Skillfully defending the Faith doesn’t always mean having the right argument or the right answers. Often it’s just knowing how to ask the right questions.
When we rely on statements in conversations, they may unintentionally turn into speeches. Like food shoved down someone’s throat, the knowledge we impart to people in lengthy statements is rarely retained. Instead, asking questions lets us steer the conversations toward the truth without having to “preach” the truth to anyone.
In my experience, I have found four questions that are essential to any good conversation.
“What do you believe?”
Too often we merely assume what someone else believes based on their income, their race, their gender, their religion (or lack of religion) or some other external factor. Never assume you know what someone believes; instead, ask.
“Why do you think that’s true?” or “How did you come to believe that?”
How a person arrived at a belief, or why he thinks it’s true, can be even more interesting than what he actually believes. It’s vital to discover this so that you can help the person see where his thinking went wrong if he happens to have a false belief.
“What did you mean by (fill in the blank)?”
If we don’t stop and define the words in our conversations, we run the risk of misunderstanding the other person. Here are just a few of the words whose meanings can vary dramatically between people when they talk about the controversial issue of abortion: life, choice, rights, fetus, person, human, and even abortion. You can imagine similar misunderstood terms that come up in all the areas of Catholic apologetics.
By carefully defining the words being used, you will talk to people you disagree with instead of talking past them.
“What would you say to someone who says (fill in the blank)?”
After you learn what the other person believes, and why he believes it, you may want to challenge his belief and show him it’s false. It’s not disrespectful in and of itself to challenge the truth of someone’s beliefs. You can respect a person and be kind to him without respecting any particular opinion he has. However, if you use a question from a hypothetical inquirer instead of making a direct accusation, the person with whom you’re speaking is less likely to become defensive or take the challenge personally.
Asking a question is especially helpful when you have conversations with two tough audiences: family members and people on the Internet. Conversations with family and close friends can be explosive since they know us well and can push our emotional buttons. Conversely, conversations on the Internet can be explosive because those people don’t know us well and can hide behind a veil of anonymity that emboldens their rude behavior.
In both cases, a set of questions can lower the level of hostility. With enough practice, you can help a person see that what he believes does not make sense without ever having to make one single statement.