Once upon a time there was an atheist, a real zealot if you will, that felt the Christian religion was not only foolish, but a major source of problems in the world. He took every opportunity that presented itself to engage in a war of words with any person of faith, to persuade them that there was no God. He found that Christians who were new to the faith, learning the scriptures, were the easiest targets and that casting doubt wasn’t all that hard. Those who knew their Bible, experienced in explaining the Word of God, were frustrating to him. It angered him that people intelligent enough to have graduated from universities could still believe in what he considered “fairy tales”.
One day, he came upon a well-dressed Christian on a park bench who was saying a short prayer over his lunch. Unable to resist, the atheist asked, “Do you think God just made that sandwich into something healthier?” The Christian responded “I don’t know about that. I don’t decide what God does or doesn’t do.” The atheist pounced. He went on a tirade about how there was no God and that believing in a higher power was a crutch for the weak. As soon as he’d exhausted his assault, the Christian responded, “Assuming you are right, that brings up another thought.”
The Christian delved further into the atheist’s attitude toward concepts of spirits and other metaphysical aspects of human existence, to get the him to explain how those too are a human weaknesses. Every time the atheist attempted to turn the conversation back to an attack on God, the Christian skillfully asked what else the atheist believed. The Christian was not just humoring the atheist. He truly had a desire to know the others point of view, drawing him out.
Once he’d accomplished his goal to one degree or another, the Christian excused himself and left. The atheist was hopeful that the conversation might continue, and that the Christian could be persuaded to join his point of view. What really happened was that the atheist was led to closely examine his beliefs, and if any seeds of doubt were planted, it would be in the atheist’s camp, not the Christian’s. The Christian never attempted to defend or deny his faith during the entire exchange. Instead of giving the atheist something to push against, he bent like a willow, strong and sure in his own belief.
What principle was at work there and how can we apply it more broadly?
When the white supremacists, KKK and others of that category marched in Charlottesville, there were protesters out in large numbers with ideas loudly clashing.
A thought came to me. What if there was a war and nobody came? What if there was a march and no one paid any attention? What if we politely offered them tea, cookies, and one-on-one conversation instead? What if we attended their rally, listened and asked thoughtful questions? What if we did not provide more discord as ammunition but got them to look inward, disarming them by doing not what they expect?
You’ll never get anyone to change their mind using coercion or in a hostile environment. Any problem consists of two opposing forces. That is a fact. It’s why problems persist.
Of course, some would say that wiping out the opposition would solve the whole problem. If so, how is it that conflict recurs over and over throughout history? Killing an idea by the use of force? You’ve got to be kidding.