The Winning Strategy for Atheists

The Internet Monk has a message for his fellow Christians (emphasis his).

Write this down: When the coming evangelical collapse happens, and especially when thousands of our young people bolt for non-believer status, a lot of it will be COMPLETELY DESERVED.

You see, evangelicals have made such outrageous assumptions and promises about happiness, healing, everything working out, knowing God, answered prayer, loving one another and so on that proving us to be liars isn’t even a real job. It’s just a matter of tuning in to an increasing number of voices who say “It’s OK to not believe. Give yourself a break. Stop tormenting yourself trying to believe. Stop propping up your belief with more and more complex arguments. Just let go of God.”

Make no mistake; iMonk is still on the side of the Christians. But he admits what many atheists have been saying all along: You don’t need to point out every Biblical contradiction, or find several examples of Christian hypocrites, or analyze every religious ritual to get people to open their eyes about the problems with faith.

If you can show them they can live a happy, meaningful life without the trappings of superstition and belief in a god, that’s all some people need.

There are ways to raise children, obtain a sense of morality and personal ethics, and celebrate the major moments in life without resorting to faith. There are intelligent people, from all walks of life, who don’t need to buy into the god myth to get through the day. The more we can shine a lot on them, the more we can get “regular” atheists to come out of the closet, the easier it will be to spread the ideas of rationality and reason.

And the more that Christians embrace an intolerance toward homosexuality, ignorance in the face of Science, and an intertwining of church and politics, the easier they make the atheists’ job.

Yes, there are arguments against any god’s existence and arguments against the truth of any religious text. We shouldn’t stop making them. But I don’t think these arguments, as logical as they are, appeal to the masses.

What will convince more people to lose their faith? Hearing a philosophical debate featuring an articulate atheist or witnessing functional, happy atheists going about their lives with no regard for a god or religion? The debate loses every time.

(Thanks to Emma for the link!)

  • Erp


    And the more that Christians embrace an intolerance toward homosexuality, ignorance in the face of Science, and an intertwining of church and politics, the easier they make the atheists’ job.

    But what about liberal Christians who accept science (and if science contradicts scripture will revise their understanding of scripture not of the science) and who don’t care whether one is homosexual or heterosexual in orientation (unless they are looking for a date).

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    But what about liberal Christians who accept science (and if science contradicts scripture will revise their understanding of scripture not of the science) and who don’t care whether one is homosexual or heterosexual in orientation (unless they are looking for a date).

    If those Christians ever got a real voice, atheists would have a *much* harder time making our case. That’s when you’d need the philosophers :)

    But for better or for worse, those Christians get drowned out by the fundies in their midst. So we can effectively ignore them for now. Just like the other Christians do.

    I should point out that those liberal Christians are the ones I try to reach out to the most. It’s good that they’re there. But we need them to change the fundies. They haven’t succeeded in doing that at any significant level.

  • medussa

    I’d also like to point out that those christians are not people I feel the need to challenge.
    They want to believe in their make believe friend, I have no issue with it, as they are not trying to rewrite science, the law, the world in their god’s image.

  • Philosos

    First of all, I will start at the end of your post. I agree that a more passive, moderate approach is the right approach. Along with less philosophical debate we should also be placing significant importance upon referring to ourselves by something other than mainly ‘atheist’ and I would guess eventually the transition of term usage will take place during my lifetime (I hope). As human beings we tend to hold on to associations we hear and come to accept especially those that are of a negative nature and unfortunately ‘atheist’ has some negative impressions in the minds of theists.

    From what I have come to know through social observation and personal experience hearing it from theists, both acquaintances and family members, the majority are of the opinion that atheists are those who ‘reject God’, i.e. they implicitly think that we acknowledge the existence of a god and choose to reject him/her/it thus they tend to place us on the same level/position as satanists. Some believe that we are already experiencing ‘hell’ which is a life without knowing God, so if you try to explain your position, they are not in a place to even begin to listen to you much less take you seriously because you are already doomed in their mind.

