How to Convert Atheists

by Luke Muehlhauser on August 13, 2009 in How-To

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Continuing in the vein of Adam Lee’s The Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists and How Not to Convert an Atheist, I’d like to give some advice to Christians on how they might convert atheists.

Be realistic

First, realize that most atheists can’t be persuaded. Most people are too entrenched in their central beliefs to ever be dislodged. And most atheists just won’t be interested to talk to you about religion. Once you start talking about magic and atoning sacrifice and all that, they’ll roll their eyes and move on to something that’s more important to them.

So this isn’t a guide on how to convert any atheist. Rather, it’s a guide for how to persuade those atheists who can be persuaded.

Don’t be stupid

Persuading atheists is kind of like picking up chicks. You’re 80% of the way there if you just avoid the really big mistakes that most people make. Most of what you have to do is just not be stupid.

bullhornUnfortunately, most Christians only use stupid approaches, so it’s no surprise they get turned away every time. Here are some simple rules on things to avoid:

  1. Don’t quote the Bible. Would you convert to Hinduism if somebody quoted the Vedas? Of course not. An ancient, mythological book is just an ancient, mythological book until after you accept the religion. Quoting a book with as much cruelty and absurdity as the Bible is going to make atheists laugh at you or get angry, and it definitely won’t persuade them.
  2. Don’t mention creationism or deny evolution. This makes you look really stupid, like those who believe in astrology or deny the theory that the sun, not the earth, is the center of the solar system. Take St. Augustine’s words to heart: “…a non-christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world… Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian… talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.”
  3. Don’t pretend Christianity is morally superior. The atheist probably feels he is a moral person, and will feel insulted if you tell him he is morally inferior for not being a Christian. Besides, the atheist probably knows Christianity is among the most violent religions ever, and encourages violence and prejudice in its Scriptures, whereas other religions like Jainism and Wicca don’t have such a violent history or violent scriptures.
  4. Don’t tell atheists what they think. Christians often say things like, “How can you believe that a monkey gave birth to a human, or that life popped out of some grey goo?” The atheist probably doesn’t believe any such thing. Let him speak for himself. Atheists have a wide variety of beliefs, just like Christians do.
  5. Don’t use threats. Don’t tell them they’ll go to hell if they don’t believe. That’s no reason to believe, it’s just a threat of violence. Try to convince atheists with reason, instead.
  6. Don’t psychologize. Don’t pretend to know why the atheist believes what he believes. Don’t say things like, “You must hate God” or “You just want to live a selfish life.” Maybe the atheist denies God because he doesn’t see any evidence – the same reason you deny Vishnu and fairies.
  7. Don’t evade serious questions. Atheists may ask heavy questions like “If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why does he allow so much innocent suffering?” or “If God wanted to reveal himself to us, why did he do it through a contradictory and confusing Bible that has led to thousands of splits in Christian theology, so that almost nobody – if anybody - heard the revelation correctly?” Don’t evade these questions with answers like “God is mysterious” or “He has a plan that we can’t understand.” That just looks suspicious, and it looks like you haven’t even grasped the implications of your own worldview.
  8. Don’t assert things you can’t defend. Christians often memorize points from an apologetics book but don’t bother to study whether those points are true or why they are supposedly true. An atheist has heard most of these before, and has a ready answer. If the atheist gives an answer and you say, “Uh, well, how about this…” and move on to another topic, you’re only going to look foolish and ignorant.

Good things to do

The easiest way to avoid these mistakes is to not talk to atheists, but that’s not going to convert anyone! So you have to do some things, to. Here’s what you should do in conversations with atheists:

  1. Consider atheism seriously and honestly. Atheism is a view with serious intellectual clout; most philosophers and scientists are atheists. So don’t shrug off atheism as if it’s not worth your consideration. Go out of your way to try to understand the atheist’s view, and especially why they think atheism is true. Consider their points openly and honestly, with the conscious understanding that you could be wrong, and they might be right. Everybody likes to have their views honestly and fairly evaluated, and atheists are no different. Since Christians almost never consider atheism seriously, you’ll win a lot of points with atheists if you do this. They’ll see you as a different breed of Christian, one actually worth talking with.
  2. Explore the truth openly. Don’t talk to atheists from the place of apologetics: the place of starting with your conclusions and then using reason to back them up. Rather, embark on an open and honest search for truth. Tell atheists you’re not sure about Christian faith, but you’re inclined to believe it… and then give your reasons. When atheists make a good point, say “Yeah, you might be right about that. Let me think about that.” Atheists will respect you if you’re on an honest search for truth, even if they disagree with where that search has lead you.
  3. Admit mistakes. The easiest part of this is to admit the mistakes of Christians you disagree with. Hopefully you’re not a creationist or Biblical literalist. Openly admit these as mistakes, and show that you’re open to recognizing that huge parts of original Christian doctrine are wrong. The harder part of this is to admit mistakes when you make them. For example, perhaps an atheist points out where you employed a logical fallacy. Admit your mistake, and then restate your argument without using a fallacy if possible. This is huge. Atheists will respect you for this and will want to talk with you more often about your faith. Admitting your mistakes is very impressive.
  4. Come prepared. Actually study philosophy of religion, historical method, epistemology, and so on. Study the arguments for God and present the best ones in their strongest form. Study popular atheistic arguments and be prepared to give solid – not evasive – answers to them. Listen to 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
  5. Gently point out flaws in the atheist’s reasoning. Everyone makes flaws in their reasoning, and atheists are no exception. But people don’t like their flaws being pointed out, so try to approach their flaws from a curious standpoint, not an attacking standpoint. Example: “You say you reject God because there’s no evidence for him: he’s invisible and mysterious. But you believe in intrinsic moral values and intrinsic moral rights, for which there is also no evidence, and which are also invisible and mysterious. I don’t understand. Could you explain why you reject God but accept the existence of intrinsic moral values?”
  6. Appeal to reason and evidence, not faith or personal experience or Scripture. Atheists don’t see any use for faith, which they see as “believing without evidence.” To the atheist, “I believe becauase I have faith in God” sounds as silly as “I believe in astrology because I have faith.” Likewise, your personal mystical experiences with God aren’t going to convince the atheist. The atheist didn’t have those experiences, and can’t verify them. Besides, the atheist knows that billions of other people around the world claim personal experiences with contradictory gods and spirits and aliens, so he doesn’t see personal experience as reliable evidence. And we already talked about the problems with Scripture. Instead, defend Christianity with reason and evidence, two methods of truth-finding the atheist already accepts.
  7. Show good humor. At some point, the atheist may resort to mocking you for believing in “magic” or “Jesus the man-god zombie Lord.” Don’t react with anger; that just shows you have thin skin, which confirms an atheist stereotype of religious people. Instead, show good humor and draw the conversation back to reason and evidence.
  8. Offer a trade. Offer to read a particular atheistic article or book if the atheist you’re talking to will read a particular Christian article or book. Then, pick up the conversation later and ask questions about the Christian thing they read, and answer their questions about the atheistic thing you read, showing that you actually read and thought about it.
  9. Invite them into a world of friendliness, community, and emotional support. This is my best advice. Reason and evidence is the best way to persuade a truth-loving skeptic, but many atheists will convert if you simply invite them to a life that is happier with Jesus than their life was without him. Show them that Christians are fun and friendly. Invite them to a Christian party and show them all the fun things Christians do together. If the atheist is broken in some area of their life, show them how comforting life in the Christian bubble can be. The atheist may join the faith for emotional reasons, and then later justify his emotional choice with reason and evidence.

