For Christians Who Want Converts
I’m a nonbeliever who finds most of the words attributed to Jesus to be interesting and compelling. But don’t get too excited. I’m not a likely prospect for conversion, for a number of reasons. For example, I do not believe in the supernatural.
In some ways, you could call me a Jeffersonian Christian. Thomas Jefferson did not believe in the supernatural but thought Jesus was a good man who gave very good moral advice. I’m a little like Jefferson.
But I’m more like Epictetus — a Stoic. I believe that one should try to live a virtuous life. Only I’m a Stoic who doesn’t believe in the Gods. So, I’m perhaps best described as a Humanist Stoic. In any case, as a nonbeliever, I can help Christians understand those they are trying to convert — and perhaps do a better job of it.
Why you can’t convert.
The most obvious point is that it’s difficult to persuade anyone about anything. When was the last time someone changed your mind about something significant? Are you open to change? Really?
Do you question your own faith? Would you consider giving it up? No?
Why would you expect that from others?
Do not underestimate the difficulty of the task. This is a key thing to understand going in. Also, do not dismiss your target. And especially do not attack your target.
You must always remember that what’s compelling to you may not be compelling to others.
There’s nothing compelling about the bible.
Yes. That’s true. It’s a book with words in it. There’s lots of versions. Experts, including the most pious Christians, interpret it very differently. What to you looks like a timeless teaching looks to others like a Rorschach test that various Christians use to promote their personal biases.
The problem of evil is insurmountable.
People may come to religion to escape the horrors of the world. They may seek eternal salvation. But most people can’t simply dismiss the evil they see in the world. And, as you know, it’s very hard to understand why an all loving and all powerful God would allow for such horrors.
The bible’s answer is the story of Job. And God’s answer to Job is to shut up and sit down because I’m big and powerful and you just can’t possibly understand. As famous as this answer is, it’s not a very convincing answer.
Visible Christians set a very bad example.
This is perhaps the biggest barrier to conversion — visible Christians setting a very poor example of what Christianity means.
Look at the news, on social media, and in the world itself. What does Christian mean to people looking and listening? It means obsessive focus on stopping abortion, opposing homosexuality, and spewing hatred about other people.
It means the opposite of everything Jesus’ preached. It means Prosperity Theology — greedy smarmy preachers at mega-churches swindling their foolish followers. It means worshipping the Golden Calf. It means denying food to the hungry and denying healthcare to the sick — allegedly for their own good. It means hating the foreigner and making a mockery of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It means throwing the first stone.
Don’t look away. Don’t diminish this. This is very big, very important. This is why Christianity is losing the young, why church attendance is down, why Christianity is always suffering a net loss despite the acquisition of new emotionally vulnerable believers.
How you can convert.
Reach out heart to heart.
You cannot win converts by reason because reason is on the side of reality — not the supernatural. Nor can you win converts by badgering or by using the cynical tricks of the mega-churches. At least you can’t win a net gain for Christianity with such tactics.
You can’t threaten. You can only attract. But eternal life won’t do it for most because modern people who believe in life after death and in the soul is a rapidly shrinking group. Furthermore, people aren’t attracted to a religion that preaches self-interest as the key — which is what personal salvation is.
What originally worked for Christianity is what would work best today: preach love and set an example with your own behavior. You cannot push people. You can only attract them. And you can only attract them with something that is actually attractive.
Here’s what’s attractive.
Love one another. Feed the hungry. Heal the sick. Show kindness to strangers. Do not worship wealth and the wealthy. Care for the Earth that God gave us.
Actually preach and embody what Jesus asked of us. Dismiss the words of those “Christians” who say the opposite. Do not engage with them. Simply say they are wrong — because they ARE wrong.
Why will this work? Well, it won’t always work, but it will work far more often than what you are doing now. Because the future is the young and they oppose the hatred being preached in Jesus’ name and they don’t want to be preached at by “know it alls” — that is, by the faithful like you. That’s simply the way it is.
Belief is an emotional thing, which is why someone’s beliefs can — sometimes — be changed. But what’s offered must be attractive and fear of eternal damnation is a tool that has largely lost its credibility. So is anger and hatred of “the other.” Indeed, a high percentage of young people see themselves as “the other.” Attacking the other will drive them away.
I would argue that the people you should concentrate on converting are those who currently identify as Christians but oppose Jesus’ teachings. Those who twist His words into tools to acquire power and wealth and badger and bully others who make them uncomfortable. Because they are the ones shrinking Christianity and if Christianity disappears it will be those self-identified Christians who will crucify Him. Again.
You should concentrate on converting “believers” to actually following Jesus.
Why would I help you to convert others?
Jefferson said that if a man believes in one God or a hundred Gods neither breaks his leg, nor picks his pocket. I agree with this.
You want more Christians. I want more people who neither break my leg, nor picks my pocket. If the gain is in new Christians who embody love and current self-identified Christians who move from hatred to love, I’d be very happy about that.
I want more kindness in the world and you want more followers of Jesus. I’d like to think these are very compatible goals. Get to it!