Addicted to Arguing? How to persuade others

Are you addicted to arguing? Are most Christian bloggers? Am I? Henry Neufeld admits that he might be. But, as I posted a few days ago, the Backfire Effect predicts that we can never win these kinds of arguments. So how can we persuade others to come over to our side on important and controversial issues?

Peter LaarmanHenry links to an essay by Peter Laarman Why Liberal Religious Arguments Fail. This follows a somewhat different approach from McRaney’s article The Backfire Effect but the overall message is the same: it is a waste of time trying to argue others into accepting one’s own position, if those others have already made up their mind on the issue. Laarman focuses on liberal Christians trying to persuade conservative ones to accept for example their stance on homosexuality. But just the same applies to conservatives trying to persuade liberals to accept more traditional or “fundamentalist” positions.

So how do you win others over to your side on such issues? Laarman suggests an answer when he explains how homosexuality is becoming more acceptable in churches, at least within his circle of experience:

Every poll and every wise observer points out that gay-affirming folks have not been winning on account of superior arguments, whether arguments from the Bible or theology or science. They aren’t winning on account of their superior debating skills. They’re winning by being present and visible in faith communities: by coming out in ways that clergy and congregations can’t ignore. Gay people are winning because straight people who love and respect them are coming out right along with them. …

What is the point here? The point is that there IS no point to endless argumentation. Hearts and minds don’t change that way. They change when we share our stories and when we become present in a different way to those whom we wish to influence. The further point is that hearts change before minds do. It rarely works the other way around.

Indeed. The tactics which very many conservative Christians use to uphold their positions, confrontational arguments tinged with intolerance for their opponents, are completely counter-productive. No wonder they are losing the arguments. Indeed they would probably have lost them already if it weren’t for the similar tactics of confrontation and intolerance from some on the more liberal side – not to mention from militant secularists and atheists, whose approach similarly does more harm than good to their cause.

So, the lesson is clear: if you want to persuade others to take your position, don’t argue with them, but tell them stories that will win over their hearts – or, better still, involve them in those stories.

0 thoughts on “Addicted to Arguing? How to persuade others

  1. Yeah, guess that “foolishness of preaching” thing promoted by the apostle Paul has fallen on hard times. Too bad he didn’t simply “tell stories” and involve others in those stories. Maybe he would have won somebody over…

  2. Samurai, too bad the apostle Paul wasn’t around to denounce Jesus for winning lots of people over by telling stories. Perhaps he could have saved Jesus from being crucified by those who thought they knew the only permissible way to promote religion.

  3. Except that Jesus didn’t only tell stories, he preached the gospel. This isn’t about “promoting religion”. The primary (not only) means of spreading the gospel in the NT is via preaching. Story telling is a nice, non-threatening means of communication that comports with our modern sensibilities, but declaring the truth as it is in Jesus is going to stub some toes. The apostle Paul didn’t shrink back from it, and neither did Jesus.

  4. Samurai, have you ever read the gospels? Jesus preached the gospel, and taught his disciples, largely by telling stories, the ones we call parables. That is what I am proposing that modern preachers and teachers do – using stories or parables relevant to our own times. I am not saying they should only do that. Sometimes they should preach the gospel in a more directly proclamatory way. But like Jesus, they should use the style which is most appropriate for their audience and situation.

  5. No doubt we should consider our audience. Paul did that too. However, should we ditch him as a model gospel preacher because he didn’t teach in parables?

    By the way, you don’t think Jesus was confrontational and intolerant?

  6. Pingback: Female Apostles or Female Apostates? - Gentle Wisdom

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