Now, how do I end this? Um… “Good luck”?

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{ 77 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael August 13, 2009 at 9:42 pm

Great list — doesn’t leave much does it?
But on a meta level I don’t think we can expect most believing Christians to agree with it. Even though it’s accurate, most Christians would probably find it patronising because they’d believe it mischaracterises Christianity (in the same way atheists might take offence at the other lists. Maybe we need a “How to Write a ‘How to Convert Atheists Guide for Theists’ for Atheists” :)

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IntelligentDasein August 13, 2009 at 9:55 pm

Nice list. I would have added “don’t mention Stalin or Mao being an atheist” to the moral superiority part, but that is a small thing. I would like to see you write a “how to talk to religious people without being pretentious” guide for atheists also. Alot of non-believers seem to have a problem admitting that some religions are harmless and others have some positive points.

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Alex August 14, 2009 at 3:20 am

Hi Luke, I’ve enjoyed lurking around your blog for a few weeks, this being my first post.
Can anyone name a successful conversion using these above-board tactics? I’d wager that they are few and far between, the fact of the matter is that Christians are far more successful with their dodgy tactics than they would be if they tried to do things honestly. I hate to use terms like ‘preying on the week’ but this seems to me to be exactly how they get their numbers, some people are far more susceptible to the sly tactics you see Christians use all the time (because lets face it, they’ve spent 2000 years refining the ancient art of proselytizing, if there were a more successful way they would be using it) . Also, how exactly is anyone ever going to convert to Christianity if a sincere sounding appeal to scripture isn’t made at some point.

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lukeprog August 14, 2009 at 4:21 am

Alex,

I think you’re right – the very last piece of advice on my list is by far the most successful, and widely practiced. And there is indeed a major focus on “vulnerable” people. Christian missionaries don’t seem to expend much effort on scientists or college professors. They evangelize at prisons and rehabilitation centers and to the third-world poor.

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hewhocutsdown August 14, 2009 at 4:32 am

This is definitely ‘methodology’ I utilize, if one can call it that. I have caught flak from other Christians for not cutting off friendships that don’t look like they will end in conversion, and have some stalemate conversations with my Muslim friends, but if they’re built atop relationships of mutual love and respect, you can weather those and continue the relationship; it’s not dependent on the person converting or not (a form of manipulation otherwise).

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Reginald Selkirk August 14, 2009 at 6:06 am

Maybe the atheist denies God because he doesn’t see any evidence – the same reason you deny Vishnu and fairies.

Kyle excepted, of course.
 

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Reginald Selkirk August 14, 2009 at 6:09 am

I think you wrong about arguing on grounds of reason. I think a survey of atheists who have converted would show that emotional appeal is more effective. Consider Francis Collins, who was looking for that warm fuzzy feeling that reality failed to offer him.
 

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Lorkas August 14, 2009 at 6:21 am

Reginald Selkirk: Kyle excepted, of course.

lol

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Ryan August 14, 2009 at 6:44 am

Actually, I think the rest is meant to clear the way for an emotional conclusion. I mean think about it, do you want to convert to a religious group that you think reasons like crap? No, you’ll have written them off as obviously wrong and stupid. Instead, if you see somebody intellectually hold their ground, you will have some willingness to let their emotional appeals get at you, because you don’t have your intellectual concern holding you back as much.

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lukeprog August 14, 2009 at 7:21 am

Yeah, notice that the “emotional fuzzies” tactic was “my best advice.” Ryan, you put it well when you say that the tactics of fairness and rationality clear the way for an emotional conversion. Bill Craig converted for the fuzzies, too, as he admits in his testimony.

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drj August 14, 2009 at 8:06 am

A slight variant to the “God is mysterious” point that I see frequently, is the “You’re incapable of understanding X about God’s nature, because you [aren't Christian/havent been saved/received His Grace etc]“.   This is a common escape plan for some theists in conversations about apparent contradictions in God’s nature… and always sure to be a conversation stopper.

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Mark Van Steenwyk August 14, 2009 at 8:14 am

Do you have a list for how to convert religious people? I wish folks of all kinds would follow a similar logic when trying to pursuade others of their beliefs.

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Matt Oxley August 14, 2009 at 11:49 am

I can appreciate your suggestions here. It certainly would make any conversation had between Christians and Atheists much more enjoyable. I get tired of ignorant Christians trying to proselytize me and doing everything wrong.
I don’t think anything written here will work, but at the very least we won’t want to pull our hair out in the midst of conversation, and I quite enjoy the discussions I have with my Christian and clergy friends when they follow similar guidelines.

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Logic Rocks August 14, 2009 at 12:27 pm

I don’t know what is more stunning: the wit in the OP, or the absolute missing of the point in the comments so far.
I shall direct theists to your handy guide on how to convert me, and I shall embrace their efforts with enthusiasm.  As long as they follow your guide, I really don’t see how your pointers can fail to have the desired effect.
Good job, OP.  Good job.