    I have (what others may find unusual or cool) a brother that is also an ‘atheist’ and we both came to our positions independently. He is more ‘in your face’ and I am more easygoing and non-confrontational with our religious family members and others. I have seen from both our experiences that people never ask me what I am, they just kind of figure it out on their own and its level of importance to the conversation is less and they really listen to what I have to say on issues versus what they they think of what I am first and making judgments on that.

    Being a good, respectable person, is the ultimate proof in the pudding and makes the best case for change.

  • http://bakiwop.com bakiwop

    “live a happy, meaningful life…obtain a sense of morality and ethics, and celebrate the major moments in life”

    amen!

  • http://camelswithhammers.com Camels With Hammers

    I doubt that any Christians will look at a happy atheist and think, “wow! what does he have that I don’t?” and want to become an atheist. Though, I am a little embarrassed to say that in my Evangelical days I did get some non-believers who gave me such “what do you have that I don’t remarks” so I know that such strange sentiments are possible to generate in people.

    But I doubt that people genuinely struggling with religious belief will find the happiness of atheists an argument for much of anything. There are too many deep psychological associations with religion that people need to overcome and that’s a very personal and idiosyncratic process. I doubt that looking at happy atheists makes a whit of difference. Their real questions are about how to orient their identity without its religious component.

    And that’s why I think that the whole “out-campaign” with its emphasis on atheists as a group with an identity is crucial. I know how squeamish atheists are about the whole group thing and worried about group-think. But I think they shouldn’t be. Humans need groups in a deep, deep way. And religion has too long exploited this need to get people to swallow lots of nonsense they never would otherwise. If atheists don’t meet this need for ethical community and group identity then we will always be under-serving the general populace and sending them back into the arms of superstition peddlers.

    And I think that a little bit of coherent philosophy from atheists helps give people a sense that they are not just leaving a community engaged in thinking about who they are (in their religion) but that they are actually joining another group in a comparable practice of working out who they are. People want that. Atheists need not and, of course, most emphatically should not become philosophically monolithic. But banding together under the banner of rationalism, rational morality, commitment to rigorous standards of knowledge, and freedom of both thought and action is the real attraction.

    I think it’s more likely that anyone who will be bowled over by the happiness and superlative morality of atheists will do so only when they have first come to associate atheism in general with a philosophy and practice known for certain positive virtues. Only then they can contextualize and relate an atheist’s happiness to their more general philosophy of life and thought and group-affiliation.

    So, I think for the time being, the work is still what those of us activist about atheism here on-line are engaged in, and that’s establishing and meme-ing a whole set of signature commitments—to reason, to rational morality, to worldwide freedom, to honesty embrace of truth no matter what it is, and to an affirmation of the world and life as they are—to which alone atheists insist on being fundamentally allied and around which alone we intend to be unified. If we can ever get the word atheism associated first and foremost with such ideals, then and only then do I think that people will start to see individual atheists as instances of a nobler ideal.

    So, I think more atheists need to come out of the closet, be upfront about their ideas, and become associated with a more appealing way of thinking than religion offers. And in that context, be role models of reason, morality, and affirmative living.

    (cross-posted on Camels With Hammers)

  • Fatpie42

    iMonk
    “William Lane Craig may be brilliant”
    Um, yeah… This is a joke right?

  • Richard Wade

    I’ve read iMonk’s whole post twice, and the, so far, 30 comments twice, and I am impressed by the level of honesty of practically everyone there. There are a few of the usual misconceptions about why people become atheists, (it’s easier, or they’re angry at someone’s abuse, etc.) but for the most part, they are taking a very courageous look at themselves and their embarrassing brethren.

    While Christianity may not entirely disappear any time soon, if such fearless self-examination becomes more widespread, we might look forward to its becoming much less power-seeking, less socially divisive, and less individually destructive.

  • Kate

    “But what about liberal Christians who accept science (and if science contradicts scripture will revise their understanding of scripture not of the science) and who don’t care whether one is homosexual or heterosexual in orientation (unless they are looking for a date).”

    If those Christians ever got a real voice, atheists would have a *much* harder time making our case.

