Regarding Religious Conversion

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23.) If your desire is to convert atheists so that they become more like you, do you think that you’re currently better than them? 

The simply answer is no. I simply think that my beliefs are right and I would like to see them in heaven rather than allow them to suffer in hell because I have a genuine concern for my neighbor. I cannot be self-righteous because I am just as much a sinner as they are and am just as in need of Jesus as my savior as them – if not more so!  

  However, the irony of this is that this question, like many others, would simply cut just as deep for the atheist. Remember that this is a list given by Swan to help atheists to convert their friends and relatives and neighbors and such, away from Christianity and to secularism – to be more like him. So does Swan think that he is currently better than Christians?  

 

Absolutely not. The desire to convert is driven by love alone. IF Christianity is true and hell is even a remote possibility then in the words of atheist Penn Jillette “how much do you have to HATE someone to not try and tell them?” It has nothing to do with being better the whole goal is to insure the chance for a better future.  

 

Firstly: why single atheists out? Secondly: this is not an accurate description of the Christian calling whatsoever. Anyone who may call themselves a Christian in the true sense, is a Christian because they have recognized their own corruption in light of a perfect God, have repented of their misdeeds, and have gained forgiveness in the eyes of God. The last thing a Christian wants is for anyone to be like them. They want the person to be like Christ. Any virtue a Christian may have is through the work of Christ, not their own efforts. The Christian wants others to gain forgiveness and be made like Christ. Does the Christian think that Christ is better than them? Yes. They do. 

According to the Bible, a Christian should not be desiring to make atheists more like them. We seek to convert people to believe in the truth so they may be more like Christ. Certainly, on the list of people that you should try to become like because they are better than you, my name is probably not found anywhere near the top … if I'm on there at all.

 

24.) If religious people don’t respect their children’s right to pick their own religion, how can society expect religious people to respect anyone’s right to freedom of religion? 

This question simply begs the question. I fully expect that as my child grows more independent that they will choose for themselves what they will believe. Will I raise them within the worldview that I think is best and most true? Of course. Will Swan not do the same? Is he not going to raise them within a secular household? This is where the myth of neutrality rears its head – when secularists and naturalists think that because they are non-religious that they are therefore worldview neutral when it comes to raising their children. This is simply not the case. Here is a helpful lecture by Greg Bahnsen on the Myth of Neutrality.  

 

This happening does not dictate if it is right or wrong. I disagree with the way many religious people (or non-religious people for that matter) “indoctrinate” children. However, there is a vast difference in indoctrination and encouraging truth seeking. I believe good parenting involve inoculation by teaching children about various views and the strengths and weaknesses of each as well as bias and the important role it plays in evaluating evidence. To ignore teaching these skills and even to share the evidence for how you reached your conclusion is a far cry from disrespecting their rights it is actually an act of respect and love.  

 

Swan's entire list of questions seems to flow from the premise that he wants to discourage people who have elected to be Christians. One wonders if he would not pass his own values along to his children.  

A parent is responsible for his or her own child. They must protect and raise them in as nurturing a way as possible. If the parent is of the belief that Christian principles (or Muslim or Hindu or what-have-you) are true and virtuous – that God exists and that it is important to have a relationship with him – it would be less than loving from their perspective not to teach the child the truth as they see it. How can a parent possibly not pass along their personal principles to the child? The child observes and mimics the parent in every respect – using them as a benchmark for what a person should be like, such that even if the parent were not overt in passing beliefs off to the child, the child would likely absorb them just the same. 

That child will eventually be an adult and will make adult decisions – potentially altering their beliefs accordingly. If society wants to change the beliefs taught to children, they must start with the adults. The children are not the responsibility of society: they are the responsibility of the parent. 

The two issues are unrelated. A person’s relationship and obligations to their children are different than their relationship and obligations towards their fellow adult citizens. 

 

Parents have an obligation to teach their children about life and morality and the world in which they will live, and among the things that good and loving parents will teach their children is the religious belief that they are convinced is the core foundational truth of life.

 

That is quite different to how adult individuals relate to society and the rights and liberties of others.

 

25.) If missionaries from your religion should be sent to convert people in other countries, should missionaries from other religions be sent to your country for the same reason? 

Again, this question is a semantically ambiguous one. Should they be sent? Does he mean that if they believe that they should send missionaries, then should they attempt to send missionaries? Well to be consistent with their own beliefs they should. Or does he mean that we should allow them to do so? Well so long as their missionaries are not being disruptive (such as trying to spread radicalized militant Islam by force) then I see no reason why a secular nation like the United States should attempt to ban them.  

  Or does he mean from within my own worldview that those missionaries should be sent to spread false ideas? Well in that very narrow conceptual case, no. But then again we also shouldn’t raise our children as secularists, shouldn’t have a pornography pandemic, and shouldn’t tell white lies. What we should do morally from within a Christian worldview and what should be legal within a secular nation are two very different things.  

Well, of course, if one begins with the idea that their ideas are true and others are false, they wouldn't agree with the proselytizing of people into false belief systems. Based on question 24, Swan would presumably agree.  