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lukeprog August 14, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Mark,

How to convert religious people to atheism? I’m not sure. I suspect much of it has to do with removing barriers, for example the cultural stigma that is placed on atheists.

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Uruk August 14, 2009 at 7:09 pm

Very good post. I enjoyed it very much. Your post embodies something that I’ve been trying to express myself, but can’t quite put into words. It would do us all some good to explore and give someone with opposing views the benefit of the doubt– even if we grant this for only a few short moments. If Christians would do this (and I’ve met some that do) they would at least get along better with the atheist community. And probably each other, too.
Are you sure this is a guide to help Christians convert atheists? Your ideas are great! However, if a Christian seriously followed through with your ideas, he or she might end up becoming an atheist rather than converting one!  What that your secret plan all along?  LOL!

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toryninja August 14, 2009 at 8:27 pm

I’m not so sure about the “don’t quote the Bible” comment. If you were trying to convert me to Atheism you would point me to whatever literature you thought supported your view – maybe even your own blog. Maybe the Christian will be able to add some of what he thinks is good insight from quoting the Bible. I’ve also met several atheists who said they read the Gospel of John and were absolutely captivated by the man Jesus (just like WLC for e.g). They than converted to Christianity. This is not an everyday occurrence but it isn’t rare either. 

Rather, I think the point you should be trying to make is that the Christian should not quote the Bible wily nily with the assumption that the Atheist will either a) understand the point you are trying to make or b) take what you are quoting seriously without any justification. Whatever is quoted should be used in conjunction with reason and logic rather than just be a conversation stopper.
Actually, I think I would probably want to tweek all your don’ts. I would encourage you to re-read your article as one being written to atheists trying to convert Christians (like in my example above and obviously with the categories reversed and adapted as needed). I think your article would make all the same points but you would add a little more clarification of what you are trying to say. (Notice I’m not disagreeing with your post, rather I think it could be made slightly better if you made it more clear and slightly more consistent instead of stacked in the atheists favour).
Also, I disagree that a Christian should admit that “huge parts of original Christian doctrine are wrong”. I think it is up to the atheist in the conversation to actually back up something like that before a Christian just admits it. There may very well be huge amounts of original Christian doctrine that is wrong but would it be very rational of me to admit that without the atheist first showing me their line of thought on the matter? Should you not be advocating reason rather than just wily nily giving away the farm?
Overall though I personally liked the posting and think one following these points would make dialogue between a Christian and an Atheist much more fruitful than if these points were largely ignored.

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Steven Carr August 14, 2009 at 11:07 pm

The best advice for Christian theists is ‘Don’t scare people’.

If atheists point out passages in the Bible where people are struck dead, don’t scare the atheist by pointing out that God has the right to kill them too whenever he wants.

Instead, try to show a human emotion , pity, sympathy, sorrow, regret. There are plenty to choose from. Pick one, and practice it.

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Sabio August 15, 2009 at 1:58 am

Excellent !  I might add:
Don’t assume an atheist is “searching” just because they are reading religious material.  There is a huge difference between “searching” and “exploring”.  Christians assume that “He who searches will find” and thus take false hope when they find an atheist willing to explore their faith.

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Lee A. P. August 15, 2009 at 7:08 am

I know this post is about how to convert an atheist, not so much what evidence would work but…

According to the Christian there is a hidden world just chalk full of supernatural creatures. Any sort of proof of the supernatural would cause me to have to reevaluated my world view. Christianty would have to come back into consideration. We have siphisticated survallience and media all over the world and not one single, clear proof of supernatural entities can be found. Not one. The often scoffed at comparisons with trolls, faries ect. is true.

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Anoat Ozzel August 15, 2009 at 3:54 pm

Love you post.  I get very frustrated when smarmy attitude mixes with rehearsed igornance, and that is precisely what I see when receiving the Good News and less offensively when a aquaintance of mine has to recite some mindless babble about personal miracles and Christ’s Blessings in their life.    
To the Christians out there, Please come up with an original thought, bring something new to the conversation before you whisper or shout your trite, bronze age garble! 

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Janet Holmes August 15, 2009 at 6:53 pm

“I’ve also met several atheists who said they read the Gospel of John and were absolutely captivated by the man Jesus (just like WLC for e.g). They than converted to Christianity.’
Captivated by a bloke who goes round declaring that he is ‘the light and the way’ in the  most ludicrously megalomaniacal way imaginable? Astonishing …
 

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Steven Carr August 16, 2009 at 1:06 am

The Jesus of John’s Gospel was a madman who thought he was Jesus.

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Alicia August 16, 2009 at 1:26 am

I do not believe there is anything one can ’SAY’ to an atheist that would cause an instantaneous conversion to Christianity. I do believe that faith is a gift from God.
 You either “get it” or you don’t and In today’s world the latter is much more likely (unless your on death bed) 
Also, It is rather easy to argue the nonexistence of  God & feel superior when debating uneducated Christians. (In the END you are only arguing with yourself) Common sense tells me  God exists , life is not ’by chance’. 
But I did not always know him and sadly denied his existence. (That pains /shames me to write) 
I used to get SO ANGRY when I would see those christians (Mostly the poor ignorant ones) preaching and pushing there religion on everyone. Where did that anger come from? Why would I even care what they thought or did? I believe…
That anger does not come from a good place. In fact, it may be an evil influence  because after I started believing in God, I never got angry with them again.
Supprisingly enough I never got ” Sleep Paralasis” again either!!! 
Good & Evil do exist in our world.I am not going to preach . 
The very few atheists that find their way back to God are miracles  in themselves and if you are one of those miracles pray that you stay ‘found’…There will always be a reason for you to doubt your faith. The next ”scientific explanation” is right around the corner……
Catholic Girl Again

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Stephen August 16, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Is this satire or are you serious? LOL.  A desperate attempt. Atheists are the fastest growing group and there will be a time where we won’ t need to listen to blind ignorant people who rely on suerstition and fairytales to fill the gaps in their knowledge. What a sucker! Do you not realise that most atheists were theists but they did something very rare to you people, they thought for themselves! Atheists tend to be more educating on the religions than theists. Why don’t you read the bible and then decide. There is crazy shit in there!
[
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smartatheist.blogspot.com 

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toryninja August 16, 2009 at 9:16 pm

Janet Holmes: “I’ve also met several atheists who said they read the Gospel of John and were absolutely captivated by the man Jesus (just like WLC for e.g). They than converted to Christianity.’ Captivated by a bloke who goes round declaring that he is ‘the light and the way’ in the  most ludicrously megalomaniacal way imaginable? Astonishing …

Laugh all you want – it happens.

