I grew up in a very Catholic household. I'm agnostic now, but those closest to me believe in God, and I respect that.

I have a friend who I'm very close to who is also very Christian. We haven't broached the subject of religion very often on more than a superficial level. Part of that is because both of us knew without saying anything that it wouldn't go well (we discussed that a while back).

Since her faith is a big part of who she is, I'd like to be able to have conversations with her about it. It's hard to do so when we look at the world so differently. Every problem is solved with God and the Bible for her. Nothing that I bring forth - be it scientific or an argument about the Bible - can change her viewpoints because our worldviews have such different origins.

Both of us end up irritated, and I end up feeling like she doesn't respect my opinions.

For a specific example, we had a discussion today about the first letter of John that she had sent to me recently. I had some thoughts about it contradicting itself and the rest of the Bible. She explained why it didn't, and I said I'd let her know if I agreed after I finished reading the letter. She claimed that I would have to read more than just the letter, and I responded that I grew up Catholic and have read large amounts of the Bible because of that. She said that's true, but even though I believed, I had no "living faith". That devolved into an argument about whether or not that was true, which ended with both of us being frustrated and me getting angry and then feeling guilty about getting angry (I didn't yell at her, but I did express my frustration). She maintained through the whole argument that I didn't understand what she was saying.

This would probably be similar in person, but it may be important information to note that this was over text.

An example of the "because God" arguments I'm referencing were from a separate conversation about cloning. My first example didn't have them from what I can tell. Her belief was that cloned humans aren't really humans because they don't have a spirit. It's frustrating to be unable to argue against that, but that didn't cause the rift that the discussion above caused (at least from my point of view).

How can I discuss parts of the Bible / Christianity with her without both of us getting frustrated and irritated at each other?

  • 3
    This is really broad, it may help to focus on one specific instance or example.
    – apaul
    Nov 27 '17 at 22:27
  • What in particular are these conversations about? Are you trying to learn something about her faith, talk about an issue that happens to involve religion, or something else? As apaul said, being more specific can really help.
    – HDE 226868
    Nov 27 '17 at 22:29
  • edit your answer, rather. If you get requests for clarification, add the clarification to your answer, rather than a comment.
    – Catija
    Nov 27 '17 at 22:39
  • @apaul I edited the answer with an example. Reading it over though, maybe it's still too vague?
    – user9430
    Nov 27 '17 at 22:46
  • 1
    This question is being discussed on meta. Dec 6 '17 at 16:05

I am a religious Jew married to an atheist. I've also had many Christian (various flavors) friends over the years and been part of conversations with them about religion. So in a way I've been on both sides of this. (I'm not trying to convert anybody, though.)

It sounds like both of you are trying to argue or persuade. If you want to keep the relationship on good terms, y'all gotta stop that. Pretty much nobody was ever persuaded to -- or from -- religion based only on emphatic efforts of a peer. More-experienced religious people tend to know this and act on it (but see a caveat below), but many pass through the "I must share the good news and save the people I love" phase on the way. And it's true for atheists too; the need to "show people reason and science" can be a strong force too.

Those two strong forces are on a collision course.

If you want to talk about religion -- and since it's important in different ways to both of you, it's reasonable that you would -- then instead of trying to persuade, try to understand. (Besides, shouldn't understanding be a prerequisite for trying to change someone's core beliefs?) Ask questions; listen to the answers; avoid making truth-claims. I recommend starting by approaching things objectively and dispassionately rather than subjectively and emotionally.

  • Good: How do you reconcile this first letter of John with (this other thing)?

  • Good: I'm having trouble understanding this argument that Paul is making. What's the context?

  • Good: What does it mean to have "living faith"? How does that work for you? / What does that feel like?

  • Bad: John sure does contradict himself a lot. What's up with that?

In all of this you're not seeking "the truth" from her; set aside those "why is she the only one who can understand the bible?" feelings you're having. You're looking for her understanding, her perspective, not absolute truth.

My husband doesn't believe what's in the torah (five books of Moses; core Jewish text) or follow Jewish law, but we've had thoughtful, deep conversations about both anyway. We talk about text interpretation, about how the rabbis understood certain passages, about how this law is derived -- he doesn't believe a word of it and that's fine. No attempts at persuasion, no challenging each others' core beliefs, just conversation. (He did go to religious school, so he has core knowledge.)

