Welcome dear listeners to C-Webb Sunday School. Before I get into the meat of this episode, I want to get some announcements out of the way. First, big news from Secular Programming, the first issue of the Secularite Magazine has been release in digital format. Right now it’s only available on Apple Newsstand but more platforms are coming soon. It’s $2.99 an issue or $29.99 a year. There are some great, high profile writers here and new issues come out every 15th of the month. This is a great way to get great articles from awesome secular writers and to support Secular Programming. Check out secularite.com for more information.
Now for some future plans for C-Webb’s Sunday School. I plan on being more regular with the podcast in 2014 but I am going to start creating content for paying members. The main podcast will always be free but for extra or bonus content, I will make this available to members only. I will have a special section and feed on the site for this. The first series is going to be on Christian Theology. I’m going to create lessons and go through step by step the foundations of Christian Theology with more topics to follow soon after. If you are interested in this, it will be only $2 a month. You can sign up at cwebbssundayschool.com, just click on the Donations tab. I need to gauge want for this type of content so let me know via twitter @cwebb619 or on the Facebook page, if you desire such content. Now let’s get right into this episode of C-Webb’s Sunday School.
I’m starting to dig deeper into swaying people from their beliefs but not in the traditional way. Facts and data are great for debates but when it comes to getting people to change the way they think which is what ultimately leads to bad beliefs, we have to take a different approach. I have read Peter Boghossian’s book A Manual for Creating Atheist and it has some great material for changing the way we approach belief and faith. It’s been about two years since I graduated with my Masters in Social Work and I am not currently working as a social worker so I’ve gained some rust on some of the skills I learned during my two year program. Fortunately, Peter’s book helped shake off that rust and opened my eyes to applying those very skills to disabusing people of their false beliefs. I will be working these skills into my everyday conversations and into the podcast with the hope of supply you listeners with some of the same skills. In this episode I’m going to focus on two aspects, the first being: why faith is bad thinking and the second being: motivational interviewing. So let’s get right into it and look at the folly of faith.
It’s important we take control of the definition of faith because when the believer uses faith, they use it the same way we would use hope or trust. This is not what faith it, faith is a knowledge claims. During discussions, words like evidence, logic and reason are thrown around without regard to the context of these facts. For most believers, facts cannot outweigh faith. Now we can get into a fact throwing war but this will do little in disabusing a believer of their faith because at the end of the day, it’s faith that drives them.
When faith is used correctly, faith is a knowledge claim. Knowledge claims are usually backed by empirical evidence. We, as atheist, know how are interpretation of reality can be flawed and biased so we look to an objective measure of reality and that is the scientific method. Subjective claims are not knowledge claims and it usually comes down to one’s unique experiences and opinions. Knowledge claims are objective because they assert a truth so we should be able to test and come to a conclusion based on the evidence. If a believer is making a faith claim, which is to say a knowledge claim, we can then ask for evidence for such a claim. But, instead of dealing with the facts because facts are on the side of the atheist, we should really focus on the underlying bad thinking, which is what faith is. Peter puts it this way:
“If one had sufficient evidence to warrant belief in a particular claim, then one wouldn’t believe the claim on the basis of faith. “Faith” is the word one uses when one does not have enough evidence to justify holding a belief, but one just goes ahead and believes anyway.”
When theist make faith claims, they are making empirical claims. Their Empirical claims can be proven or disproven with reason, logic or facts but if the believe continues to believe such claims even though the evidence is against them, that is faith. That is the heart of religious belief and that is the reason for bad thinking.
16What we atheist need to do is undermine that thinking. Ask questions, get a better understanding of their position, lead them to where you want them to go and make them re-evaluate their position. Don’t attack religion as an institution because we cannot win that battle, attack faith but do it without being a dick and do it to where you can point out the flaws in their thinking.
12I know some of us like to debate theist and most of us do it over social media and most of us end up getting frustrated because the believer just won’t come to their senses. I’ve been there and I still go there but what I and authors like Peter are proposing is that this is not the best way to go about it. In fact, studies have shown that arguments and debates like this tend to strengthen peoples beliefs. As intelligence goes up, we tend to become for rigid in our thinking. That is why seemingly intelligent people can still be apologist. We get better at justify our beliefs the more intelligent we become. We can still debate believers but there is a certain way to go about it that can warrant better results than just fact throwing wars. Before starting a debate, ask this one question and the response will help you proceed in the right direction with the conversation:
“What evidence can I present to you that will get you to change your mind?” or “If I present to you evidence against your claim, would you consider changing your mind?”
What this does it put the burden on the theist to prove that they can be open minded to evidence. Usually theist will claim atheist are not open minded enough to accept the truth about god. However, being a good skeptic, we know that we are open to evidence and when presented with evidence that supports a claim, we are more likely to change our mind. A theist may not be as open as they think they are so get the ball rolling with this simple question:
“Do you believe Jesus rose from the dead?” They most likely will say yes if you are speaking with a Christian, then ask the before mentioned question: “What evidence can I present that will get you to change your mind?”
Now, they may not be able to come up with an answer but they may try, give them a hand and ask this next:
“What if a world renowned archaeologist who is highly respected and his discoveries are in textbooks across the world, claimed to have found the bones of Jesus Christ? Would you believe him? Would you change your mind about Jesus raising from the dead?”
