Ask Richard: Christian “Comes Out” and is Treated Poorly by His Atheist Friends

Note: Letter writers’ names are changed to protect their privacy.

Dear Richard

This is probably a little bit different than what you are used to answering, but this seems to be a sensible place to ask for advice. Recently, I’ve been facing some religious discrimination at the hands of my Atheist friends. I went to a very liberal Christian high school that accepted people of all religious beliefs, and generally, people were open and accepting of what others thought. There, I knew Buddhists, Atheists, Jewish people, and even a Muslim person. However, for whatever reason, the majority of my friends here at college have been non-religious.

I don’t proselytize, and I generally only talk about my faith when asked directly. However, since disclosing that I am a practicing Christian, I’ve been mocked, belittled, and talked down to by a few of my Atheist friends. I get remarks like, “I can’t believe that you actually think that” or “Oh, we’d better not talk about this- it would probably offend him.” It’s automatically assumed that I am an easily offended, narrow minded, Bible-thumping bigot. Naturally, being unfairly classified like this hurts quite a bit. I’ve tried turning the other cheek and responding in a non-confrontational manner, but this has not been very successful.

So, what steps can I take to convince my atheist friends to treat me like a human, regardless of my worldview?

Jonathan

Dear Jonathan,

My advice to you is essentially the same as I would give to an atheist being similarly treated by Christian friends, or any combination of friends with differing religious viewpoints.

You have tried the non-confrontational approach, and it has not worked, so call your friends out on it. Remember that confrontational does not necessarily mean boorish, uncivil, or rude. You can be confrontational but still be calm, gracious, and friendly. You can be cool-headed and warm-hearted even as you tell it the way it is.

With a composed and pleasant tone, tell them that you value their friendship, and you’d like it to continue, but lately their treatment of you is not what friends should do to each other. Cite specific examples of when they have been condescending, personally contemptuous, sarcastic, or they have incorrectly assumed negative things about you that are based on misconceptions.

Explain to them that there is a difference between respecting someone’s beliefs, and treating someone respectfully. They probably do not respect your beliefs, and you can understand that, but they certainly can treat you respectfully, just as you have been treating them respectfully, regardless of your differing views.

If you want to persuade anyone to change their treatment of you, appeal to the values that they already hold, rather than trying to get them to first adopt the values that you hold. Build a case that treating you respectfully is a reflection of the principles they hold in high esteem.

In the case of your friends, suggest that as atheists, they probably value skepticism. Skepticism involves refraining from jumping to conclusions or making assumptions without acceptable evidence. That includes not assuming that someone in a given category possesses all the characteristics of the stereotype of that category. Propose that they should practice good skepticism by looking for evidence in you before they assume things about you.

They can do this by asking you about your beliefs, your emotional reactions, and your social or political opinions. Assure them that you’ll answer their questions without a sermon. Point out that you don’t proselytize, and of course you will appreciate them not trying to do something similar to you.

Model for them how a person can change their attitude through open-minded investigation. If you can come up with a real example, tell them how you were once told that all atheists possess some particular loathsome characteristic, but because you have been friends with them, you know that that is incorrect. Challenge your friends to do the same thing with you. Propose a mutual pact, an assumption-free zone where all of you will abstain from pre-judging each other and will openly and safely talk to each other.

Some of them might respond by saying that they were just kidding or teasing. That might be so, but properly done, teasing is supposed to bond friends closer together. If it starts to divide friends, then it’s not being done right, and it should stop. A stronger foundation of mutual understanding, trust, and affection is needed before kidding or teasing can be a positive dynamic in a friendship. That foundation is built by exchanging questions and answers in a frank yet respectful way.

Friendships become deeper when friends give each other permission to be honest and frank, but that does not imply permission to be cruel. It’s possible for friends to have discussions where they clearly disagree without indulging in belittling, personal put-downs, or mockery of stereotypes that don’t apply. It’s important to also honestly say “Ouch, that hurts” when a friend’s honesty is clumsy, tactless or unnecessarily harsh. It’s also important for friends to forgive each other when they realize their blunder.

I understand that it’s not easy to confront people whom you care about, even in the amicable way I’ve described. If you feel too apprehensive about the prospect, you could simply show them this post with your letter and my suggestions. The fact that you wrote to a site called Friendly Atheist will probably blow away several of their assumptions about you, and it could start a more relaxed and productive conversation between you and them.

Jonathan, you sound like an interesting and caring friend, someone who would be a plus in any person’s life. I hope that things work out for you and your friends.

Richard

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • ortcutt

    I don’t understand why someone would think that saying “I’m a Christian” exempts him from giving evidence for his claims.  People need to take epistemic responsibility for their claims and beliefs and I’m
    glad that his atheist friends are forcing him to do that.  Treating him as an agent responsible for his beliefs is part of what it means to treat him like a human agent.  Not being a proselytizer doesn’t give him a pass either.  The days when people were supposed to just sit there quietly while religionists made completely unsupported claims are over.  He should get used to it.

    • Tom


      The days when people were supposed to just sit there quietly while religionists made completely unsupported claims are over.”

      So does that make it so that the days when people are allowed to harass religious people have begun?  What authority declared these days where you were supposed to sit quiet anyways?  Sounds like you are using that made up rule as a convenient reason to invent a moral high ground from which you are allowed to spew your distaste for religion with free license.