Stephen: Is this satire or are you serious? LOL.  A desperate attempt. Atheists are the fastest growing group and there will be a time where we won’ t need to listen to blind ignorant people who rely on suerstition and fairytales to fill the gaps in their knowledge. What a sucker!

Well, given that atheists normally either 1) don’t have kids or 2) abort the ones they do have I’m not so sure there will ever be a time when religion will disappear.

Also, from a purely evolutionary perspective religious belief bestows too much of a survival advantage to ever disappear. It provides hope, reason to live, etc. Atheism is only able to provide these things within a context of religious belief. Get rid of all religion and atheism becomes rather meaningless.

Now none of this makes Christianity or any religion true. That’s not my argument. My argument is that religion will never disappear – ever. And even if the religions as we know it now were to disappear (they won’t) they would just be replaced with some other form of religion.

Also, given all your shrill hyperbole you probably should read an article on how to dialogue with Christians. Making fun of people’s sacred cows will get you nowhere ;)

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toryninja August 16, 2009 at 9:16 pm

For some reason it put my response in the quote. So here is what I said:
Well, given that atheists normally either 1) don’t have kids or 2) abort the ones they do have I’m not so sure there will ever be a time when religion will disappear.
Also, from a purely evolutionary perspective religious belief bestows too much of a survival advantage to ever disappear. It provides hope, reason to live, etc. Atheism is only able to provide these things within a context of religious belief. Get rid of all religion and atheism becomes rather meaningless.
Now none of this makes Christianity or any religion true. That’s not my argument. My argument is that religion will never disappear – ever. And even if the religions as we know it now were to disappear (they won’t) they would just be replaced with some other form of religion.
Also, given all your shrill hyperbole you probably should read an article on how to dialogue with Christians. Making fun of people’s sacred cows will get you nowhere

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efrique August 16, 2009 at 9:20 pm

> “… why they think atheism is true…”
Say what??
I don’t “think atheism is true”! I AM an atheist – it’s a description of my lack of belief in gods. I don’t think atheism is true any more than I think empiricism is ‘true’ – neither have a truth value.
Did you mean “why they lack belief in gods”?
 

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lukeprog August 16, 2009 at 10:11 pm

efrique,

Do gods exist?

I suspect you will answer, “No.”

Why? I’ll bet you have some good reasons.

You think atheism is true, and you have reasons for that. (If you’re like most atheists.)

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Kevin August 17, 2009 at 9:38 am

This is what I belive to be truth: Check it out. Explore, watch messages.
http://www.lifechurch.tv/welcome

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Jeff H August 17, 2009 at 1:53 pm

Kevin, how is that different from any other church/denomination? What, you believe in satellite broadcasts? I don’t even understand…

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dan August 17, 2009 at 8:31 pm

Luke said:
‘Persuading atheists is kind of like picking up chicks. You’re 80% of the way there if you just avoid the really big mistakes that most people make.”
 
LOL! Great line, Luke.

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Matthew Hamilton August 18, 2009 at 7:59 am

Nice try, Christians. Here’s a lovely copy of our home game…

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JohnnieCanuck August 29, 2009 at 10:08 pm

Delightful post. The comments are the icing on an already lovely confection. Rock hard Logic is the only way to consider these things.
I am looking forward to being converted by someone who has taken your advice to heart. Congratulations.
 

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Travis September 26, 2009 at 7:37 pm

Excellent advice, Luke! BTW – is Luke short for Lucifer? (c;

I have to point out one of the all-time worst mistakes theists make when talking to me (and trying to get me to swallow the same dogma that they’ve already fallen for) that you just happened to miss. The “I’ll pray for you” gambit.

*sigh* This is SO exasperating and ineffective. It’s certainly not designed to convince anyone of anything. It’s more of a threat. Like they’ll “have the last laugh” as you’re damned. But, all that is nestled in a smug, phoney, holier-than-thou attitude as if they’re doing you some kind of favor and being better than you.

(this ruse is so transparent)

Thoughts?

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lukeprog September 26, 2009 at 7:58 pm

Yeah, all you can do with “I’ll pray for you” is sigh. :)

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Nikki October 1, 2009 at 6:31 am

Why not believe?
If Christians are right and you do believe in Jesus and die then go to heaven that’s Great, if you believe in Him and there is no heaven then you are no worse off, are you?
So what is wrong with believing?

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drj October 1, 2009 at 7:06 am

Nikki: Why not believe?
If Christians are right and you do believe in Jesus and die then go to heaven that’s Great, if you believe in Him and there is no heaven then you are no worse off, are you?
So what is wrong with believing?

Well, if we really want to be rigorous about it, what we need to do is invent some sort psych personality test that will help us discover which possible afterlife will fit us the best – or which eternal punishment we could tolerate the least. Then we could choose our religions accordingly.

I for one, don’t think some ethereal world where we sing choruses of praise to God for all eternity is all that appealing – so some forms of Christianity are out for me… but the 72 virgins that some Muslims expect… well I gotta say that sounds tempting. If I’m to maximize my chances of having the most pleasant possible afterlife for me, I should probably worship Allah.

As for eternal punishments… While I think nearly everyone would find that burning in a lake of fire for all eternity is pretty miserable, it is actually a very generic torment. What if we find out that some other type of punitive afterlife would cause you more anguish than Christian Hell? If so, you should probably seriously consider believing in that God… because even if its only slightly worse than the Christian Hell… its actually infinitely worse. If there is a non-zero chance of the religion being true… then you need to believe in it in order to place the best wager!

These are just a few of the things any good gambler must take into account… if we are to maximize our reward and minimize our risk…

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Anthony November 17, 2009 at 11:42 am

I’m an atheist and I didn’t buy this crap.

