Thursday, November 13, 2008

How to talk to atheists

Thanks to Pam BG's blog for the pointer to a must-read piece on Joe the Peacock "How to actually talk to atheists if you're a Christian"

it is not my intention to offend you. I have but one goal, and that is to illustrate a single fact:
What you're currently doing - cold-call witnessing and talking to strangers at the mall about your faith and standing on street corners holding signs that read "REPENT"?

Well...It's not working.

It's hard not to read the article, especially if you're from good evangelical witnessing stock like myself, without starting to fidget uncomfortably:

So let's talk about some techniques you may have employed that, to you, probably didn't come across as brazen as the above mentioned tactics:
- Have you ever asked a co-worker to attend church with you?
- Have you ever asked a stranger to attend church with you?
- Have you ever asked either of the above about their faith in God or Jesus Christ?
- Have you ever shifted a conversation that had nothing to do with church, Christ, or God into a conversation about any of the above?

When you did any of those things, did you notice an eye roll? Did the person groan? Did they shift in their seat and, at the very least, say they would go (or research what you just said, or give the matter some thought) and then never got back to you?

These techniques probably feel natural to you. They feel like you're sharing the good news of your faith and the joy it brings to your life, and it probably feels great to share that joy with others.

but all it creates is irritation. I spent 3 years at university doing this, no wonder nobody has kept in touch...

You're dealing with an audience that doesn't believe that what you want to share with them even exists. They don't need it. They don't want to hear about it. Your attempts to share it with them are seen largely as annoying or, at the very least, an interruption in their day. And the result of these tactics is a massive swelling of the ranks of the "New Atheist Movement" (Neo-Atheism) in America and abroad; a movement that has been covered in great detail and has caused great concern within all denominations of the Christian church.

and what message do we communicate?

Using the traditional, human-spam model of witnessing, you use interruption-marketing techniques to spread the word about your faith. Because you are Christian, and because you are employing techniques that are unwelcome and unwanted, you communicate the following through your actions:
- Christians would rather be correct than listen to differing opinion.
- Christians do not respect the personal space (mentally and physically) of non-believers.
- Christians feel they are superior to non-believers because they have salvation.
- Christians would rather rely on faith as evidence than rely on fact.

All of these are going to lose your audience. Period.

and you'll have to read the rest of the post to see what he suggests as an alternative. Makes you wonder whether we'd be better at evangelism if we had atheists and agnostics as part of the teaching team....

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