11 Ways to Avoid Wasting Time in Useless Religious Arguments

At the beginning of a new year many people draw up a list of New Year’s resolutions or at least consider how to make the year better in some way. My suggestion for this year is to waste less time in useless religious arguments. Similar objectives might be to waste less time in useless arguments of other kinds, but this article focuses on religious arguments.

Useful Discussions are Enjoyable and Beneficial, but Useless Arguments—Not So Much

Religious Discussion

I find religious discussion very enjoyable. We get to share ideas, and I get to learn about other people and perhaps gain new insights. My discussion partners sometimes challenge what I write—at times very strongly, but this is useful discussion as well; challenge is a very positive thing.

I love to dialog with those with different perspectives than mine. How can I learn anything if I only talk with people who agree with me? I am quite willing to discuss one issue after another even if their presentation is a bit hostile—as long as dialog is taking place; I might gain new insights or perhaps offer new insights to them.

However, I sometimes get involved in what turns out to be a useless argument rather than a real discussion. A useless argument is one that is confrontational only and leads to no useful dialog at all; useless arguments can be a huge drain on one’s time and energy.

I want to give challengers room to get their points across, but there are a few approaches that cause me to lose interest very quickly. Some challengers have no intention of hearing what I say but just want to prove me wrong with endless attack. Others keep pushing the same question over and over despite my responses to them, this can get tiresome quickly. And then there are those who bombard me with lists of Bible proof-texts, sometimes without even an explanation, as though such references are conclusive arguments in themselves.

These are all useless arguments.

Turning an Apparent Useless Argument into a Productive Discussion

On the other hand, we may be able to turn such an argument into a productive discussion. A lot depends on our attitude and how we respond to them. And using their name in our responses makes it more personable.

1. Don’t imagine the arguer as an enemy; we don’t have to be enemies just because we disagree. Try to treat them so civilly that they are surprised and begin actual discussion.

2. Don’t respond based on your ‘assumption’ of what the arguer believes; sometimes people’s comments are vague, and we can either respond to what WE think they mean OR we can ask for clarification—which is much better. Getting clarification before responding also shows respect and can help develop dialog.

3. Try to agree as much as possible with the arguer to reduce the perception of rigid hostile disagreement. Say, ‘You raise a good question‘ or ‘You make a great point‘ or ‘I like what you say about…‘ Be as generous and affirming as possible. Just because we disagree on some things does not mean we have no common ground at all. A little agreement can often move the discussion forward.

4. Use statements like ‘I think…’, ‘In my opinion…’, and ‘It seems…’ rather than making absolute statements. People respond to rigid positions with their own rigid positions so that real discussion is difficult if not impossible. ‘I’ statements often blunt the sense of hostility and confrontation.

5. Don’t be snarky, condescending, or hostile—ever; disagreement need not be personal. Maintain a positive tone, and don’t ridicule the arguer or engage in personal attack, name-calling, insults, or other disparaging behaviors. Also remember that our theological opponent is a person whom God loves and is invested in, as much as God loves and is invested in us.

All these techniques should be genuine—not manipulative.

How to Disengage from the Tenacious Arguer

Have you ever had an arguer who just won’t stop! It is important to bring a discussion to a close once it’s clear it’s not going anywhere. Remember that we are not required to answer the arguer no matter how many times they demand an answer. We owe them nothing except courtesy.

6. If you have a closed-minded arguer, it is unlikely they will be a good dialog partner; so draw it to a close.

7. Realize that the issue under discussion is not always the most significant issue—it might be inerrancy. A person who thinks their interpretation of the Bible is God’s own word is not likely to accept anything we say. Explaining that we have different perspectives on the Bible might move the discussion in a more positive direction; but, if not, just point out that you are at an impasse and that further discussion is not helpful.

8. Let them ‘win’. Some arguers want badly to ‘win’ the argument. If, at any point, we do not answer their argument then they have the last word and often feel they have stumped us and won. Let them think so; we don’t need to ‘win’. Discussion shouldn’t be a competition.

9. When you have said all you want to say, propose that the two of you agree to disagree.

10. If they insist on continuing the discussion after a couple polite attempts to bow out, just ignore them—even if they continue to insist on an answer. Remember we don’t owe them anything.

11. I almost never delete or block anyone but, if someone continues to badger you online even after you have stopped responding to them, remember that you have these options.

Enjoy discussions to the fullest, but this year consider wasting less time on useless arguments. What ideas would you add on how to do that?

