This guide is in many ways similar to a sex education class. I am neither condemning nor condoning recent de-converts’ decisions to debate their lack of beliefs with Christians. I am simply recognizing that for many of you it is inevitable and therefore insisting that you learn to do so properly.
Of course, I mean “debate” loosely. It’s only half up to you, but it should be a conversation characterized by more than two sides trying to score points by pointing out each and every one of the others logical fallacies by their Latin names. But part of any conversation with conflicting points of view is a debate, and understanding how a pure debate works is important.
Much of what you need to know is just standard knowledge of how to debate and knowledge of Christianity and apologetics in general. I won’t go into any of that, but will instead focus on the psychology of recent de-convert versus Christian debates. It’s my hope that if you don’t know your stuff at all, you find this to be fairly unhelpful. Learning to debate what you do know is the art of communication, while learning to debate what you don’t know is BS artistry.
Recent de-converts are at an enormous debate preparation advantage simply due to timing. De-converts often go through an enormous intellectual struggle trying to make themselves believe before realizing that trying to believing that which one has learned to be false is hopeless. Thus, de-converts know exactly why they left their faith. By contrast, even apologetically inclined Christians probably have not been studying like that, simply because it’s hard to match the passionate study of a de-convert trying to figuring out if they’re going to hell…
James 5:16b: The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
Matthew 17:20: And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.”
One place where Christians engage in doublethink is through a love/hate relationship with the concept of believing that God will actually do something when they pray. On the one hand, believers are supposed to believe God does things. But on the other hand, it’s nice to be able to write off God’s no-shows as the product of kooky beliefs in a “vending machine” God. (This is often a euphemism for a God that is distinguishable from no God at all.)
Some Christians actually believe that if they pray for healing, God will answer with healing. A fairly extreme group supporting such faith in action is Unleavened Bread Ministries. They have a page full of cool stories of how God healed people.
The interesting thing about one of the families involved in this ministry, the Neumanns, is that the results of their faith are a matter of public record. Last spring, their 11-year-old daughter became extremely sick. Her parents prayed for her instead of taking her to see a doctor. What follows might have been the work of Satan. It might be a continuing test of their faith. What I do know is that Madeline Neumann died from a treatable form of diabetes while her parents petitioned an all-powerful, all-loving God for her healing…
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
“We are faced, then, with a frightening alternative. This man we are talking about either was (and is) just what He said or else a lunatic, or something worse. Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.” – C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, page 52-53
The Trilemma is perhaps C. S. Lewis’ most famous argument. Jesus claimed to be God. Either these claims were true or they weren’t. If they weren’t, either Jesus knew they were false or he didn’t. If he didn’t know, he was a lunatic. If he did know, he was a liar, and a fiend because of it. The only remaining possibility is that what he said was true. Therefore, Jesus is Lord…
“You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?” – Morpheus
I grew up as an hard-core fundamentalist, and have been slowing drifting secular since the beginning of high school. In sixth grade, my parents got rid of Aladdin due to Jasmine’s inappropriate garb. My church started playing contemporary music in the evening services, and as this form of music is displeasing to God, we changed churches largely for this reason. Together with being home schooled and highly gifted mathematically, I was not what you would call a normal child.
Although this may be barely believable to many of you unless you also have been brainwashed at an old enough age to know better, I followed along willingly. “It will be worth it all, When we see Christ.” In high school, I was not allowed to date. With most people, no dating means that the “courtship” model is the alternative, but in my case, no clear alternative was given. (My adolescence consisted of “enumerated powers.”) As a junior in high school, when cute girls noticed me, it was depressing more than anything, because I could do nothing about it. It’s only a slight hyperbole to say that I thought the F-word was flirt (that’s a sin too for kids that age, in case you didn’t know.) When I was a senior, God told me who I was to marry. *Pathetic story squelched.* A year later, she married another…