Defusing the "in bad faith question"?


I’m sure that, even if the term isn’t commonly used (I haven’t found anything on google with this context), many have encountered the questions that I am calling “bad faith” questions.

I live in an area now where Catholics are about 2% of the population, and most of the people in the area are some variety of either Baptist or “non-denominational”. Personally, I am a convert, and I haven’t had to face this type of question in quite awhile, but my children in high school frequently do. While they have no problem answering the actual question posed, the issue they seem to be facing is that the question is actually being asked “in bad faith”.

To define the term for purposes of discussion here:
“in bad faith question” means that the person asking the question is not asking in a genuine manner. Frequently, it seems like Questioner can barely wait for Answerer to “shut up” so that Questioner can go on by providing the “right” answer. In other words, it feels more like an undeclared rhetorical question rather than an opening to dialogue.

Personally, I’m fairly blunt and willing to call the Questioner out, but my usual “script” is too confrontational for my daughter’s comfort.

My “script” runs along these lines:

Q: Why do Catholics (do/believe) x [usually phrased in a manner that misrepresents the practice/belief, e.g. “worship Mary”]?
Me: By your question, I can tell that you love Jesus very much. So do I. I’m sure that you know, as I do, that Jesus said that He is the Way, Truth, and Life. So, I’m sure that you agree that seeking the truth is important to one who loves Jesus. I’ve been asked your question before, and I can certainly answer it … but I have been asked the question by others who are not actually interested in hearing an answer or even that the phrasing of their question misrepresents the truth. Are you asking me because you want to try to understand this [belief/practice]?

If the conversation continues, either it is a genuine interest in understanding (or learning what Catholics truly do/believe about the topic), or a subsequent response from Questioner reveals the “in bad faith” nature of the questions, and I’ll terminate the conversation by saying something like “I can tell you do love Jesus, as I do. I believe you are being sincere in your questions, but in the interest of our friendship, we need to end this discussion, as I do not feel that my answer is being heard. Pray for me as I will pray for you.”

So–either softer ways of ending the conversation or ways to successfully turn the conversation that started from the “in bad faith” question into an actual conversation? Share your thoughts and experiences.


I rarely encounter anything like this now, however in high school it happened frequently. I live in an area that has a high LDS presence, in high school there were some that were a bit aggressive about their beliefs. When questioned about my own personal beliefs I would answer the question fully initially, but if the person was just using the question and my subsequent answer as a springboard to preach to me or grandstand, I would immediately shut them down, or ask a question about their beliefs I knew they would not be comfortable with. That certainly is not how I would handle the situation as an adult, but I did not have the brain to mouth filter then that I do now.

I think that if someone is not genuinely interested in the answers to the questions they ask, you are really not going to get to a point where you can have a beneficial discussion with them. I find that a lot of these types of situations happen in groups of people, so I have offered to have private discussions with people (this is almost never accepted). Additionally if this is someone in my place of employment, I advise that I am not discussing these topics while “on the clock” but again will do so later on a one on one situation (this has never been accepted).


You could always give your daughter the name of a book to refer questioners to. The answer could be as simple as “actually, Catholics don’t do that. I’m sorry that someone led you to believe that that’s true. If you’d like to find out what we really do believe, I think I’d recommend you pick up a copy of Why Do Catholics Do That?. It’ll have all the answers you’re looking for! Have a blessed day!”

(Or, of course, you could recommend Catholicism for Dummies, or What Catholics Really Believe. All are good for reference.)


A. We don’t. Why do you think we do?

That can go two directions. You can either point out that they have been deceived about what we believe, and they should be very concerned if this came from their particular church. Or, you can ask them questions to try to understand where they are coming from. Usually you can walk them around backwards until they back themselves into a Socratic stranglehold where they must abandon their own argument, or abandon reason.


You’ve done a fine job in answering the question. But the “bad faith” is not in the question. It is in the person asking the question.

Bad faith is not defused by any answer. Because it doesn’t matter the question.

So, in my opinion, answer those questions as you’ve been doing. Ask your child how she would answer the question, if you don’t think that she will be as straightforward as you. Any answer will do. You can even choose not to answer the question.

Remember, it is by God’s grace that “bad faith” is defused. And the way to get that going is to pray for the person.

If you can get to a point where the person becomes a friend and you can exchange questions and answers back and forth without getting upset, that would be ideal. But remember to pray.


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