    If those Christians get a real voice, and they dominate, our case (as I see it) is done. Those are people I can (and do) peacefully coexist with. :)

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    A lot of the embarrassing actions by Christians are a reaction to the public existence and acceptance of atheists. Atheists are starting to penetrate and influence social norms and the religious don’t like having their social-religious superstructure challenged. It takes a lot of social conditioning to keep a society religious and as the social norms change, it becomes easier to be an atheist.

    Personally, I think that philosophy and showing that atheists can be happy moral people play an important part, but there are also social dynamics at play on a much larger scale.

  • http://blog.noctua.org.uk/ Paul Wright

    @Fatpie42: Craig is a formidable debate opponent, who keeps beating atheists. Bart Ehrman didn’t do so well against him, and both Richard Carrier and Christopher Hitchens got spanked (the latter according to John W. Loftus, anyway: I’ve not listened to the debate). This is a little odd, as it’s not like his opponents don’t know what he’s going to say, and there are good arguments against his position. But he’s a good public speaker and always well prepared, whereas his opponents usually lack one of those two essentials: either they go to pieces when they have to stand up and debate (Carrier) or they’re good speakers who think they can wing the arguments (Hitchens, by the sounds of it). There are rare exceptions: Paul Draper, for example. But let’s not pretend that Craig has to lose because he’s a Christian.

  • Matt D

    I read once (Dawkins I think) that high intelligence and education correlate positively with atheism (we athiests are just sooo clever)

    it seems there is a greater propensity for atheists to want to be able to defend their position with the “technical stuff”.

    Hemant’s way would be so much easier! man, its hard trying to be an expert on astronomy, physics, biology etc.

    i think its often just part of who we are – a function of our over-sized monkey brains!

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

    But what about liberal Christians who accept science (and if science contradicts scripture will revise their understanding of scripture not of the science) and who don’t care whether one is homosexual or heterosexual in orientation (unless they are looking for a date).

    There’s hope for them too. I was one of them for twenty years. I began to have doubts which I tried to squelch with more Bible reading, prayer and good old fashioned denial. Eventually I had to admit there was no evidence for gods and I no longer believed.

    It can happen for other liberal believers. The more we point out reality and the more they see how outrageous the RRRWers are the more they may question what they themselves believe.

  • Ron in Houston

    What about the liberal Christians?

    Heck, those are probably one of the demographics where you’ll find future “converts.”

    Like Buffy said above, the more outrageous the fundamentalists get, the more people will abandon the last parts of their liberal Christian belief system.

    In the end, it takes more effort to maintain the cognitive dissonance of liberal Christianity than to just let go of those notions of “God.”

  • Todd

    To summarize: Kids today are lazy, therefore they become atheists.

    Of all the atheist straw men constructed by well meaning Christians, I find this one to be the most offensive. My deconversion was one of the terrifying events in my life. I’m still dealing with years of the psychological damage instilled in me by the threat of eternal damnation. The easiest thing for me to do is to give up reality and go back to the comforting fantasy world of the Christian myth.

  • Stephen P

    It’s going a bit over the top to call it “the winning strategy for atheists”. It’s one piece of the puzzle, something that has an effect on some people in some circumstances. And it is indeed my preferred approach, as it costs me no extra effort at all. ;-)
    But on other people it will have as much effect as a raindrop on a whale’s back. Numerous different strategies are needed.

  • http://camelswithhammers.com Camels With Hammers

    It’s a little snotty and misrepresentative of Hemant’s position, Matt D, to accuse him of just encouraging laziness about studying science and developing ideas. He is just talking about the very real issue that most people relate to religion affectively and not cognitively.

    If this argument is going to be won across the culture, atheists are going to need to use all the means the religious do—addressing the head, the heart, and the desire for a good life. If we consider ourselves committed only to rational arguments and not leading by example or by community building, then we will simply lose to those who will prey on people’s affective vulnerabilities to make them impervious to reason.

    And I agree with Paul Wright, William Lane Craig is impressively good. I gave my students his debate with Victor Stenger and both theist and atheist alike (including me) was impressed with Craig’s presentation. I thought in that debate Craig clobbered Stenger through Craig’s first two portions and Stenger’s opening. I did feel like Stenger delivered severe knock out blows in his rebuttal. Ultimately Stenger eventually simply had the better arguments. But Craig’s case was as efficiently and effectively presented in many respects as I’ve seen in a long time.