Christianity is different from Judaism in an important way that bears on this problem. Most Christian denominations teach that you have to be Christian in order to have a desirable afterlife (which is very important in Christianity). Some allow for people who've never heard of their scriptures, like ancient peoples and isolated tribes, but they usually hold that if you've heard the message and rejected it, you're going to suffer eternally. Therefore, there is a push to bring people into the fold to save them from that fate. Some denominations emphasize missionizing more and some less; in my experience (in the US), Catholics and Orthodox are the least likely to push and evangelical Protestants are the most likely. If your friend comes from a Protestant background, don't draw too many conclusions from your Catholic upbringing. But go ahead and draw on it as you ask questions; comparing Catholicism to her denomination might even be a more comfortable conversation for both of you, while still giving you a chance to learn and her a chance to explain.

You'll notice I haven't said anything about how to broach scientific topics as part of these conversations. Just as you should ask rather than having her push, you should also let her ask you about your beliefs. If the relationship isn't one-sided, that'll happen. Let her lead.

  • I think your example questions demonstrate part of my problem well. The second and third evoke a certain bit of animosity in me. I've heard the term "living faith", but I couldn't define it for you, and I think I find it hard to disarm myself as ignorant and let my friend believe she's the only one between us who can understand the Bible. That's something I have to find a solution to... it's clearly my problem and not hers. It sounds much healthier to understand what her beliefs are and why instead of arguing against them. Thank you for your answer.
    – user9430
    Nov 28 '17 at 6:11
  • You're not granting her sole expertise by having these conversations; you're looking for her understanding. It's not about finding The Truth; it's about understanding each other. (Neither of you is going to persuade the other of The Truth; don't try.) I made some edits to try to clarify this. (I don't know what "living faith" means either, by the way.) Nov 28 '17 at 15:27

As a Christian, I find that this is a hard discussion. I start out by saying "if I expect someone else to listen respectfully to what I have to say, I need to return that favor." If I can't do that, then I shouldn't be in the conversation.

The big question is the reason for the conversation. Is it to understand each other's point of view, or to change minds? I want to understand the point of view. Minds will change when and if they do. If you both want to change each other's mind (you by pointing out errors/inconsistencies, your friend by saying "because God"), one of you if not both will fail. Reframing the discussion to listen to understand may soften it. If one of you won't do that, then the topic should be off-limits.

  • I think I need to shift more to understanding than to changing, and could probably spend more time listening respectfully to her viewpoints. Thanks for your answer.
    – user9430
    Nov 28 '17 at 6:17
  • 1
    the thing is that both of you should agree on the goal of the conversation. If you want to understand while she wants to change (to use your terms), I think it's gonna be even more frustrating for you than it currently is, until you convert to her beliefs. Before discussing any religious beliefs, you should have a meta-conversation and agree on a goal.
    – kscherrer
    Nov 28 '17 at 9:39
  • @user9430: your doing that is an excellent start. However, if both of you don't do that, it can still make for a challenging discussion. A large part of my ministry is engaging with non-believers in a respectful way. (I think that they have been yelled at enough and could benefit from a different perspective). If they see that not all Christians preach fire and brimstone and threaten them with Hell at every opportunity, perhaps they might be open to a more serious discussion. I wish you the best with this friend and hope you can continue your friendship in spite of this. Nov 28 '17 at 13:47

It is very hard, if not impossible, to argue against beliefs.

Ask her if she believes that the Bible can be analyzed as a text, or if she believes that it cannot (and can only be "felt" or something along the lines of that). In the latter case there is not much you can do -- she believes that it is right to be irrational, and arguing with her is pointless, you could aswell argue if God exists.

In the former case you probably just need to get stronger on that field. You don't need to know much to quote the Bible and use it in arguments, but you do need a lot of knowledge to reliably convince someone. You will likely need to name a lot more than just one verse.

It should also be noted that the Bible is often very hard to understand, and often very vague about some issues. Trying to understand it has started a lot of fights, and some good amount of wars. Sometimes it is just better to give up if you don't want to lose your friend, and not to talk about some problematic stuff. At all.

  • That's a good point that it's started a good amount of wars :). Thank you for your answer.
    – user9430
    Nov 28 '17 at 6:18

This is one of those very few topics that maybe just should be permanently tabled. You are already aware it appears that your models for processing the world are inherently different, and unless the two of you are able to iron out something resembling a purely philosophical debate, it won't end well as both sides will likely take the other person's arguments as circular and fundamentally flawed.

Additionally, I seem to recall reading recently (possibly a click-bait article, details unclear) that you simply can't convince someone of something very distant from their own beliefs. Any confrontation causes the opposite effect and magnifies the problem you are facing.

If you must have religious conversations though, I'll again propose keeping it purely philosophical. Arguments should be short, and free from formal and informal fallacies, with the mutual understanding that fallacies can be wholly truthful but impossible to debate intelligently.

  • I'll do my best to keep the arguments short, if I have arguments about it at all anymore. Thanks for your answer.
    – user9430
    Nov 28 '17 at 6:22

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