A religion is what it does. Christianity has been the most missional of all religions ever. There are schools and hospitals in India, China and Africa which were founded by Christian missionaries a century ago and still remain. Even Islam, which has spread fairly successfully since its beginning, has not been missional in the same respect.  

Ultimately, if one supposes Christianity to be the true belief system, it would not significantly be threatened by missionaries from other religions. When the two belief systems collide, the true one is likely to be the one to emerge. And it never hurts to be educated as to the nature of another culture. 

I would hope so. One of my favorite comments on this issue of evangelism is a statement from Penn Jillette -  a fairly outspoken critic of religion. He makes the point basically that if you actually believe that this religious belief of yours is true and that there are consequences for not believing it, then you would actually be a jerk to not go and try and convince them of this important thing. So yes, other religions should try to spread their beliefs. I would expect nothing less.

 Sure. My goal in life is not to be “right” my goal is to seek TRUTH. I think we should share cross faith dialogs, after all if you have found something true, how much do you have to dislike someone not to share it with them? Especially when eternity might be on the line.

 

26.) If children are likely to believe in Santa Claus and fairies, does this explain why religion has been taught to children for thousands of years? 

Children are also likely to believe arithmetic and grammar and basic science and so forth. The absurdity of this question should be clear to all. Just because children believe false things, does that mean we shouldn’t teach them what we think are true things during their youth?  

Swan's point also begs the question that believing in God or Christianity is the same kind of things as believing in Santa Claus and fairies. The atheistic fundamentalist like Swan may think so, but that would be a minority position, even among atheists. Atheistic philosophers like Nagel and Piggliucci and others have quite strongly pointed to the very robust positions held by Christians and some of the greatest minds in human history. The problem is that God is not believed in by only children. Nearly all grow out of belief in Santa Claus. Most do not grow out of belief in God as a foundational and necessary belief to ground some of the most important features of reality (such as laws of logic, moral values and duties, the beginning of everything, why there is something rather than nothing, the intelligibility of mathematics, the correspondence of math/logic to the material world, the existence of minds, persons, history, etc.) To crassly compare such a robust worldview to childish belief in Santa Claus shows more about Swan’s own dogmatic and narrow fundamentalism than anything else.  

It is difficult to see how describing fairytales explains why religion exists. The two are very separate phenomena. Parents tell their children stories of boogeymen in order to get them to behave in cultures around the world. The parents don't believe the stories, and the children grow out of them. This is more similar to Santa Claus than is religion. 

The difference between religion and Santa Clause, boogeymen and fairy tales is that the parent doesn't believe the story that they tell the children about the fae folk, but they do believe the knowledge they impart of God. Fairy tales don’t supply meaning and purpose to life, but religions do. 

It is possible to find somewhere in time and culture, someone who has no concept of Santa Claus. It is impossible to find anyone in time and culture who has no concept of God.  

No. Religion has been taught to children for thousands of years because that's what loving parents do. They teach their children about life, and that would include religious belief that their parents sincerely accept as true.

This is just begging the question, is indoctrination wrong? Not to mention the question is already being asked on the assumption the God, Santa, and fairies are all on the same playing field of non-existence. And yet despite how loaded this question is it doesn’t “really” ask anything. The question betrays the user. If you are assuming the premises then how is your conclusion not representative of a confirmation bias to get there? Children are told lots of things both true and false for various reasons. However, this does not mean that these views won't change and it does not negate the possibility of God’s existence.

 

27.) When preachers and prophets claim to be special messengers of God, they often receive special benefits from their followers. Does this ever cause you to doubt their intentions? 

I’m honestly at a loss for any examples of this. In order to answer I would need Swan to elaborate on this far more than he has. Likely this will come back to the same kind of issue where he is only really interacting with some of the most anti-intellectual Pentecostal or Anabaptistic varieties of modern evangelicalism out there that most Christians simply have no experience with.  

The intentions of a prophet, preacher, politician or salesman are evident in their words and actions. If a preacher seems intent on increasing their own wealth, or garnering favors from their audience, then of course they are to be doubted. But a quick perusal of the history of Christianity is enough to suggest that these are the exception: not the rule.  

One can rattle off a list of some of the greatest preachers and missionaries of all time, and of all the hardships they suffered as a result of their efforts, beginning with the early apostles and up to Jim Elliot.  

As has been stated before: any religion which brings with it the possibility of power is going to attract people who will abuse it. 

Of course. Shady people take advantage of all kinds of situations, and we should be wary of people who appear to be doing that. Jesus and the Apostles had quite a lot to say about caution regarding false teachers.

Absolutely. Again this does not negate the possibility of truth but it certainly does add additional depth that we should consider when looking at people's motivations and possible reasons for their behavior. However, this raises a very important consideration on the other side. Jesus’s apostles, Paul, James, and the earlier church fathers actually received the opposite, threats of death, beatings, imprisonment, constant difficulties, and eventual martyrdom in some cases. I wonder what the author of these questions makes of these historically attested outcomes? Investigating intentions is not something Christians have any reason to fear. Actually quite the opposite, Christian’s should always investigate motivations and encourage others to do the same.