Since my deconversion from Christianity in June of 2014 I have debated many Christians regarding the validity of their Christian Faith. I have debated the evidence for a Six Day Creation, the Age of the Universe, Noah’s Flood, the Exodus from Egypt, the Conquest of Canaan, the (fraudulent) prophecies of the Book of Daniel, the alleged prophecies of Jesus in the Old Testament (about which Jewish scholars can give very convincing evidence that none of these prophecies talk about Jesus), and, the many discrepancies in the six Resurrection accounts in the Gospels, Acts, and First Corinthians. Here are my thoughts regarding these discussions:
As long as a person believes that an invisible being lives “in his or her heart”; speaks to them daily in an inaudible voice; “moves” them, “leads” them to make decisions on every aspect of their life; and, performs “miracles” (rare, random events which non-believers believe are simply coincidences) in their lives and the lives of other believers, no discrepancy, regardless of how blatant it may be, is going to convince them that the Bible/Christianity/Jesus Christ is false.
So my suggestion is to not debate most Christians on alleged discrepancies in the Bible. It is a futile effort. You won’t get anywhere. Their belief in the “presence” within them is too strong for them to accept even the possibility of a serious, disqualifying discrepancy in their Holy Book.
So how would I debate them? Well, it depends on whether the Christian I am debating is a fundamentalist, moderate, or liberal. Let’s start in reverse order.
Debating the Liberal Christian
My definition of a liberal Christian: He (or she) is a universalist. He believes that all persons will go to heaven to be with God. God would never eternally punish anyone and would absolutely never torture anyone in “Hell”. The Liberal does not believe in Hell. The Liberal does not believe in biblical inerrancy. The Bible is a man-made document about God. It contains truths about God. It contains God’s message of love to humankind, but it has plenty of historical and scientific errors. The Liberal believes that science is never in conflict with God. The Liberal doubts most of the supernatural claims in the Bible such as talking donkeys, parting seas, etc.; he/she believes that these stories were never meant to be taken literally. He questions or doubts the Virgin Birth and even the bodily resurrection of Jesus. For the liberal Christian, a spiritual resurrection of Jesus is sufficient evidence for him/her to believe.
How do I debate the liberal Christian?
I ask the liberal Christian these questions:
—Explain to me how your loving (universalist) Jesus and the brutul, vindictive, baby-killing God of the Old Testament are one and the same God as all liberal Trinitarian Christian Churches still teach. And if you are not Trinitarian, why didn’t the loving Jesus condemn the brutal behavior of the God of the Old Testament? Why did Jesus give a mass-murdering monster a pass?
—I ask them if they believe that Jesus is all-knowing and all-powerful as all liberal Trinitarian Christian Churches still teach.
If they say yes, I then ask them how it is that every day, for thousands of years, the loving Jesus has sat on his throne in heaven watching the massive, horrific suffering here on earth and has done nothing to put an end to it. Every day 21,000 people die horrible deaths from cancer. Every day 20,000 people die miserable deaths from starvation, most of them little children. Every two minutes a woman or child is raped…and yet Jesus, in his infinite wisdom, just sits up there and does nothing to stop it.
And why does this massive, horrific suffering exist according to Christianity? Answer: Because our ancient ancestors ate some damn fruit!
Come on! Use your brain, Liberal Christian!
In my experience, this is the most difficult Christian to debate. He believes in the cornerstone supernatural claims of the Bible (the Virgin Birth, the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus), but does not believe in biblical inerrancy. He adjusts his interpretation of the Bible, whether a passage is to be read literally or metaphorically/allegorically, based on the latest scientific consensus. Scientific discovery is God’s means of clarifying his Holy Word. So if science reaches a consensus that the universe is billions of years old and that life on earth is millions of years old, the Moderate Christian dumps the literal interpretation of the first two chapters in Genesis. God never meant us to take those stories literally (all the preceding centuries/millenia of Christian Bible scholars were mistaken). If geologists reach a consensus that there was no world-wide flood: it may have been a regional flood of the Euphrates River Valley or it was simply an allegory; it certainly was not a flood of the entire world (those silly, pathetic fundamentalists still believe such an event happened!). God never meant the Flood Story to mean the entire world. And so on.
