What Do Atheists Not Understand About Faith?

Wall0645 began this thread in the Forums and I’d like to continue it here:

I often see atheists/evolutionists criticize Creationists for not bothering to actually understand what evolution says before criticizing it. This is a valid complaint. How can you criticize something without actually knowing what it is about?

Is there anything you think atheists “don’t get” about Christianity, other religions, and/or theism? If so, what?

This is more of a question directed at theists, but maybe the atheists can share accusations they’ve heard of not understanding certain aspects of religion.

And are those lapses of knowledge really a problem? For example, we may not know the nuances between various faiths… but can’t we just say they’re all variants on superstitious belief, and that’s the bigger issue? (Or is that simply ignorant?)

  • David D.G.

    And are those lapses of knowledge really a problem? For example, we may not know the nuances between various faiths… but can’t we just say they’re all variants on superstitious belief, and that’s the bigger issue? (Or is that simply ignorant?)

    No, I don’t think that’s “ignorant” (in the colloquial sense) or a problem at all. The fact that the various faiths are just variants on superstitious belief is absolutely the heart of the matter.

    That said, I, too, would be interested to know if there are any issues relating to faith that religious people seem to think that atheists “don’t get.” I’m sure there are at least a few cases in which they would be absolutely right. (Think how many religious people don’t even have a proper grasp on what atheism is!) It may or may not be an issue of importance, but the phenomenon is still quite possible.

    ~David D.G.

  • http://www.mallmal.blogspot.com Blog Mallmal

    Funniest thing is – it´s hard to find an atheist who didn´t experience some kind of faithful living. It´s very unlikely to find a non-religious growing home. Pure BS.
    The other side though, a religious person with an atheist background, is needle in a pile of straw…

  • Justin jm

    And are those lapses of knowledge really a problem? For example, we may not know the nuances between various faiths… but can’t we just say they’re all variants on superstitious belief, and that’s the bigger issue? (Or is that simply ignorant?)

    I think the nuances are less significant when a religion makes falsifiable claims: claims that do not stand up to inspection. If the basics of a religion are impossible, then I fail to see why we must become experts on the religion in order to reject it.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    I view faith as kind-of-like falling in love with a celebrity that you have never met. One can be obsessed with the celebrity, read everything possible about the celebrity, try to send messages to the celebrity, think about the celebrity all the time… Only, the “God celebrity” never files a restraining order (because there actually isn’t a God).

    This “celebrity” love should be differentiated from reciprocating love of another human being in which one has a real relationship.

  • littlejohn

    The difference, I think, between atheists and the faithful is that most atheists are former theists. Very few theists, I’d guess, are former atheists. Ergo, atheists tend to “get” both sides. BTW, I’ve noticed that here in the US, atheists are much more likely to have read the Bible than Christians, and are usually more knowledgable about it.

  • Euan

    The thing is many atheists were, at one time, theists. Most know what it is to have faith and then lose it.

  • http://gaytheistagenda.lavenderliberal.com/ Buffy

    The average atheist was at one point in his/her life religious and/or a theist of some variety. Even if they weren’t they were likely brought up in a household with religious family members. Accordingly they “get” religion/theism quite well. In fact, it’s because they get it so well, in most cases, that they are atheists.

  • skinman

    In fact, it’s because they get it so well, in most cases, that they are atheists.

    I’d say that Buffy hit the nail on the head.

  • http://mylongapostasy.blogspot.com ATL-Apostate

    I’d like for a theist to answer how faith and gullibility are different.
    I’m not being facetious. I really want to know.

  • Efogoto

    we may not know the nuances between various faiths

    I think that’s as true for theists as it is for atheists. I have no idea what the doctrinal differences are between Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Copts, Episcopalians, Baptists, Quakers, and Mennonites.

    Is there anything you think atheists “don’t get” about Christianity, other religions, and/or theism? If so, what?

    If one or more gods exist and desire worship, why isn’t there a single religion? Gravity works the same everywhere, why not religion?

  • chinaman

    i was raised in a non-religious family, my parents are agnostics.
    i don’t understand religion, i find it facinating that people would seek things outside of reality. i’d like to believe in god, the concept is consoling and nice, but my brain tells me it’s stupid.
    i get very irritated when some religious people claiming they can think like an atheist when putting out some arguement. if you can think like an atheist, you would BE an atheist.

  • Richard Wade

    I second ATL-Apostate’s request, and I share a sincere and earnest curiosity about that.

    As for myself, I was never raised with much faith, I just picked up some vague deist ideas from my peers during my teen years, so faith as is expressed by many people around me is a strange thing to me.

    What I don’t understand is on the rare occasions when very faithful believers have acknowledged to me that their belief in something makes no rational sense, that what they believe is solidly refuted by evidence, they will tell me they “choose to believe it anyway.”

    Choose to believe”?? I just can’t get that. To me that means I know it is false but I choose to keep running a set of thoughts in my head that it is true, like a game, a fantasy. But I know it’s a fantasy, and I can’t forget that part!

    I’m not making fun of this, I really just don’t understand how that can happen in a person’s mind. I guess my mind is not very compartmentalized; it’s more like one big room where everything in it can be seen from anywhere in the room. If two things contradict each other, one gets tossed out.

    If someone could explain this, I would be very grateful.

  • http://None Anonymous

    I find most atheists have not studied the bible, therefore they pull out “contradictions” that really arent contradictions, but they are parts of a larger arc.

    This is coming from an atheist btw

  • http://noguyinthesky.blogspot.com/ No Guy in the Sky

    Maybe I am misunderstanding the question. When debating/discussing with a theist, you have to be ready/able to have knowledge on every possible subject imaginable. I feel like there is so much I do not know. Yet through the magic of the internet. I can bring me up to speed fast in almost every subject.

    Christians do not need to state the truth. lol They spout half truths about subject they never learned, except from Christian propaganda. Which sends me to disprove it. You would think to be Christian, being honest about any such statements would be required by their god. Black holes, string theory, big bang, Einstein, Darwin, theory, evolution, Papyrus #52, Neural chemistry, morals, good and evil,all the proofs of god, the bible old and new. I am sure I missed some. They just throw shit up, and I feel if I can not knock it down right away. They will get a minor victory. Well I am now well versed in most and or have links on hand to help. Along with my fellow atheists. :) lol

  • http://gimparoo.wordpress.com Scott

    (Note: this is kind of long, skip to the last paragraph for “what I don’t get” stuff.)

    I’m with chinaman above. I’m an atheist raised in a non-religious home. We didn’t go to church, my parents are both agnostic, although I think my mother is actually leaning towards full-on atheist. We did have a bible in the house, however it was never mentioned until I was old enough to be curious about it on my own. Before that it was just another book on the shelf. When I finally was old enough to be curious, the text was too florid for my young mind to really be interested in plodding through.

