How I talk to my mother about Christianity

I could write a lot about this, so I’ll just try to provide a brief insight. I should probably put up a poll to see what my regular readers are more interested in: 1) news or 2) apologetics and mentoring.

A word of warning

One thing I’ve noticed about women is that they like it when men treat their mothers nicely and what they mean by that is never judging or disagreeing with their mothers, and never trying to change their mothers. This view of love is, of course, false. I want my mother to go to Heaven and to know and love God, so I have to talk to her about these things and disagree if she is wrong about them. So I think that disagreeing with her about spiritual things is being nice to her. But read on and judge for yourself.

The plan

My plan for my mother is not to begin by convincing her that Christianity is true. Instead, I begin by convincing her to approach religious issues just as she would approach any other area of knowledge, such as investing, or nutrition. If she agrees to treat religion as any other area of of knowledge, then I think that she will eventually conclude that Christianity is true. Currently, she is forming her beliefs about God’s existence, character and what he wants from her, using subjective mechanisms, i.e. – intuitions and experience. I want her to try a different method.

Goals

My goal for my mother, as with anyone else, is to try to get her to accept Christianity as objectively true, based on arguments and evidence. I don’t think that a person can be an authentic Christian if Christianity is just wish-fulfillment. I don’t think that a person will stick with Christianity when it goes against their own self-interest, unless their belief is anchored on arguments and facts. People act on what they really believe is true, when stressed by reality.

So, what I need to do is to argue for a method of discovery that is not dependent on emotions and intuitions, but is more rigorous. I need to offer my mother tools, such as the laws of logic, historical analysis and the scientific method. These tools can be used to investigate whether God exists, and what he is really like, and what he wants from her. By using these tools instead of intuition and experience, my hope is that I will be able to get her to arrive at a view of God as he really is.

Questions

The first question to ask her is “Does a Creator and Designer of the Universe exist independently of whether anyone thinks so or not?”. And then I ask the immediate follow-up question “How do you know that?”.

The second question to ask her is “What is the Creator/Designer’s character like?”. And again, the immediate follow-up question is “How do you know that?”.

The third question to ask her is “How does the Creator/Designer expect you to act?”. Once again, immediately follow up with “How do you know that?”.

Discussion

And the results of the inquiry were as follows: 1) she thinks that God is exactly like her and approves of everything she does, and more importantly, 2) her method of investigating religion is basically to invent “God” using her own feelings and experiences. Her method of arriving at these conclusions was by using intuition and experience, and she was resistant to the idea of using logic, science and history to find out the truth about God, his existence, his character, and what he wanted.

The next thing I did was to argue that her method of arriving at her religious beliefs was subjective and unreliable, and that she would never use that method of determining truth in any other area of life. I made a list of everything she cares about and started approaching each topic using her subjective method of determining truth, in order to expose the disastrous consequences that would occur if she made decisions in these other areas using intuition and experience.

For example, I explained my theories on how watching TV produces university degrees, how chocolate causes weight loss, how fruits and vegetables cause cancer, etc. All of this to show that subjectivism is not a reliable method of arriving at truth in any area of knowledge, especially in religion. The desire for happiness should not drive the search for religious truth. People need to avoid inventing a self-serving view of God, just because it gives them a feeling of security without any moral demands.

Finally, I introduce a reliable method of arriving at the truth in any area, including religion. I’m sure that you all already know about the concepts of propositional truth, the correspondence theory of truth, and the test for truth (logical consistency, empirical validation, experiential relevance). And you all know about how to use science/history/logic to confirm/disconfirm religious claims, etc. If necessary, I would apply these methods to other areas to show how they produce real knowledge.

A useful thing to do is to show how well-accepted facts like the origin of the universe from nothing and the crucifixion of Jesus falsify various world religions. This helps to make the point that a lot of people believe things that are false. That way, you motivate the question – “am I interested in knowing what is really true or am I interested in engaging in wish-fulfillment and projection in order to make myself feel better about my own selfishness and insecurity?”.