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Tshepang Lekhonkhobe January 7, 2010 at 1:21 pm

to drj: superb and humorous rebuttal

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Nathan Jacobson February 10, 2010 at 4:15 am

I remember that one of the questions you asked Tim Challies was what areas of common cause could be found between believers and nonbelievers. I appreciated the question, and I consider civility, reason, and respect in persuasion to be just such a cause. I take the principles you outline to be broadly agreeable and much needed in every realm of controversy. Christian and atheist thinkers can be voices for and examples of civil discourse to their own communities and to the broader culture as well, though it will take eschewing the Comforts and Meyers in favor of other voices, like Koukl and Shermer. For what it’s worth, this theme is a constant preoccupation in my own writing (bit.ly/bnu5Hf). Consider me an ally in the cause of civil and truth conducive discourse.

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James February 13, 2010 at 8:04 pm

were you high when you wrote this or do you live on your own planet all the time?

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nili February 25, 2010 at 8:12 am

This was helpful i just found out that one of my friends is atheist. I dont know exactly what i will do but both of us have a lot of things in common. I was with my mom and her friend when they converted an atheist so i do know some.

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Zachary Karry June 19, 2010 at 10:11 pm

As an athiest I feel that I should say that the poster of this blog is dead on on what we DON’T want to hear, however the bottom line is none of you will ever convert an educated athiest because we all fully understand our position without any namby pamby acceptance of ridiculousness.

The whole “emotional support” thing would work on those of us who don’t fully understand why god doesn’t exist, but for those of us who do, it’s like saying “look, christians can have fun, I guess they’re not totally wasting away in their silly cult.”

It’s far easier for us to convert christians to athiesm. I got my girlfriend out of 20 years of indoctrination in a salvation army officer household simply by asking her if a just god would send me to hell for using my brain.

And her dad, still an officer in the salvation army. All it took for him was the question “why do you believe this instead of Islam, or Hinduism?”.

He replied “tradition”. Which was easy to destroy.

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pen July 8, 2010 at 12:53 am

Example: “You say you reject God because there’s no evidence for him: he’s invisible and mysterious. But you believe in intrinsic moral values and intrinsic moral rights, for which there is also no evidence, and which are also invisible and mysterious. I don’t understand. Could you explain why you reject God but accept the existence of intrinsic moral values?”

This is flawed if I’m not mistaken. Not every atheist may believe in intrinsic moral values or see any moral value to truly be intrinsic. For example, I don’t think that donating to charity is good just because it’s good, I think it’s good because it helps to produce a better society.

Also, a concept like a moral value is not invisible or mysterious. It’s a concept that you can either accept or reject. A Deity, is a completely different issue because if he/she wanted to, he/she could make herself visible and detectable by empirical observation as well as reveal his/herself to whoever he/she chose. (putting an end to the mystery). Moral values and deities can’t be compared in such ways, it’s like comparing apples and sneakers.

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Jane August 4, 2010 at 4:17 am

I’m sorry to say this, but I kind of find this website offensive. I am an atheist, but I respect you enough not to try to change what you believe so shouldn’t you do the same? Honestly?

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lukeprog August 4, 2010 at 7:49 am

Jane,

No, I think we should try to change what people believe. Why? Because beliefs have moral consequences. But I’m open to changing my mind. Why is it that you think we ought not try to change people’s minds?

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Mike August 6, 2010 at 1:37 am

Seriously shut the fuck up. You should respect the way people choose to live their lives. As an atheist i would never disrespect or try to change anybody elses religious beliefs. You shouldn’t be trying to convert anybody from atheism or any other religion. Just because I don’t believe in a god/gods doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. You don’t need a god to be moral. If I tried to convert you, you would most likely just say no and its no different when you try to do it to me. So you should really go kill yourself and take your discriminating ways with you. Kthnxbye.

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Jane August 6, 2010 at 4:50 am

Personally I believe atheists who follow moral standards are much better people than Christians. Christians need a higher power to threaten them into doing good, “You’ll go to Hell if you steal.” So Christians don’t steal because “It is against the bible” Atheists don’t steal because taking is wrong.

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Helena August 16, 2010 at 3:21 am

I’m an atheist and I hate it. I think it is scary. I would love to believe in a god, any god. It doesn’t even have to do anything for me. I loved being a kid. Your responsibilities were few and your parents would always help you out when things are bad. Later just having them be there helps you cope better with problems. I think believing in a god would be similar. You have less to worry about. The idea of there being something else is comforting. I love the idea of not just dying and there being nothing left of “you”. I love the idea that there is an entity that will never dissapoint you the way people do.
Unfortunately, all my reasoning point to there not being a god. To me, belief in a god is purely a question of faith and I obviously don’t have enough. I’d love if anyone could get me to believe in any form of deity. This list seems to be the only way to do it (I guess only for someone with my opinions since I would actually listen to a calm and “rational” person), although chances are it wouldn’t be very effective.

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Jane August 17, 2010 at 5:58 am

I could be convinced there is a god, but it would take some REALLY REALLY good evidence. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but seeing how this is religion… there isn’t much evidence. Just extraordinary claims that I’m suppose to believe on faith alone. What if I told you I had Jesus in my trunk, even if you believe in Jesus you wouldn’t believe me unless I showed you evidence.

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Anette Acker September 4, 2010 at 8:59 am

Helena,

I don’t know if you’re still reading this, but if you are, I would love for you to click through to my blog and let me know what questions you have.

I have had almost daily conversations with atheists for the past ten months, where I answer their questions about Christianity in a rational way. Although I have good relationships with them and enjoy the debates, I agree with Luke that most people are not interested in changing their worldview.

The decision of whether to believe or not believe is a combination of will, emotion, and intellect. I can do nothing about the will, and little about the emotions, so I focus on the intellect. And Christianity is a very rational religion when you understand the Bible in context. This may come as a surprise to you since it seems superficially irrational.

But I find it interesting to see how much people differ in terms of whether they are governed primarily by the will, the emotions, or the intellect, and how almost everyone will claim that they are governed by intellect. So how they behave tells me a lot more than how they self-describe.