    I attended a service or two with friends of mine, and my parents allowed it and never really questioned me about it. They let me come to my own conclusions.

    It took a long time for me to come to them. I studied lots and lots of religions and tried to figure out which one of them, or even which combination of them might hold some truth. I sadly came to the conclusion that while they sometimes contained wisdom, they rarely contained truth. At 32, I’ve been calling myself an atheist for about 5 or six years, and agnostic for the rest.

    What I “don’t get” about religion is how people can willfully set aside logic (like it’s some kind of gadget or toy to be packed up) and put so much time, effort, and money towards something that is clearly made up. I am especially baffled when it is someone who is a scientist or philosopher who exhibits this behavior. Is it intentional? I don’t get it.

  • http://gimparoo.wordpress.com Scott

    I think my comments reflect much of what Richard is saying above. Religion as a mind-set does not compute. You have to be intentionally choosing to not see the truth. Why does this happen?

  • http://manyhatsonemask.com manyhats

    I was going to suggest the same thing that ATL-Apostate wrote. How can one define gullibility and faith so that they are materially different? How can a person at once think of faith as a virtue and gullibility as a vice? Is it not gullibility to see the emperor’s clothes if a priest/pastor/rabbi/shaman/etc. tells you he sees them too? Why?

    I think this is really where the rubber meets the road in the faith v. reason debate. This is the part of the irrational mind that baffles me. This is where they are demonstrably internally inconsistent.

  • http://nathanintownsville.com Nathan

    “i get very irritated when some religious people claiming they can think like an atheist when putting out some arguement. if you can think like an atheist, you would BE an atheist.”

    I disagree. I’m a theist. But I reject all Gods but one. I think that means I’m at least capable of empathy when it comes to the atheist approach to every other concept of God – and particularly to “spiritual” people who can’t actually nail down what they believe.

    I can see why it would be compelling to believe nothing – sometimes I don’t like the God I believe in. Hell is a hard concept to fathom when someone you love is a non-believer and dies. That’s not a reason not to believe though.

    Responding to the post itself…

    “but can’t we just say they’re all variants on superstitious belief, and that’s the bigger issue? ”

    I don’t think so. I think that supposes that any belief without physical evidence is “superstition”. I think when it comes to a question of first cause it’s a harder question to answer than those of you who rule out a creator acknowledge, which is why faith is so compelling.

    I’d be interested to know why we think evidence is the basis of rational thinking – when assessing a time and event none of us were there to see and can’t possibly objectively assess.

  • MisterInteger

    It doesn’t even matter what exactly the theist is claiming, theologically. If they are a theist, their position is that god exists, which is incorrect. We don’t need to know the fine points of their theology to be able to argue against their theism.

  • Todd

    I’d like for a theist to answer how faith and gullibility are different.
    I’m not being facetious. I really want to know.

    I can’t speak for theists, but I think the difference can probably be explained by Kierkegaard’s leap to faith. Kierkegaard explained faith as holding a belief despite knowing that it was not rational. For Kierkegaard, faith only exists when one doubts. By consciously accepting that the belief is irrational and yet still believing it is what he meant by making a leap to faith.

    Gullibility, on the other hand, is a hasty act of believing something before fully contemplating whether it is reasonable.

  • http://manyhatsonemask.com manyhats

    (cont’d)

    The only reason that Christianity in particular comes up in this blog and elsewhere in the atheist blogosphere so often is that most of the netizens here live in the West where Christianity is the dominant religion. I don’t think I’m alone among atheists when I say that my beef is not with Christianity specifically, but with mysticism in general. I don’t think it is necessary for someone with a reason-based worldview to know anything more about a particular belief system than that it employs supernatural explanations in order to make the most damning of criticisms, namely that it’s just making shit up as it goes along.

    I occasionally like to get further down in the weeds as an intellectual exercise, such as asking Christians to provide an explanation for the similarities between Old Testament myths and Sumerian myths that doesn’t invalidate their whole religion (“What are Sumerians?”), or trying to explain to them how evolution does not mean “everything came from nothing magically”. But this is not where our fundamental difference lies and I don’t think it serves our purposes to debate them on the details of their fairy tales. You don’t have to know whether a particular Hindu believes that avatars are wholly separate entities or merely different aspects to determine that their worldview is bullpucky. Unless you have the opportunity to pit a Catholic versus an Anglican on the issue of divorce, or somesuch, knowledge of the details doesn’t really come in handy. I personally know Christianity better than any of the Christians of my acquaintance but that doesn’t matter whenever we debate because their perspective assumes faith is a virtue and mine does not. It is the indoctrination of ‘faith as a virtue’ that damages minds, not any particular doctrine.

    [/soapbox]

  • Eliza

    From Efogoto’s post above:

    we may not know the nuances between various faiths

    I think that’s as true for theists as it is for atheists. I have no idea what the doctrinal differences are between Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Copts, Episcopalians, Baptists, Quakers, and Mennonites.

    For anyone, theist or atheist, who is interested in learning more about different denominations within Christianity, I can highly recommend Brian McLaren’s book A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN.

    I found this book to be quite illuminating, including in pointing out a big-picture categorization one can make: those denominations which focus on Jesus’s life (= Jesus’s teachings), vs those which focus on Jesus’s death (= Paul’s teachings). It was verrrrry helpful in clearing some things up, for me (a lifelong atheist, raised w/o religion).

    And McLaren does it in such a inclusive, friendly manner – trying to find the positive aspects in each approach. Even when that’s a bit of a stretch ;-)

  • http://www.anatheist.net James

    Theists often disagree with me when I state that faith is belief without evidence, but then they usually end up confirming this later.

  • http://smackshack.livejournal.com Marvin

    I grew up a moderate (Episcopalian) Christian before I was an atheist, so I feel like I understand both sides of the coin. On the other hand I know there are aspects of subjective theistic experience I can’t empathize with: I’ve never understood dogmatic fundamentalism in religion, for instance, nor have I ever known the feeling of being “called” back to the church.

    But I think everyone, atheist and theist alike, represents a patchwork insights and ignorance.

    Where I see problems is when theists and atheists choose to generalize about one another rather than attend to the person behind the label. Just as it’s common for theists to label atheists as a class as immoral and dangerous, it’s sadly far too common — though I’d guess less common, on average — to see atheists tar all believers with the same brush as ignorant or abnormal fools.

    So it’s not that atheists don’t or can’t understand the experience of faith — it’s that in the heat of battle we sometimes choose to discount not just the factual accuracy but also the emotional reality of the other person’s point of view. This is a two-way street, of course.

    Then again, despite wanting to be even-handed, I do think that the argument “You just don’t understand” is an easy cop-out for believers to use. As an argument it’s just an evasive maneuver. BUT it’s a maneuver that’s easy to use whenever atheists just argue about the superiority of science or about contradictions in the Bible. If you want to convince a person that you’re capable of understanding their subjective experience, you have to spend some time attending to them as a person and not just as the target of an argument.