Some things I found out

I found that engaging in these discussions brought out some very interesting data that reminded me of what I see in the church. Each of these is worth a post, so I’ll just throw them out there in point form.

  • She viewed my efforts to get her to employ logic and evidence to determine her views as being critical of her
  • She felt “constrained” by allowing logic and evidence to override her “freedom” to invent a self-serving God
  • She didn’t want to know about the laws of logic, or how religions make conflicting truth claims
  • She didn’t want to know about what science and history could confirm/disprove religious truth claims
  • She thought that it was better to let everyone believe anything they wanted to believe
  • She thought that religion was mostly for making people believe things that made them feel happy and secure
  • She didn’t think that God expected her to act morally if it didn’t make her feel happy to do so
  • She didn’t care to find out the truth about whether God exists, what he was like, and what he wanted from her

Note: we didn’t get into any fights over this, it was just a friendly discussion, although I could sense her resistance.

My biggest concern about this view is that if it were a common view among Christians, it would increase the incidence of several non-Christian ideas, like moral relativism, inclusivism, postmodernism, pluralistic salvation, the non-reality of Hell, etc. And I think that if a lot of Christians believe Christianity is self-serving, then we will be perceived as being hypocritical by non-Christians when we don’t do the difficult things we are supposed to be doing. Non-Christians want to see some consistency between out actions and what the Bible says.

In a poll of my friends I did a while back, I found that people thought that talking to relatives about Christianity was the most difficult thing to do, higher than talking to people at work. So I’d be curious for readers to share their experiences about who is harder to talk to, and what you found in talking to people.

Mentoring

Apologetics advocacy

And here are some lectures that got me interested in apologetics.

6 thoughts on “How I talk to my mother about Christianity”

  1. Thanks for sharing that fascinating post. That is true love: Having her long term best interests at heart and diplomatically and respectfully confronting her with the truth.

    I prayed this prayer for her, in that I ask Jesus to send others to her as well:

    Matthew 9:37-38 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

  2. Thanks WK.

    A friend of mine who is not a Christian, has some pretty “new age” ideals that even she herself admits aren’t very grounded, they just “work for her.” She’s a very, very smart girl, studying to become a psychologist. Very open-minded, and listens interestedly when I talk about apologetics and God. However some of her beliefs don’t make sense. Subjective relativism, reincarnation, and no real grounded standard of morality are a few of the things she’s told me about. I’m getting to know her better, and trying to understand her as best I can.

    That said, some of her objections are exactly what you say your own mother is going through. When I’ve employed the use of logic and reason to cause her to think about the things she stands for, she has become a tad defensive, and has told me that she feels “scrutinized” by me. I’m making every attempt I can at being open-minded, kind, and non-judgmental, but I think part of that is a natural reaction to feel defensive when someone is challenging an individual’s core, which affects how they live their life.

    She also thinks it’s better to let everyone believe what they want to believe. “Live and let live,” so to speak. I briefly explained that it’s logically impossible for all religions to make truth claims as being “the one way.” She admitted that was true, but it still didn’t seem to make much difference.

    Right now, I’m trying to take an approach that will get her to take more of an interest in the subject of finding the truth. I firmly believe it’s a part of our duty as humans to ask these questions and find out the truth, and I encouraged her to test what she believes, and test what I (and others) believe as well.

    She also said that even if she became a Christian, that she could never see herself subscribing to every detail of it, citing the Bible’s view of homosexuality as an example. She has numerous homosexual friends, and does not believe that homosexuality is wrong. At this point, I wanted to appeal to the transformation of the mind and soul that the Holy Spirit brings about at the point of salvation, but it’s tough to convey that to someone who doesn’t get it. She was looking at her conversion through the view she has now, not the view she would have if she converted.

