Commenting on atheism

After the lively discussion I had, I wanted to get my feet wet with some bloggers. Being as easy as it is to find content on WP, I searched for a few minutes and then found this post: To Those Who Say There is No God. It seemed as good as any to dive into, and I opened with the following:

I grew up “spiritual” with no religious training other than the random christianity events for holidays. As an adult, I became a Christian, then got into messianic christianity. Then I rejected christianity and became a Jew. Then I rejected that too. I can’t say with 100% certainty that there is no god, but I’m about as certain as saying there probably aren’t unicorns either.

Ultimately, it was my incessant needs to have questions answered. Religion couldn’t answer them. I found the natural world to provide a better source of understanding the world than a sky man watching me.

It seemed to me this was a fairly tame comment. Also, I’m especially fond of Richard Dawkins’s “unicorn, elves, fairy” comment and was looking for a chance to use it.

I found the site’s owner, Victor, to be pleasant. But then, this other person stepped in – Freedomborn! – which is pretty much where everything went to hell.

So what Proof have you got Jason that there is no God, have you died and come back and so can be so certain there is no God or Heaven or Hell or are you just going by hearsay and your own understanding, as Christians we do have Proof.

Christian Love – Anne

I’ll save you the drudgery of posting that mess here. You can do that if you feel like it. My conclusion from the experience is that religious people (Christians in this case) have problems believing some very basic facts, like facts based on history for example. Coincidentally, history was also a problem for the gal mentioned in the previous post.

After going through the whole experience for several comments I grew tired of it, realizing it was like talking with a dog. Which leads me to the question, in a roundabout way, but I’ll get there…

All of my debates and with various religious people in the past were useful because I used the Bible and spoke with them around a common authority. But now I speak to people from a different reference point, like when I would talk with Christians about Judaism – it’s nearly impossible because it centers around Jesus and their interpretation of the Tanakh as it relates to the New Testament. Unless you can get them to speak from a common reference point, there’s not going to be any eye-to-eye discussion.

Is it then worthwhile to talk with Christians about atheism? I enjoy discussing religion – it’s still probably one of my favorite topics – but is it worth it to engage? When you can’t discuss with someone about simple things like historical facts and fossils that anyone can view at their local college/university, how do you have a discussion? What has your experience been?

Thanks for reading.

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18 comments

  1. Good post, very well written. When you said “Ultimately, it was my incessant needs to have questions answered. Religion couldn’t answer them.” You nailed it. As an anti-theist, I always marvel at the idea that religious people just seem to have no curiosity. I became an atheist because god doesn’t exist but I’m an anti-theist because I read history. Honestly, if you take a cold, hard, objective, look it is easy to see that ruination is sewn into the very fabric of religion. You take a book, you place it in front a man and say “This is the infallible word of God,” and within that book is instructions on how to kill, torture, subjugate, enslave and conquer, you don’t then get ask why the world is an insane place. Great blog, and you get bonus points for being a Giger fan. Never stop asking questions. – Capt.

  2. Thanks for the link. The discussion over at that post is certainly interesting, so I decided to jump in. I agree with you about the post’s author. He seems honestly willing to listen and consider other points of view, even if he doesn’t agree with them. That’s exactly the sort of thing I like when having a conversation with a believer. It’s when they aren’t willing to listen to me but still expect me to listen to them that I get really turned off. This is why I don’t usually engage with street preachers, for example. The guy yelling at passers-by about Hell isn’t usually the type to listen to other viewpoints. Also, threatening random people with eternal torture is pretty rude.

    “Is it then worthwhile to talk with Christians about atheism?”

    I think so. My goal in these conversations is usually less about trying to change anyone’s mind, but rather to get others to understand my point of view better. And lots of Christians are very ignorant about atheists, having mostly heard about atheists from other Christians, rather than atheists themselves. At the very least, I can refine my own thinking about an issue, by talking with people who have opposing views, even if I get nothing else out of the conversation.

    “When you can’t discuss with someone about simple things like historical facts and fossils that anyone can view at their local college/university, how do you have a discussion?”

    It’s pretty hard to have a discussion like that, but when that’s the case, you should also keep in mind, who is listening to the conversation but not participating? You may have no hope of making any progress with a person who won’t acknowledge the facts, but the people who hear (or read) your conversation may be more open-minded–they may, in fact, come to the same conclusions as you about that person who won’t listen.

    I came to a not entirely dissimilar opinion to yours about the specific person you are talking about when I read that comment thread, actually. I found it pretty hypocritical when she would say things like “Offered in Christian Love” when saying things that weren’t loving at all. It’s like when a Christian says “I’ll be praying for you” in a tone that would be more appropriate for saying “fuck you”. Except it’s much more condescending than an actual “fuck you”.

