2017-06-23 02:27 am
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Tip #80 Context Speaks

In the Bush era, there was a consulting firm for Republicans that helped with communications. It had a slogan that read "It's not what you say. It's what they hear." Whatever your political position or your opinion on the influence of that firm, there is some truth to that slogan. What is said and intended isn't always going to be what's heard.

That slogan will be the basis of at least two different tips.

Here, the tip is about context. Way, way back at the beginning of this series, I made the point about passing the Turing Test. That was about keeping the conversational context in mind. What had been said throughout the conversation, not just the last line. Take that same basic idea and extend it to cover social context.
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2017-06-09 07:22 pm
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Tip #79 Examine What You Really Believe

No, I'm not saying you're a secret Christian any more than I appreciate others saying that I'm a secret theist. I am asking you to examine what beliefs would make sense in light of certain actions and motivations. We, the non-believers, do that examination. And, it doesn't always work out like you want.

By analogy, imagine you're new at a job working under one of two supervisors. One supervisor, the supervisor everybody claims is the supervisor, is a great supervisor. This supervisor knows who's being productive, cares to get to know ground-level employees as individuals, plays no favorites and is not susceptible to smarm or flattery. This is the supervisor everybody talks about.

Then, there's the supervisor that everybody seems to respond to. Most everybody is careful to, at any moment, look busy. Your fellow employees actually take this as a priority over productivity. Your fellow employees are so careful to avoid being caught saying something critical or insulting of the supervisor that they even refuse to acknowledge that obvious abuses of power or failures of management would be such abuses or failures if the supervisor did them.
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2017-05-26 05:48 pm
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Tip #78 Positive Results Not Guaranteed

Just a couple weeks ago, a new commenter over on the Slacktivist comments section offered up forgiveness as the cure-all for social ills. The response was quick and... not to the commenter's expectation. Even backing their claims with the words of Jesus, in the comments of a Christian blog, didn't garner the positive response they had expected. The immediate response involved accusations of oppression and evil.

A while back, in Tip #46, I noted the commenter who, throughout the comments section of an atheist blog responding to my not finding their website convincing on the matter of the Shroud of Turin, repeatedly said "Your (insert something here) is, at best, flawed."
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2017-05-05 10:25 pm

Tip #77 The Uncertain Value of Certainty

At the end of the Nye/Ham debate, a few years ago, when the moderator was presenting audience questions, one telling question came up. What would it take to convince you that the other side was correct? In this debate, the question wasn't God versus not, but evolution versus Young Earth Creationism.

Nye, the proponent of evolution, gave a quick list of potential evidences that would contradict the evolutionary model of Earth's history. Ham, the proponent of Creationism, insisted that, being a Christian, nothing could sway him.
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2017-04-28 01:32 am
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Tip #76 You Are Fallible

A frequent conversation I've had with Christians in that subset of Christianity that comprise my target reader in this series...

Christian: You/they have to know that X*.
Me: I/they am/are already quite aware that there are people who believe X*. So, telling them won't change anything.
Christian: But, you/they have to know that X*.

"X", in this case, is a stand-in for any number of claims. This can refer to the claim that Hell awaits one who hasn't been saved from their sins via faith, to the claim that God hates homosexuality, to the claim that believing that the theory of evolution accurately describes the history of life on Earth, etc.
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2017-04-21 02:44 pm
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Tip #75 We Know Your Motivations

This past Easter, Ed Stetzer wrote an opinion piece for CNN. The basic premise of this opinion piece was an explanation, to non-Christians, of what motivates Christians to proselytize. He's not alone in this effort or the mistaken idea upon which its based. But, to be clear, we know why you do this.

Stetzer's piece mentions the Great Commission. Others mention the desire to save souls, to help us evade Hell, etc. And, we get that part.
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2017-04-14 10:07 pm
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Tip #74 The Opposite of Love

A couple times in this series I have accused you, the general community of conservative Christians who most find it your mission to change my mind, of hating non-believers. To an extent, that does match up to the behavioral evidence. You might claim to hold no antipathy, but a willingness and eagerness to engage in measures of cruelty in order to push someone into a desired response, particularly one born of frustration suggest hatred.

