What would you say…The Top 5 Questions to ask a Believer

So the other night we began discussing what you would ask if you were told to ask a believer one question that would be difficult to answer.  A well-planned question can prove a point on its own and the level of discomfort felt by the recipient of the question is often more indicative than the response itself.  The goal in asking pointed questions to believers can be varied.  You may be trying to use the question to gather information, get the subject to think of something they have never thought of before, or point out the absurdity of a situation.  In using questions in a debate with someone, we should push the other person to be intellectually honest with themselves about the inconsistency of their beliefs.

The questions should be direct and specific, and should require specific responses that don’t have an easy answer.  Respond one way, and risk looking gullible and/or uncompassionate.  Respond the other, and you will betray that you really don’t quite believe as you say you do.  As a former fundamentalist, I understand that well thought-out questions are the hammer (and cognitive dissonance the wedge) that will splinter systems of irrational belief.

We had some good ideas come up as the group broke up into several smaller conversations.  Here is my summary of the questions that came up, as well as a couple of my favorites I have heard over the years:

1)  Do you believe in heaven and hell?  A good follow up question to this is:  Really?  A true believer says yes to both.  A soft Christian says yes to the first part, then squirms through the second part.  Few people will tell an atheist directly that they believe that at least 51% of the earth’s population will spend eternity in hell.  Thinking it is one thing.  Saying it out loud with a straight face and not feeling like a backwards baffoon is quite another.

2)  Is there something your child could do that is so bad that you would lock him in a basement for 250 years?  Similar to the first question, but a little more concrete and personal.  A period of 250 years is a long time, but not so long that we humans can’t fathom it.  When people talk about “eternity” and “forever” the conversation tends to take a dreamy, fairy-tale like path.  Yes?  You’re a jerk.  No?  Then why do you pretend to love a god that would do this to his own creation.  Credit to Matt Dillahunty of the ACA for this one.

3)  If there were two cities in the United States that were 99% gay, would you be okay with the president ordering that they be fire-bombed?  Why not?  God did it.

4)  If God is eternal, why did he wait so long to create us and then even longer to make himself known to us?  Christopher Hitchens would have added on:  And why did he reveal himself to an uncivilized, illiterate band of nomads?  How rude it must be to only offer salvation for the handful of us born after the trade deadline.  This points to the man-made nature of religion quite nicely, as well as the arbitrariness of God’s (supposed) plans.

5)  If man is made in God’s image, does God have sweaty armpits?  Seriously, there’s nothing better to break through the fantasy make-believe world of myth than a question that demands that we take a look at the annoying specifics that must accompany any proposal for an interpretation of reality.  I wonder what would be the theological implications if the answer to this question were “yes”.  One can only shudder…

What do you all think?  Hit the message boards and let us know what your favorite “gotcha” questions are!

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5 thoughts on “What would you say…The Top 5 Questions to ask a Believer

  1. Michael Spitzer

    Three possible questions.

    Question One
    Do God and humans have the same basic emotions of happiness, anger, fear, sadness, disgust and surprise? Do the secondary emotions such as contempt (anger and disgust) and disappointment (surprise and sadness)? Human emotions are now studied as arising from the human brain (limbic system and prefrontal cortex). Does God have these structures?

    Humans often lack emotional regulation skills that enable them to mediate the potential abusive and harmful effects of reacting on those emotions. Examples include anger that is behaviorally manifested by physical and emotional abuse. Has God manifested these same kind of behavioral reactions?

    Question Two

    Are the moral principles of Christians and Muslims superior to those of atheists in terms of criminality, abuse, and striving for peace in the world? Three bodies of evidence indicate that atheists are more moral in the above sense.
    1. Phil Zuckerman of Pitzer College researched the need for a moral compass among people as suggested by Christians. Based on a wide variety of data, he found that:
    a. murder rates and violent crime are higher in nations where belief in God is widespread. The top safest countries n the world are relatively non-religious countries.
    b. Zuckerman found the same to be true comparing more religious states against more secular states of the United States. He also found that the American prison population of atheists is represented by only 0.2% of the prison population. I calculated that the incidence of prison sentences among Christians as compared to atheists is ~150 times higher for Christians.
    c. atheists and agnostics have lower divorce rates than Christians
    d. in Canada, conservative Christian women experienced higher rates of domestic violence than unaffiliated women
    e. religion inspired virginity pledges result in a higher likelihood of engaging in unprotected sex.
    2. Other statistics include:
    a. worldwide, secular nations have the highest levels of happiness
    b. secular nations donate more money and supportive aid, per capita, to poorer nations.
    c. atheists and agnostics are less likely to be nationalistic, racist, anti-Semitic, dognamtic, ethnocentric, and authoritarian.
    d. secularism correlates with higher education levels
    e. atheists and secular people are more likely to support women’s rights and gender equality, as well as gay and lesbian rights.
    3. If one looks at the global peace index (GPI) from 2008 and compares predominantly Muslim, predominantly Christian and predominantly secular nations (excluding totalitarian secular nations such as Korea), the average GPI scores fall out as follows: (the rankings of highest percentage in the categories of Muslim, Christian, and atheist compared to the GPI ranking) possible score ranked for 144 nations by nation (least peaceful) is 144 and the lowest is 1: Muslim (129.2), Christian, including the United States (96.6), and atheist (14.9).

    Question 3
    How does one explain the close similarities of earlier resurrection stories to the Jesus story? (Horus and Mithras)

  2. Julie R.

    The questions that Michael offered are similar to some that I have asked my Christian coworkers. The answer is always the same: “It says in the Bible …. ” followed by some answer that ends in “I believe.” The Bible is the beginning and ending to all Christian answers. The faithful will never try to rationalize their faith with facts or statitics or any hard evidence. They just believe. This personality type finds it easy to believe in all kinds of things. That’s why they are to easy to sell snake oil to, or bad stocks. They just believe. My personal opinion is that mankind has a place in the brain (that seems to becoming stronger as mankind evolves) that accounts for irrational faith. Michael Spitzer will be familiar with the term neurotheology. So the question I have to our group is this: Will evolution eventually turn off the “pleasure/God center” of the brain? If not, then most likely humanity will keep killing himself for his faith until we don’t exist.

  3. kathy with a k

    Thanks for the food for thought, Julie and Michael!
    Michael- I have heard that study referenced, although I have not actually read it myself. It is a very good point to bring up when conversations with religous folk turn to morality (the subject of morality is one I’d like to address in a post soon).
    Julie- are you familiar with Sam Harris’s work in neuroscience? I think a lot of his research could be considered within the field of neurotheology.

    Discussions with believers can get frustrating…..I try to remember this quote from Thomas Paine:
    ““To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.”

    If reason, logic and rationality are not being utilized, we really are just wasting our time, unfortunately.

  4. Vig

    1. Yes.

    Matthew 7:13-14
    “Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

    Being good in life, like anything else, takes effort.

    2. If my child fully understands the evil of his actions, does not repent, and can not be rehabilitated the punishment may be just.

    3. No. The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was mass gang rape, mob violence, and more. In other words, radical inhospitality.

    4. Time is a measure of change and God does not change so time does not apply to God. God is outside of time and all time is therefore present to God. All time is “Now” to God. God looks down and sees Adam and Eve, you and I, and the last person to ever be born all at the same time. “Before Christ” is a term that is not relevant to God.

    Romans 6:10
    “The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.”

    Christ’s sacrifice is redemptive for all – past, present and future.

    5. Jesus Christ the Son is human and human armpits can sweat.

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