  • atomjack

    You’re getting apologist, Hemant! My take on where a lot of religious people come from is a considered position. I volunteered with the Boy Scouts of America for many years, and thought about why a parent would abdicate authority to a “leader” in a uniform, even when that alleged leader was an outlier in the statistical distribution of sane, to put it mildly. People tend to engage in a form of mental sloth and acceptance of authority figures. You try to pull one over on me, stand by! But some a lot of people are either too beaten down or too mentally lazy to defy the consensus reality they see, even if they do see some alternative that makes a whole lot more sense. We need more enlightened upbringing in the world! Wouldn’t that be nice.

  • Efogoto

    Thanks for the book recommendation, Eliza. I was raised Christian, but have never understood the difference between denominations. I know that Martin Luther protested practices of the Roman Catholic Church and that led to a separate reformed church, and that Henry VIII’s cleaving of his kingdom from Catholicism was a political move, but I can’t describe at all the Albigensian Heresy or explain the difference between a Copt and a Baptist. Now I have to decide how much I want to know. :-)

  • Gabriel

    I don’t think this is really the same thing. It is very rare for a trained biologist becomes a creationist. So few scientist, actual scientists turn to creationism that they are heros of the creationists. However, most atheists start out as theists of one stripe or another and then turn their backs on religion for a life of rationality.

  • http://thenaturalbuddhist.blogspot.com JohnFrost

    @Nathan: I think superstition implies, rather, invoking a supernatural explanation for things which we have no physical evidence. There are quite a number of things we can know experimentally or theoretically, but when someone proposes an answer that relies on “magic,” what differentiates Scientology from Christianity from Greek paganism?

  • http://10plusyears.blogspot.com/ 10plus

    @RichardWade- here’s my take on why theists will often accuse atheists of “choosing to believe” that there is no God. Simply put, I think they’re scared. As several others have stated, many atheists used to be theists- born-again, even (myself included). Somehow or other, we managed to come around to a more rational, reasoned way of thinking. I think for a lot of us (I know it’s true for me, anyway) we weren’t exactly planning on that happening- we fully expected to live out our lives and die as a Christian (or theist). So if something like that could ‘happen’ to some of us, it could also ‘happen’ to them- they could conceivably find themselves facing the same questions and doubts that us former believers faced, and maybe even have to face the fact that they, too, can no longer believe. It really is an unpleasant thing to go through, losing your faith, so I think they accuse us of ‘knowing the truth’ but choosing to deny it anyway so that they can feel safer- ‘He just doesn’t want to answer to anyone higher than himself’, etc. That way it becomes about us sinful atheists ‘wanting to be our own masters’ rather than, ‘Is there any evidence for God or not, and if not, let’s move on’. So as long as they can say they have no problem ‘answering to a higher authority’ then they don’t have to worry about pesky things like logic and reason- we’re atheists because we ‘choose’ to be, not because we honestly can’t believe.

  • georgie

    I agree with Richard Wade and the choice to believe, it is baffling to me. Here is why I think they “choose” to believe, it seems that religious people are really afraid of death, why else would they need the to cling to these superstitions. I mean we are all afraid to die, we would all love to go in our sleep but that is not the usual course death takes for most. But I think the difference between religious and non religious is that non religious people aren’t afraid of actually being dead. What is so scary about being dead that makes people think there is a heaven they will go to? I mean “life after death” has got to be the biggest contradiction ever uttered by man, and this is the promise made by religion from the start, really I just don’t get it.

    Okay, thats just my opinion and I may be way off the mark here, but it’s something I have always wondered about.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Hemant:

    . . .but can’t we just say they’re all variants on superstitious belief, and that’s the bigger issue?

    Nathan;

    I don’t think so. I think that supposes that any belief without physical evidence is “superstition”. I think when it comes to a question of first cause it’s a harder question to answer than those of you who rule out a creator acknowledge, which is why faith is so compelling.

    I wouldn’t say that I “rule out a creator”; rather, I’d say that I see no evidence for a creator, and so I don’t believe in one. So I disagree that I have to deal with a “[hard] question” of whether there’s a creator. I generally don’t believe in things that I don’t have evidence for, and only start to seriously consider the question when presented with evidence that reaches some minimal bar.

    So I think it’s reasonable to say that all religions are “variants on superstitious belief” (although “superstitious” is a little more insulting that I would have chosen to phrase it), and that it’s not particularly important for an atheist to be familiar with many or any of those variants. I don’t need to know the details of the Oceanic mythologies of Maui to have a reasonable suspicion that they’re not going to meet even a minimal evidentiary bar. And it might be strategically useful for an atheist to know about the Bible if he/she wants to argue with Christians, but it’s not logically necessary.

    I too, echo ATL-Apostate’s question. Todd gives the correct answer as to how faith and gullibility can be semantically distinguished, but I think it doesn’t really answer the question that puzzles me and other atheists, so let me rephrase/state what I “don’t get”: “If faith is a decision to believe something without evidence, then how is that sensible or desirable, let alone virtuous?”

  • Pseudonym

    Kierkegaard’s thoughts on the matter came up on the forum. Let me see if I can explain this.

    Kierkegaard compared his “leap to faith” with falling in love. He noted that there is nowhere near evidence that could rationally justify the kind of all-encompassing commitment that we make when we fall in love. Yet despite not being rational, most of us consider falling in love to be reasonable and desirable.

    I’m still not doing his argument justice, but this is the basic idea.

  • http://irresistibledisgrace.wordpress.com Andrew S.

    I think many atheists notoriously do not understand the role of faith. Even for atheists who came from religion, there seems to be this disconnect. This was discussed at a Mormon blog I sometimes read. To quote a relevant part of this entry:

    Many people believe that religion exists solely to make your life better. Many militant atheists, in particular, seem to believe this. Religion, in this thought, is there to soothe pain, to explain the mysterious, and to comfort the weak. “We, noble, brave, and strong, don’t need those consolations, but it is nice for those nincompoops out there to have something to cling to if they won’t be rational. At least, it is nice unless they decide to use religion to kill people…nevermind, let them suffer until they get it.” In this worldview, if a particular religion holds views or makes demands of you that you find potentially offensive or inconvenient, then you just go find a new religion. It is all about finding the religion that justifies the way you already live and causes you to have the most certainty regarding the meaning of your life and your place before God. In other words, choosing a religion and choosing an outfit are essentially the same act.

    This is stupid.

