“Once upon a time there was a man who thought he was dead. His wife tried everything she could to convince him he was very much alive. But try as she may, he would not change his mind. After several weeks of this, she finally took him to the doctor who assured the man he was alive. Sadly, it was to no avail. Suddenly, the doctor got an idea. He convinced the man that dead men do not bleed, subsequently stuck him with a needle, and smiled as blood ran out of the man?s finger. The man was downtrodden for several days. He had been certain that he was dead but he could not dispute the fact that he could bleed. Finally, he figured out what to do. Returning to the doctor, the man blurted out, ‘Good Lord, dead men do bleed after all!’ Our friend had a view of things that he clung to no matter what evidence came his way. His “worldview” was immune to revision, incapable of being falsified. As a result, he continued to embrace and assert his view.” (As quoted here.)
Just like the man in the story, the underlying assumptions we hold about religion often keep us from meaningful dialog. And, without dialog there’s likely not to be much revision. For some, their convictions are “incapable of being falsified.” With minds made up about religious matters many unbelievers label religion as “out of bounds.” A priori commitments have so controlled beliefs that it’s virtually impossible to present any truth, or even acknowledge there is a truth to present, when it comes to God-talk (see 2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 John 5:19. Also, don’t miss Mortimer Adler’s Truth in Religion).
While some may be warmer than others about the idea of discussing religion, there is clear resistance from most in today’s Western culture. Religious beliefs have become so relativized that they are deemed insignificant to anyone but the person holding the belief. Mere personal expressions or private convictions are the most we can get out of religious beliefs. “That’s fine if it works for you!” goes the constant refrain. I remember while at a dinner engagement with co-workers one evening, someone mentioned that her mother was Buddhist and father Catholic but quickly rejoined “But they all believe the same things, right?” Hum….
I suspect that many Christians are somewhat responsible for this dearth of God-talk in our society. Just as the man in the story, some believers cannot see the obvious power of unbelief. By isolating or at least insulating ourselves from alternative belief structures, we fail to understand the tenacity of unbelief. The non-religious worldview is as alien to some believers as sight is to the blind. We simply don’t understand it or know how to relate to it. Consequently, little meaningful discussion ever takes place.
In fact, I’ve seen where some are quite speedy about showing their disapproval when confronted with resistance or ignorance about religion, yet do nothing to engage alternative belief systems with reason or understanding. In doing so, doors are shut and dialog is ended. Instead, we quickly run the opposite direction in order to huddle with other believing associates to express our outrage. Sadly, many Christians insist “dead men do bleed” by underestimating the brute fact that we are universes apart from our closest neighbors (on which see Sire’s still very relevant The Universe Next Door)! Building bridges to the opposing universe is as far from our hearts as square circles are to our minds.
Of course, lamenting the fact that we live in a fallen world occupied by fallen souls will not get us far. Instead, we should remember that every human encounter is an opportunity to expand the dialog and put religion on the agenda as a safe topic for discussion. Showing others that you value their ideas and opinions (even if you radically disagree) communicates a great deal to them. Accepting a contrary stance for the purpose of furthering discussion can go a very long way toward opening minds and hearts to the Gospel message. Genuinely seeking to understand why someone believes the way they do is always relevant, thoroughly personal, and wonderfully rewarding.
It is a courageous thing to discuss religion these days and I encourage everyone confessing Jesus as Savior and Lord not to be hesitant to share your religious convictions, when it is natural to do so. And by all means, listen intently to what others say. Then, see how God’s Spirit might move.
“Whoever has ears, let them hear.”