Questioning Beliefs Respectfully

If I for some reason wanted to question your religious (or irreligious) beliefs, how might I go about doing so respectfully? Are there particular arguments I shouldn’t use, even if I couch them in polite language (i’m thinking particularly of the whole Flying Spaghetti Monster/IPU analogies, though anything else would be helpful)?

Oh, and what are your beliefs?

 I'd stay away from using words like "Irrational, Illogical, Childish, and Stupid." The best way to both make your point, and give a faith based person something to chew on is to come across as an intelligent, polite, well adjusted person. If you make your case politely, confidently and without sarcasm or direct attacks, your points are going to stick with them and echo strongly. Basically, you need to gain that person's respect and admiration before launching into such a topic, and be careful not to shake or lose that rapport once it's broached. Also, try not to be a broken record, only interesting with said person for the purpose of spreading your beliefs. That just makes you a sort of reverse-fundie, easy to ignore.

Whoops! I forgot to mention, I’m a Shintoist.

What Acid Lamp said. Also, if you’re going to question, please *listen *to the answers. Simply questioning to challenge or to “prove” me wrong without listening to what I have to say about what you’re asking isn’t respectful, no matter what language you use. If your intent is to beat me into submission and get me to repudiate my faith, you won’t be respectful no matter what.

agnostic pagan (yes, stolen from a Dopername, but it works so now it’s MINE!) and hermetic philosopher

It would probably be best to have the discussion you’re seeking one-on-one with the other person, rather than in a group. I think in a group, even if your interest is genuine and your intention is to be entirely respectful, chances are someone else might pipe up and start looking for an argument with the person you’re questioning in the way that Whynot has described.

I’m a Buddhist.

Also, since it’s about belief (irrational by definition) you should be willing to accept the answer whetever it is. Accept doesn’t mean agree.

If you asked me what my favourite color is and why, you’d probably have no problem accepting the answer; I’d appreciate having answers about my beliefs taken in the same spirit.

I label myself Catholic.

If you feel like you should fold your arms while listening to the answer, you may not be on the right track.


Along with “Irrational, Illogical, Childish and Stupid” please avoid words like “Evil” and “Poisonous”. Do not tell me that I shouldn’t believe X because other people who claimed to believe X did terrible things(especially if they’ve been dead for thousands of years). Yes, horrible, horrible things have been done in the name of religion, especially Christianity, but I don’t see why that should affect my beliefs.

Do not talk to me like all people who share my beliefs are monolithic. I may be as willing as you are to laugh at or criticize the people on the fringes of my beliefs. Or I may not be. So feel me out a little on the people who want Intelligent Design taught in schools before you make assumptions about where I stand on that issue. (For what it’s worth: I more or less believe in Intelligent Design, but don’t think I was hurt by learning about evolution in school, and think both sides make this a bigger issue than it needs to be. I’m probably weird, but I don’t think I’m the only one with beliefs that are somewhat contradictory. So be careful.)

Accept that I may not be able to explain all my beliefs, or may not be willing to try. And yes, my faith may be bolstered by a certain amount of Will to Believe. This may well be hard for you to understand or respect, but if you can’t respect me enough to try, I probably will not be interested in pursuing the conversation further.

Christian, with some allegience to the United Methodist church, but I think I’m a little more Fundamentalist and Evangelical than is normal for contemporary United Methodism.

This is where I run into trouble, and why I probably shouldn’t try questioning beliefs respectfully. A favourite colour is a statement of preference, while a religious belief is a factual claim. They’re two animals so different as to be totally irrelevant to each other.

“Childish” and “stupid” are value-laden statements, and I’m totally on board with that.

If you don’t want someone to use the objective words “irrational” and “illogical” then you might as well stick your fingers in your ears and retort with “la la la, I can’t hear you.”

Well, then, at that point, you can be called childish.

faith = knowledge acquired without proof

How is that “factual”? It’s the opposite of factual!

“Reason vs faith (in the Middle Ages)” was the bane of my Philosophy class… we dedicated a whole month to it and it. Came. Up. In. Every. God-damned. Exam. Even when the teacher used student-provided dice to choose an Essay Theme among all possible ones.

I think the best way to question someone’s belief would be to ask something along the lines of, “I’m having a hard time understanding your religion’s concept of X. Would you mind explaining it to me?”

After hearing the explanation, you can then say, “That doesn’t seem to make sense to me because…”

A calm, rational discussion without being condescending will usually yield much better results than belittling their beliefs openly.

Years ago, a Catholic co-worker asked a Muslim co-worker about Islam. They are both educated, fair-minded guys. The conversation went along swimmingly for a while, with both of them explaining aspects of their religions.

Then, co-worker #3–a less-evolved Bible-thumper–piped up. “But–that’s just wrong!” Co-worker #4 (me) wasn’t sure which belief he found more objectionable. But I kept my mouth shut.

I’ll agree that such conversations are possible. Without idiot bystanders. And provided that someone isn’t really trying to convince the other guy he’s a fool.

A factual claim is a claim about fact. “There is an omnipotent omniscient omnipresent being that created the Universe” is a claim about fact. Either such a being exists or it doesn’t.

What everybody else said. I have noticed a better reception if you don’t first say your beliefs are vastly different. If they think you might share similar beliefs, they are more open, but if they find out you are a “heretic” they spend more time trying to convince you to convert than explain their POV.

I’m not quite certain there is a classification for me. I would say I am a Deist with Trans-humanistic beliefs.

So, in fact, you’re not interested in questioning beliefs respectfully. There’s no harm in that.

As a Christian I consider my beliefs quite rational and logical, and as they’ve been arrived at over a period of some years I do find it aggravating when I encounter the flat assumption that I only believe as I do because I was beaten into it by my parents, teachers and preachers. I don’t, on the other hand, believe that the proposition “If God exists, then his existence should be experimentally provable by Man” is necessarily sound. :slight_smile:

The issue I have with the words “rrational” and “illogical” is that they have become synonomous with other felleings and descriptions that do not apply. When I hear “irrational” I think of someone enraged, hysterical, teporarily out of their ability to listen, or evaluate. “Illogical” conjures up images of sillyness, slow or mentally imparied persons, or childish behaviour. They can be hot button words are emotionally loaded.

Certainly it is acceptable to state that:" YEC is illogical because of x,y,and Z."

Think of how different it is to use it this way:" Believing in YEC is illogical."

 One is addressed directly to a specific point with a specific reply; the other is more or less a judgement statement of a belief. Remember that most people don't hear: "Believing in YEC is illogical." They hear "Believing in YEC is illogical, YOU believe in YEC, YOU are illogical."

It’s easier to avoid the word, and state in another way. Strange as it may be, a lot of people take offense to those terms.

I apologize for the above spelling. Something happened between the spell check and the post. :smack:

Not if believers are going to take valid statements as a sign of disrespect.

Boiling down the question “why do you believe in god?” can end in no other way than someone at some point making a leap of faith. If you’re not going to call that irrational, or illogical, then it’s just a question of semantics, but you should at least try to deal with that.

Right. Or, as someone helped me articulate recently in another thread, my religious beliefs are not irrational, they are “arational”. They exist and are derived outside the realm of rationality. Therefore, they are not rational. Neither do they contradict rationality, so they are not irrational. Ditto for logic/illogical.