    It is stupid, primarily, because it denies the critical element that brings most people into religion, which is an experience with the ineffable. Most people who believe believe because they have felt, heard, seen, experienced some event that they feel is best explained by recourse to supernatural forces. Something happens in your life (you say a prayer, you cry out in pain, you wish for your mother’s love) and, a little unexpectedly, you get a response, an overwhelming response that doesn’t seem to come from within you. It tells you things; it opens your eyes and ears; it makes you want to be better; it makes you better. The initial faith experience is, I think, almost always like this. You don’t choose faith initially; it chooses you.

    Personally, I do not fully understand faith either. So, I know I’m guilty of downplaying it. And as I read some of the comments, I think many commenters here continually downplay it. Other posts at this site or at others have commented on it too. It’s just something many of us don’t get.

    I try to reach at a half-way point…I suppose…but accepting that there is something genuine that true believers sense. However, I do not believe this is indicative of anything external (like God), because 1) everyone doesn’t get this thing, 2) people can get this thing for irreconciliably different ideas.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    What I don’t get is how otherwise reasonable people can believe in gods at all. How can they assume God is a priori in the face of non-supporting and often contradictory evidence? How is Christianity internally consistent when you’ve got effectively two distinct Gods in the Old and the New Testaments. How can people who claim to doubt from time to time not explore those doubts honestly (not all theists do this) and if they do how can they still claim belief? How is “faith” a good thing? How can many theists believe in the supernatural when the very idea is nonsense?

    There is plenty to “not get” about religious faith.

    I have a friend who cuts herself and nearly starved herself to death. I get her explanations better than those offered by theists. She has a mental illness, what’s the theists explanation?

  • GullWatcher

    “Choose to believe”?? I just can’t get that.

    Maybe you can, it just needs to be put in perspective. Humans excel at fooling themselves, they do it all the time. Try some of these on for size:

    Sure, he hit me once, but he says he won’t do it again and I believe him.

    I can have just one handful of potato chips, then I’ll stop.

    Sure, it will be a bit of a stretch, but I can afford that mortgage and the balloon payment. It’s not like I’m going to suddenly lose my job.

    Ok, that lump is a little weird, but I’m sure it’s nothing.

    I don’t care what the evidence says, my son could not possibly have done that.

    The distance from the examples above to religion is only a very small step. People are astonishingly good at denial and self-deception, and a lot of people can believe almost anything that they truly want to believe.

    It a spectrum, of course – from the people on one end who effortlessly decide what’s true without ever checking in with reality, to the people on the other end who have to work to convince themselves that the sun will (probably) rise tomorrow. Atheists cluster toward one end of that spectrum, believers toward the other.

    The extremes probably are what they are, but I think the majority in the middle actually can choose to believe, if they really want to.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Pseudonym, the Kierkegaard explanation is interesting, I’m going to have to think about that.

    My first reaction is that something is wrong with that comparison, because falling in love is an emotional reaction; it’s something that happens to you, not a belief about a factual matter (such as the existence of God), so doesn’t need to be justified. You could argue with a third party about whether the person you’re in love is good for you, but not about whether you’re in fact in love, because if you are, you are. On the other hand, Andrew S.’s lovely quote emphasizes that belief in God isn’t something you decide internally, but something that happens to you. I have trouble seeing it this way, but perhaps that’s where the disconnect is.

  • gribblethemunchkin

    Andrew S.

    Thanks for posting that bit from the Mormon blog, most interesting. Wrong of course, but interesting.

    Most people don’t come to religion after an experience with the ineffable. Most people are simply raised to believe its true and never really have the motivation or inclination to really test their faith.

    For every hardcore, bible reading, true-believing christian there are ten others who don’t really know much about their faith, who go to church sundays, say the prayers, believe in the nice bits of the bible and try not to think about the nasty bits too much. Its this vast mass of otherwise sane, well balanced people that give religion the respectability it has. If it were just the bible thumping section it would be a very fringe movement.

    Over here in England its very much this case. The anglican church has a very old average age of those just raised as christians but who only really do the religion thing on sunday. Even the christians i personally know are like this. They don’t think too hard about it and their faith only gets dragged out into sunlight everynow and then.

    This is certainly the path i was once on as a child. My mother took me to church, i believed in the same way that i believed in Santa claus and i was even an acolyte, wearing a white robe, carrying candles, swinging the censer, all that jazz. I grew out of it and i credit my doing so largely because my parents also gave me a very strong fondness for reading while very young, which gave me an active curiousity and exposure to other viewpoints.

    I think that we atheists actually “get” pretty much everything about religion, but i sometimes think our questions don’t appear this way. For instance, when i speak with my liberal christian friends about the “fact” that when i die, according to their faith i’ll be roasting in hell with gandhi and Buddha, while its entirely possible that they’ll be living it up in heaven with a bunch of bigots like Martin Luther, Torquemarda, the borgias, etc, they tell me that these people will be in hell because they were “evil”. They um and arr over where i’ll go. They ignore the nasty parts of their own faith (such as wicked true believers going to heaven, and good unbelievers going to hell) because it makes them uncomfortable.

  • Miko

    Depends what you want to criticize. If you’re criticizing evolution by giving an argument related to the Big Bang, you’ve got a problem. If you’re criticizing Christianity, but fail to understand the doctrinal import of some of the finer issues discussed at the Council of Trent, it’s less likely to be a problem. But this is not to say that knowing more is ever a bad thing.

  • http://maxuincrazyland.blogspot.com/ Max U

    I was brought up Mormon which has seemed quite practical, i.e. God and Jesus are very physical and distinct, especially compared to the Trinity of mainstream Christianity (and nothing about clover makes the Trinity make sense).

    As I “discuss” Christanity with Christians they seem to back into the very mystical “God is Love” and “God is Life”. I don’t “get” that.

    It doesn’t challenge my disbelief but statements like “God is Love” bring the conversation to a stalemate.

  • Michael Nietzsche

    Who was it who said, Faith is the total abandonment of REASON & SCIENCE? I Really don’t remember, but it makes an awful lot of sense……

  • chinaman

    “i get very irritated when some religious people claiming they can think like an atheist when putting out some arguement. if you can think like an atheist, you would BE an atheist.”

    I disagree. I’m a theist. But I reject all Gods but one. I think that means I’m at least capable of empathy when it comes to the atheist approach to every other concept of God – and particularly to “spiritual” people who can’t actually nail down what they believe.

    I can see why it would be compelling to believe nothing – sometimes I don’t like the God I believe in. Hell is a hard concept to fathom when someone you love is a non-believer and dies. That’s not a reason not to believe though.

    do you understand why you rejected all the other gods?
    also, atheists don’t ‘dislike’ god, that’s not why we don’t believe in gods

  • AxeGrrl

    Jeff wrote:

    This “celebrity” love should be differentiated from reciprocating love of another human being in which one has a real relationship.

    GREAT point :)

  • Carlie

    I think many atheists notoriously do not understand the role of faith. Even for atheists who came from religion, there seems to be this disconnect.

