How Not To Have a Religious Discussion
Technique A: Aggression
He recognised me straight away. As I walked into the photocopy shop he instantly saw that I was a foreigner and beckoned me over. Ignoring my enquiry about whether I could get some documents copied, he sent for chai.
“Ah, British!” he said, smiling to himself. “The British really messed up Pakistan, didn’t they?”.
I didn’t know what to say. It was partly true at least. It was also very un-Pakistani to begin with such hostility. His smile was thin and insincere.
“Are you a Christian? I see. Well, you ought to convert”.
I smiled and considered my response. Everyone in the shop was looking at us, eager to see where this would go. As I opened my mouth to give an answer he jumped straight in again.
“If you converted, you would be so successful in life. So wealthy, so happy, everything going right for you. Why don’t you think about it? All you have to do is recite the creed”.
This was odd, like an Islamic version of the Christian Prosperity Gospel. I opened my mouth to respond once more, but to no avail.
“Hold out your hand” he barked in command. Dumbly, I did so. He smiled again.
“Just as I thought” he said. “Your palm says that you are a good man. But you could be so much better if you turned to Islam. Why continue wasting your life?”.
I wanted to say something back, to engage in dialogue, but he clearly had no intention of letting me speak. He outlined in rapid-fire Urdu the benefits of conversion and the dangers of hellfire. It was not a conversation; it was a monologue, a verbal assault. Finally, with an abrupt gesture he cut it short and bid me farewell.
“Think about it, won’t you?” he said, his eyes glinting.
The whole experience felt hostile. Oddly, I felt as though I were a schoolchild again and had been told off by the Principal, subjected to a verbal grilling about my failings in life and how I might improve. The man was not interested in dialogue, only in knocking down my beliefs. Frankly I failed to see how this approach could conceivably lead anyone to a greater interest in Islam; it only succeeded in making me feel small and foolish.
I then wondered how many Christians use this approach with non-Christians. It is so much easier to make speeches, to engage in monologue rather than dialogue! No tricky responses, no difficult questions to answer, just empty air to fill with arguments. It is easy. It is also pointless.