I know Christians who are in the process of deconverting, who seem to me like they are governed by will or emotions. And I know self-described atheists or even anti-theists who are very open to understanding what the Bible teaches and willing to follow wherever the evidence leads. That surprised me, because I always believed that those who were most firmly entrenched in their atheism (especially anti-theists) would be almost impossible to reach, and that those who were deconverting would just need answers to their questions. But that has turned out not to be true.

So if you have intellectual questions, please feel free to comment on my blog or email me by clicking through to my Blogger profile.

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joe December 13, 2010 at 8:54 am

If theists did all these things you mention, they would end up being atheist anyway.

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chris March 14, 2011 at 10:15 pm

hey i dunno who wrote this but i am a beleving christian who has been trying to use universal cosmological evidence to try to convert my friend and i think that this is actualy a realy good “how to” article, i notice now i was doing a few of these things wrong, thanx for the article man! im sure itl realy help in the future to not do wrong! may god be with u ^^;

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jeff April 2, 2011 at 7:20 am

IMIRIh 41 BRING forth your IDOLS did they PREACH to you see they can’t speak they can’t DO ANYTHING all they do is cause confusion. spalms 115 and spalms 135 thier IDOLS are FALSE cant speak can’t hear cant smell and those that make them shall become like them. Jeremiah 10 they nail their IDOL down like a scarecrow it can’t move can’t speak can’t move must be carried these are nothing but the WORK of CON men.john 10 jesus christ sais his sheep hear his voice and another voice thy will not follow and if another person tries to preach to them they WILL FLEE from him. jeremiah 5 the priests bear rule on their own authority what will you do when your judged my word is not inside them. Now here is the kicker john 5 son of man voice goes back in time mathew 16 jesus christ claims to be the son of man.‎1 cor2 mind of CHRIST preached internally and john 16 sais the spirit of truth comes in the future. Ezekiel 13 lying prophets of ISRAEL my word is not inside them saying god sais god sais god sais wrote hoping mankind would CONFIRM their WORDS. all of this is EASILY verifiable

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MPWorth June 23, 2011 at 6:10 pm

I’m a Christian studying apologetics at the Master’s level. I agree with nearly everything in the list–I would probably refer other Christians to it without hesitation.

I am hesitant on this point, though: “Tell atheists you’re not sure about Christian faith, but you’re inclined to believe it… and then give your reasons.”–Saying that I’m unsure seems somehow problematic. I suppose it just feels like I would not be committed to my beliefs, if I were to say that. Perhaps it is better to say something like “I’m interested in the truth; if Christianity isn’t true, then I don’t want to believe it. But at this time, I am convinced that it is true.”

I think we need to have two types of integrity:
1. The type of integrity that leads one to leave his or her religion upon discovering that it is false.
2. The type of integrity that leads one to apply the truth to his or her life as best as they can.

I hope that I have both kinds.

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Stephen D July 14, 2011 at 2:57 pm

I am a Christian who has only been looking through this site for 20 minutes. I have to say, so far, I’m VERY impressed. I go to a Christian Liberal Arts college where 90% of students have never had their faith challenged in any way, and therefore tend to have very shallow and easily shakeable beliefs. They make nearly all the mistakes you mentioned, save the one about quoting Scripture – you can’t quote something you haven’t read.

I try my hardest to get them thinking – about anything, really – but I am often met with dull eyes. Its encouraging to know that there is someone across the table who’s trying to help Christians use their heads.

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Fred July 22, 2011 at 11:05 am

I think this is great advice, Luke, because I think it will lead to more productive and respectful conversations for all involved. Much respect!

- Fred, a Christian

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Rich August 20, 2011 at 1:55 pm

If any ex-christian athiest would like to help/moderate an irc channel that is intended as a christian response to atheism pls contact me at chucklerich@verizon.net

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Jonah September 19, 2011 at 5:23 pm

The problem with trying to “convert” an atheist is that all of the “good” tactics you suggest to convince atheists were most likely already explored by the atheist. Athiesm is usually a journey that an individual takes to learning the truth about life and death. In that journey, the atheist has usually already been open to religion or “God” and explored all of the beliefs while educating themselves about the realities of the universe and comparing that to what all of the religous books (which are thousands of years old) say. In contrast, the religous person rarely remains open to what I call “de-converting” Usually they have had no journey other than believing what they were told to believe by whoever raised them. Thats why you rarely see religous peope freely de-convert or convert to another religion because 98% of the time they bellieve what was taught to them.

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jonah September 19, 2011 at 5:41 pm

@Helena,

You are the perfect person for Christians to victimize with their fairy tale. What you need is not someone to convince you there is God just to make you feel comfortble about death. You really need someone that can teach you and show you how to live a happy and wonderful life by accepting and appreciating life for what it is and learning how to deal with the concept of death. You can live a life with food morals and without fear of judgement and fear of death as an atheist. Their is a world of knowledge and discovery to explore that can be a revelation 1000x what any religion can give you. Religion does not give you the answers, it only stops you from asking the questions. It is a virus that needs to continue to infect people in order to survive. Like all viruses, they adapt to survive. This “list” is purely an adaptation of the christian virus to infect people with their lies and superstitions. You have obviously avoided the virus, but due to your fear of death, you are still vulnerable. When Christians sense weakness, like any virus does, they attack by offering you an opportunity to convert. They want to infect you with thier virus. With all of the scientific discoveries in the lst 400 years, religion has become vulnerable and they know that they are eventually doomed and will not survive. Email me at jmoor23@mail.com, and I can help you with your fear of death and accepting atheism.

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milkyway October 1, 2011 at 7:56 am

As an atheist, it’s REALLY annoying when someone tries to convert you, no matter how they try

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John October 21, 2011 at 11:01 am

re: the line, “most philosophers and scientists are atheists” – really? I’d think they’d be agnostics. Atheism seems to require about as much faith as theism, just in the opposite direction. Why affirm anything absolute on the subject? And how could a scientist have any purely scientific view on the question of God? (or god). I should think that if she does, she is being a philosopher at the moment. ; )

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someone October 23, 2011 at 10:01 am

In my opinion, it’s wrong to try to convert someone. It means you don’t accept them the way they are, you don’t respect their beliefs or them as a person and they will think you’re not worth their time. I am an atheist and religion makes me angry for this reason. I drives me up a wall when religious people try to change me. I have religious friends but they respect my beliefs and I respect theirs. I would never try to convert someone.
Thanx for posting this though, now I will know if a Christian is trying to push religion on me.

