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Back September 11th, 2007 Forward
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How to argue with a conservative Christian

LJ-SEC: (ORIGINALLY POSTED BY [info]drgaellon)

I just discovered this excellent post, listing some do's and don't's for arguing with a conservative Christian. Since it touches directly on the topic at hand, I thought I'd share it.

Original post: http://ladysisyphus.livejournal.com/268531.html (dated 15 Apr 2005)

How To Argue With A Conservative Christian by [info]ladysisyphus

0. Pick your battles. Before you even open your mouth, have an idea of the person on the other side of the argument. Does this person operate on a rational level? Are there any points in the argument that approach the realm of making sense? Is s/he looking for honest debate instead of just picking a fight? If the answer to any of these questions is 'no,' don't even engage.

1. Be prepared to lose. The person with whom you are arguing can at any time claim personal knowledge via revelation from God and/or insight given by persons more authoritative than you. The odds that this person will have a sudden epiphany, slap you on the shoulder, and say, 'Holy crap, you're right!' are very, very low. The most you may be able to do is give this person something to think about. If you make your argument right, this should be something that they can't dismiss out hand because the source (you) was not credible.

2. Never, at any point in time, assume that the person with whom you are arguing is stupid just because s/he believes in a supernatural, world-creating, somewhat personified force that influences personally his/her life. There are many brilliant people throughout history who have believed just this, and many who still do. It's not a fair assumption to make, and what's more important, it's not accurate.

3. Do not insult this person's belief in God. Unless you are specifically arguing the existence/influence of the Creator of the Universe, whether or not there is a God shouldn't even come into the discussion. Feel free to state your own beliefs on religion, particularly as they are relevant to the discussion -- i.e., if the argument is 'God says [x] is wrong!' but you're a Buddhist, you can mention how your particular faith informs your own morality in this situation -- but never tell the person that her/his religious beliefs are wrong. It's both disrespectful and counterproductive.

4. But do argue from your own religious perspective (or lack thereof). If you are religious,don't be afraid to bring your own religious convictions to the table --not as evidence for your argument (unless, of course, the argument is theological) but as evidence that not all people of faith in the world believe the same things. If you are not religious, use this as evidence that not all people in the world are people of faith, and wonder often why you shouldn't just be allowed to go to hell in peace.

</a>5. Use the Bible whenever possible. Literal readers, as Danna Nolan Fewell says, are rarely close readers. The very best way to beat conservative Christians at their own game is to know the Bible better than they themselves do. If you can, go back to the original Hebrew or Greek. If s/he gives you the line that the 1611 King James Version is the authoritative version from God, point out that it's hardly more authoritative than the actual words the Bible-writers themselves put to page (as it were), and wonder also if English hasn't made a few changes in the last four centuries. If s/he makes a Biblical argument, see if you can't find another part of the Bible that directly contradicts that argument. Don't resort to theologians unless you have to, because if the person with whom you're arguing has no idea who said theologian is, s/he will likely be more irritated than impressed.

6.When you can't use the Bible, use facts. And not the kind of facts that you quote sourcelessly because you think they seem self-evident -- facts that come from actual sources you can cite, or reference, or find in a pinch. If possible, find more than once source to back up your assertions. Avoid anything from a source inherently biased in your favour unless it's all you have; use sources with a conservative bent if you can get them.

7. Ask the person with whom you are arguing to back up her/his assertions, whether Biblical or factual.Don't be afraid to hold off making a point in order to ask the person with whom you are arguing why s/he thinks what s/he is claiming is true. Don't get conned into arguing generalisations or accepting assumptions. If the person with whom you are arguing uses words like 'always' and 'never,' ask her/him for historical texts that would support that claim. If s/he uses the words 'nature' or 'natural,' ask her/him to specify what exactly s/he means by that. If s/he begins a sentence with 'everybody knows,' ask for proof that at least somebody else does, in fact, know.

8. Do not let the person with whom you are arguing get away with sexist, racist, homophobic, or any other kind of language that demeans other human beings. Period. It can be as simple as asking that person in no uncertain terms to refrain from using certain words over the course of your argument. Make reference to Jesus' unwillingness to treat as less than human those whom society regarded as such. Be prepared to respond with the etymology of ethnic slurs. (On a side note, doesn't Wikipedia just have everything?) The person, of course, may not stop, but never let her/him get away with it unremarked.

9.Do not engage hypotheticals. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, they're imaginary cases at the end of a worst-case scenario blown way out of proportion, and do not deserve to be dignified with a response.Engage the sentiment behind the hypothetical, but never buy into an imaginary scenario itself, as its provisions of unreality will almost always skew any discussion. Along the same vein, avoid creating hypotheticals except from the most general circumstances, and even then get away from it once it's served its purpose.

10. Don't let the bastards get you down. When it stops being fun, walk away. When you feel the urge to be nasty, spiteful, petty, and/or disrespectful, just agree to disagree and get out of the conversation. Better to walkaway dignified than to explode and give the person with whom you are arguing fodder to believe whatever nasty things s/he wishes to believe about your side.

...It's not a complete list, but it's what I can think of right now. Basically, don't be a dick, show your work, and beat them at their own game. You may not win outright, but if you've given the person with whom you are arguing something concrete to think about, you'd done yourself proud. The objective really isn't to win the other person over to your side; it's to get as much food for thought in before the other person shuts down/stops listening/deletes her journal. Badgering her/him into silence isn't a victory, it's a temporary measure that really changes no one and nothing in the long run. Unless you're in a public policy forum where the objective is to shout down the other person, you're better off speaking calm, rational sense. At the very least, you'll come off as a decent human being,which might come as something of a shock to said person.

I feel I should also note that there are, in fact, two kinds of arguments one generally has with a conservative Christian -- sacred and secular. If you're arguing the nature of the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus, methods of administering baptism, predestination, or theodicy, you're pretty much on your own, and God Godself help you if you've gotten into one of those discussions unprepared. However, if you're tackling evolution, abortion, homosexuality, stem cell research, or any of the myriad of other issues on which Christianity seeks to inform public policy, these may prove to be helpful hints for getting through what might otherwise seem an impenetrable wall.

Back September 11th, 2007 Forward