    Craig’s a philosopher, we need more of the many atheist philosophers out there to actively engage the question of atheism and theism. Too few philosophers bother though they could easily show the flaws in numerous of Craig’s arguments in ways that are necessary to complement what scientists and other public intellectuals bring to the table.

  • http://thoughts-brigitte.blogspot.com Brigitte

    “While Christianity may not entirely disappear any time soon, if such fearless self-examination becomes more widespread”–Richard Wade.

    “Fearless self-examination” is just the thing for everyone. Or else someone said: “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

    This self-examination will lead you to see yourself in a more proper light and as Luther said famously: “We are all beggars it is true.”

    It is not about who is living the more ethical life, Atheists or Christians. We are not going to be measuring that meaningfully. You can figure that out by your own relationships, if you want, which will be an individual constellation of people.

    I do find among Christians a liberty and joy of being yourself (or being lost to yourself or self-consciousness) and loving the other beggar, who is just as lost without Christ as you, that is utterly exhilarating. The lack of defensiveness in living in God’s mercy is the greatest freedom for the community.

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  • K

    I don’t know that convincing liberal Christians is such an easy sell. I have a friend who’s a “yahbut.” She knows I’m an atheist and a skeptic. I’m not trying to “convert” her to any belief system, or de-convert her from Christianity. But I’ve compared some of her beliefs to mine and she’s not far off the mark from at least a reasonable doubt. When I bring up the idea that she or I can live a good, moral, upstanding life without God, religion, or any of those trappings, she begins with the “Yeah, but…” argument. For some reason, she’s obstinately holding onto the idea of having a God in her life. She’s an LGBT ally (straight but not narrow,) votes liberal, is pro-choice, pro-marijuana, etc. and does not believe in a literal translation of the Bible. She attends a non-denominational church and has even considered, recently, becoming a practicing Buddhist.

    Having come to atheism from a heavily-proselytizing faith (Mormonism) via a very twisty road in my life, I don’t see that it’s my place to try to win anyone over through hard debate. I’ve tried that when I was a Christian and I found that I tended to lose more friends by trying too hard than if I had been demonstrative and patient. When someone is ready to let go, then they’ll know who to turn to so they can begin walking that path. That’s why I try to be as open as I can about my life when it comes to the people around me. They know I’m gay, trans and an atheist… and yet I’m not a perverted monster who’s going to eat your children the moment you turn your back. People come to trust me because, first and foremost, I’m a caring human being.

    If my friend ever decides to let go of her God belief, then I’ll be there. If she never does, I’ll still be there.

  • thilina

    And the more that Christians embrace an intolerance toward homosexuality, ignorance in the face of Science, and an intertwining of church and politics, the easier they make the atheists’ job.

    But what about liberal Christians who accept science (and if science contradicts scripture will revise their understanding of scripture not of the science) and who don’t care whether one is homosexual or heterosexual in orientation (unless they are looking for a date).

    At most these Christians are enablers for the fundies. Very few atheists will have a problem with anything moderately religious people do, except being apologetic to the religiously inspired crimes/atrocities. What they believe in, in private is none of our business; as long as they’re not a danger to them self or anyone else (physically or mentally).

    When religion conflicts with science (or morality or common sense) and the religion is what’s rewritten, the world will be a much better place (except Hemant will be out of things to post about).

  • http://curvycatholic.blogspot.com Christine

    Just wanted to say thanks! I enjoy your blog, and I had never heard of the “Internet Monk” before, so now I’m enjoying that one too! Both of you seem to epitomize the BEST in the whole theism/nontheism discussion. Again, thanks!

  • http://jonathan-keith.com Jon

    The title of this blog post cracks me up. Atheists can’t win anything. It’s actually really sad that they think that they can. By choosing Atheism, you have made the wrong decision, and will ultimately lose when you are judged by God at the end of your life. You can pretend that homosexuality is ok, you can foolishly believe that science is the answer to everything. But in the end, you will find truth.

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