Feeding trolls with honest questions

I was visiting an atheist discussion board on Facebook and found that a large number of the discussion threads had been started by a Christian with the intent to proselytize. Most even advertised this fact with titles like this:

If you say so... All of these discussion threads were started by the same person, first name Shawn. I don't have a problem in general with theists coming onto atheists sites to try to proselytize, but starting 10 discussion threads in less than a week is just spamming. Many people have tried to engage him fairly, but had little success. He evaded questions, changed the subject, and quoted bible verses. Not very useful when you goal is to convince someone that you're right. I decided to have some fun and put a challenge to him. I admit that I start off on the rude side, but he was starting the debates and then ignoring questions and counter arguments, you can only be so polite if you want to get their attention at that point.

Me: Shawn, you obviously don't care about the facts. You haven't answered a single question or rebuttal. Appeals to emotion about "god's sacrifice," emotional blackmail of being "eternally separated," and Jesus ASCII art shouldn't convince anyone with a 5th grade education of anything. You assert all of these things about god, but you'll never convince us they're true when you still haven't proven your god exists.

Two more things about the sacrifice of Jesus, and I hope you take the time to actually consider and answer them.

1) How is such a human sacrifice not morally repugnant to you? If you wronged me, say burned down my home, murdered my wife, stole my lifesavings and spent it on hookers, I would likely have a hard time forgiving you. Should I then have my son be a human sacrifice so that I can forgive you? If you recognize that I had my son brutally murdered for your sake I will forgive you. How is that benevolence? I'm honestly asking you.

2) I don't understand how Jesus' death was a sacrifice. If I was offered the chance to rule eternally in heaven and the price was 30 years of trudging the earth, being mocked, a day of brutal torture, and 3 days in hell, I'd take it. That is a *very small* price to pay for ruling over all of heaven and earth for eternity, don't you think? Or did Jesus not rise to heaven after his death? Again, I'm not trying to mock you, I honestly want to know what you think.

A fellow atheist, Matt, who'd been following Shawn's attempts to convert us godless heathens, dismissed my attempt.

Matt: Mike, you know he won't actually answer your questions. He posts the same crap over and over again. This guy takes that cake for one of the dumbest people I've ever seen in my life, Christian or not.
It's a miracle in itself that this moron found a wife and has children. No offense, Shawn, but I call you stupid not for your beliefs, but for your inability to answer questions without quoting Bible verses.

Matt may seem rude, but when someone comes to you and is telling you to make sweeping changes to your life and identity, it is reasonable to expect that they can explain why you should, and address your concerns about it. If they don't understand their own beliefs enough to answer your questions, than what business do they have telling you to live like they do? I completely understand his sentiment, but I also find the exercise worthwhile anyway as I explained.

Me: There's hope for everyone Matt. And while I know it is likely he won't answer me without relying on scripture (not because I'm stereotyping you Shawn, but because of the pattern that you have shown), it's worth it to try. Even if Shawn doesn't want to continue this discussion without trying to use more emotional manipulation (which is what guilting us with the death of Jesus is, Shawn), there is always the chance that someone who will benefit from these questions will see the thread. Can't hurt to ask.

At about the same time I sent Shawn a personal note. I wanted to draw his attention to my questions, because I am genuinely interested in how he would answer them. I also explained politely and clearly that I wanted to read his opinions, not scripture.
Click to Read Full Text

The huge block of text on the right was his response. Click to view at full size. Unfortunately Shawn failed to answer either of my questions, and repeatedly used long quotes of scripture. Well, you can only try right?

Me: Shawn,

I asked: How is the sacrifice not morally repugnant?
And: How is it even a great sacrifice?

You answered: "Why did Jesus have to suffer and die by sacrifice?"

You didn't answer either of my questions. You only asserted that your god hates sin, and loves getting flesh sacrificed to him for atonement. These are just assertions of his preferences, they are not arguments that justify the atrocity of human sacrifice, or how a god that returns to heaven to rule all of creation is sacrificing anything.

Point of clarification: I do like reading scripture. I have studied the scripture of many religions extensively. I don't like being answered with quotes from scripture though. Why? Because you're not taking my question seriously if you can't take the time to answer in your own words. You obviously don't respect my time or intellect if you answer questions by copying from BibleGateway.com.

I gave you a chance, I even took great care to make it clear to you what I was asking. If you change your mind and want to seriously consider my questions, I will pay attention. But I consider our conversation over as long as you disrespect me by evading them and changing the subject.

Just as I finished answering Shawn on the discussion board, I received this reply to my private note.

Shawn: Hi Mike,
I have just posted a response on the thread.
I hope it helps.The best way to explain these things is with the scripture, otherwise I would sound like some kind of cult leader giving opinions and answers that are not biblical.
The verses are there to help and show that it is in the Bible, not just an opinion.
Take care,

Me: Not really, feel free to try again though.

I'm a little disappointed, but maybe Shawn will surprise me and continue the conversation in an intellectually honest manner. If so I will be excited to share it.

In the meantime, if any theist readers think that they can answer my questions, by all means share your answers in the comments section. Until next time.

In search of reason,


P.S. After reading Shawn's response to me Val mentioned "If you try to convey the teachings the bible without quoting it you'll sound like a cult leader... That should really tell you something." I think we can look forward to a post from Val on "If god inspired/wrote the bible, why on earth did he choose do it this way?" sometime soon.

P.P.S. As a bonus, the fancy Jesus ASCII art. I'm sure Shawn spent a lot of time on it (though I personally would have taken more care to center the ASCII cross amongst the flying ASCII fish). Too bad it's not a reason to believe.

UPDATE: Shawn has privately replied to me with a personal testimony that is many pages long, and in the discussion board with "May God bless you and your family today Mike." I should make it clear that Shawn seems like a very nice person, that was never in question. I just don't understand why someone would choose to put so much effort into witnessing, and then evade or fall silent whenever they're asked a question.

If a theist only knows how to quote scripture and cite personal experience when evangelizing to skeptics and rationalists, then they are just going to be wasting our time and their own. Their personal experience is not a valid reason for me to change my beliefs. Would you consider a Muslim's testimony about Allah sufficient reason to convert to Islam? It's the same thing when a Christian tries to use testimony to convert me. And ignoring my questions or changing the subject just demonstrates that they do not understand their beliefs well enough to defend them, so why should I join them?

UPDATE: The discussion is continued in this post.


  1. As always, I'm shocked by your seemingly limitless patience. I would've walked away much sooner. Actually, I would've ignored the thread altogether. Oh wait, I did. ^_^

    Yeah, I just don't have patience for this stuff. And I know you thrive on argument, but it seems so futile with these people. I'll be interested to see if and when you ever burn out. Although I know it won't be any time soon.

  2. Well I'm able to do it because it is mainly for my benefit and the benefit of our audience.

    I benefit from the practice I get in putting together my arguments, and evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition's (if they present one).

    And I know other people benefit from this interaction because I learned so much from similar conversations between atheists and theists when I was still trying to figure things out for myself.

    If the person I'm talking to gets something out of it as well, that's just a bonus.


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