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35 Responses to 11 Ways to Avoid Wasting Time in Useless Religious Arguments

  1. Thank you for this helpful post. I especially like number 8 … letting the other person ‘win’ in an argument, by not insisting on having the last word. I am reminded of the occasions when Jesus chose not to answer a question at all! In a sermon I once heard the speaker said “better to win the person, than win the argument”.

    Dave, Malvern, England

    Liked by 4 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      David, I think #8 is important, too. Sometimes, the urge to vindicate one’s self is so strong that it is very difficult to let the opponent ‘win’. But letting them ‘win’ can prevent a tremendous amount of back-and-forth that leads nowhere.

      Like

  2. Chas says:

    Tim, two things come to mind in regard to your post. The first is that we need to be aware that God might be using a discussion/disagreement between two people to draw out things that are of use to other people who are following, but not engaging in, the interaction. The second point is that to ask a question is often a good way to diffuse a disagreement spiral, but still maintaining the discussion.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Chas, you are right of course. Sometimes unspoken readers can benefit even from a bad exchanges, and I am conscious of that possibility. The tools I propose are only that–tools; they are not rigid guidelines. In actual discussions of this sort I constantly try to be sensitive to the potential benefit of continuing (as indicated by the earlier section). But sometimes it becomes just a dead-end discussion with no discernible redeeming factor, and it takes time away from more productive discussions.

      In practice, I lean heavily toward keeping dialog going but I think we need an exit plan on some occasions. But I very much agree that we should be sensitive before cutting it off.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. tonycutty says:

    Wise words from you, Tim, and from David and Chas too. This in itself is productive 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Diane Villafane says:

    I avoid both religious and political discussion altogether. Most people who want to discuss religion or politics are merely seeking to get you to accept their religious belief system or political views. When someone believes something very deeply, they will not listen to logic or reason.

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Diane, I totally agree with you that, “Most people who want to discuss religion or politics are merely seeking to get you to accept their religious belief system or political views. When someone believes something very deeply, they will not listen to logic or reason.” And there is no problem with a person avoiding such discussions completely as you suggest.

      I do not try to ‘convince’ anyone to accept my views; that is not within my scope. This blog has a very specific primary audience–those who already question harmful beliefs they have been taught and need a safe, supportive place to talk about it and ask questions. There are secondary audiences and issues, as well, but the primary audience is people newly on their spiritual journey away from baggage.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Cherie Boeneman says:

    I have found religious discussions (not arguments). can lead to faith sharing and the more respect I show to the other, the more likely he or she is to see my point of view (and thus my faith) in a positive light. Who knows what seeds might be planted? It was just such a discussion that led me from being a fundamentalist/evangelical to holding a more progressive perspective.

    Liked by 3 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Well said, Cherie! Even when it is not immediately apparent, seeds do get planted and grow. I think it is important to be sensitive to the tone and direction of negative discussions and then decide in each case how much to remain involved and for how long.

      Like

  6. Norman says:

    Good advice for married couples as well !!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. newtonfinn says:

    Without meaning to steer this discussion off its important topic and the excellent advice given, I wanted to alert readers of JWB to a new translation of the New Testament recently put out by the highly-regarded Christian scholar, David Bentley Hart. I’ve only begun reading it, but it looks like a potential game changer. Three things jumped out at me right at the beginning:

    1) Hart’s observation that the quality of the Greek writing in most all of the NT (excepting Luke/Acts, Hebrews, and the two “Peter” letters), is of extremely low quality–full of grammatical mistakes, run-on sentences, sudden changes in the tense of verbs, etc. And rather than edit away this rough, unsophisticated language, as all other translations have done, Hart has chosen to highlight and imitate it with equally rough and crude English. Instead of “They crucified him,” for example, Hart writes “They crucify him,” using the present tense of the original Greek.
    2) Hart’s conclusion that Paul’s so-called “justification by faith alone” is a gross misreading of Paul’s letters, a crucial error enshrined in the Reformation. Paul’s instructions to the churches do not substantially deviate from Jesus’ core teaching that moral acts flowing from a compassionate heart (i.e., good works) are the path to salvation. The only aspects of the Jewish Law, which Paul seeks to free Christians from following, are cultural or ceremonial matters like circumcision, dietary restrictions, etc.
    3. Hart’s assessment that Origen was right after all, and that the overwhelming position of the NT, taken as a whole, is that salvation through Jesus Christ is universal, effective for all men and women of all times and places. In eternity, we will indeed face serious consequences for how we lived our lives, but unending torment is the fate of no one, given the loving/forgiving nature of God and His Son.

