I was over at Pharyngula’s esteemed abode, reading a debate involving Christians and science (which describes almost all of his posts), and I decided to leave a comment regarding the futility of arguing with most Christians. And while none of this is particularly new to my regular readers, I haven’t posted anything good in awhile, and thought this was good enough.
The big problem with arguing with Christians (as well as most other groups) is that there are as many different Christian belief systems as there are Christians. In the end, people believe what they want to believe, and make their gods out of their own image. The bible says whatever they want it to say, and they merely use it to justify beliefs that they cannot rationally explain (or simply refuse to do so, as a form of rhetorical shorthand). Rather than explain their dislike of homosexuals or why their specific moral code is better, they just insist that their god tells them to act like that and believe the case to be closed. In reality, this is no better an argument than that of "I'm right because I say I'm right" because they are their own basis of rightness and source of reality.
The proof of this is simply the fact that no two Christians agree on everything, and most of them agree on almost nothing; or at least, nothing specific. If their god were a reliable source of morality and whatnot, then there shouldn't be such large differences in their opinions. As things are, any part of the bible that they disagree with is considered wrong; which is evidence that it is they who are selecting the teachings, not their god. Additionally, the confirmation they use in determining that the bible is accurate is also more evidence that they are selecting their beliefs; as it is their own beliefs confirming the bible, and not their god. More evidence is seen with the "cafeteria Catholics" who believe that they get to decide issues regarding homosexuality and women priests. The idea that these people are all worshipping the same god is fraudulent. If anything, they are abusing their god's name by attaching it to their own personal beliefs. Rather than being a fount of truth, God is reduced to nothing more than a rubber stamp of approval; the rhetorical equivalent of a hired goon, used to settle all battles in their favor.
And so before you can debate any Christian, you have to figure out what it is exactly that they believe; but that can take longer than any debate could be worth. And so it does little good to argue with them. You will be forced to speak in generalities which will almost never correspond to the specific person you're arguing with, and they will continue to believe that it's anti-Christian bigotry driving your stereotype...and perhaps they're right. Overall, you'll just talk past each other, as you argue against a generic Christian position, while they argue that their beliefs aren't being addressed by your arguments. But again, this is all more evidence that they are the source of their beliefs, and that they cannot rely on their god to win the debate for them.
And the upside for Christians is that I'm saying that they're not all sheep following a monolithic belief system; but rather, they are their own leaders and are following what they really believe. But the downside is that they can't claim a supernatural basis for their arguments, and must defend them on their own merits. None of this is to say that there is no god, but merely that they cannot rely upon His name to support their arguments. Rather, they have to defend their ideas of morality on their own, rather than pretending as if our argument is with their god. And that’s the way it is with everyone.