Dear Surly Amy,
I’m a bad skeptic.
OK, Let me back up. Today I got a knock on my door from someone asking to show me some pamphlets. He asked if I believed in God, and I said I was an atheist. He then asked if I would be interested in a different point of view, centred on design. I let him know that I was not impressed with the notion of Intelligent design, and he started to engage me with the idea that things that have been designed must have a designer; things like my front door, for example. He also started to physically inch inside my doorway. I let him know I was not interested in having this argument on my front step, and shut the door in his face.
His attempt to push inside my house was unconscionable, but I confess this is not why I gave him the brush-off. I knew he was peddling rubbish, and resented the attempt to clod-call me about it. Also, I hate confrontation.
However I later regretted not engaging him on some points. Primarily, he asked why I was an atheist, and I said it was just my default position, not thinking about my reply. However I was raised Catholic, and my atheism came to me gradually and after a lot of thought. I did not let him know I had read a lot about this idea, and would welcome new arguments. I also did not get any information about the scope of his notion of design – was he anti-evolution? Did he support the notion of the Big Bang, but assert that it was set in motion? I didn’t bother to find these things out, I just sent him packing. I am certain he left with the clear idea that I was closed-minded, and I was to be pitied for my inability to see other points of view.
So I need some guidance… did I do the right thing? What should I have said? What can I try to do the next time this happens?
-Seth “w_nightshade” Hanisek
My advice is to counter their questions with questions.
“Who designed the designer then?”
Or, “Why do you keep inching your way into my house without me inviting you?”
“Would you like me to call the cops or would you prefer to design your way off my porch?”
In most cases, it doesn’t really matter what you actually say to the people that come knocking on your door.
They have been taught to preach a specific message and have also been given canned responses to pretty much every argument you can give them. When all else fails and they realize that they can’t win an argument with the information they have, they just play the pity card and look sideways at you, shake their heads and say something like, “It’s too bad you are so closed off to the word of the Lord. Please take this pamphlet or book or flyer or prayer rug (or whatever) for your time of need. God bless you.”
Now, if you are really bored and you want to learn more about their arguments then take the time to engage them. I used to play a game where I would try to keep the Scientologists or other marketing firms who called my house on the phone as long as I could. I would do the same thing with whatever church group knocked on my door. I would ask them all kinds of off topic questions about their family and personal lives or how they came to the church or organization. I would ask anything I could think of to throw them off their canned speeches and keep them talking about other things. It was a great practice in conversation skills. The key is never to ask a question that can be answered in a yes or a no response. I talked to some very interesting people, actually.
However, if your goal is to change someone’s view on something as personal as a religious belief then most, if not all of this sort of engagement is a waste of time. I only recommend it if you have a lot of free time on your hands. The true believers won’t be swayed.
Of course, in the very rare chance when you can find someone sitting on a fence… then maybe it’s time well spent.
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