    On second thought, maybe this post is not so off-target, since there is more than ample material here for potentially USEFUL religious discussion and argument. At least Hart’s new translation has started a constructive internal debate within my own mind. As I get further into the book, I’ll continue to put in my two cents about what strikes me as new and different and whether or not I agree with Hart’s rather stunning interpretations and conclusions. Happy New Year to Tim, the captain of the ship, and to all my fellow crewmates here at JWB!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Chas says:

      Newton, your comment regarding Hart’s translation is very interesting. Having been active in trying to reconstruct the ‘original’ Gospel, it has become clear, from comparisons of text on the same incidents in the three Synoptic Gospels, that, in a number of cases, Luke had made a number of radical changes compared with the versions produced by Matthew and Mark, where their versions were very similar. In these cases, the two similar versions can be trusted as being more representative of the original.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Chas says:

      Newton, (sorry to continue separately, but was interrupted by callers, so had to send what was available at the time.) Having done so, however, it now occurs to me that this method of taking two similar versions as better representing the original would be a means to get rid of these artificialities introduced by poor grammar, rather than just translating them as they are.

      Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Newton, I don’t think your comment is off-topic. Hart’s translation of the NT sounds very interesting. I look forward to your updates as you continue to read through it.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Nanna says:

    I just wanted to tell you that I happened to your blog by happy accident today and I am so grateful I did. I love Jesus so much but could not buy into the rules and the anger and the smugness and the Pharisee-like behavior of Christians as I encounter them usually these days. Your words and carefully explained tenets have been like refreshing waters to a really parched soul. Thank you so much.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Nanna, thanks for your kind words, and I am glad you found us! I hope you continue to find the blog useful. Please be aware that you are also welcome to participate in the conversations and/or to pose questions you have that we might be able to help with.

      Continue the journey!

      Like

  9. wlburnettejr says:

    This is good and helpful information. It’s so easy to fall into a defensive posture and start lobbing word bombs back at the other person when they begin to lob them at you. I find that most comment wars are completely fruitless- they aren’t really discussions- just an argument between people whose minds are already made up.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Comment Wars. WLB, I like that term!–that’s very much what it is. And you are right–it is so easy to be sucked into them.

      Like

  10. Paz says:

    Good and helpful advice Tim!!! Encouraging words for the start of a new year!
    Happy 2018 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. SpaniardVIII says:

    I have a question for you jesuswithoutbaggage. What made or convinced you to reject inerrancy? And by inerrancy, I mean that some of the messages of the Bible have been corrupted.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chas says:

      The thing that most convinced me was the fact that there are contradictions (that is things that cannot both be right) in the Bible.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        Chas, Yes! This is a powerful argument against inerrancy. The contradictions are there, but inerrantists deny any contradictions and do strange contortions in order to reconcile them. Another point is that the Biblical record is inconsistent with what we now know of the history and context behind its writing.

        Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Spaniard, this is a good question as I understand it. However, I am not clear on your definition of inerrancy; inerrantists would deny that the Bible has been corrupted; just the opposite, they generally claim that the entire Bible is the word of God and is protected by God.

      I was an inerrantist for a long time but I did recognize that much of the Bible is not straightforward ‘truth’ to be read plainly; there are many genres in the Bible that should be understood as what they are rather than as historical narrative, but I accepted the message of these passages to be the truth of God.

      As I came to understand inerrancy more I discovered that the Bible does not even claim to be inerrant; inerrancy is a presupposition and not a result of biblical reading.

      The specific confrontation that caused me to totally reconsider inerrancy was a passage in Paul that seemed to show that Paul was not inerrant–this caused me intense stress beyond what you might imagine. Here is my story of that experience:

      https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/grieving-the-loss-of-god/

      Liked by 1 person

      • SpaniardVIII says:

        I think I understand your position. Correct me if I’m wrong. Before you jump the wagon if I may use that expression, your beliefs in inerrancy were still different from that of Evangelicals, correct?

        My understanding of inerrancy comes from 1 Peter 1:22-25 which says, 22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For, “All people are like grass,
        and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall,
        25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.

        According to the passages above the truth purifies because it cannot be corrupted or else no one can get the truth to see and not be blind anymore.

        To put it in my own words of the meaning of inerrancy is that the meaning concerning doctrine from Genesis to Revelation has not been lost or corrupted. And the Bible is taken literally unless the context tells you that it is using a metaphor to convey a truth. Like for an example, the parables of Jesus are metaphors to convey a truth about the Kingdom of Heaven and so forth.

        I personally believe by reading the post that you gave me in the link I understood that you really never believed in the literalness of Genesis or other Books found in the Bible. Is that an accurate assessment?

        I think it is pretty straightforward regarding the Bible being literal.

