I received this tweet this month:
Yes it is hard. Impossible even. Which is why my answer may surprise you.
Let me explain.
Remember when you were an Evangelical Christian – if you were one – and you were at a party (okay, okay, gathering) tucking into a bowl of cheezels and making small talk with a stranger? Remember that moment they casually mentioned that they didn’t believe in God? Remember that sinking feeling in your stomach as you realised that any pretence at a normal friendship was now over? Because if you want to sleep tonight instead of spending hours in guilt-ridden prayer for their soul on the carpet next to your bed, you need to get to work on doing your best to convince them there is a God and that they need to give him their life or they are going to spend eternity in hell.
Remember how that never worked?
It’s hard enough to convince yourself out of eating the last row of an Oreo Cookies and Cream chocolate bar, let alone convincing someone else out of a world view that has provided them meaning and purpose for the past two decades.
This is why talking is futile. On both sides. We cannot be valiantly rescued from our own minds by others. There is no kicking down of mental doors and carrying out into the new reality. It is each human’s responsibility to make their own mind up.
Which is why it is better not to talk but to ask questions instead.
A question – the right question – is the most powerful force for change I know. It’s the first echo, the bubble that rises to the surface suggesting there is something underneath, a vibration through the ground you stand on giving warning to the life altering earthquake on the way. Questions open doors in the mind from the only way they can be opened; the inside. This is because Questions require Answers to come from the inside.
Which is where all answers need to come from. If answers are to do anything more life changing than a fleeting, ‘Oh that’s nice’ or ‘Hmm, that’s different’, they must be formed in our own minds.
There’s three other reasons questions are so powerful.
You likely need to keep your relationship / friendship with this person over a long period of time. That or you would just prefer not to deal with the twangs of awkwardness across the room of a birthday party for the next few hours. One conversation ain’t gonna do nothin’. Your priority here, not just for the agenda of changing someone’s mind, but for the far greater pursuit of enjoying another human being and experiencing the diversity this world offers us, is to keep the dialogue open. That is only done when these conversations are, at their base, respectful.
2) You may learn something.
Read my blog “How To Tell If Your Religion Would Hack Someone To Death and Why I Don’t Call Myself An Atheist”. To my good-hearted twitter friend, can I just say that actually you don’t Know The Truth. No-one does. You have what you believe to be the closest version according to our current way of thinking. That’s admirable because it’s not an ancient version of a sugar daddy but it’s still very far from knowing The Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing But The Truth. This is what I call the Fundamentalist Line and crossing it, in my opinion, is where the world’s problems with religion and belief begin.
3) The other person may reciprocate with questions of their own.
And this is your time to shine!!!! Combined with Point 2, your answers will sound like, ‘I think…’ or ‘When I looked into it, it seemed to me that…’ and then finish with the all powerful Question, ‘Have you ever looked into it? What did you find?’
I imagine the main reason we want to convince other people of our worldview is because we love them. This love makes us care very deeply about the fact that they are living in delusion. It makes us desire greatly that they would also experience the freedom that we have received from our new way of looking at life. It even makes us have awkward conversations with strangers over a bowl of cheezels about their eventual burning for eternity in hell. This is noble and kind and going about it all the wrong way.
There is a greater expression of love than wishing the best for someone. It is wishing their best for themselves. You may not agree with what is their best. For absolute sure they don’t agree with what is your best. So the only way out of this impass is to hope for each others’ best.
Love is the ability and willingness to allow those that you care for to be what they choose for themselves without any insistence that they satisfy you.