    Not to pick on the one person who said this, but this is the type of attitude that infuriates me. I grew up as straight-arrow fundamentalist as it is possible to do. Every spiritual bit of my life was as real as for any other zealot, to the point that I seriously considered being a missionary for several years. Every time I mention that I used to be religious, the retort is always that I wasn’t into it “enough”. That I didn’t really understand. That I wasn’t “really” saved. That I didn’t understand the Bible quite well enough. That I was somehow, in some magic way undetectable to anyone including myself, not a Real True Christian, because if I had been, I never would have become an atheist.

    It is a way for Christians to insulate and inoculate themselves – if they can convince themselves that I wasn’t really one of them, then it’s impossible that they might follow the same path and one day fall away from the faith too. I understand that. But what it does is swipe away thirty years of my own existence. It says that nothing that happened to me really happened, that it was all an illusion. And that makes me angry.

  • llewelly

    I’d like for a theist to answer how faith and gullibility are different.

    Santa has better morals than god.

  • Beetle

    I’m a theist. But I reject all Gods but one. … sometimes I don’t like the God I believe in. Hell is a hard concept to fathom when someone you love is a non-believer and dies. That’s not a reason not to believe though.

    I don’t get how someone like Nathan can distinguish his “real” god from the made up ones. I don’t get how someone like Nathan can differentiate between myths from his religion and those of other faiths. I don’t get how someone like Nathan can believe two contradictory ideas simultaneously, namely a literal hell and a loving god.

  • Rasmus Paulsen

    I’d like to think that I understand religion in the sense that I can analyse it and figure out how it works and came to be. I also think I can reason out religious peoples motives and what not. But that’s from a purely ‘reasoning it out’ stand point.

    The big part about religion I don’t understand is the belief part. How do people believe in God (or anything else)? I’ve never experienced that and my attempts to make myself believe have failed miserably. I think I lack the mindset that allows me to shut down the part of my brain that tells me that it’s silly to believe in anything but what is demonstrably real. And I can’t make a reasoned argument for faith and then it all crumbles and I’m left where I started, with atheism. I was raised without religion and from an early age I rejected the notion of God out of complete lack of evidence. But it sometimes seems like religious folks can derive some comfort from religion. That would be nice, I guess. But how do they do it?
    And it’s not that I mind being an atheist at all, but out of curiosity it would be interesting to try to be religious. I’d like to know how to do that. How to suspend disbelief and accept on faith a complete illusion. But I guess that I’m doomed to fail in that particular respect. It sure doesn’t work to sit down and say ‘Now I believe in God!’, because instantly my brain tells me that I don’t. I might as well sit down and exclaim that I am God for all the sense it makes in my mind.
    Anyone got any ideas how it works? The actual belief part.

  • georgie

    Rasmus Paulsen wrote:

    But it sometimes seems like religious folks can derive some comfort from religion. That would be nice, I guess. But how do they do it?

    After my dad passed away I tried to believe and just couldn’t, I wanted it to be true for his sake and I wanted the comfort of knowing it for mine. Didn’t work, I couldn’t do it. But my dad only “hoped” it was true, he never claimed to “know” it was true and he was okay with it if it wasn’t true. That has always been my parents way with faith.

    I got to the heaven part and thought what a bunch of BS and it only made my non belief stronger. If my dad was in heaven it actually gave me no comfort at all. If he was there and I was sure to go to hell my dad’s heaven would not be heavenly at all. If god took away the memory of me so he wouldn’t know I’m in hell, then that wouldn’t be my dad. If god made him okay with me being in hell, then that wouldn’t be my dad. If god just made him deal with it then that is not heaven. After those questions popped in my head I was done. I will never understand religion or how it can actually comfort someone, it doesn’t comfort me one bit and I will never “try” to believe again. But maybe people don’t ask themselves the types of questions I do.

  • Steven

    In the few conversations I’ve had with true believers, the one thing they seem astonished that I don’t “get” is the obvious existence of God. I’ve been invited to look at the world around me, its beauty and complexity – how could there not be a God? Curiously enough, looking at the world around me is what led me away from faith in the first place at the tender age of 10 years old.
    I don’t think it’s much of a mystery why so many choose to believe, even when they know somewhere in their minds that it’s all make-believe. The world can be a scary place and the notion that someone is in charge and everything will be all right in the end is a comforting one. A tad simplistic I know, but doesn’t religion seem designed for that most basic emotion – fear?

  • http://universalheretic.wordpress.com/ Vic

    I pretty aware of religions, particularity the Christianities. I think I know more than the average Christian. If I want to know something I look it up. The thing I don’t get, as an atheist, doesn’t have anything to do with the tenants, but more with motivation. Hows can anyone believe the Bible is inerrant? What would that even mean? When they say God saved a plane from crashing, what do they think he did? How can they deny the fossil record? Have they ever looked up at the Jesus on a Cross at church and thought, “That could be replaced with a giant bull and there would still be people praying to to it”.

  • http://brielle.sosdg.org brielle

    I consider myself both an Atheist and Buddhist. One of the things I learned early on, was that it’s okay to be religious, provided you don’t let your beliefs cloud your judgment or behavior. There’s also the ability to separate belief and way of life from one another.

    I don’t understand why religious people literally will self destruct when faced with questioning their faith? Is it really that bad when you have to actually sit down and figure out your life, rather then let someone else tell you how it is? I would think, you’d be a lot happier knowing you went through the actual effort to affirm who you are and what you believe in.

    Brielle
    (Who hasn’t had her coffee yet)

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Why do Catholics get upset if you point out that the central event of their religion is an act of human sacrifice, and that their sacrament of the eucharist is an act of ritual cannibalism?

  • http://scottf.wordpress.com mrcranky

    Several other people above have expressed what I don’t understand about Christianity specifically, but it also probably applies to most other religions. How can you handle, after studying your scriptures in detail, the cognitive dissonance set up by the fact that the scriptures are so self-contradictory and also contradictory with reality? How can unreliable words on paper override your belief in the observable world?

    This very cognitive dissonance is what made me realize I was an atheist. The more dug into the bible the more I realized that it was crazy.

  • Heidi

    Nathan:

    I can see why it would be compelling to believe nothing – sometimes I don’t like the God I believe in. Hell is a hard concept to fathom when someone you love is a non-believer and dies. That’s not a reason not to believe though.

    This statement demonstrates to me that you cannot, in fact, think like an atheist. That is not at all why I don’t believe in your god. I don’t believe in your god for the same reason I don’t believe in Santa Claus. He’s not real. It’s as simple as that. Now if Santa or a god shows up at my house, I’ll gladly reconsider. But until then, I’m not buying it.

    Responding to the post itself…

    “but can’t we just say they’re all variants on superstitious belief, and that’s the bigger issue? ”

    I don’t think so. I think that supposes that any belief without physical evidence is “superstition”. I think when it comes to a question of first cause it’s a harder question to answer than those of you who rule out a creator acknowledge, which is why faith is so compelling.