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The Train November 19, 2011 at 6:30 am

Hey, if this is redundant with one of the 2 years of previous posts (I didn’t read all of them) I apologize…but here goes.
I am a “bottom line” person. THIS IS THE BOTTOM LINE.
People don’t like other people (especially those that they love) making bad decisions.
So what is a bad decision? One that defies logic.
Logic says:
This is all a personal decision based on history, facts and personal experience.
You can create a chart that lists the for and against beliefs/possibilities…+ and -
Based on this you make a choice as to what to believe…”yes” Christ (God) is real, or “no” He isn’t.
If you choose he is isn’t…and you are right..you die..you will never know that you were right, because you are dead and there is nothing. What are you going to do…high five yourself and say….I was right? Yea right.
If you choose He is…and you are right…you die, you live for all ETERNITY knowing that you made the right decision.
It is kind of like making a bet. You bet all you own on the time when you die and the winnings are ZERO. Or if you bet on the other choice you get an infinite reward. Pretty much a “no brainer”. I know where my choice is. And if you are locical, you should as well.

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MPWorth November 19, 2011 at 1:20 pm

@ The Train, with respect.

I’m a Christian, but that was a bad argument–sorry. You did not include half of the possibilities; namely, what happens if each person is wrong.

Read 1 Corinthians 15:13-19, where in Paul says,
“if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain [...] If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.”

So, what happens if you believe in Christ, make sacrifices for him, serve him…or even die for him and you’re wrong? Well, then you wasted your only life on nothing, and missed out on many pleasures of life–denying yourself and taking up your cross for no reason at all.

I agree that the prospect of going to Hell is worse than the prospect of simply ceasing to exist, but that does not make it a “no-brainer.” People are not willing to become Christians just because you ask “what if you’re wrong?”:

A Muslim could just as easily ask you or me “what if you’re wrong?” Well, then I suppose Allah will punish me for my blasphemy. What if Hinduism or Buddhism is right? Then I will be re-incarnated according to their doctrine. What if Judaism is right? Then I have trusted a false messiah. Mormonism? I rejected new revelation. Jehovah’s Witness? I mis-took Jesus for God. (rigid) Catholicism or (rigid) Eastern Orthodox? I rejected the “True Church.” Oprah? I wasted my life trying to tell people that Jesus was the “only way.” You see the problem; there are not only two options.

I do believe that Jesus Christ is God and the only way to God. But you should not become a Christian because someone makes a silly argument that could have been made in favour of any possible religious position. You should become a Christian because God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ in history and in the pages of Scripture.

There are a number of apologetic arguments to be made (my field of study is apologetics); in the end, it’s about God personally addressing us in and through Jesus Christ. Any argument that tries to avoid that step is ultimately flawed. I will certainly concede, however, that God sometimes uses even our failings–by his grace–to make the change in someone’s heart.

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The Train November 19, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Bad argument….good argument…that is your opinion, I don’t really care what you have studied. I’m not goint to get into a debate with you on this. I was simply takeing it to the bottom line. To say that atheism is a good proposition, that is believing in nothing vs. believing in something (which happens to be supported by historical facts) isn’t a well thought our decision….period.

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MPWorth November 19, 2011 at 10:33 pm

I won’t debate it any further with you from my own thinking. But you should know that the famous atheist Richard Dawkins has already evaluated your “bottom line” (which is formally called “Pascal’s Wager”).

Dawkins writes about it in his anti-religious book, The God Delusion (2006), on pages 103-105: he essentially responds to your argument that (1) he cannot simply decide to believe something that he is convinced is false; (2) he doesn’t understand why any good God would be impressed with him for pretending to believe; (3) there is still the question of which god/religion; (4) given the evidence, he would rather bet on atheism. Frankly, I agree with Dawkins in that I don’t think there is anything Christ-like about being dishonest by pretending to believe in something when you do not.

There are better reasons for being a Christian than Pascal’s Wager.

At any rate, I meant no disrespect. Debates are good when they help us seek the truth, they are bad when they are characterized by disrespect and pride. If Christians can’t be kind to one another, then that’s just one more reason for people to disbelieve us.

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Maddie November 24, 2011 at 5:32 pm

You’re sick. Teaching people how to convert athiests is disgusting. Get off your high f*cking horse, its not like you actually know Christianity is true, Athiests have just as much chance of being right as any other religion. Get over yourself and believe silently becuase it’s not at all your buisness what others believe.
I really hope any Christians who read this don’t think it’s thier job to convert athiests. If you do, why don’t you sit back and think about how you’d feel having someone whose theories sound insane to you barge into your spiritual life and tell you your entire veiw of the world is wrong?

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Margaret November 26, 2011 at 11:40 am

I like your article, even though I’m an atheist myself.

Just one thing to add though. I had a friend who tried to convert me to Christianity (it didn’t work, sadly). It was a good effort, but I can’t see past the “science” part in life. I love the idea that God exists, and that Jesus was such a good person from all I’ve read about him. When my friend asked me, “Why don’t you believe in God?” after I told her all of this, I said, “It’s like studying. Sometimes you understand the entire text. Other times, you can memorize the text, but you can’t understand it.”

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MPWorth November 26, 2011 at 1:51 pm

@ Margaret:

I’ve done a considerable amount of reading and thinking on the matter of religion and science. I don’t claim to have it all figured out, but I might be able to help. Although, maybe what you mean by “science” (in quotes) is something different than what is normally understood.
At any rate, if you were interested in talking about it more, I’d be willing.

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Margaret November 26, 2011 at 11:20 pm

@ MPWorth (not really sure how to work this thing; I’m new to this)

I think religion is a very good thing. But I don’t believe in God. I’ve actually read some things about religion too (though I didn’t read the Bible itself). A total number of two people have, and still are, trying to convert me into two different religions. I’ve been influenced by my mother’s Buddhism and Taoism beliefs ever since I was a child, but I never truly believed in those gods. As I mentioned before, my friend has been trying to convert me to Christianity. Neither worked.

