Calm Discussions with Believers

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veronicaolvera's picture
Calm Discussions with Believers

I'm asking this question here because it seems like whenever I google tips on talking to believers all the top results are varying religious sites providing tips to persuade atheists to have a "come to Jesus" moment. There was a time when my Catholic mother and I couldn't discuss the differences we had without a knock down drag out fight ensuing in the first 5 minutes. We have been able to make significant progress over the years when it comes to having more calm conversations but there is definitely still some tension, especially when she feels like her religious "evidence" gets steam rolled by scientific evidence. So basically, I am wondering if anyone has succeeded in having these conversations without the big blow ups. I want to keep things civil so we can both benefit rather than closing our minds even more to each other. TELL ME YOUR SECRETS but be nice, my mom means well :)

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watchman's picture
@ Veronica Olvera …

@ Veronica Olvera …

I think you already know the answer...….

You use the term "discussions" …… not "debate".

Also you use the qualifier ,"calm"

You see have it already..... debates by their very nature are adversarial ….. each participant trying to "win". each defending their position...…

Where what is most productive ,in circumstances like yours , is a mutual understanding ….. not necessarily even an agreement …. just an understanding.

If it does become a debate..... remember it should be the cut and thrust of a fencing match.....with the points being scored with the sting of the rapier...… not the slash of a sabre … still less the hack of a cutlass ….. and never the rage of a battle axe.

Try not to "steam roller" all of her opinions/evidence ….. but be prepared to switch to "telling questions" about her beliefs. (eg . Why do you think St Peter was the first Pope? How do you square the changes in church "traditions" over thing like no meat on Fridays or the concept of purgatory.....)

Cognostic's picture
Veronica Olvera: Avoid the

Veronica Olvera: Avoid the steamrolling/
There is a technique for interviewing / talking with people about beliefs in a non-threatening way, called Street Epistemology. The conversation is not about trying to convince another person to your way of thinking but rather to simply examine beliefs.

You will find plenty of examples on YouTube. The goal is not to steamroll an argument or position but to explore the position for its validity. At the end of the discussion, no one has to have changed their mind or moved from their original position in any way. It is an exploration of beliefs. I'm pretty sure this will be helpful to you.

Cognostic's picture
Veronica Olvera: Avoid the


LogicFTW's picture
@Veronica Olvera

@Veronica Olvera

I have debated and had "calm discussion" with hundreds of theist here and elsewhere. Even with some family members, what does all that experience shown me?

1. You are not going to change their religion/belief system, change of something as large as an entire worldview must start from within. If they ever came to you and asked you why you were an atheist and earnestly listens without defending, that would be your opening. (Don't hold your breath for that happening, especially if she is 50+ years old.)

2. So if you have a conversation with your mother, you should immediately clarify: this is not to try and convince one another who is right and who is wrong, the goal of this conversation is to get to a place where both of you can still talk and have at least a basic respect for each other. Try to get to a place where you guys agree to disagree on god/no god, and have that be fine. That you both still love each other and want to be an active part of each others lives, that there is plenty of room for that even if you guys disagree on god/no god. Then agree to not talk about it in the future. Tell her you will respect her and never push your atheist viewpoint on her, but that you expect the same from her it is only fair, and it would allow the two of you to continue to have a good relationship.

3. Chances are you are going to have to be the calm, mature one, it is likely the conversation arc of: "we love each other, we want to be a part of each others lives, agree to disagree and not talk about it, will get derailed, on her part. Being calm, enough, strong enough to immediately get the conversation back on track to constructive path, instead of devolving to another fight. Tell her you hear what she has to say, and just like you; do the courtesy of listening to her, it is fair she does the same.

It may even be necessary to setup a timer, where each person can speak for a few minutes uninterrupted. Since you suggest it, let her speak first, say her piece, tell her you heard her, and now it is her turn to talk. Except you are not trying to convince her to abandon her religion or that she is wrong and you are right, all you are trying to do is get to a place where you two can have a positive relationship.



▮          I am an atheist that always likes a good debate.          ▮
▮   Please include @LogicFTW in responses directed to me.    ▮
▮        Useful list on forum usage. A.R. Member since 2016.      ▮

Ramo Mpq's picture


Don’t listen to the monkey JK lol. And yes there is a way for atheists and theists to have calm and fruitful conversations but, they are not done in a public thread. Private messaging is the best way, I have had a few great private conversations with some atheists on this website even though we ultimately disagreed. Our chats weren’t to “save or convert” anyone rather it was about simply seeing the other person’s point of view. The problem is when you try to have a calm conversation with anyone in a public thread, unfortunately both parties end up playing to the “crowd” and completely ignoring what you are saying. They became too concerned with scoring points rather than actually trying to understand what you are saying and even forget to make sure they are coming clearly across to you. You said “I want to keep things civil” then, based off experience I will say your best chance is a 1 on 1 conversation. Oh and to add to what my monkey friend said about Street Epistemology, my issue with that is that both parties need to agree to and establish what can be used as a tool for “belief” prior to engaging in that conversation. That seems to be the biggest barrier between Theists and Atheists in my opinion.

