Saturday, October 18, 2008

Atheists and theists

Continuing on an idea that I had in my last blog, I have to say that I've had many good conversations with theists (I should probably just say Christians - as I really don't get to talk to many Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, etcetera - at least, not on that kind of a level). I find that the best ones are when you're just having an exchange of ideas and not trying to convert the other one.

Just like everybody else, I feel that I'm right, and my way of looking at things is the best way. However, I know that it doesn't do my side any good if I'm insulting or forceful with my point of view. That's why I don't say things like, "Oh, it's all in your head" or "The Bible's just a book of myths." At least, I don't say these things so long as the other person is treating me with respect and is more interested in exchanging ideas. (Basically, they also feel that they're right, and they're smart enough to know not to try and convert me.) The thing is, if I am to "convert" anybody, then the only way I can do it is by giving them something to think about. Perhaps they'll eventually see my point of view, but I have to accept the fact that most likely they will not. Likewise, I'm willing to hear what they have to say, and I consider their points.

There are, however, some things that I don't bother taking the time to consider. Those are the kinds of things that either I used to say when I was a theist myself, or things that I have already spent so much time considering that it's pointless to keep spinning my wheels on it.

Basically, what I want to give here is some advice for any theist who wants to have a constructive conversation with an atheist. Now realize that I'm generalizing here when it comes to atheists. There are some atheists who are basically atheistic out of an intellectual laziness, and there are some who have had some sort of a trauma regarding religion that makes them turn off to it without even considering it. I'm not talking about them. I'm talking about people like me - skeptics. That's a word that gets thrown around a lot. You'll hear people say, "I used to be a skeptic, but Sylvia Brown convinced me that psychics are real!" Those people aren't skeptics, not matter what they say. I'm talking about people who not only don't believe in any gods, but we reject supernatural explanations for things (without proof, anyway - and so far, no proof). We don't believe in psychics, astrology, past lives, the Lochness Monster, Bigfoot, mindreading, ghosts, etcetera.

So, if you want to talk to one of us, here are some things to avoid:

1. Don't do the "argument from design." You know, the "everything is just so complex that there just HAS to be a God!" It's fine if that's the way you interpret the world around you, but trust me, we've given that one some thought. I used to say it myself. I didn't just randomly stop saying it. I've thought it over and to me, the evidence points more to things like natural selection than anything. Things aren't as orderly as some people would have us believe. And if you don't believe me, you might want to check out a meteor crater some day. Again, I'm not trying to convince you to reject that idea - just don't say it like it's some original idea on your part.

2. Don't quote the Bible to prove The Bible. Generally speaking, the atheists and agnostics that I've known are at least as well versed, if not better versed, in The Bible than most Christians I've known. We're not going to change our minds if we just read The Bible. In fact, for me, actually sitting down to read The Bible was what pushed me from agnostic to atheist. (I realized that I didn't believe in any other gods, and now I didn't believe in the God of the Bible either. Figures that makes me an atheist.)

3. Don't tell us that you feel sorry for us. That's just patronizing. You wouldn't like it if I said something like, "Oh, I feel so sorry for you that you believe in fairy tales!" I'd be kind of a douche if I said that to you (unless you told me that you felt sorry for me first - then it'd be fair game), and that's how you'll come off if you do that. While we may not get our meaning in life from the same source as you, don't assume that we don't have some sense of wonder about the world that makes us enjoy life.

4. Don't do the "what if you're wrong?" argument, because we can just as easily turn that around on you. Zeus is pretty mad that you think he's just a myth, by the way.

5. Don't assume anything about us one way or another. It's true that some atheists have had a traumatic childhood due to a religious upbringing. I didn't; although I think that I had some fears that were unnecessary, it hardly would count as being "traumatic." Perhaps "unnecessarily stressful at times" would be a better way of putting it.) Still, I think that my religious beliefs growing up were generally more positive than negative.

6. Don't think that we really do believe, deep down inside. Do you really not believe, deep down inside? Of course you don't. It's pretty presumptuous to tell a person how they really feel. Just because you can't fathom how a person can not believe, that doesn't mean that their feelings aren't genuine. And I wouldn't say the same to you, because I know that when I did believe, the feeling was very genuine.

Basically, if you do want to talk about it, the best way to go is to talk about what a positive thing your belief has been for you. That's impossible to attack. (Okay, not impossible, but it's a dick thing to attack somebody's subjective feelings.) If there's any way we'd ever come along with your way of seeing things, we'd have to see that there's something to it that we haven't considered - and perhaps there is. Just don't give me the design argument, because trust me - I've thought through that one nearly to death.

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