Of Christianity, I went to Saturday school twice in my entire life (the people there were really nice). Once, I even prayed to the Christianity God in a moment of high emotion. There was a strange feeling then, like I was completely safe for the first time in my life. But the feeling turned out to be shallow rather than real; it was made from my own imagination, my self-reassurance. I found that this was faux-happiness later by temporarily “lying” to myself, in a way similar to what I do when I try to concentrate on classwork. It induced the same emotion. Later, I could explain this through psychology.

And I guess from that point on I became deeply skeptical of Christianity.

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MPWorth November 27, 2011 at 12:07 pm

@ Margaret:
I can respect that. I’ve often felt like other Christians were sometimes trying to convince me that I was feeling or sensing something when I wasn’t really sure that I was. But I chalk that up to the times we live in. There are certainly times when well-meaning people who don’t really understand Christian teachings or theology try to “wing it” by focusing too much on the feelings side of things. I believe God certainly can influence our feelings, but I don’t hang my faith on feelings.

One of the main reasons I believe in Christ is that I think he is the only religious figure who ever told me the truth about myself. When I read the things that Christ has to say about humanity, I can honestly say “Yeah. That’s me.” So I also trust what he has to say about God. This doesn’t exhaust my reasons for being a Christian, of course, but I find it a very important part of it.

I would suggest that you consult primary sources yourself, though. (A lot of Christian teachings in the public square these days are somewhat questionable, and at times I think we really miss the mark.) It could be that your interactions with Christians have only vaguely touched on the Jesus who is presented in the Gospels. I would suggest that you read one of the Gospels, such as Matthew or John. I think before we can really talk about the message honestly, we have to consult the message itself. Otherwise, how can we know that we’ve encountered the thing itself, and not just popular gossip about the thing?

As far as explaining things psychologically goes, I do believe that many things can indeed be explained psychologically, biologically, etc. The question I have, however, is whether or not spiritual realities can “pull physical strings” so-to-speak. For example, some Christians find evolution to be a formidable challenge to the faith, but I do not; I have no problem with the idea that spiritual realities can affect physical realities: God can make matter to do the work of his mind, just as we humans do through computer technology. In a similar way, I don’t think that it should surprise us to find chemical/psychological causes for our emotions and thoughts. The question that I have concerns the cause behind those causes. Sigmund Freud called belief in God mere “wish-fulfillment.” But then the question that C.S. Lewis asks is, “whose wish?” Why should I wish for a God like Jesus to exist when he has such harsh things to say about human nature? If I were to create a God on the basis of my own fleshly desires, it would certainly not be this one.

But I digress. In short, I do not see why an experience centred on feelings should push us one way or the other concerning a question of objective reality. I might be able to conjure up good feelings about the Queen of England and then later recognize those feelings as false, but that would have no bearing on the Queen of England herself. In the same way, I would suggest that you consult the primary Christian sources. At least this way your position can be one of response to the thing itself–whether you accept it as true, or denounce it as false.

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Melaney December 9, 2011 at 9:05 pm

Hi, I don’t label myself with anything like “atheist” or any other sort of name but I am a natural philosopher and I’m young. I would like someone who is willing to email me and try to convert me to Christianity or some other religion. Then perhaps I’ll be able to see why Atheists convert. Please don’t be afraid to email me… I would greatly appreciate it.

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Melaney December 9, 2011 at 9:06 pm

By the way, my email is melaney@uoregon.edu

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James December 12, 2011 at 12:34 am

As an athiest I feel that I should say that the poster of this blog is dead on on what we DON’T want to hear, however the bottom line is none of you will ever convert an educated athiest because we all fully understand our position without any namby pamby acceptance of ridiculousness.

The whole “emotional support” thing would work on those of us who don’t fully understand why god doesn’t exist, but for those of us who do, it’s like saying “look, christians can have fun, I guess they’re not totally wasting away in their silly cult.”

It’s far easier for us to convert christians to athiesm. I got my girlfriend out of 20 years of indoctrination in a salvation army officer household simply by asking her if a just god would send me to hell for using my brain.

And her dad, still an officer in the salvation army. All it took for him was the question “why do you believe this instead of Islam, or Hinduism?”.

He replied “tradition”. Which was easy to destroy.

To Zachary Karry,
In one of your arguments you say, “The whole “emotional support” thing would work on those of us who don’t fully understand why god doesn’t exist, but for those of us who do, it’s like saying “look, christians can have fun, I guess they’re not totally wasting away in their silly cult.””. The phrase that caught my attention was when you said “those of us who don’t fully understand why God doesn’t exist, but for those of us who do.”
Now my question for everyone is how can one honestly go about saying that they fully understand why God doesn’t exist? Or for that matter state that God doesn’t exist with 100% certainty. If one could do honestly say that 100% without a doubt that God does not exist, it would make them God. I would like to pose this scenario to everyone. A novelist writes a 1000 page book. This novelist then proceed to tell you that I have chosen to write the word “cat” somewhere in this book, even if I have written this word to where it is visible with only a electron microscope (this process can be done in chemistry through the rearranging of molecular structures). Now you would have to have perfect knowledge to this large book to be able to say that the word “cat” is not there. You would have to scan every single fiber of every single page to fully prove that the word “cat” was not there. This would be incredibly difficult to disprove. Now using this analogy of the “book” and the word “cat” let’s apply it to larger things. The “book” resembles the universe and the word “Cat” resembles God. When one says that they fully understand that God does not exist, they are saying that they have literally checked every bit of space that there is to be checked, even in different dimensions if you want to take it that far. In Christianity, they believe that God is a living intelligent being that moves through out the universe and is everywhere at the same time. So not only would one have to check everywhere in the universe but one would also have to check everywhere in the universe at the same exact time. Thus this makes that person God. This makes the argument that God does not exist impossible because that would make whoever makes the argument God, if one has achieved this perfect knowledge. But if one finds the word “Cat” in the book then one’s search stops and one learns that the novelist was telling the truth, even if it is hard to find. I’m not trying to offend anyone here, I’m just sharing my thoughts. This is all. Please let me know what you think.

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Bee December 13, 2011 at 2:30 pm

I struggle with the fact that many seem to be saying that most people convert due to emotion – Is reason in Christianity never enough? How can we be sure everything is not psychological?

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