I hope that helps.

arakish's picture
@ Searching for truth

@ Searching for truth

Have you come back to answer Sheldon's questions?

Sheldon's Questions You Dodge

  1. If your magic book is inerrant, why is so much effort invested to silence or kill its critics?
  2. Is it ever moral to kill non Muslims?
  3. Is it ever moral for 50+ year old man to have sex with a nine year old child?
  4. What is the penalty for apostasy in Islam?
  5. Do you believe a horse could ever fly?
  6. Do you believe you will get 72 female virgins replenished daily when you die?
  7. What evidence can you demonstrate to support your belief that a deity exists?


Cognostic's picture
Ha ha ha ha ha ,,,,,,,

Ha ha ha ha ha ,,,,,,, VERONICA - Searching For Truth does everything he can to completely AVOID any Search For Truth. He is a very closed minded theist who trolls the threads. Obviously PM is useful but it completely misses the point of you having a conversation with your mother or "having calm conversations."
Listen to the Monkey. He actually knows a thing or two about the topic.

Sky Pilot's picture
Veronica Olvera,

Veronica Olvera,

Titus 1:14 (CEV) = "14 Don’t pay any attention to any of those senseless Jewish stories and human commands. These are made up by people who won’t obey the truth."

dogalmighty's picture
I think that anyone that

I think that anyone that bases their entire being on and around a religion, will be near impossible to convince otherwise. It depends on your intent and goals of the discussion. If your intent is to sway belief, good fricken luck with that...civility slowly gets torn apart and thrown as ammunition at the opposition. Most differing view conversations will, unless rules are laid down prior. If the other person values their beliefs more than are screwed. Now, let me ask you if the "tension" between you and your mother is a two way street? Because if tension is one sided (likely), and is pervasive amongst that person, then major issues exist. If not, there is hope...and there should be between family. If there is mutual respect for each others views, then rational discussion is possible and easily achieved. I find in personal conversations that, listening, while periodically and gently affirming your beliefs, gains the best results for educational keeping your responses, if asked questions, to non confrontational answers, you will ease that expected tension when talking about differing personal beliefs...and pave the way for more relaxed and understanding future conversations. IMHO.

arakish's picture
As I have done with many a

As I have done with many a preacher, most are Pastors at their church, ask why she believes in what she believes. Then explain why cannot believe. My mom is a die-hard Religious Absolutist. She knows she can never win a debate with me about religion. Thus, she has finally gotten to point of some acceptance of why I believe the way I do. The only part she cannot accept is why I cannot believe in any religion. She also knows I have traveled all over this world studying and searching for veracity in any religion.

As Watchman said, a debate is adversarial by its very nature. However, there are ways to have a debate without having the knock down, drag-out verbal warfare. Although a debate is adversarial by its nature, it can also be a session of an exchange of ideas and beliefs. Always remember this: Respect the person and their right to have whatsoever beliefs they wish to have, even if contradictory to yours. You may discuss and debate beliefs, but to force your beliefs onto others is unconscionable and condemnable. You do not have to respect the beliefs themselves, but always respect the person and their right to belief what they wish.

That is something I have always adhered to. In all my debates with Religious Absolutists, I have always found it is the Religious Absolutist who will be the first to "lose their cool." And they do so because I have arguments that always disproves their beliefs. I may not change their beliefs, but they always find they can never refute my arguments.

I shall be the first to admit that sometimes I lose my cool. However, when I do, it is usually because the Religious Absolutist tells a bold-face lie about what I have said. That is where I will lose my cool in a debate. And at that point, all gloves come off. I have even done it here on these forum boards and have had to be spanked by the Mods. Searching for Truth is one of those persons here who has repeatedly lied about what I have said in my posts. And I have let him know it.


Fallen's picture
Sometimes questions are

Sometimes questions are better than statements. Sometimes repeating someones wild statements so they can hear what it sounds like can make them think.

A believer cannot be 'won' by aggression, because they are taught that opposition is confirmation of their truth.

Believers fear Satan, because he comes as a angel of the light. Use Satan's tactic. Be "the most subtle of the beasts of the field" lol

Just my opinion and it may be wrong. (I've been on the other side most of the time.)

veronicaolvera's picture
Thank you to everyone for the

Thank you to everyone for the advice. Drilling my points into the heads of my friends makes for a rousing debate but I like to keep things civil with mom.

arakish's picture
Now that I think of it. The

Now that I think of it. The best way to keep it civil with your mom is ask questions. The questions may make her stop and think, and hopefully keep it civil. That is how it was with me mom and I. We asked questions of each other. When she found she could not refute my "beliefs" (lack of a better word) as I could hers, she finally accepted that I was going to be an atheist till the day I die. Basically, we now have an unspoken law that religion will not be discussed between us.

Hope that helps a little more.


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