QUAERITUR: Questions or statements about Faith met with confusion or attacks.

From a reader:

Every time I start or enter conversations with non-catholic people, the moment I ask : “Why do you think this?” or say: “I don’t understand, please explain.” in response to a statement, it will be handled as an open personal attack. To be fair, there are people who actually give an asnwer to the question, but that is usually totally meaningless and upset, but the second reply is commonly a real personal attack. We don’t even reach the point when the talk we are having is beginning to be actual communication. I experience this kind of behaviour in the office with my colleagues and with my parents too.

I get really upset when I encounter this kind of behaviour, not becouse I hate the people, but becouse the refusal of reasoning irritates me. I usually say a prayer to my guardian angel or the Blessed Virgin to help me not to lose my temper.

Is this normal, or am I doing something wrong?

Given that we are members of a fallen race, suffering with the wounds Original Sin inflicted on our will and intellect, on our ability to control our passions and appetites, I would say that this is fairly normal.  This is the sort of thing that made martyrs into martyrs.

To be less dramatic, however, keep in mind the times in which we live.

Attention spans are now very short.   People are taught less and less useful information.  We are surrounded by distractions which lull us away from consideration of the Last Things.  Preaching and teaching and catechesis has been sheer disaster for decades.  Liturgical worship has been banalized far and wide.  The Church and religion and the moral, ethical teaching that flows from them have been incessantly run down by the entertainment industry and misrepresented by the mainstream media.  Religious indiffrentism is advanced as enlightened dialogue.  Critical thinking is a nearly lost tool.

Is it any wonder that when you ask them to give a reason for what they think, they have a negative reaction?  Many people are unused to such a challenge.

Take into consideration the old adage, quidquid recipitur, in modo recipientis recipitur. That which is received, is received in the manner or mode of the one who is receiving it.  That it to say, you may have to tailor your according to the people you are dealing with.

Therefore, give heed to what we red in 1 Peter 15: 13ff.

And who is he that can hurt you, if you be zealous of good?  But if also you suffer any thing for justice’ sake, blessed are ye. And be not afraid of their fear, and be not troubled. But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you. But with modesty and fear, having a good conscience: that whereas they speak evil of you, they may be ashamed who falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.  For it is better doing well (if such be the will of God) to suffer, than doing ill.

Be prepared to give your own informed, measured and kind answers for your Faith.

Moreover, pray not only to your Guardian Angel, but also the other person’s Guardian Angel.  Ask them to work together to help the two of you have a good exchange and to prompt you in the right directions of thought while protecting your from the traps of the Enemy.

And be sure to show joy in your Catholic faith.  With the relatively religiously unlettered today, your joy may be the first, best hook you have in your tackle box.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. MikeM says:

    I just graduated from a “top” secular university. I found that the professors enjoyed reasoned discussion, but that it could be outright dangerous to question students on their beliefs. I have actually seen people turn outright violent when asked very straightforward questions like “Why do you think ____ is different from _____?”

    I think that a lot of people were never really taught how to think, and that they cope with their inability to deal with higher level issues by deifying lower level logic, which they only grasp loosely anyway… When you poke through their charade of rationality by actually asking them for their reasoning, all of the spiritual anguish and the feelings of inadequacy that they’ve been unable to address gush forward to the surface.

  2. sheilal says:

    I have had many beautiful conversations with people of other faiths. I think it might be important to honestly examine your approach to the conversation. Are you militant or aggressive in your questions? Are you loving in your conversation? Is it important to you to convince them that you are right or to open the way and path to improved communication about the Catholic faith? I think if you encounter this type of attitude a lot, you might need to examine yourself. I think there are definitely people out there who simply want to argue, but most people are open to conversation if you will listen to them and be willing to explain things in a simple way. My kids attended a Protestant Christian school, and I found that I had many opportunities to explain our faith and to dispel myths about our faith. Never in the four years my kids were there did I ever encounter anything like you describe and I hope I opened the door somewhat to a better understanding to the Catholic faith and displayed my love of the Church. I don’t by ANY means think of myself as a perfect example of this, but it’s something I tried to be conscious of. I don’t think people are ever persuaded by an argument, but they may be persuaded by reason presented with love and patience.

  3. Banjo pickin girl says:

    In 35 years of discussing faith matters with people I have rarely been met with attacks or hostility. I think it is because of the approach I use, which is to ask the person what their personal experience is. People want to talk on a personal level more than about ideas. Later on, the conversation can more easily turn to the ideas themselves. People first, then things.

  4. Legisperitus says:

    It seems sometimes that Protestant groups, given that there are so many of them, have a tacit agreement not to question each other’s beliefs or try to make rational sense of their own. This probably stems from the practical Protestant idea that there is no one absolutely true set of doctrines to which all should adhere. The result of all this can be a sentimental fideism that is at best irrational and at worst anti-rational, so that it becomes “bad form” to try to reason out another person’s beliefs.

