What I Think About "Evangelical Atheism"

In my “What I Think About” series I am laying out many theses I have argued for extensively on this blog. I have already covered some of my key views on objective valuesfaith and religionscience and faith, religious moderates and liberals, and why I call myself a gnostic theist/agnostic adeist.  In this post I overview my position that it is okay to try to change people’s minds about their religious beliefs and that atheists should not be embarrassed about trying to do this just because religious people have historically used obnoxious and irrationalistic techniques which have tarnished the reputation of an actually good thing: vigorous debate.

We atheists just need to avoid their tactics:

I am an evangelical atheist.

I do not think it is in bad form or rude to proselytize or to have an evangelical passion for one’s views—be they religious or otherwise. I do not resent the strong desire to convert others which one finds among Christians and Muslims. What I reject in faith-based evangelism is shameless “get them at all costs” approaches they use.

I loathe the way they actively distort science, present sophistries in lieu of philosophical arguments, insist on dogmatic acceptance of their authorities and refuse to engage in an actual open ended debate, shamelessly try to manipulate people’s emotions using fear and insecurity to their advantage, harass strangers on the street, bully relatives and friends with threats to disown them lest they convert to (or not leave) their faith,use the coercive power of their stations as people’s teachers or military officers or legislators to indoctrinate, propagandize, manipulate, or force people into deferring to and converting to their beliefs, etc.

Such tactics as these give all discussions about philosophical matters a bad name in the public and it is a disgrace. But I think that atheists (and theists, etc.) can all have civil private and public debates that eschew all these negatives and yet which are unashamedly about trying to rationally persuade others to their side.

I also don’t mind being called an “evangelical” atheist (though I know other atheists understandably don’t want the slimy goo of the negative connotations of “evangelicalism” all over them. In my case, my passionate temperament to correct people’s minds in matters of gods was forged for 15 years in evangelical training.

I still am, behaviorally, in some ways “evangelical”–and even want to be insofar as that means wanting people to think the best they can about the ultimate questions of meaning, ethics, and reality so that they flourish most in life. I just need to (and think I have) avoid their failures to do this in ways that actually respect others’ autonomy and intelligence and do not reduce people to “projects” and notches on a belt.

We should reach out civilly but not cowardly to people of faith.

When debating the defenders of faith, be they actual people of faith or their apologists, we should not resort to name-calling–it is abusive, bullying, childish, disrespectful, corrosive to the dialogue—and probably counter-productive most of the time anyway. It distracts from your argument, it gives your opponent a moral complaint against you, it makes potential allies try to disassociate themselves from you, and it projects the impression you have no argument so you’re resorting to abuse.

We need to respect people and argue respectfully.

This is entirely consistent with being intellectually and personally confrontational in appropriate ways. We must call spades spades. We can use harsh words that are accurate and not just putdowns. We can call people liars when they lie, we can expose them as fraudulent, dissembling, unfair, irrational, authoritarian, theocratic, misogynistic, racist, chauvinistic, stubborn, rude, or any of dozens and dozens of other awful things for which we provide evidence. We do not have to always be nice or conciliatory. Some people deserve to be denounced vigorously.

But there is no need for words that go beyond denunciations of specific, documented behaviors, to outright dismissals of their worth as people.

We should also actively work not to let our principled opposition and vigorous willingness to debate and debunk turn into emotional hatred of our intellectual and cultural enemies. We must remember that it is bogus when the fundamentalists claim to hate what gay people do and yet love them as people, and find ways to not take a comparable attitude towards the religious lest we become haters. We need to conscientiously figure out ways to affirm the virtues of the religious which are separably valuable and laudable apart from their own faith-based interpretations of their worth.

We should learn patience. People do change their minds, just often not right in front of our faces. We should debate optimistically, with the knowledge that you can never even predict or measure afterwards how many ways you can slightly or significantly affect the way others think. Some words echo in people’s minds long after we even remember saying (or even thinking) them and predicting which ones will do that to which people is impossible. But it happens, either consciously or subconsciously, we all get into each other’s heads.  And we should want to get into people’s heads for the positive.

And, finally, we should feel free to (judiciously) mock religion. This is a vital part of breaking its spell of holiness, untouchability, and default reverence in the culture. And absurdities and sophistries are most directly and clearly exposed with humor and dismissed with laughter.  Sometimes (though of course not always) a witty rejoinder that exposes a position’s stupidity is worth more than the 1,000 words it sometimes takes to carefully disentangle all its myriad confusions.

Your Thoughts?

If you enjoy reading my philosophical blog posts, consider taking one of my online philosophy classes! I earned my PhD and taught 93 university classes before I went into business for myself. My online classes involve live, interactive class discussions with me and your fellow students held over videoconference (using Google Hangout, which downloads in just seconds). Classes involve personalized attention to your own ideas and questions. Course content winds up tailored to your interests as lively and rigorous class discussions determine where exactly we go. Classes are flexible enough to meet the needs of both beginners and students with existing philosophical background

My classes require no outside reading or homework or grades–only a once weekly 2.5 hour commitment that fits the schedules of busy people. My classes are university quality but I can offer no university credit whatsoever. New classes start up every month and you can join existing groups of students if you want. Click on the classes that interest you below and find the course descriptions, up-to-date schedules, and self-registration. 1-on-1 classes can be arranged by appointment if you write me at camelswithhammers@gmail.com.

rsz_1online_philosophy_class_dr_daniel_finckersz_2online_philosophy_of_religion_class_dr_daniel_finckersz_1dr_daniel_fincke_online_philosophy_class_ethicsrsz_1online_history_of_philosophy_class_dr_daniel_finckersz_1social_and_poltiical_online_philosophy_class_dr_daniel_finckersz_1online_introduction_to_philosophy_class_dr_daniel_finckersz_1online_philosophy_class_mind_language_dr_daniel_finckersz_3online_philosophy_class_nietzsche_dr_daniel_fincke

 

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • mpall

    You are my new hero!

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/lousycanuck/ Jason Thibeault

    I’m of the opinion that it’s rude to seek out people who believe differently than you. But if they seek you out, especially if they intend to try to convince you that you’re wrong, you have every right to defend your intellectual territory with as much vigor as you can muster.

    I like the idea of putting important posts in widgets on the sidebar, and I’ll probably steal it. But holy crap, does that ever make the page long. The comment field is at the 1/3rd mark on this page. Maybe they should go on either side of the page? Unless, that is, the new page layout we’ve been promised includes collapsible menus. :/

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      yeah, it makes the page long, but on the main page, it means the whole long page has a nice sidebar. I’ve always had a pretty good long-tail kind of blog with hits on older posts adding up to a surprising amount of my traffic, and I like to think it’s people clicking on all my recommended posts. :)

  • Aspect Sign

    Well said!

  • http://templeofthefuture.net James Croft

    Agreed, although I tend to evangelize for Humanism rather than atheism. This puts me in the (I think stronger) position of advocating a positive set of values rather than a negative proposition.

    For more: http://www.templeofthefuture.net/new-ideas/evangelists-for-humanity-join-us

  • Pingback: Evangelical Atheism | The BitterSweet End


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X