There is another interpretation. The opposite of love, so the old saying goes, is not hatred, but indifference.
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2017-01-22 08:27 pm
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Tip #73 Are You Saying Something Or Echoing?

This one's going to take a while to get to the point. Sorry in advance.

A while back, I talked about how, when you talk about non-believers in movies, books, magazines, and websites that are by and for conservative Christians, the rest of us are, effectively, in the room. We know what you're saying about us. We're right here and we can hear you.

That wouldn't be a problem if what you were saying was a part of an advancing conversation. But, from what I can tell, that conversation you have amongst yourselves about us isn't moving forward. It's stagnated.

In the late 90s, when I enjoyed the internet hangout of alt.atheism, we faced a number of Christians attempting to convert us. They would speak, often in very general terms as they wouldn't follow-up or even read responses, about how sorry they were for the tragedies that befell us to make us atheists. They would express empathy for our nihilistic depression. They would explain that our desire to sin without consequence would be for not and we should just admit that we already know that they're right and we're wrong. They would inform us that God would forgive us for hating him.

None of it was accurate. None of it was new or had been new for a long time. And, in the time since then, none of it has changed.
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2016-12-04 07:08 pm
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Tip # 72 What Labels Are

I've been gone a long time from this blog (and from this series). A large part of the reason has been Pokemon Go. But, another part has been my difficulty in getting my thoughts together on this promised topic. What labels are rather than what they're not. I've both oversimplified and over-complicated it in my mind.

So, I'll keep it simple, perhaps more simple than I promised. If so, that's my error. Labels are descriptions. They can be accurate descriptions or inaccurate descriptions. But, they're descriptions, nonetheless. They can be influenced by the intent of those who adopt the labels as well as those who would seek to assign the labels, but they can't proscribe anything onto the labeled.
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2016-08-28 05:39 pm
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Tip #71 Labels Aren't Magic

A tactic that resurfaces every so often is the argument by which the apologist or evangelist claims that an atheist isn't an atheist, but actually an agnostic. This seems to happen more in popular theist claims of arguments they did make than in actual arguments, these days. The argument usually employs a dot and a much larger circle, representing total possible knowledge and total knowledge known by humankind on Earth respectively. The point of the argument is that one cannot claim to falsify a nonfalsifiable concept, like God, without knowing everything, therefore one cannot be an atheist.

This fails for multiple reasons, all surrounding how labels work, as a concept.

The first thing you should understand about labels is that they aren't magic.
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2016-07-31 09:04 pm
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Tip # 70 The Borg Does Not Love You

This example didn't happen to me, but someone else. In the comments section of an article about the ways nonChristians view Christians, one atheist mentioned the story of someone who tried to befriend them and invite them to church. At the time of the story, the nonChristian was a Buddhist and the invitation to church got the reply of an invitation to Buddhist activities. The nonChristian made clear that they weren't interested in converting, but would be interested in mutual learning. The Christian then cut off all contact.

Here is part of one of the responses.

I get why she cut off contact if she had been witnessing and there was no evidence of interest. It isn’t that anyone is a project – I know how bad life is without the Lord as I was there once. I also know some are so won over by false gods that they are not open to the true and living God – it’s not any different than what I feel for the Lord. As far as being friends – Proverbs tells a Christian that Iron Sharpens iron – so if you are not a Christian – how are you going to affect a Christian? Odds are not in a godly manner and as such they need to befriend those that believe the same way.


Among evangelists and apologists, there can be a tendency to treat nonbelievers as made of bad parts. The professed love and concern for the person is about taking the bits and pieces of the person that makes this person a different person from yourself (or a different person from that which you would recognize as a member of your faith) and replacing them. The result is to remove the person in front of you and replace them with someone you do love.
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2016-07-24 04:39 pm
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Tip # 69 Feeling Like Losers Doesn't Convince Them You're Right

This is another tip that goes to your motivations for your attempts at evangelism and apologetics. Are you trying to convince people of the truth of your faith? Are you trying to win the conversation? You can't do both.

