Arguing About God

One of the things that characterised my time at secondary school was arguments about the existence of God, and whether or not I was right to hold a Christian faith. I won’t say that these arguments were unproductive, because I do know that people were affected by them and by the simple fact that I stood up for what I believed, but I do look back on most of them and cringe.

It’s the same kind of cringe that I get when I see Christians going hammer and tongs with atheists and various other non-believers on the internet. It was an example of this that prompted me to write this post, as well as the fact that the infamous Stephen Fry interview is doing the rounds again, and sparking conversations about faith across social media.

I want to make it clear where I stand. I think that the vast majority of Christians engaging in these arguments online are doing it with good intentions, and there is always the possibility that God will use what they’re saying to make a difference in the lives of the people that they’re speaking to and the people who read the conversations. I also think that it’s a good thing that people are so willing to engage in talking about faith; I can’t stand the idea that you should have to keep your beliefs to yourself.

But the problem with getting into arguments of this nature is that they rarely seem to go anywhere, and there are a couple of possible reasons for this that I want to look at.

The first is that everyone involved is biased. They can’t help it. The thing about Christianity is that whether you believe it or not has an impact on the way you live your life. Christians have a vested interest in it being true, and non-believers have a vested interest in it being false. To change your mind on the matter is to acknowledge that you’ve been living wrong for all your life, and to change your behaviour, particularly if you’re converting to Christianity.

I see so many arguments that end up with either side either ignoring the points that the other is making, or retreating into irrelevancy. That’s because there’s a limit to how deep these conversations can go before someone gets uncomfortable.

Linked to this problem is the lack of social depth to many of the conversations. Now, sometimes you’ll be arguing with a good friend on Facebook, and you’ll know where they’re coming from and why they believe what they do, but in many of these arguments (especially on Twitter) the participants barely know each other, and so hammer each other over the head with arguments that they know by rote. This can lead to generalisations (‘all Christians were raised that way’) and assumptions (‘you’re an atheist, so you don’t know the Bible’).

I’m a Christian, and I want to see people come to know Jesus as well, that’s no secret. But from my personal experience, having a friendship with someone is essential if they’re going to be truly receptive to what you’re saying about Jesus. The people I’ve had conversations with who then ended up knowing Jesus had those conversations with me because they trusted me as a person, not because I’d stumped them with my brilliant arguments. Some gifted evangelists and speakers may be able to convince people to convert without knowing them, but for most of us, I tend to find that God works through us and our relationships to make a difference in the lives of people we know.

So what’s the right way to go about discussing faith, particularly with people on the internet who you don’t know? I think that sometimes, it’s best not to discuss it at all. There are people out there who are just looking to wind you up, and engaging with them will do nothing for their journey with God, it will just make things worse. That’s not to say that God couldn’t prompt you to engage with them and make a difference to them, but aside from that prompting occurring, I’d say it’s not worth it.

If someone engages with you in a respectful way, then by all means engage with them and respect their views in turn. Be as honest as you can be/want to be depending on how public the forum, think about what you’re saying, and remember that it is not your responsibility to save that person. The only one who saves is God, and while he might use you, your job is to stay humble and make sure that everything you’re saying is giving him glory.

I would also say to those of you who like getting into conversations (and arguments) with non-believers that you don’t know online, don’t forget about the people close to you. What would your non-Christian friends think about that argument on Twitter? Would it bring them closer to Jesus? And do you ever speak to them about what you believe?

I can say with 100% certainty that everyone that I have known to become a Christian has done so because of God, not because of me. It might be nice to hear them mention me in a testimony, and of course it’s encouraging to me personally, but ultimately, I know that every one of their testimonies is about God. God was undeniably present in each of their stories, and that’s what all of this is about.

I think the lesson to Christians from all of this is don’t let it be about you. Don’t argue with people because you want to be proved right, but lovingly engage with the people that God puts in your path, with the intention of bringing them closer to God, and for the glory of God.

10 Comments Add yours

  1. “Christians have a vested interest in it being true, and non-believers have a vested interest in it being false.” I’m curious what this vested interest you claim I must have as a non-Christian.

    1. bengarry says:

      Thank you for your comment! To clarify, I think that everyone has a vested interest because the implications of Christianity’s truth or falsehood do have a direct impact on people’s lives (though I admit, theoretically you could accept it’s truth/falsehood and carry on as you did before). In short, a non-believer accepting the truth of Christianity would not be making a concession that is simply intellectual, but one that would have profound implications for their life. Most people don’t like change, and so would have a vested interest in maintaining the stability of their lives. I’m sure you’ve seen conversations that end up going nowhere simply because people don’t like to acknowledge that the other has made a point that might force them to reassess their lifestyle!

      1. I would live no differently if Christianity were true than if it were false, as I have concluded. I do not need the belief in a deity to be a humane person. The bible also often indicates that being a humane person is not what this god wants, with its advocacy of horrific acts, from the OT, through the NT where is has believers abandoning their families and the threat of death to non-believers, to the sadistic fantasy of Revelation. So, in this way, I am not vested in the idea that the bible is false. It simply wouldn’t matter.

        I’m going to guess that you are more going for the idea that many Christians try to spread, that non-Christians simply don’t want the story to be true since non-Christians just want to be rebels. Am I correct in this?

      2. bengarry says:

        Hey, I won’t go on too long (I mean, getting into an argument would sort of defeat the point of the post!) but I would just say that in my personal experience, people do go through a pretty drastic change when they become Christians, simply because making Jesus the most important thing in your life is far more than just living in a ‘humane’ way!

        And no, I don’t assume that non-Christians just want to be Christians. Again, in my experience, particularly at uni, I met many people who didn’t want to be rebels, and were just doing the best they can with what they have, often searching for fulfilment from things that were only going to hurt them. I want to tell people about Jesus because I believe that he is genuinely the best thing for us! If I had a surefire way to make a load of money or something, I wouldn’t keep it to myself, and I believe that Jesus is infinitely better than that! So there you go, I’m not going to argue about it, but I just want to help you understand where I’m coming from, and why he things that I have seen have led me to the conclusions in this post!

        And I’m not just ignoring your comment about God wanting believers to do horrific things, I just don’t feel like this is the most productive place to get into that!

  2. pluviolover says:

    Clearly written for, and addressed to, Christians, but the principles of “be nice” go both ways. Often, it’s difficult not to offend without meaning to because religion (and lack of it) can be such an emotional attachment. When conversion or proselytizing are goals, the conversation is doomed. But when fair exchange of opinion or fact is the goal, it might work.

    1. bengarry says:

      It’s definitely emotional, which is why I think these conversations are most productive within established relationships, because people are more likely to be sensitive to emotional background and implications. But I agree, that the motive of a fair exchange of opinion of fact is the most likely to leave all parties satisfied, especially in an online environment! Thanks for your comment 🙂

  3. Atomic Words says:

    I totally agree with you. I try hard not to argue religion because it’s pointless and can come from a place of Bias, hurt or anger. Either misunderstanding occurs and nothing is gained. It’s easy to point out something in Scripture as a life life to paint God as this monster who propagates hate, slavery and all that especially if your aim is to wound, defend your faith or lack thereof of one. Etc. I agree understanding and friendship is best to discuss such things

    1. bengarry says:

      Thanks for commenting! I agree – especially when arguing about the Bible it’s easy to point to one bit and make one argument or point to another and make a completely different argument! I’d much rather spend my time building genuine relationships and friendships.

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