      1. I’ve been talking and debating with religious believers off and on for years, and I’m still getting a feel for it, to be honest. I recently came out as an atheist to my entire family, and it’s certainly a lot different figuring out how I want to talk about religion with them than it is in the blogosphere, or with my friends, or with the religious proselytizers on my college campus. My goal is typically the same in all those circumstances, though. I want them to understand where I’m coming from more than I want to convince them that I’m right. I do sometimes prioritize things differently in different conversations, though, and those are just my personal motivations.

        Probably the thing I had the hardest time getting a feel for is how to talk about atheism while still being polite and respectful (of people, not of beliefs). For the longest time I worried about offending people, and I still find myself worrying about that sometimes. But, at some point, I realized that there really is just no way I can talk about atheism without offending someone. People just get offended so easily when you tell them you think their deeply held religious beliefs are wrong. So, when I realized that, I decided that I’d rather offend people by openly talking about my atheism (in a respectful but assertive way), than let people silence me.

  3. Talking with Christians about atheism is two people trying to converse while each person speaks a different language. It is nearly impossible.

    However, a great approach, to me, is to ask the Christian, “Why do you believe that?” Their own words condemn their irrationality. I believe the human mind is very capable of deciphering bullshit from reality. The problem, as stated by Captain Atheist, Christians no longer have curiosity. However, when a Christian starts to argue his faith, curiosity can by reinvigorated by asking that Christian, “Why?” As the Christian explains certain aspects of his faith, that’s when we can interject more questions like, “Does that make sense to you?” How does that fit within a natural world that God created?” “Is your faith something you grew up with?” If you were born in a different country, would you have a different faith, such as Islam?”

    I think if we realize that Christians are just as rational as we are. Not insulting their intelligence, but seeking their rational mind. Then we have a greater chance of bearing fruit. Even if nothing transpires that day. We at least can plant seeds of rationality into their fertile mind.

    We need to reinvigorate curiosity in the religious mind. However, it can only be done through asking questions.

    1. Great points, Scott. It’s so easy to forget to ask questions when you’re new at discussing something. It’s so much easier to practice developing a rapier wit with a new subject. Thank you!

  4. I also find, developing an efficient approach to debate is through practice. I have literally broken many eggs trying to make an awesome philosophy omelette. I used to make scrambled eggs of an argument and I still haven’t learned to make a decent omelette. Yet, I still practice. One day, I”ll get it right.

    1. That said, as good as omelettes are, scrambled eggs are the bomb. You can’t mess up scrambled eggs, and you can always garnish the shizzle out of them.

  5. I’ve been continuing to comment on that thread, though I may have reached the end of useful discussion. I guess I’ll find out once they reply to my latest comments.

    Anyway, I thought you might want to know that that blogger has been making some posts quoting sections of that comment thread. It’s not bad or anything, I just thought you might want to know. Links:

    https://victorscornerdotorg.wordpress.com/2015/12/19/when-you-encounter-an-atheist-for-the-first-time-part-1/

    https://victorscornerdotorg.wordpress.com/2015/12/22/when-you-encounter-an-atheist-for-the-first-time-part-2/

      1. I’m done with that thread, now. It keeps going in circles and they keep condescending to me and telling me that I never “really” believed or I would never would have stopped.

        It’s a good thing that Victor and Anne are there to tell me that I’m wrong about my entire life /sarcasm

      2. I too was a devout, searching, studying, praying and honest-with-myself believe. Thus, my introspection and intellectual honest has brought me to this point in my life. That point being, Atheism is the only explanation until actual objective, observable evidence has presented itself.

        I have been listening, again, to debates between Christophe Hitchens and other religious leaders about Atheism and Evolution. Every debate could be boiled down to the same discussion. The same conversation takes place. When I hear Christians I ma sickened that I sounded that ridiculous at one time.

        It’s when those Christians try to make a connection between Atheists and Hitler that Hitchens comes unglued……to make a comparison is ignorance of the lowest level.

        I was recently compared to Hitler myself the other day on a Facebook debate.

        Foolishness and waste of time.

        Yet, I feel that religion is immoral on several levels. Especially, when it comes to the good of humanity. So I tarry on, discussing the subject of Atheism to try and educate those who are on the fence or turn those who are deeply mired in their own dogma.

      3. Wow. You got the hitler comparison. Was it your dark, flowing locks? Your cute little moustache? Your intense murderous hatred for minority ethnic groups? 😉

      4. Thanks.

        I was a believer for the first two decades of my life. Much as I might think of it as wasted time and effort now, it’s really insulting for other people to tell me it didn’t really happen.

      5. I’d like to talk with you more about these subjects offline. If you’d like to, you can email me: jason at inkjetmaneuver dot com. Be well.

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