In a recent face-to-face conversation, I listened to a case made... and made and made at high speed. No breath was taken and no space was left for response. Finally I just straight up asked the person to let me respond and I got an explicit rejection. This person didn't want a conversation. They said "everybody has an opinion and you can keep yours to yourself." To the idea that that applies as readily to themselves, there was the response "I've already given you my opinion."
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2016-07-17 08:28 pm
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Tip # 68 Easier Said Than Done

"I don't have a prejudiced bone in my body."

You might have said those words and believed them. It's a certainty that you've heard that phrase. It's a likelihood that, at least a few of those times you heard the phrase, you immediately knew it not to be true.

It's one of those claims that are easy to believe when you make them. Claims to being humble, to being loving and not hateful, to being kind, to not letting bad information lead you to false conclusions based on popular understandings. These are all easy claims to make. And, among those who most feel it their duty to turn me into a Christian, there's a tendency to believe those claims.

If you find yourself about to make such a claim ("I don't have a prejudiced bone in my body." "No, I'm really being loving to gay people." "I don't hold myself as superior to anybody.), stop. Do not make that claim and do not believe that claim.

I have not just called you a bigot or accused you of being an egotist.
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2016-07-10 06:33 pm
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Tip # 67 That Perfect Answer

Back in my tip on Shannon Low, I quickly mentioned that The Binding of Issac was one of the moral problems that would spring up once someone deconverts, making the allegedly perfect answers to Elisha and the Two Bears not the perfect re-conversion tool that you think it is. One commenter felt the need to respond to The Binding of Issac, thinking that they had the satisfying moral defense. The last line of that defense is as follows.

Was Issac actually in any danger? I do not believe so because in either case he is not harmed (....physically.....)


Note that last word, surrounded by extended ellipses and parentheses, "physically". That was, whether intentional or not, an admission that, even if I were to accept everything else about the defense, it still wouldn't succeed (for reasons that I will go into in a future tip).
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2016-07-03 06:01 pm
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Tip # 66 Examine Your Values and Priorities

Time Changer is a movie by the Christiano Brothers, about how we've declined in morality over the years. In the movie, a man visits the present (the 2000s at the time of the movie's making) from 1890. The purpose of the visit being that the inventor of the time machine wants our main character to see how bad things can get if people aren't Christian enough.

In an America that has moved past Segregation and has legalized interracial marriage and has given all races legal equality (at least on paper, no we're not done, but for the purposes of this movie let's remember where were as well), in an America that has given women the vote and the right to work outside the home and even high political office, the main character is aghast. People blaspheme on movies, present non-married couples kissing on television for the world to see, shops sell women clothing that does not protect men from lustful thoughts! And, among the greatest of horrors, he's not allowed to use a public school science class as an opportunity to remind children that the bible trumps evidence.

Fred Clark calls this the Narrative of Decline, the presumption that things are getting worse and telling the story of history in that light. I call it lopsided priorities. And, that view of the moral superiority of the past isn't the only place I find them.
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2016-06-19 06:42 pm
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Tip # 65 You Might Be Part of the Problem

Back when Dr. Tiller was murdered, one of the first reactions came from Bill O'Reilly, to defend himself against the notion that rhetoric like his own contributed. O'Reilly, on his show, had repeatedly referred to Dr. Tiller as "Hitlerian". But, denied that likening someone to the person voted most likely to be killed as a baby if time travel were ever invented might make the murder of that someone seem like a legitimate option.

After a shooting in Planned Parenthood, the same arguments were made. Likening abortion to the single event in History that is most used to lend credibility to the idea of assassination could have nothing, whatsoever, to do with someone thinking that a well-publicized shooting would save lives.

