Conversion vs. conquest

I’d like to follow up a bit on an earlier thread about respecting the opposition. I’ve been thinking about what makes people decide to convert—or not. Ideally, I think we’d like to have our disputes end with the other person changing their mind, and agreeing that we’re right.

The problem is that if we win the argument, the other person has to be the loser before they can agree we’re right, and that’s an ego thing. It comes back to our goal: are we working to convince, or working to conquer? Are we trying to make the other person a loser, or a winner?

This is at the heart of the debate over “framing” science that was a fairly boisterous brouhaha not too long ago. Do we present science in such a way as to boldly stand up for the truth, regardless of the opposition, or do we make allowances for people’s pre-existing beliefs and preferences, and “frame” our message so as to be appealing? Do we go for conquest or conversion?

I’m thinking that the heart of a successful strategy lies in adopting an attitude that is understanding and supportive, without being compromising regarding the facts. I was a Bible-believing Christian for literally decades, and I was no less intelligent then than I am now. (Less experienced, perhaps, but not less intelligent. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!) So I can say, “Yes, I’ve been there, and let me tell you how understanding the truth has made my life better.” And I think there are a lot of others who can say the same thing.

What makes it hard, I think, is that unbelievers tend to be a bit on the defensive side, as an unpopular minority. We know we’re not going to convert anybody, so why try? The best we can hope for is to score a few good points and maybe embarrass the Establishment now and then. True victory, true conversion, is hopeless.

Or is it? We’re so used to being underdogs that it may not be obvious to us that a lot of people are a lot more open to realistic thinking than they’ve ever been before. Eight years of Christian leadership under Saint George II have opened a lot of people’s eyes and minds. Maybe we should stop assuming that everyone is going to react badly. Maybe it’s time to say, “Yes, I know what you mean, I used to feel the same way,” and then explain how our lives have become better, more meaningful, and less confused, by turning to reality-based faith instead of faith-based faith and the words of men. Maybe we can start drawing interested inquirers.

We really do have something good and exciting to offer. When I deconverted from Christianity, one of the things that amazed me the most was the virtual flood of solid and sensible answers I got to all kinds of questions that Jesus never had any really good answers for. I found new hope, new reason for living, and of course new freedom from all sorts of superstitions and prejudices that I hadn’t really realized were enslaving me until I shook them off. Losing God grieved me badly, but I have to admit, what I got in return more than outweighs my loss, since He never really showed up in the first place.

I named this blog Evangelical Realism because that’s what I’d like to see. I’d like to see Realists become bolder, more confident, and better able to share the good news that God is a myth, and life has purpose. I’m not entirely sure how to achieve what I’d like to see, but I’m hoping that others will share this vision, and that a community can emerge that will attract others also.

We should talk about that some more…

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Posted in Realism, Woodworking 101. 9 Comments »

9 Responses to “Conversion vs. conquest”

  1. David D.G. Says:

    I never did have “faith” in the supernatural, so it’s hard to even grasp, let alone sympathize with, someone else’s position of willful ignorance (and it would be both difficult and dishonest to represent myself otherwise). And by “willful ignorance,” I don’t mean God-belief in general, but specific stupid beliefs such as faith healing and young-Earth creationism. So we can’t all use the “yeah, I’ve been there, and here’s how I saw the light of reason” approach; some of us saw it pretty much to start with — and that’s not a claim of superiority, just a fact of early upbringing.

    But since I want to avoid the win/lose argument scenario, I try to couch my side of things as simple information (scientific, historical, or whatever) to educate a person. I try to avoid the haughteur of superior knowledge (really, I try!) and just introduce a person to new data.

    I know of at least one person who, though he is still a staunch believer in God, at least has accepted that his YEC views of early Earth were completely in error. Perhaps it helped to couch the new information as just that — an update correcting erroneous information, rather than a slam against his entire belief structure as stupid.

    ~David D.G.

  2. John Morales Says:

    The problem is that if we win the argument, the other person has to be the loser before they can agree we’re right, and that’s an ego thing. It comes back to our goal: are we working to convince, or workin to conquer? Are we trying to make the other person a loser, or a winner?

    Neither, for me.

    I’m “working” to test my beliefs by subjecting them to critical scrutiny by others, and to help others by scrutinising theirs.
    If I can sustain my beliefs, I win (adds weight to them); if I cannot, I win (because I can discard or correct them).

  3. R. C. Moore Says:

    I enter into such discussions a lot, and the way I frame it is to ask the person of belief to clarify what it is they are asserting, while constantly requiring them to adjust to the know facts, correct contradictions, until we get down to a succinct statement.

    I then repeat the statement back to them, and ask them if that is what they truly believe. This seems to give them some pause. They don’t change their mind, but to have a non-believer state their belief in a slightly amused tone seems to give them a bit of cognitive dissonance.

    For instance:

    “I believe the Bible has remained unchanged for 2000 years, and consists of eyewitness accounts only explainable by divine power that quoted Jesus verbatim when he said the Old Testament was completely true and therefore the Universe was created by God in a week and all evidence to the contrary is an illusion that was part of the creation”.

    I then congratulate them for being logically consistent. This makes them feel good. I usually also point out that creating a logically consistent position that is not true is trivial, if one does not require it to be complete.

  4. R. C. Moore Says:

    Sorry, I meant:

    “creating a logically consistent position is trivial, if one does not require it to be complete”

  5. cl Says:


    Is this de ja vu or what? Another short post on the ethics of debate that I agree with, and another small typo: Second line, second paragraph. 😉

    Sorry, if catching typos is annoying, I’ll certainly stop, but you seem to have high regard for word integrity and that’s the only reason I say anything at all.

  6. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Thanks again, it’s fixed now.

  7. nal Says:

    Speaking of typos: it’s deja vu. 🙂

  8. pboyfloyd Says:

    It’s ‘typos-a-go-go’.

    It’s “déjà vu”!

    You all forgot the accents.

  9. cl Says:


    Too bad I can’t edit my comment. Good catch.