How to Avoid Uncomfortable Conversations about Religion

Ah the internet. Such a font of fantastic, novel, and often useless knowledge. One of my favorite sites to read for fun is WikiHow.com. The user-created content there is often worth reading if you need some simple advice on how to handle different situations.

Some of these wiki entries apply directly to secular folks like you and me. Do you have a friend who wants to ask you how your spiritual walk with god is going? Is your brother confronting you at an awkward time about your lack of church attendance? Do you just want to avoid debates on religion all together? Check out this bit of wisdom about how to handle acquaintances, family, or friends when they want to talk about spiritual matters:

How to Avoid Uncomfortable Conversations About Religion

Photo by hovering dog (flickr.com)

from wikiHow

There is a time and place for everything under the sun, including discussions about religion. Whether you are religious or not, if someone is trying to draw you into a conversation, or perhaps an argument, regarding religion or morality but the timing and situation is awkward and uncomfortable, this article will help you find a way to avoid a heated debate as politely as possible.

Steps

  1. Resist the urge to argue. It’s difficult to overlook a statement that seems completely ignorant and ungrounded, and you’ll likely have the urge to correct the person. Instead, smile and say “Interesting…”
  2. Meet it head on with honesty. Be true to yourself and your own feelings. Say “I’m not comfortable talking about that and I’m just not willing to have this conversation…”
  3. Redirect the conversation.
    • Ask about their children, significant other, health, or job.
    • Make an absurd joke to deflect the seriousness of the situation. For example, try: “Religion? No, I haven’t seen that movie.” Or: “Religion?! What . . . do you get that at, like, Wal-Mart or Starbucks or something?” Or: “No thanks. I haven’t been able to talk about religion since the last time the Cubs won the World Series.”
    • Dead pan, “I am sorry. I have a firm rule to not discuss politics or religion with anyone I’ve not seen naked.” That usually ends the discussion rather abruptly, and on a light-hearted note.
    • For people who are insistent on discussing religion, however, they’re likely to return to that topic quickly, so keep the conversation flowing at the level of small talk until you can do something else.
  4. Suggest a better time. If you would like to discuss religion at a better time and location, invite the person to meet you. This will allow you to control the environment, length of discussion, involved parties and other factors. Simply saying “This is definitely something I’d love to discuss with you, but can we do it at another time?” will do the trick, as long as you mean it. If you do not care to ever discuss religion with this person at all, skip this step.
  5. Excuse yourself. Remove yourself from the situation by taking a bathroom break, or by greeting someone you know who just arrived, or even by lying and saying that your cell phone is ringing silently. Look at the phone and pretend that it’s someone close to you and that you must briefly take the call. However, remember to return to the conversation, because bailing out suddenly and not returning will be considered rude, and may only add further motivation for the person to “enlighten” you.
  6. Bring in another conversationalist. When you can’t avoid a person who wants to talk about religion, look for a another person in the situation who you know has strong opinions about religion and enjoys a good debate. Introduce the two, and leave them to split theological hairs together.
  7. Be straightforward. Tell the conversationalist that this is the wrong time for this discussion.
    • If you are at work, explain that it is not proper to discuss controversial subjects in the workplace because there’s a line to be drawn between personal views and professional pursuits, and you would like to focus on maintaining professionalism.
    • If you are at a social event such as a dinner party or a wedding, remind the conversationalist that this was intended to be a happy, lighthearted celebration, and that you would rather not weigh down the evening (or the morning or afternoon) with discussions about more serious things in life.
    • Politely tell the truth. “I do not want to talk about religion right now.” If a person rudely continues to discuss their views on religion, politely ask them to stop being disrespectful to you and your request. Tell them that you intend to walk away if they continue.
    • If you don’t mind sharing your views but don’t want the conversation, share your views and then ask an unrelated question. Often, they will get the hint that you are not interested in theological discussion and move on.