    Yet one thing she does believe in is fate. And not in the deterministic sense either. She firmly believes that everything happens for a reason, though we may not know that reason immediately. Beyond that, I don’t really understand how she views fate.

    Right now I’m praying for her a lot, and I’m hoping I can find some common ground in which to gain an ‘in’ to shake her up a bit. I’ve been into apologetics for awhile, though I’m quite sure not as long as you WK, so if you or any other readers have some advice for me on how to best tackle this, here are my thanks in advance.

    1. Wow, thanks for sharing this great comment.

      Although my mother doesn’t have any significant non-family friendships, I have had two other “Christian” women tell me that they could not agree with the Bible because it would cause rifts in their existing friendships with other non-Christians. In other words, they did not believe that the Bible had any authority over their intuitions and emotions, which was really just another way of naming their desire to be happy in their own way. Trying to make a verse-by-verse historical case proved futile. Even if the verse was reliable, it was dismissed as “written by men” which really meant “in conflict with my desire to be happy”.

      By the way, I would be careful talking to women these days. And this goes for fundamentalist Christian women as well. Any disagreement at all with their views, no matter how closely argued, is viewed as an attack. It’s just the way things are right now. Although I only do Platonic relationships, I’ve learned the hard way that it’s best to keep your emotions guarded with non-Christian and Christian women. Until I see that they are willing to be convinced and change their minds on the basis of arguments and evidence, I stay clear of them.

      1. Thanks WK.

        I stealthily mentally noted your URL a number of weeks back when I was at a friends house who was reading your blog. I’ve been lurking non-stop until now, soaking up all the great information you have on here. I don’t usually get involved in a discussion unless I feel I can contribute to the discussion or ask a question not already asked. In this case I thought I might be able to. :)

        I agree that emotions must be guarded, and given that we as humans are naturally clouded by bias, we must constantly remind ourselves to try to remain objective, that we are on a quest for truth, not a mission to further a personal agenda. I’ve told her that if she feels I am scrutinizing her, to let me know so that I can check myself and readjust my angle if I’m coming across unkindly in any way.

        I think that she is smart to realize that about me, but I will keep what you said in mind. She has expressed interest in the past over watching/listening to a debate with me, and so I’m hopeful in that respect to be able to try that out sometime.

        What do you think would be a good debate to start with? Are there any good debates on the truth claims of Christianity vs. other religions? Or along some other topics that I’ve mentioned she aligns herself with? I think it’s best to start small, just to get the other person thinking.

        1. With skeptics, it’s important for them to feel that the debate is not a set up. One of the best atheists I have ever seen is Austin Dacey, and he even debated Bill Craig at Purdue University. And you can even watch it for FREE on youtube. Just search for “Craig Dacey debate”. Lots of great camera angles and a big crowd at an Ivy League school. Craig does slip up once on the Brian Greene quote, but that may actually enhance the debate.

          Here’s a blog post with all 14 parts.

          My advice is to watch the speeches in pairs, then break to discuss each pair of speeches. Take notes.

  3. OK – as a first time commentor and brand new rss subber to your blog let me just say … “I’ll be back”.

    As to this post I would have loved to have read this some 20yrs back – it would have given me some better grounds to base my discussions. I (being 1 of 3 children) was the only one that ever wrote to our mum on a regular basis and in most of our correspondence we discussed my faith as opposed to her continuing search for the ‘right way’.

    Each new letter brought another religion she was trying. From muslim to hinduism to judaism to dianetics to …. well you get the picture and each time I would lovingly respond and do my best to refute her position.

    So even though I don’t know for certain, at the end of my mum’s life I am fairly content that she accepted my stance and investigated it. She was always the scientist though and this allowed her to question intelligently and debate with determination …. still, I as a product of her upbringing may have had some effect.

    The issue I guess is that take the chance now to talk it through with any family members that don’t see it your way – whether it is staged or not as you never know when they may be taken.

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