        If the first coming of Jesus Christ was literal what makes you think (question for everybody) that His seconding coming is not. Jesus’ words concerning Genesis was His beliefs that it really happened with the rest of the Apostles including Paul. And the Bible declares itself as the Truth so it cannot tell something as happening but yet not really, that would not make it truthful.

        I appreciate you taking the time to answer my question(s).

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Spaniard, you said, “Before you jump the wagon if I may use that expression, your beliefs in inerrancy were still different from that of Evangelicals, correct?”

          You are somewhat correct. There are a few different understandings among inerrantist as to what inerrancy means. Perhaps the most common is ‘verbal, plenary’ inerrancy, which means that God inspired each word of the Bible and that this includes everywhere in the Bible. Another perspective is that the Bible is authoritative and inerrant in all points regarding salvation.

          My view, just before abandoning inerrancy altogether, was a third understanding that the Bible does contain a variety of genres, such as fiction, myth, poetry, proverbs, and such that are not literal but that the messages in these passages are authoritative. I think this may be your view. All these views are held within Evangelicalism.

          You say, “I personally believe by reading the post that you gave me in the link I understood that you really never believed in the literalness of Genesis or other Books found in the Bible. Is that an accurate assessment?”

          This is not actually the case; though I had adopted a perspective on biblical authority that allowed for various genres, for decades prior to that I did believe in the literalness of the creation, flood, Job, Psalms, proverbs and other non-literal passages.

          You ask why I (or others) think the first coming of Jesus was literal but the second coming is not. Personally, I think his second coming will also be literal. However, I no longer accept the rapture scenario of dispensationalist.

          I hope this helps!

          Liked by 1 person

          • SpaniardVIII says:

            “My view, just before abandoning inerrancy altogether, was a third understanding that the Bible does contain a variety of genres, such as fiction, myth, poetry, proverbs, and such that are not literal but that the messages in these passages are authoritative. I think this may be your view. All these views are held within Evangelicalism.”

            No no, I think you misunderstood that part concerning my position. I would like to clarify.

            In the Bible, there is no fiction or myth and it is not the same as poetry and proverbs.

            In fiction, there is no truth.

            A myth is just a fable or a story made up which the Scripture itself doesn’t support. If Christians claim to believe that I personally would classify them as liberal Christians.

            A parable is not a fiction or a myth because it is using an illustration or examples to visualize a truth that’s being conveyed.

            Fictions or myths can only be applied to a story that as no truth or a reality to support it.

            Proverbs are illustrations that support a reality. For an example of this see below

            The Parable of the sower:

            Matthew 13:3
            3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them.

            18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.

            As you can see the parable is used as an illustration to portray a reality that happens in the spiritual realm while fictions and myths cannot do that.

            I hope that was clear.

            I believe that the Scriptures have no errors in doctrine and still has the same message that when it was first penned.

            Even if a word is missing let says in a verse it would not affect the message of the passage. For an example:

            1. For God so loved the world that He gave is one and only Son.
            2. God so loved the world that He gave is one and only Son.

            As you can see, the word “for” did not distort the message thus the translators can easily know what was missing in the passage and add what was there through textual criticism. Those are the types of so-called errors which to me, to be frank, are not errors.

            The reason why I said that is because the message is the same and all scholars (not liberals) are an agreement.

            The 2nd reason is my faith in Jesus Christ. I believe that when Jesus said that my Words will by no means pass away or in another passage, the Scripture cannot be broken indicates to me that if God can create a universe He can sure keep people from corrupting His manuscript of His Word. I mean if He can’t do that then how can He be God. I believe in an all-powerful God that can do all things and nothing is too hard for Him. I also believe in what Scripture testifies about itself.

            Another thing is if we can’t trust in what Jesus said then we cannot trust the rest of Scripture. Either we trust in Jesus Words or always be in doubt, that to me cannot be sustainable.

            That is my stance regarding Scripture.

            Liked by 1 person

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Spaniard, thanks for the clarification; I am sorry I misunderstood. Obviously we are not in agreement on these issues, though I do understand you position on inerrancy–I held that position myself for several decades. If you are interested I have a page of articles regarding inerrancy at:

            https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/books-and-resources/inerrancy/

            Feel free to continue this conversation if you wish.

            Liked by 1 person

  12. sheila0405 says:

    All excellent points! Listening is the number one way to discuss disagreements. Really make the effort to put yourself into the other’s shoes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Thanks Sheila! And I really like you comment: “Listening is the number one way to discuss disagreements. Really make the effort to put yourself into the other’s shoes.” I agree.

      Like

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