They will usually respond in one of two ways. The first response would mostly likely be like this: they would not believe him because they have FAITH that Jesus rose from the dead because they experience Jesus in their life personally daily. Knowledge claim followed by subjective evidence. Hardly empirical fact. You can then counter with them not being open to evidence and that evidence based on personal experience is not reliable.
or the other response would be this: They would demand to see more evidence or question the validity of the claim of the archeologist. They would do the very same thing we do when questioning religious claims. Ask them what evidence they would like to see? Really push this because they probably won’t be able to come up with something. Proving again they are not open to new evidence and that they are relying on faith, which is pretending to know things you don’t know. They have a closed mind therefore, they are a victim of bad thinking. They are closed off. This, my friends, is where we can demonstrate the failure of faith by attacking the source of the problem which is bad thinking!
There is so much more to go into but I’ll leave it there for now. Let’s move onto motivational interviewing, which is a great technique to use when engaging believers.
As I stated above, the goal of interactions with theist is to get them to recognize the errors in their thinking and the folly of faith. However, before you can get a person to change their way of thinking, you have to first get them motivated to change. Change typically occurs in stages and those stages are: Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, and Maintenance.
Most believers you encounter are in the precontemplation stage. This stage is the avoidance stage. That is, they don’t see a problem with their way of thinking and have not yet considered change. Our goal should be to get the believer from this precontemplation stage to the contemplation stage. In the contemplation stage, the believer will acknowledge that a problem exist but is still having a hard time making a change. They will usually weigh the pros and cons for changing. At this stage you can start introducing the facts and arguments against theism but not so much that it will overwhelm them and drive them back to the precontemplation stage. Once they acknowledge a problem exist and they have weighed the pros and cons, they will move into the preparation stage. At this stage they are ready for change and they want to make a change. This is where we can offer community support. If you ever had to leave a faith based community, it’s scary and could be overwhelming but with the right support, we can help with that transition. Once they decided to make the change, the next stage action, is actually making the said change. They are leaving their faith and old belief system behind. They have embraced rationality and skepticism and are actively living these new behaviors. Once they have done this, they are now in the maintenance stage where most of us are now.
This model of change is used in substance abuse treatment and it typically depicted as a circle because even though you have progressed from one stage to the next, you can still go back to a previous stage. Motivational Interviewing can help believers move from stage to stage but it’s most effective at the precontemplation and contemplation stage. Motivational Interviewing is a collaborative conversation to strengthen a person’s own motivation for and commitment to change. Here are some of the key aspects of Motivational Interviewing:
Collaboration vs. Confrontation: You want to form a partnership with the believer, don’t assume an expert role. You want the believer to view you as an equal and this helps build rapport and trust. This doesn’t mean everything the believer says is right and you have to agree with it, but it’s about seeking understanding of their position.
Evocation: This is about drawing out the believers own thoughts and ideas and not trying to impose your thoughts and ideas on them. It’s not effective to try and impose your ideas for change on the believer but instead get the believer to understand and accept their own reason for change. We do this because it will facilitate lasting change, which is what we want.
Autonomy vs. Authority: This is recognizing that you don’t have the power to change a person, the change has to come from them. It’s up to them to make the change. Once you realize this, you’ll be able to relive some of that anxiety that occurs when speaking with believers when they just don’t get what you’re saying. It’s up to them to change, you are there to help guide them in coming to that decision to leave their faith behind.
When engaging in this type of therapy with a believer, use the OARS approach. O-A-R-S is Open ended questions, Affirmations, Reflections, and Summaries.
Open-ended Questions: These question make the believer respond with something other than Yes or No. These questions allow them to elaborate and gets them to think more deeply about an issue.
Affirmations: These are statements that recognize their strengths which helps build rapport and allows them to let their guard down. Once you have that established, they are more willing to listen to what you have to say.
Reflections: This skill is probably the most important. It has two primary purposes: 1) brings to life the principle of expressing empathy. Through this process, the believer will think that you care about their point of view and their perspective on the issues. 2) this skill will allow you to focus on the negative aspects of the status quo, ie: faith and shift focus to the positive aspects of abandoning faith for a more reason based approach.
Summaries: At the end of the conversation, you will want to summarize what you spoke about and make an effort to understand and clarify any misunderstanding. This communicates interest and understanding and calls attention to important elements of the discussion.
Now this is a broad overview of Motivational Interviewing. I will go into more aspects of it in later episode but for now, I just wanted to introduce you to the concepts and theories behind it. At the very core of Motivational Interviewing is empathy. Without empathy, effecting change is difficult. Keep that in mind when speaking with believers because by using empathy you can build rapport and trust and this will lead to a positive change and an abandoning of faith.
We have to assess what are goals are for the atheist movement. I’m not saying that we should have one goal and one goal only, we all have our area of expertise. We all can’t be American Atheist, Dave Silverman, Dan Barkers or Noah Lugeons or that handsome devil Adam Reakes! However, what is being proposed here and other places, is that we as atheist can effect change in our everyday interactions with believers. By focusing on faith as knowledge claims and by using the strategies of Motivational Interviewing, we can be more effective in getting people to adapt good thinking habits. We cannot take out religion as an institution but we can challenge faith claims and we can get people to see the error in their thinking. It takes time, practice and skill and I’m positive we can do this! Try it out and see how it goes. Let me know what did or didn’t work or if you have any questions, you know how to reach me. Look for more of these episodes in the future as we continue to sharpen our skills and with enough time and practice we can put an end to faith one believer at a time.