Tips

  • Recognize the reasons you believe what you believe, or why you do not believe in anything in particular. Understanding your own beliefs, or lack thereof, will strengthen your resolve. You do not need to argue your reasons and, in fact, you are better off not arguing.
  • As long as you are diplomatic and kind when you positively say you do not want to discuss religion, you will be respected.
  • Conversations about religion shouldn’t be uncomfortable unless you are unsure about your own beliefs. It is completely proper to tell them you have your own beliefs, or lack of them, and are not interested in discussing the topic.
  • Religion should be discussed openly and objectively without fear of hurting someone’s feelings.
  • It is rude for a person to refuse to leave you alone when you have asked them to.
  • Many people don’t mean to be rude, they just literally don’t realize that not everyone around them has had the same upbringing, background, or culture. It may not occur to someone for example that their coworker is Jewish not Christian if the speaker lives in a predominantly Christian area, etc.

Warnings

  • Leading a persistent conversationalist to believe that you are agreeing with their views just so you can quiet them will most likely encourage them to follow up more frequently with you. If you let them think you agree with them, they will may to check in from time to time to see if you are still on the same page.
  • Seeming flippant or like a cynic may challenge your friend to find more ways to reach you; so reassure your friend, “I have my beliefs; let’s just talk about other things.” Keep the friend and keep on the right path.

Article provided by wikiHow, a wiki how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Avoid Uncomfortable Conversations About Religion. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

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15 Comments


  1. Thanks for sharing this article! I have been in those tough situations before, so it’s nice to have a plan of action in mind.

  2. I just watched the 1st of a YouTube video series that supposed to answer a lot of questions. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sODlrzfnD24&feature=youtube_gdata

  3. “I am sorry. I have a firm rule to not discuss politics or religion with anyone I’ve not seen naked.”

    This wouldn’t help me when I and my family visit nude beaches or nudist clubs. OTOH, no one has ever brought religion up with me at those places.

  4. I find this too complicated.

    How about avoid the sites that force you to talk about what you want to talk about or simply do the offensive, ignore which means losing the connections one builds on those sites but hey sacrifices right?
    .-= Joe’s last blog ..Boy Scouts of America =-.

  5. Secondly, I didn’t mention this part:
    If your walking downtown and see the street preachers with their signs, you know what you do to avoid them? Avoid them and not walk by them. There are plenty of other sidewalks and you may be able to get to see more of the city you live in by ignoring them.

    If they follow you, get direct, in their face, maybe justify their reason for their love of persecution because you know someone like them don’t care for open minded discussion…its just to preach to you or keep walking away and see if they try to stop you when you turn your car on to pull away.

  6. I’ve personally dealt with the problem, on more than one occasion, by looking them dead in the eye, and saying “I’m sorry – I just don’t subscribe to your brand of politics.”
    ‘What ?’
    “Seriously — I just don’t subscribe to your brand of religious politics.”

  7. Maximinus Thrax

    Wrong approach. Chuck D said it best: the future holds nothing but confrontation.

    White Christians have been given too much slack. Take them to task. Tell them, in terms they’ve used to speak about people like us, just what you think of them. There’s a culture war going on, it was not declared by us, but at this point if you think you’re going to change anyone’s mind, you are simply deluding yourself. Fight back. Make it unpleasant. Let them know there are consequences for being divisive, and that consequence is confrontation.

  8. When approched evangelically, I very much prefer to turn the tables, “Me? I’m an atheist. If you really want to talk about it we can talk about it later, here’s my email address… But this isn’t really the time.” Interestingly, I have only once had that offer taken up. In a non-evangelical situation I like to use the “that’s not how everybody feels about it though” line.

  9. I just say “When I was small, religious people touched me inappropriately. Are you hitting on me?”

  10. As somebody of a religious background, I’ve found more often than not that it’s aetheists who come up to me to challenge my beliefs more than I ever go up to challenge them, and this advice is useful for ANYBODY who is challenged on their belief background inappropriately/when they don’t want to talk about it. Live and let live I say; it’s great to have a discussion on a topic of mutual interest, even if it’s with opposing views (I’ve often walked away really enlightened in “another way” of thinking even if I dont believe it myself), but terrible when somebody is trying to force you to accept their way is right, or to make you believe or not believe in God.

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