholic religious doctrine of Transubstantiation.) A god who created the entire universe (the observable universe being filled with hundreds of billions of galaxies) for some inexplicably bizarre reason needs animals to be killed and burned on altars, and will mess you up if you don’t do it.

        And I haven’t even mentioned the pigs possessed by demons yet.

        Nothing weird about these religious doctrines and religious beliefs at all. Of course not. Because the pretended holy book says so.

        Perfect example of the utter irrationality of religious belief.

        Another example: There are more young earth creationist Christians in the United States (and I don’t know how many in the rest of the world) than Mormons and Scientologists put together – Christians who believe in the traditional Christian creation doctrine based on religious myths in the pretended holy book, which other Christians have only dropped belief in in more recent times as science (predominantly geology, then later, astronomy) unequivocally falsified such religious doctrines and science awareness/education has become far more widespread among the general population. (The young earth creationists today are just the last holdouts.) And then besides the young earth creationists, there are still millions of anti-evolutionists – because of their irrational religious belief in religious doctrines based on religious myths in a religious book.

        And then if you come back with the standard “liberal” Christian cop-out that I shouldn’t take things so literally, that, for example, the people 2,800 years ago sacrificed animals to their god because that was just their own primitive cultural understanding, and it’s not to be taken literally as what God literally needed them to do, and the soteriology doctrine of the sacrifice of Jesus shouldn’t be taken literally but is just a metaphor, and the resurrection story is actually a myth but it too is a spiritual metaphor about how God renews our spirit by embracing Christianity and religious faith – my point is, yes, exactly, precisely because it’s too weird to be taken literally, which is why you can’t and have to make it figurative in order to cling to it even though because it isn’t literal you can never even deal with evidentiary considerations in the first place, because if it’s nonsensical in regard to how the real world actually works you just convert into a metaphor.

        So, yeah, it’s pretty funny how you falsely try to portray what I wrote as if it some kind of caricature – yet in fact, every general description I made is based directly on my personal experience with Christians (and a few Mormons and Muslims, by the way) and the types of arguments they use to try to justify their religious belief, and where I discussed the manner in which religious believers deliberately ignore the points of fact that contradict the bogus claims they make and deliberately ignore the errors of logic (fallacies) I point out in the arguments they employ I’m again speaking from direct experience. (The god-of-the-gaps fallacy is probably the most popular religious apologetics argument I encounter.) The honest Christian discussion participant, in my experience, is few and far between.

        • Hi Steve!

          Catching up on some reading–you have quite a bit here. Do you mind if I try to answer some of your questions. If it’s ok, I’d like to be one of those “honest Christian discussion participants” you like. Nate (below) was pointing that point out to you, but sometimes we miss things (happens to the best of us *smile*). So, with that said, I’m going to address your points and hope you will do the same with the points for me–no snide comments needed. Also, if I miss any, it’s because you have a lot of points and I am human, not because I am refusing to answer.

          First, “are all critics of religion fools?” No! I have met some delightful atheists who have challenged my worldview significantly. I’ve even been wrong about things I thought were true. But, that does not mean that God did not still fit the equation. There are still a much higher number of places I feel God fits better than atheism. With that, do you think anyone who promotes religion are foolish? Would you be open to dialog rational reason why I (and all the writers here ) believe God is true?

          Second, you bring a lot of “weird” things to the table. I agree! They are weird. But when I say weird, I mean they are different than what I’m used to. I’ve never heard of a virgin giving birth before the Jesus narrative. I’ve never heard of dead people raising up from the dead, or walking on water. That’s all weird (different). But then again, I’d never understood how a universe as complicated as we know it to be can be driven by luck and chance–also weird. I’ve never heard of nothing producing something (weirder yet). I’ve never understood why random mutations explain how we are the way we are, but if it was really random would we have any luck studying it? That would be weird. Truth is, there is a lot of organization and structure to the universe that makes science work. It would be really weird if there wasn’t. I say all that to say, both atheists and theists have weird stuff. Does weird need to be a deterrent?

          Third, creationism. To be honest, I don’t understand what you are getting at here. There is a difference of opinion how God used his time and when he created life. There is also contention among scientists how this happens without God. We all, atheist and theist, have a lot to learn about this.

          Fourth, I think you misunderstood something somewhere. Why do you assume Christians are trying to justify their belief? I personally think science does a great job of justifying my belief. Feel free to check out any of my articles to help illustrate that point (God of the Gaps, Macro-evolution, scientific atheism, would be good starts).

          I hope this spurs honest and caring dialog. My hope is you will find me (and Nate, Will, Logan, Alex, and Gene) to be people you can ask honest questions and get honest answers. I can’t promise we will agree, but you should see that we are not naive.

          Respectfully,

          Roger

          • Hi Roger!

            Lovely post,. I very much admire your calm and helpful approach. It’s a lesson to us all.

            Perhaps I can help a bit here. I am not a theist. I am also not an atheist. Most people assume that they must make a choice but this is an absurd idea. Do we really really imagine that the Ultimate Phenomenon, the phenomenon that would be left over for a complete and final reduction of the psycho-physical universe, the phenomenon that was there ‘before’ the big bang and still here in every moment right now, is so easy to understand that we can state confidently that ‘IT’ must either exist or not-exist? Wouldn’t his leave us unable to explain how Something came from Nothing? .