  5. Banjo pickin girl says:

    I neglected to mention that even if the words are nice, the body language may not be. I always try to be aware of my body language, that it matches my words.

  6. Elizabeth D says:

    I would greatly like to know better how to speak of the fullness of faith in Christ today because I am really concerned for all the Christians (and others) who don’t have access to the Sacraments they need, and I am really concerned for Christian unity (Christ has made the Church necessary for our salvation, the Church is His one beloved Bride, outside the visible communion of the Church it seems that the situation of souls is completely uncertain). Like so many, such problems exist even within my own family. I feel an urgency about it that can often tend toward anxiety which is not helpful. Also I am often often depressed, have suffered rejection in regards to vocation and I am sorry this has somewhat discouaged me, and this makes for poorer witness to the Faith, I agree with what Father Z says that joy is a great witness.

  7. Philangelus says:

    A friend and I have exchanged at least a million words discussing our different beliefs. I find that often when we’re discussing, it’s a real opener to deeper conversation to say “Tell me more about that.” And then wait.

    Or sometimes, “Oh, so is {this} like {that}?” and often the person will tell you no, they’re different in the following ways…

    But both of those if said openly and without any attack will cause people to talk at length about themselves and what they belief.

    I also like to shift it to a totally academic perspective. If you’re talking to an atheist and start talking about “the Biblical text” rather than “the Bible” it will prolong the conversation because they feel it’s on more academic ground than religious at that point. Compare “In this you can see parallels between Platonic thought and the Biblical text” to “It’s in the Bible! And Plato thought it too!”

    More often I find people apologizing to me for not believing in God, which I find odd because I certainly never told them what I think they should believe. :-)

  8. AJP says:

    I’ve encountered the same disproportionately angry responses to very mild critical thinking questions. I don’t see this rage from very many Protestants who are serious Christians; I also have found folks from Hindu and Asian Buddhist backgrounds to be very respectful and interested in discussions of different beliefs. Rather the rage seems to come from people who – tho they may identify as Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, or “spiritual” – are strongly committed to religious relativism and relativism in general.

    It is immensely disturbing to see how simple, mild, basic questions like “why is (x) different from (y)?” can set off such anger in some people. I find it greatly upsetting to see people – especially educated people – scorn reason and critical thinking. Rationality is the core of human nature – it is perverse when a human of normal or above average intelligence revolts against logic and critical thinking like a vampire from a crucifix made of garlic.

    One symptom of this (or perhaps a cause of it?) that I’ve noticed is how many people, particularly those of a secular and leftist persuasion, are quick to equate any sort of disagreement on some philosophical/theological point with rank hatred and bigotry. For example, notice how nowadays anyone who expresses moral reservations about homosexual behavior is said to “hate gays.” Even if one does not favor legal bans on homosexuality, even if one is OK with civil unions, etc, one is still placed in the same category as Fred Phelps as long as one still says “it is a sin.” Likewise, think of how many times have you heard someone say, “people who say their religion is the only right one/only way to heaven/etc are no different from the people who flew the planes into the World Trade Center.” I wish the Church would be more proactive in combating this mentality.

    I think the suggestion to pray to the person’s guardian angel is very good. There have been times when I’ve been in conversation with people like this that I’ve mentally prayed the St. Michael prayer. Such reactions are so disproportionate, so anti-human, so senseless, that it’s hard not to wonder if the preternatural is involved at some level.

  9. albizzi says:

    “most people are open to conversation if you will listen to them”
    Sheilal, yes you are right.
    But conversation leads nowhere. People accept to listen only what they wish to listen. I you begin to list the tenets of the true Faith, they reply that they believe or don’t believe this and not that due to personal and irrational feelings. One has to be a theological pundit to handle the conversation properly. I have no pretention to be so.
    In addition the confusion we got since the council don’t help at all. They cherry-pick in the many heresy bordering declarations made by some controversial clerics , including popes, to make yourself voiceless.
    Thus I prefer not to engage in a conversation: It is waste of time.

  10. Allan S. says:

    I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that hatred of God is far nearer to Him than indifference. I always try to remember that an angry secular athiest may very well be on his/her own path to salvation and you have been thrust into their path, for better or for worse.

    So smile and just tell the truth. Who knows what may come of a later reflection on your words?

  11. EWTN Rocks says:

    I believe that people want to have conversations about faith but are often confused or trying to avoid discussing something painful, resulting in surface discussion vs. conversation. I lnow

  12. EWTN Rocks says:

    Oops, my comment was sent before I finished typing! What I meant to say is that I know when people are having difficulty talking at a deeper level, an unresolved issue is at the core. When this occurs, I try to put myself in the other person’s shoes to better understand. Most of the time the individual having difficulty is extremely grateful that someone cares so much to keep trying. With a little coaxing, shallow discussions will turn into deep conversations. Now it’s time for me to pray for my guardian angel for whom I love dearly for not giving up.

Comments are closed.