How to Discuss Religion Calmly

Debating religion with someone of faith can be very frustrating indeed, especially if approached in the wrong way. This article will hope to provide you with some helpful instructions for going about it so as to make the experience as enjoyable and satisfying as any discussion about such an important topic should be.


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    Be prepared. This is the most crucial prerequisite for discussion on any topic. Reading is the most important thing in preparation. Thanks to the recent wave of writing, there is more than enough material to have a good understanding of arguments and counter arguments. The first rule of engagement is 'know thy enemy' so have also a decent knowledge of religious text, doctrine and dogma.
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    Meet the person/target. Whether this discussion is planned, as in with a close friend or relative, or with someone you meet randomly on the train, patience is essential. After having put so much time and effort into the preparation you will no doubt be, to say the least, anxious to vent. Let the topic present itself and you will feel far more relaxed. Your goal should not be to de-convert, at least in the first conversation. It should be to get the person to think critically about their beliefs and other aspects of life in general.
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    Analyse the person and situation. This will give you an idea of how best to approach the discussion. Though it is often pointed out that atheists have no 'one opinion fits all', the same is true of the religious, some having markedly differing opinions, even in the same denomination, so you must understand exactly what the person's opinions are instead of prejudging from what they have labeled themselves as. This will also allow you to create some boundaries.
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    Be calm, unemotional and responsive. This will be the biggest test of your ability. It is most important in any discussion and is difficult to master; you will improve it with experience. Any one discussion will not often begin in the same way as one had before, therefore you must respond to the point in question directly and, with that, edge closer to a point you wish to make.
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    Make a firm point, ask a firm question; try to make your audience really think. Vary the point and question depending on the particular discussion, trying to fashion them to line up with whatever the person is putting forward the most as supportive to their viewpoint, e.g. morality or design or consolation. Depending also on the length and scope of the conversation you may have to firmly argue or question more than once.
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    Listen to their response. A good thing to do is to repeat what they said before retorting so as to (a) show that you're listening, and (b) make their point clear to yourself.
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    Bring the conversation finally towards topics like, but not limited to, free speech, free expression, free inquiry. Other points here should stress evidence, reason, critical thinking, etc., trying to wrap up the discussion without directly talking about religion.


  • Don't be arrogant or bigoted; you are not infallible. Just be friendly.
  • Enjoy the intellectual challenge of such a discussion.


  • Although you may feel strongly about something, being too gung-ho will often cause the person to resent you somewhat and resort to ad hominem responses, which would threaten the discourse. Rushing will also make the conversation far too terse to be effective or enjoyable.
  • In beginning the conversation, do not press the issue and rather let the discussion present itself. Having time to let the arguments settle before actually getting into a discussion with somebody will prove beneficial later on.
  • Do not, however tempted you may be, blurt out prepared lines of argument that have no direct relevance at the particular point in the conversation.

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Categories: Faith and Belief