If the Moderate Christian is an evangelical, I would debate him from this angle: How do you know for a fact that an invisible being lives inside of you? Isn’t it possible that the “miracles” and answered prayers that you believe that you have experienced are nothing more than rare coincidences? Even atheists experience rare coincidences. Can you describe an event which you believe was an answered prayer/miracle which could not be explained as a rare, random, coincidence? I bet you can’t. I bet you have never experienced anything for which there cannot be a natural explanation. So you can give cases of amazing cancer cures after prayers to Jesus? Maybe, but you can’t prove that the cure was due to Jesus. It may well have been a rare but natural recovery. Dear Moderate Christian: Show me a case where Jesus has answered the prayers of an amputee of a major limb. Show me a case where Jesus has raised from the dead someone who has been beheaded.
Can’t do it, can you? Jesus seems incapable or indifferent to the really tough miracle requests for some strange reason.
And what about that “still, small” voice you hear in your “heart” (head)? Is it possible that that voice is none other than…YOU? Dear Moderate Christian: Is it possible that your “relationship” with an invisible being that you believe lives inside your body is no different than the relationship that an emotionally distraught child has with his invisible friend? Dear Moderate Christian: Is it possible that you have created an adult imaginary friend???
If the Moderate Christian is not an evangelical, it gets really tough. The moderate, non-evangelical Christian (someone like my former Lutheran pastor) doesn’t care if there are a few errors in the Bible. And you can’t prove to him that Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin. You can’t prove to him that Jesus did not walk on water. You can’t prove to him that Jesus did not feed the Five Thousand. So with this type of Christian I think you are stuck discussing the conflicting stories surrounding the Resurrection of Jesus.
You won’t prove to him that the bodily Resurrection did not happen, but you may possibly get him to see just how weak the Resurrection evidence really is. Point out to this type of moderate Christian that the majority of NT scholars no longer believe that Matthew, John Mark, Luke the Physician, and John the Apostle wrote the four Gospels. Point out to this type of moderate Christian that most New Testament scholars today do not believe that ANY eyewitness wrote the four Gospels. Also point out to him that there is no proof that any eyewitness was alive at the time of the writing of the first Gospel, Mark. Point out, that if no eyewitness was alive when the Gospel of Mark was written, it is entirely possible that much of the Resurrection story is legendary.
Paul and other early Christians may have believed that Jesus was “buried”, but that doesn’t mean that they knew anything about a “Jospeh of Arimathea” or that Jesus was buried in a rock tomb. In his epistles, Paul never once mentions anything about Joseph of Arimathea or an empty tomb in a garden. It is therefore quite possible that the earliest Resurrection belief was based solely on appearance claims (ghost sightings) by Jesus’ emotionally distraught, very superstitious followers, not on an empty grave. If the Romans followed their usual custom, Jesus’ body was tossed into an unmarked, common grave known only to a few Roman soldiers…and forgotten.
I would suggest for this type of Christian doing what the person (Bruce Gerencser, former Baptist pastor turned atheist) who initiated my deconversion did with me: Ask him to read a couple of books by former fundamentalist Christian/now agnostic, New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, starting with “Misquoting Jesus“. (You can read my initial reaction to Ehrman’s books, while still a Christian, here.)
Most fundamentalist Christians believe that God has maintained his Word, the Bible, intact ever since the originals were written. The originals may be lost, but the Greek and Hebrew copies which exist today are 100% accurate copies of the originals. Like me, I believe that the Fundamentalist Christian will be shocked to discover that all the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts/copies which are still in existence contain numerous man-made (scribal) additions and alterations and some of them, like the Johannine Commae, are whoppers. God did NOT “preserve” his Word.
The lack of preservation of the original “words of God” in the existing manuscripts should be devastating to most fundamentalist Christians. Once this fundamental belief has been exposed and accepted as false, I believe that the fundamentalist Christian’s inherent black and white thinking will eventually lead him, kicking and screaming, down the path to deconversion. It’s either 100% true or 100% false for fundamentalists. There is no in between. Moderate Christians hate this kind of thinking, and that is why I believe that it is easier for a fundamentalist to deconvert than for a moderate.
Bottom line: Regardless of which approach you take in your attempt to use evidence, reason, science, and common sense with Christian believers to expose the improbability of their ancient supernatural tale, Carl Sagan may have hit the nail on the head when he said this:
Important: Very rarely will a Christian, Muslim, or other theist deconvert from his supernatural-based belief system after just one conversation or debate. Don’t be disappointed or discouraged if your efforts seem to have had no immediate effect. Deconversion is a process; for most of us who have gone through the process, it took months, if not years to finally realize that our cherished supernatural belief system is no more real than any other superstition. It is very, very hard to let go of it. It is a powerful source of security for most theists.
Continue to sow the “seeds” of Truth and hopefully one day those seeds will bear fruit.