5
May

Dealing with Apathy When Discussing Faith

thKPRHJP45As Christians, we’re told to always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within us; in other words, to be able to provide an explanation of what we believe and why.  But for many of us, the opportunity to do so seldom, if ever, arises. In fact, by and large, it seems we are faced with apathy and indifference from an increasingly secular culture. Struggling to get past this with someone – to get them to actually think about the Christian message – requires the believer to first deal with the source of the apathy.

One common source, in my experience, is what can be called the Santa Factor. This is the belief that Christians are simply deluding themselves when they believe in a God who will “deliver presents” to them when they die. Talking to such skeptics about the rewards God has in store for those who place their trust in Him has little impact. It seems as real to them as the prospect of Santa leaving presents under their tree. I had this confirmed recently in a conversation with an unbeliever. Seeing her indifference, I told her I felt like I was trying to talk to her about what presents she was hoping for from Santa, while she was just hanging back, secretly laughing at the absurdity of the whole concept. “It’s like I’m trying to list the reasons that there is a North Pole and flying reindeer,” I said, “and you are just politely nodding and wondering why so many people believe this … nonsense.” I asked her whether that was close to what she thought, and her reply was a candid “yes.”

In fact, she thought the analogy to Santa was a perfect one, one that captured her feelings in a very precise way. Once this mindset is made clear, it’s easy to understand why my arguments gain no traction. Despite the soundness of the logic used in building my case for Christianity, or the reference to historical events which form the foundation of our faith, to the unbeliever I might as well be trying to explain how elves could conceivably build toys or how reindeer might possess gravity-neutralizing organs. Since there are many reasons to believe that there is no Santa, and no reasons to believe the contrary, that conversation ends before it begins. I have, as yet, found no sure-fire way to overcome this Santa Factor. I’d be interested to hear from any believers who have.

I do believe there is a necessary first step, however, and that is to show the skeptic that the Santa Factor is actually a variant of the “straw man” fallacy. Setting up a straw man involves defining the other side’s argument in an unfair or misleading way, and then concluding that you have the better argument when you knock down this “straw man.” When skeptics think of Christianity, they often picture a combination of strange images – Father Time with his flowing white beard, angels dancing on the heads of pins, virgin births, cannibalism, and strange “miracles.” A jumble of such images leaves the skeptic feeling comfortable rejecting the whole of Christianity as based on primitive superstitions and beliefs. But this, of course, is not what thinking Christians are talking about when they defend the faith. Christianity is instead based on history, on evidence and on reason. In the end, faith transcends these factors, but faith remains solidly rooted in them.

Christianity makes betters sense of the world than all the other competing worldviews. It provides answers that other worldviews can’t provide. The Santa analogy lends itself to making this point. After all, even when the Santa “straw man” is knocked down, there still remain presents under the tree whose source needs to be explained. In my next post, I’ll offer a suggestion as to where next to take the conversation

Posted by Al Serrato

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3 Comments

  1. Insightful says:

    What seems to constantly be left OUT in quoting Peter’s “give a reason for the hope within you” is a VERY important other component, viz. “when someone ASKs you”! The verb there in Greek has the idea of someone almost collaring you, they’re so eager to hear what makes you tick. IOW, this is someone who WANTS to hear what you have to say. That is pivotal. (Note also that it seems to imply that the person knows you quite a bit; it’s most likely NOT a stranger.)

    I don’t think we have the obligation to see everybody as a target for the Gospel (that is not treating people fairly, nor is it consistent with election), where we’re essentially constantly waiting to ambush them “for the Gospel.” Not everybody’s ready (and no, I don’t want to hear the old cliche “but you’re sowing seeds for the future!” In a lot of cases, you’re actually sowing barriers, bec. if someone’s not interested in [what they see as] “religion,” then you’re most likely going to be putting them off, which to me is damaging the cause).

    Better to carefully observe and listen to people to identify just where they are in terms of receptivity, which can be done by just tossing out something that involves the truth in a broad way and noting how the person responds. It’s what I call “diagnostics” (pardon the bad pun {snort}), and it’s very valuable, both in terms of saving your energy and of not putting people off for the future.

  2. Sarel Botha says:

    Ask the person questions to determine what their worldview is and ask them to explain to you what evidence they have to believe what they believe. As you said, Christianity offers the best explanation.

    The book How to talk to a skeptic was a good introduction for me to this topic.

  3. Deb says:

    Insightful: I am so glad you said that! I have worried about trying to start a conversation with people who don’t seem to care about Jesus Christ at all for quite a while. It is much easier to talk to someone who actually wants to know than someone who doesn’t care.

    Two years ago on Good Friday , I was in a conversation at work about someone gong door to door on the weekends witnessing. I was told by one person that when they are home, they do not want people knocking on their door. Another person echoed a similar statement in saying that, “I know where the church is if I want to hear about it.”

    Because of my passion for Christ and the desire that everyone come to know Him, on occasion, I have been known to be too strong in my delivery. Now, I am afraid to say anything if I am not asked. It can turn people off to Jesus Christ entirely which is very counter productive.

    Thank you for confirming that we should wait until they are interested and ask for answers.

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