            Some thought shows that it is a profoundly naive view. It may not be wrong, perhaps the universe is naive, but there is clearly a more subtle and plausible view possible. This would be to say that God is limitless. We can read this phrase as literal or metaphorical, and I would not normally put it like this. I would say that that this phenomena is a Unity, such that it transcends the distinction between Existence and non Existence. It would be what we are. .

            This would be the God of the mystics. Some would say, Keith Ward for instance, that this was the God of Classical Christianity, the God of the ‘Mystical Theology’, the God that for Nicolas de Cusa lies beyond the ‘coincidence of contradictories.’.

            I thought that this may be a helpful point to make because it completely confuses the issues and permanently de-polarises the Theism-Atheism argument.

            If we acknowledge that we cannot conceive of God, defined as Ultimate, as any sane person would surely do, then the arguments for and against Hid existence start to look rather daft. Eckhart calls it ‘prating on’, The argument is important and I’m all for it, but the terms of the debate need to be laid out better. At this time the fiercest area of the debate is between two sides who do not;spot that there is an alternative because they are too busy trying to strangle each other.

            Physics needs a fundamental theory and so does Religion. It is not plausible that there are two theories that are true or even that there are two that would work, and so it must the case that they are looking for the same one. Under the circumstances some teamwork would seem to the best way forward, just in case the war between Science and Religion is actually unnecessary, and not a shouting match. .

            Unfortunately not many people are secure enough in their beliefs to join such a team and prefer to shout abuse at their opponents as if they are complete idiots, Even more unfortunately, sometimes they are.

            .

            .

    • Hi Steve,

      Which one of us, specifically, fits the cartoonish caricature you’ve painted all Christians to be? Feel free to name names. Gene, Logan, me, Alex, Roger, or Will? Or did you have some bad experiences with non-rational believers and now you’ve come to our site to project those experiences on all the rest of us?

      • Hi Nate,

        So you are not a young earth creationist, not an old earth creationist/intelligent design creationist, and not a theistic evolutionist, and you don’t believe in the virgin birth, and you don’t believe in the virgin birth as a mythological metaophor either. And I must have got all that wrong about animal sacrifices in the Bible, that’s not really there, I just made it up.

        Yes, please do tell me more about the sophisticated theology of Bible belief that demonstrate how not irrational it really is.

        Nate, don’t you think it’s beneath you to try to pretend that religious believers with the varying Christian beliefs I described do not exist? I even mentioned “liberal” Christians – but none of these covers you. Oh, I certainly agree that among “Christian religious belief” there is a wide range of beliefs, but I just think it’s amusing how I point out specific example of the irrational nature of it – and your entire response is like, ‘Well, none of those hundreds of millions of Christian religious believers who believe what they believe in on the basis of religious faith are rational, but I’m not like any of them, so you didn’t in any way describe the nature of how I believe what I believe in regard to Christian religious belief.’

        Which actually means that you agree with me about the irrational beliefs with the examples of real Christian believers I pointed out, but I somehow just didn’t quite manage to cover the 1.6% of Christian religious believers you’re talking about that you fall into. All right, please do tell.

        • Steve, I asked a simple question. Is it Gene, Logan, me, Alex, Roger, or Will? If you don’t know the answer then what are you so mad about? Go be mad at the hundreds of millions of Christians worldwide that you’ve (apparently) personally met and know for certain fit the characterization you’ve given them.

          • Ah, yes, I’m just mad. Don’t address my points, because I’m just mad.

            Hey, if pretending I didn’t really point out anything, because I’m so mad helps you feel better, please go right ahead.

            And I’ll continue to point out that what you are trying to pretend is “caricature” is nothing of the sort.

          • Steve, how can you chide me for not addressing your points when you still haven’t answered the original question I asked? As a matter of fact, you didn’t even answer the questions PeterJ asked. What’s your goal here, Steve? To engage those who have differing points of view or to write long-winded speeches?

  5. Well said. Another point worth making is that in public forums like Facebook etc. a reasoned and graceful response or discussion may not do a lot to the person arguing, but there is also usually an audience, including those who may well never have heard the Gospel presented or some of the arguments countering the atheist dogma – just as (really a very pale imitation of) Jesus’s parables or sayings were often meant for those hearing, not only the object of His comment.

  6. Hi Steve

    I see that you have nothing to say about religion other than the belief systems that I would also criticise so I doubt we can have a sensible discussion. Maybe one day you’ll dig deeper. Until then we can agree to differ. I just wish people would do their homework.

    It is very insulting to assume that you can dismiss me as a fool using such blatantly ill-informed and naive arguments, aka the ‘Dawkins approach’. It means that I am not able to agree that you are being reasonable or giving your opponents any consideration. It is just opinion-spinning.

    It’s not worth arguing at this level of debate, Sorry to be outspoken but this approach to an important topic makes me despair of human rationality.

    • Hi Peter,

      I see you are demonstrating the “sensible discussion” and the sophisticated rationality of Christian religious beliefs that my “blatantly ill-informed and naive arguments” don’t have anything to do with.

      Oh, wait… You haven’t done anything of the sort. Vacuous insinuation makes such brilliant argumentation.

  7. “But if we are to err, it would be better for us to err on the side of grace.”

    Good advice from Logan, albeit not easy to follow. I will take it and gracefully decline to reply. .

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