    I would call any belief that has no supporting evidence whatsoever “wishful thinking” at best, “superstition” or “delusion” at worst.

  • Karl Withakay

    “I find most atheists have not studied the bible, therefore they pull out “contradictions” that really arent contradictions, but they are parts of a larger arc.”

    Actually, there are a large number of contradictions in the bible. Most Christians don’t really read the bible or any books of the bible as a complete work, but instead read passages and stories from the bible and don’t have opportunity to catch the contradictions. Contradictions that are observed (such as the creation and flood stories in Genesis) are usually explained away with poorly supported post hoc explanations/ rationalizations.

    This is coming from a former theist who went to a Christian school from Kindergarten through all of high school (with chapel and religion classes ever day of school) and has studied and read the entire bible extensively as both a theological text and as literature, including its origins, transmission through he ages, and translation.

    ————————————————————————————-
    I find there are far more atheists that used to be theists than there are theists that used to be atheists. Atheists are generally more likely to understand the context of theists than theists are to understand the context of atheists.

    ————————————————————————————-
    Nathan:

    “I disagree. I’m a theist. But I reject all Gods but one. I think that means I’m at least capable of empathy when it comes to the atheist approach to every other concept of God…”

    That statement kind of indicates that you aren’t. All monotheistic beliefs essentially believe different things about that same concept, a single, supernatural being with some sort of divine influence in either the creation or operation of the universe. That you are capable of rejecting different interpretations of that being does not mean you are capable of empathy with an atheistic approach.

  • http://irresistibledisgrace.wordpress.com Andrew S.

    re Autumnal Harvest:

    This is exactly the point. For people who have those kinds of experience, faith is very much as real as falling in love (and as inexplicable). The problem is…everyone doesn’t fall in love for the same thing, and falling in love, even as a generalized common experience is not objectively indicative of everything…while theists want to say that what they call spiritual experiences that lead to faith are indicative of external, objective things.

    re Gribblethemunchkin:
    Actually, this is one of my points. My points are not to speak to the people who are seemingly enraptured in faith, because it would be like suggesting to someone who’s fallen hopelessly in love to reconsider the object of that affection (who may have blemishes and may be downright unworthy of that love.) Rather, I do think that many believers are apatheistic…they believe in such a poor way because they don’t have any strong spiritual anchor like the born-agains or whoever…and you can see it because it doesn’t really change their actions.

    But I think, as a general case, the difference between atheists and theists is some kind of spark. You don’t have to be hyperzealous to have something within you (which I think is “faith”) that INCLINES you to explain things in one way or another. With faith, people suppose god…and we don’t understand that, because we don’t have faith. It doesn’t make sense to us to say, “I really don’t know, and there’s not a lot of evidence, BUT I BELIEVE IN GOD NO MATTER WHAT.” So, we as atheists can’t comprehend it, because we don’t have faith. But I don’t think faith is chosen and it’s not rebuked — you can’t just say, “OK, I’ll start making god the “assumption”” or “OK, I’ll stop assuming God.”

    re Carlie: Sorry, I didn’t mean to actually point at any particular person. Rather, I mean that a lot of times, many theists-turned-atheist can say, “Oh, yeah, I was always a believer,” but when they say this, they reveal more of what Gribblethemunchkin described as generic-believer-who-hasn’t-really-had-experience-with-the-so-called-divine. So, yes, they can seem to be just as active as anyone…after all, I was just as active as anyone, and my bishop and my ward members thought I would go on to serve a full-time mission and everything (I’m ex-mormon)…but if I look at it, who was I kidding? I never had such a spiritual experience, and I cannot comprehend it of others. From all the things I could do, I was into it. But I don’t think faith or spiritual experience is something you can “do.” It’s something that happens to you or it does not.

    So I’m not trying to say anything about anyone in particular, but a lot of times, people think, “I devoted my life to this just as anyone, studied the scriptures, proselytized just like anyone else” = “I had an experience with the (so-called) divine,” and they miss the distinction. Many atheists continually do not realize that some people experience what they actually think and feel is confirming evidence of communion with the divine.

  • http://irresistibledisgrace.wordpress.com Andrew S.

    re Rasmus Paulsen @ 7:24AM:

    I think this is the essence of faith. This inclination to believe is not something we choose or they choose, but it is a clear distinction. They believe because they are inclined to believe. We don’t, because we are not.

    We can’t “try” to believe because this will ultimately come off as fake…the only thing that could happen is that some experience inclines us to faith (or, for someone who is faithful, some experience shakes them out of faith inclination).

    If I could use an extreme example…let’s take people who are solipsistic. They might ask, “OMFSM! Why do people BELIEVE in the reality of sense data and of the external world?” We would all be like, “WTF, how can you not. The world is just here. We trust our senses. They don’t lead us astray…the question is moot.”

    We are so inclined to trust our senses and the external world for many reasons, but for someone without such an inclination, this seems strange indeed. However, for us, we’d look at the solipsist and say, “How can you not realize our point?”

    re Steven: I think it’s obvious, once again, because they are inclined to faith and we are not. So, basically, you take the same universe…same world…same exact stuff, and our inclinations will color our judgments and interpretations of it. For someone with faith, it’ll be OBVIOUS that God’s behind it. It’ll be OBVIOUS that Jesus is in that slice of toast. Or whatever.

    It is disingenuous and misses the point to think they are consciously deluding themselves or trying to avoid the way the world “actually” works. This is just another atheist misunderstanding of theism. No, there’s not anything conscious about it. They *truly* believe (that *is* faith) that this is the way the world “actually” works. We simply do not believe as they do, and lack the faith to even empathize fully.

  • llewelly

    (From http://bycommonconsent.com/2009/05/28/the-consumer-model-of-religion-and-why-it-is-stupid/ , quoted by Andrew S. , June 2nd, 2009 at 12:34 am )

    Most people who believe believe because they have felt, heard, seen, experienced some event that they feel is best explained by recourse to supernatural forces. Something happens in your life (you say a prayer, you cry out in pain, you wish for your mother’s love) and, a little unexpectedly, you get a response, an overwhelming response that doesn’t seem to come from within you.

