The Benefit of the Doubt

A blog about Dialogue, Doubts, and Christian Faith ~Travis Dickinson~

8 sure ways to shut down a dialogue


I love to dialogue. I especially love dialoging with folks who believe differently from me. I’m a Christian and so this means I genuinely love to sit down and talk with those who are not Christians. I love to hear their story and how that story shapes the way they think about life.

But not every dialogue goes well. In fact, some “dialogues” are really just monologues masquerading as dialogues. Dialogue is interesting because, in order for it to be a dialogue, it really takes both dialogue partners genuinely listening and caring what the other has to say. Often enough, one dialogue partner shuts the dialogue down.

Here are 8 ways sure to shut a dialogue down.

  1. Act like your dialogue partner is helplessly biased and that you are completely free of bias.

We are all biased. Our biases color our evaluation of the facts. Christians are biased. Atheists/freethinkers/humanists are biased. No one is free of theory-laden observation. This is simply a fact of the human condition. But I don’t actually think we are helplessly trapped by our biases. I think we can reasonably conclude when we believe something on the basis of bias. Want to know the best antidote to for your biases? Dialogue. But acting like you are completely unbiased is a sure way to shut down dialogue with someone.

  1. Use a meme in lieu of an actual argument.

Memes can be funny. Memes can even be powerful. However, they are toxic for a dialogue. I always wonder who takes the time to craft these things that then gets shared a million times. If that’s you, come on out of the basement and consider discussing the issue with some thoughtful person. If that’s not you, then you should really consider refraining from posting that next meme you think will score you some points in a dialogue. All it’s going to do is shut the dialogue down.

  1. Be vicious towards the person you are talking to.

Don’t be vicious. It’s not nice.

  1. Be easily offended by the person you are talking to.

It’s a strange world out there these days. Way too often a discussion either turns vicious or someone plays the victim. Why is the space between these extremes so narrow? You should consider it a total blessing for someone to fairly criticize your ideas. In fact, it is a huge compliment. They have taken time out of their day to consider what you’ve said and to offer critical feedback. This is a gift. Now the exchange may get passionate and it may get lively, but don’t be so easily offended. You may even have to admit you were wrong, and that’s great because you are doing so on the basis of reasons. But if you play the victim, the dialogue is over.

  1. Caricature someone’s view so that it is easily dismissed.

I always find it interesting when someone tells me what my view is and there is about a half a kernel of truth to what they say. I mean it may sort of be in the same or at least neighboring ballpark, but it is not a view I or anyone I know would be interested in defending. This shuts down the dialogue because the rest of the discussion will likely involve attempting to simply clarify what my view even is much less getting around to discussing it.

  1. Compare their view to some loony fringe group with which no one would want to be associated.

There’s a lot of guilt by association in faith discussions. Apparently, I have to defend the nutcases and the radically uninformed because I believe 1 out of 100 beliefs in common with them?! Well I shouldn’t have to. My view should be considered for its merit all on its own. And so should yours.

Here are a few for Christians:

  1. For a Christian, when the argument gets tough, to just say, “Good objection, but it really just comes down to faith.”

Faith, as a notion, is really misunderstood. This is, in part, due to the way Christians talk about faith being some extra magic sauce that makes up for evidence and reason. So when evidence and reason run out, Christians often appeal to an almost mystical element of faith in lieu of a thoughtful consideration. This short-circuits the discussion. I’ll also note that a number of atheists have locked on this way of thinking of faith and act like this is necessarily what every believer means by faith. Besides being exceedingly unfair, this also shuts down a dialogue.


  1. For a Christian to say to the atheist, “I know deep down you really believe in God.”

Now I know that Romans 1:20-23 says some things that sound sort of like every person really deep down believes in God. Even if this is the right understanding of the passage, telling an atheist this still does not seem like a fruitful strategy.  Moreover, the passage really doesn’t say this. My own view of the Romans 1 passage is that God is present for all. This means that all people may be aware of God, but this doesn’t mean that all people believe and thus know (in a propositional sense) there is a God. We can be aware of things even while denying their existence. I think that all people are aware of a moral law, but there are plenty of people who deny the existence of any moral law. Likewise, though I believe that God is everywhere present, I take an atheist at his or her word that he or she does not believe in God. Given this, we can begin a dialogue.

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