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!