Whatever your view on abortion, or gay rights, or Muslims in America, or any number of other issues over which America has had mass shootings, the effects of your actions and, yes, your rhetoric extends beyond yourself. From the position of the unconvinced, deliberately taking actions that contribute to a problem only make it more clear that the faith you hold doesn't hold the solutions you may claim.
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2016-06-11 09:41 pm
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Tip #64 Deconversion and The Genie

On May 21, Shannon Low, of The Order of Elijah (a metalcore band that once self-identified as a Christian rock band), made a Facebook post explaining and declaring that he is no longer a Christian. He no longer believes that God exists. The post is a good read. It's long on the scale of Facebook Posts, but not on the scale of good narrative*.

That said, for our purposes, we'll pay attention to the Christian response. Admittedly, some of the Christian response was good, respecting him as a person and stopping at that. The rest, however... gives me material for more tips.

In his Facebook Post, Mr. Low points to the story of Elijah and the Two Bears as one of the issues that were a part of how he got to the point he was at the writing of that post. He also writes about how he did ask others and got unsatisfying responses to his moral issues with the story.
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2016-06-05 05:46 pm
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Tip #63 "Mistakes Were Made"

"Mistakes were made" is a frustrating phrase to hear. Once used without irony, and you don't need to know any other context. You know you're dealing with a special kind of cowardice and greed. The speaker wants the credibility and respect due to someone with the strength of character to acknowledge their wrongdoings and take the hard steps to correct them. Yet, the speaker doesn't actually want to acknowledge wrongdoings or make any difficult changes, even to something as simple as their attitude regarding the possibility that they could be doing wrong.

Sometimes, the worst part is that the speaker doesn't see the difference between what they did and an actual display of the strength of character for which they want that credibility and respect.
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2016-05-29 09:03 pm
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Tip # 63 The Difference Between Christian Art and Christian Porn

In Tip #58, I pointed out that much of the media targeted to a conservative Christian audience today can be considered, after a fashion, pornography. A more technically accurate word might be "propaganda", but I think "pornography" still fits the goal of stimulating a sensation more than communicating any idea. In all of that discussion, though, I didn't say how you could tell the art from the porn.

I did give an example in the movie "Saved". For those who haven't seen it, "Saved" centers on a Christian teen girl who never wavers in her faith, but does mature in it and develops a circle of friends based on those who don't easily fit into her conservative, Evangelical Christian culture. As a non-Christian, I appreciate the more positive view of those who aren't the easy poster-children of the culture and as a Christian, you can appreciate the movie's view that Christianity, the faith, is greater than the culture put under the microscope.

For our purposes, the important part of "Saved" is in how it challenges its target audience.
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2016-05-22 05:00 pm
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Tip # 62 Don't Count Invisible and Assumed Successes

I frequent the blog Slacktivist*. It's a blog by someone who is, at the same time, an Evangelical Christian and, socially and politically, liberal. I enjoy it for its more thoughtful approach and for its engaging commentariat. But, for a while there was one commenter that, for our purposes and to maintain the anonymity, I will call the Declarator.

The Declarator was a conservative Christian and, any time the topic of a blog post came to something in favor of LGBT rights or in favor of a pro-choice position on abortion, one could always count on a nigh-identical post from the Declarator. "Homosexuality remains sinful." It would always be one short sentence making a declaration of the sinfulness of homosexuality or abortion. If it was a different topic, you might find a different short, declarative sentence. Any attempt to extend this into a full on conversation would only get similar declarations in response.

It's possible that you might agree with the Declarator's positions. For the purposes of this tip, the important parts are that this method of communication is ill-suited to convincing the unconvinced and why, when pressed for an answer to that question, the Declarator continues with this method.

The Declarator's claimed motivation is to convince the lurkers of (what the Declarator believes to be) the truth. Those who either frequent the blog or who come across these individual posts, but do not comment, according to the Declarator, might find these declarations persuasive. This is in the face of the evidence that these bald-faced declarations and the egotism displayed by the notion that the declarations, alone and absent any case made for their truth value, often moved people to take more strident sides against them.
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