    I have had experiences of that sort. So have many other atheists. Many atheists authors – such as Michael Shermer – have written about them. People who think atheists are necessarily unfamiliar with these experiences have not done their reading.
    The brain is flawed. Some of our interpretations of our experiences are not accurate representations of the real world. We must examine our own feelings skeptically as we would any unusual claim. It is well known that these experiences can be reliably reproduced by various methods (some of which rely on chemicals – and some which do not). The fact that they can be consistently reproduced without appeals to supernatural forces indicates that supernatural forces have nothing to do with these experiences.
    Dan Barker, speaking about his supernatural-seeming experiences on Free Thought Radio has said:
    “Personal religious experiences are very powerful, and I used to have them. In fact, I can still repeat them if I want to. But all religions have these experiences, and as real as they are, like a nightmare, a personal religious experience points to nothing outside of the mind. “

  • http://irresistibledisgrace.wordpress.com Andrew S.

    re llewelly:

    I know that they can be reproduced by various methods and without appeals to supernatural forces, and I don’t believe supernatural forces have anything to do with these experiences.

    However, for someone who has these experiences, telling them this is ignorant of the qualia they have of the experience. Love is merely a series of chemical addictions to another person…but this doesn’t capture the qualia of the experience.

    Basically, at best, we come to the conclusion as Andrew wrote at Evaluating Christianity that personal spiritual experiences are insufficient to justify an objective belief in God. They are insufficient to establish that God exists.

    BUT…they are entirely sufficient to justify a person to believe whatever he wants to, no matter how incorrect it may be. Because that is his *subjective* experience of the issue.

  • Devysciple

    Before I bring on my actual argument, I have to state that I was a religious person for the first half of my life. I never had any personal experience of christ, no miracles, no religious hallucinations, but I still bought this s**t.

    Now, if you are an intelligent person (and most atheists I meet seem to be), you are locked out of the world of stupidity. You simply are unable to see the world the same way a truly stupid person does, as you are unable to pretend that you have lost your sense of sight, smell, or touch. It is natural to you to use your brainmeat in the exact same way that it is natural for a stupid person to not use it. You can intentionally decide to act stupid, but you still know that you are doing so…
    Same goes for religion. Once you’ve lost your connection (or never had any), you simply don’t know how it is done properly.
    So the answer to your question is: There are probably tons of things we don’t understand about faith (anymore), and there’s no way to change it.
    We have sufficient evidence to be arrogant enough to assume that we are a tiny, little bit closer to truth than the faithful. We just don’t have to slap it in their faces (yet). ;-)

    And I would like to emphasize that I do not generally consider theists as stupid (some certainly are), but that I used stupidity as another area where it becomes clear that different people have different ways of perceiving and dealing with reality.

  • http://mylongapostasy.blogspot.com ATL-Apostate

    I too, echo ATL-Apostate’s question. Todd gives the correct answer as to how faith and gullibility can be semantically distinguished, but I think it doesn’t really answer the question that puzzles me and other atheists, so let me rephrase/state what I “don’t get”: “If faith is a decision to believe something without evidence, then how is that sensible or desirable, let alone virtuous?”

    Exactly. Perhaps I should have rephrased.

    “How are faith and gullibility materially different?”

    Both having faith and being gullible require that you believe something with insufficient or no evidence.

    So far, from what I’ve read, faith is a by-product of being gullible.

  • GullWatcher

    It is disingenuous and misses the point to think they are consciously deluding themselves or trying to avoid the way the world “actually” works. This is just another atheist misunderstanding of theism.

    You left out the third alternative. It is entirely possible to subconciously or unconciously delude oneself. It’s a lot easier than concious self-delusion, and I don’t think it’s a misunderstanding to think that happens.

  • http://irresistibledisgrace.wordpress.com Andrew S.

    re GullWatcher:

    That is of course possible. But in that case, it is a moot point, precisely because what is more important at the religious level is the subjective experience, the subjective qualia of it all. A subconscious and uncontrolled self-delusion cannot be helped, whereas a conscious one might have been.

  • Julia

    Richard Wade:

    “Choose to believe”?? I just can’t get that. To me that means I know it is false but I choose to keep running a set of thoughts in my head that it is true, like a game, a fantasy. But I know it’s a fantasy, and I can’t forget that part!

    YES! I don’t get that at all either!
    I had to spell it out to my inlaws that I can’t just force myself to believe something that I think is untrue. I then offered to “fake it” for them (and in front of their friends and church) and assured them I could be very convincing as I knew more about Christianity than many Christians I’ve met, but they needed to know that it wouldn’t be at all honest or true.
    Thankfully they were completely horrified at the prospect and have pretty much stopped trying to convert me (at least overtly).

  • Janet Greene

    What don’t atheists understand about christians? Well, I’m a former christian, so I kind of understand the rhetoric. I guess what atheists don’t understand is why someone will stick to their dogma even in face of overwhelming evidence that their belief is bogus. I wonder if christians and atheists can really even debate. One side argues from myth, personal experience, the bible, etc. The other side argues from reason and evidence. I think atheists are very frustrated in their interactions with christians because of this. It seems like when the chips are down, all they know how to do is quote scripture. I would love to have a “debate” with a christian, but it’s almost not a fair fight!

  • GullWatcher

    re Andrew S

    A subconscious and uncontrolled self-delusion cannot be helped, whereas a conscious one might have been

    I have to disagree. If that were true, wouldn’t all psychologists be out of business? With questioning and honest self-reflection, some people can figure out what’s going on in their own minds and hearts, and they can change. That’s where all those former theists come from.

    I guess I don’t understand why you think just because atheists don’t have faith that we can’t understand it. Possession is not a prerequisite to understanding, although it can be helpful. Let me borrow a comparison that you already used – being in love. Been there, done that, I know exactly what it’s like. Just because I’m not there at the moment doesn’t mean I don’t understand it or that it was never real.

  • http://irresistibledisgrace.wordpress.com Andrew S.

    re GullWatcher:

    Do you know how many people already question the efficacy of psychologists..? and I mean, psychiatry generally has a better reputation, but when you have chemicals, you can do a whole lot more.

    The faith is the clearest distinction here. It changes everything about dealing with it. If you are not in love with a particular person and someone else is, you cannot understand why they are willing to do certain (highly irrational) things for/with that person. You cannot fully understand the qualia of that love…and instead, you might be too caught up on what appears to be their delusion with staying with someone who’s not all that great, or someone who’s a jerk, or someone who doesn’t really care about them, or someone who doesn’t even exist.

  • Richard Wade

    Thank you, GullWatcher and Andrew S. Both of you make sense. When I look at the self-deception angle and the falling in love analogy, they both make sense (or are at least understandable) when I see them from my background of counseling thousands of people who were addicted to alcohol and drugs. I’ll think about that more and maybe write something about it.

    In the meantime, with my apologies to Percy Sledge:

    When a man loves a god
    Can’t keep his mind on nothing else
    He’ll trade the world
    For the good thing he’s found
    If it’s bad he can’t see it
    It can do no wrong
    Turn his back on his best friend
    If he puts it down

    When a man loves a god
    Spend his very last dime
    Tryin’ to hold on to what he needs
    He’d give up all his comfort
    Sleep out in the rain
    If it said that’s the way it ought to be

    When a man loves a god
    Down deep in his soul
    It can bring him such misery
    If it plays him for a fool
    He’s the last one to know
    Lovin’ eyes can’t ever see

  • llewelly

    Andrew S.
    June 2nd, 2009 at 11:53 am :

    However, for someone who has these experiences, telling them this is ignorant of the qualia they have of the experience. Love is merely a series of chemical addictions to another person…but this doesn’t capture the qualia of the experience.

    You’ve skipped one of my essential points. Namely – atheists are every bit as capable of having these experiences as anyone else, and many of us have had them. Thus – to claim that’s a facet of theism that atheists necessarily do not understand is false. Some of us do know what faith and other religious experiences are like, because we have had them. (Likewise – some religious people have not had these experiences, and don’t know; they are religious by habit.) I’m certainly not ignorant of the qualia of ‘supernatural’ experiences, and I do understand, even though a logical explanation won’t necessarily convince a believer that such experiences are natural, rather than supernatural.

  • GullWatcher

    re Andrew S

    If you are not in love with a particular person and someone else is, you cannot understand why they are willing to do certain (highly irrational) things for/with that person.

    This is where I’m still getting lost, because I do understand. I’ve been that irrational person on occasion in the past. If someone I know is in love, I may not see the attraction they see toward that particular person, but I totally understand the feelings and how and why they might do irrational things for that person. I get that it’s not about the object of the affection and whether he or she is worthy, it’s about the feelings the individual has toward that person. The same (or similar) goes for faith. What more is there that I need to understand?

  • http://irresistibledisgrace.wordpress.com Andrew S.

    re llewelly,

    it’s not that atheists necessarily do not understand…but rather that many atheists happen not to understand. It isn’t a *necessary* quality at all…the only necessary quality for atheism is to not believe in gods. And I agree that it isn’t a necessity for theists either…they can certainly believe without such experience (but then, I would assert that for both the theist and atheist who had had those experiences, they would have different considerations and different ways at looking at things. The atheist wouldn’t make such base and basic miscalculations.)

    re GullWatcher:

    Ah, but that is my point. You say you “totally understand the feelings and how and why they might do irrational things for that person” (even if you, as I also do, believe that it is still a delusion or wrong, etc.,) And that’s to your credit! Unfortunately, many atheists do not, I feel, have a similar understanding, and as a result they suggest things that would be unthinkable to the theist. This was the point of the article from the Mormon blog I initially linked to. And, I would think if you go through the comments here or elsewhere, you can see others who similarly don’t seem to have any clue whatsoever, so instead they make strawmen of theists instead that are just as unfair as theistic strawmen of atheists.

    My point is…it would be one thing if all atheists understood truly where theists were coming from but simply disagreed, but instead, there’s something about faith that people just don’t get, and when they try to hypothesize, theists feel we are getting it completely wrong. And I can’t really blame them for feeling that way.

  • GullWatcher

    re Andrew S.

    Ok, next question – having established that I do get it, does that do anyone any good? Is any christian going to believe that I get it? I am a lifelong atheist. If former christians (ones who were true believers, not just raised that way) can’t convince current believers that they understand about faith, how can I?

    And even if I did, will that further the conversation? It’s nice to think that understanding is a good thing in and of itself, but this is one time when I’m not sure how it helps. And understanding doesn’t always bring greater appreciation or acceptance. Was it Heinlein who said “Some things, the more you understand them, the more you loathe them”?

    re Richard

    I would be interested to see your thoughts when you get around to posting them, especially if you end up discussing the part where falling in love and self-deception come together, which is the making excuses bit. People spend a lot of time making excuses for themselves, for the people they love, and for their gods. Cutting people (including yourself) some slack is a good thing, but spending a life making excuses for bad behavior is way beyond the healthy part of that spectrum.

    From the apologists who try to explain that all the bad stuff god does is really good stuff if we only understood it, to the people who simply say ‘he created us, he has the right to do anything he pleases’, that’s the thing that drives me nuts. Why should anyone be making excuses for a supposedly perfect god?

    And the song? The song was spot on.

  • http://irresistibledisgrace.wordpress.com Andrew S.

    re GullWatcher:

    Because you *can’t* convince people. You’re hoping to show people that the object of their affection is wrong/bad/fraudulent, so in your attempts to do that, you become an enemy. If you want to think that understanding is the only thing that is preventing us from getting anywhere, then I’ve got bad news to tell you. Rather, understanding makes us able to disagree with understanding…rather than disagreeing with a strawman.

    I think in this situation, you get this idea of that Heinlein quote you brought up: “The more you understand them, the more you loathe them.” Here’s my deal…I don’t think you can convince someone that their faith — for them — is wrong. You will alienate yourself as an enemy and the other person will shut down.

    So, understanding has to come to a place where you realize, you’re not going to eradicate religion and theism is not this flimsy thing that is dead in the water (this is a common misconception). You can’t just fight it with logic and rationality, because instead, you just solidify us v. them.

    Rather, I think the goal is to get theists to realize that 1) while they are personally vindicated in believing whatever they believe, this does not mean their beliefs are representative of external reality. 2) other people do *not* have the same personal beliefs, so we should agree not to step on each others’ toes. Ex…we shouldn’t be demonized for being atheist, because this is not a radical position, but 3) when it comes to an external reality that can be discerned, the rubber’s got to meet the road (even if it seems to contradict 2). Ex…we are going to continue to fight for real science education in school because this concerns an external reality that should not be compromised.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    I liked Richard’s re-write of the song.

    I think faith is love misdirected.
    Just as people can love without having (or needing) supporting logic, so can people have faith. One can even be in love with someone who is obviously bad. Just like faith in the genocidal God of the Old Testament or the hell-condemning God of the New Testament.

    Love directed appropriately is Good. Love directed to something that isn’t there can be dangerous.

  • llewelly

    Andrew S, June 4th, 2009 at 11:57 am :

    Here’s my deal…I don’t think you can convince someone that their faith — for them — is wrong.

    How do you explain the existence of atheists who were formerly devout theists, such as Dan Barker, Hector Avalos, Michael Shermer, and many commenters here?

  • http://irresistibledisgrace.wordpress.com Andrew S.

    re llewelly:

    one well-placed subjective event that could reach past beyond everything else.

    If you can find a subjective event that can reliably and repeatably do that, good for you. Of course, keep in mind that theists also are looking for subjective events that can reliably and repeatably instill faith in skeptics (looking at former atheists, so to speak).

    Instead, I’m going to suggest that we are far off from pinpointing this events…and well-thought arguments don’t cut it, like we’d hope.

    The question isn’t if it is possible for someone who was on one side to go to the other, because this *does* happen…but if we can find a way to reliably do it again and again. And for this, we aren’t close to an answer. We KNOW it’s not sheer willpower. We know it’s not just well-thought out arguments. But we know something can do it.


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