      Harassment and argument are not at all the same, yet you are so confident that Jonathan is trying to deny his friends the right to argue and differ on opinion.  He is claiming he is being harassed, and I have no reason to believe he started it first.  I think you blame any christian for having started things first, regardless if they have prostelytized or harassed you personally.  Go use Pat Robertson as your verbal punching bag, not this guy who is genuinely interested in being friends with atheists even if he’s a little confused.

      • ortcutt

        “Harrassment?”  Quit the ridiculous hyperbole, Tom.  We’re talking about conversation here.  Sadly, there are a lot of thin-skinned Christians out there who take any challenge to their beliefs as an affront.  Why should I, you or anyone else care?  These people need to learn to live in the new society which doesn’t bend over backwards to ensure that they are never exposed to confrontation.  From blasphemy laws to speech codes to social taboos to complaints about “harrassment”, the ways that the religious attempt to silence people are numerous.  I am simply not going to let them do so.

        • Tom

          You’ve got a serious hero complex, brave pioneer of our new society…  It’s really an attractive story.  Thing is I’m afraid you’re paranoid.  Seeing attempts by the religious to silence you left and right.  See the reality, many religious people like Jonathan don’t agree with their co-religionists on many things.  He has opened his mind, but people like yourself don’t reward him and instead mock them for still being religious.  Don’t you see you’re digging you and the rest of us a hole?

          • ortcutt

            I’m not a brave pioneer.  I’m just someone who is adjusting to the new circumstances.  It’s not paranoia to acknowledge the facts about religion’s attempt to control of discourse.  The Indian skeptic Sanal Edamaruku is facing blasphemy charges in India.  Tell him that he’s paranoid.  Luckily for me I live in the US, and we have the First Amendment, but there are still strong social pressures to not challenge religion.  What do you think all of the talk about “militant atheists” is all about? 

            • Tom

              It still seems like you see yourself as a Sanal Edamaruku in some kind of romantic, idealized fashion.

              “What do you think all of the talk about “militant atheists” is all about?”

              Poor semantics causing all sorts of confusion.  “Militant” is a convenient term as it’s used in a widespread fashion by the media, but is a poor choice.  The media is good at describing actions, not philosophies. The latter doesn’t get the ratings.  But the media has power to bring discussion about issues to a large audience, and “militant” is too often the word du jour.

              Even the term “accomodationist” has it’s media roots, as the term given to countries appeasing Germany in both world wars.

              Thing is they offer too much convenience to be dropped from the vernacular.  PZ Meyers is fond of calling this same group milquetoast, which is nothing to be proud of.  It shows his disdain and gives these people little reason not to use poor choices of words to describe him.

              I just took a look at a few words I was wanting to propose instead of “militant” and I found “mad”.  I think that’s accurate but not insulting.  Hell, there’s nothing wrong with being mad is there?  Mad Atheists.  I think it could be a yin to the yang of, let’s say, Friendly Atheists?  Cool Atheists?  As in relaxed, laid back, not “cooler than you” atheists.

              • Nordog

                 Except that “mad” can also mean crazy, as in Mad Hatter.  Perhaps Angry Atheists?  In addition to not implying mental instability it has the added bonus of alliteration.

              • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

                Tom, there is frequent harassment of many people who are not members of the dominant religion/philosophy in many countries, including the US. (It effects everyone from Pagans and Muslims to atheists and agnostics in the US.) Consequently, there’s a lot of anger in minority religious/philosophical groups toward those of the dominant belief system and rightfully so. This is where the mistrust arises that you are seeing on this thread. I know it’s uncomfortable seeing this kind of mistrust,but unfortunately, at this juncture in history, these kinds of tensions are probably inevitable. (Personally, I hope that calmness on all sides will prevail as time passes.)

                Having said that, I’m still quite willing to believe that the Christian guy in the letter was telling the truth. I’ve seen a fair chunk of ill-tempered attitudes directed from atheists toward theists and consequently, I believe the letter writer. Why? Those behaviors are most likely to occur in settings where non-believers are in the majority and feel safe. This appears to be the conditions presented in the letter.

                Every group is capable of behaving as jerks, given the opportunity to do so.

  • ortcutt

    I don’t understand why someone would think that saying “I’m a Christian” exempts him from giving evidence for his claims.  People need to take epistemic responsibility for their claims and beliefs and I’m
    glad that his atheist friends are forcing him to do that.  Treating him as an agent responsible for his beliefs is part of what it means to treat him like a human agent.  Not being a proselytizer doesn’t give him a pass either.  The days when people were supposed to just sit there quietly while religionists made completely unsupported claims are over.  He should get used to it.

  • Mushuukyou

    This is stupid advice.  If the idiot has fallacious beliefs, your advice to him should be for him to educate himself and rid himself of such foolishness, so THEN he won’t be mocked! It’s never good to give advice to tell him how to try to get other people to treat him better WITHOUT attending to the problem! The problem is that he is a theist, and THAT needs to change because it’s mentally unhealthy and bad for mankind. THAT’S why they mock him!  Fuck.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

       I don’t like being in the Venn diagram with you…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=513566395 Jackie McClanahan

      “If he wanted to not be bullied, he should just act less gay!” is what I am equating your argument to.

      • Stev84

        The difference is that being gay isn’t a choice, while being religious is. That doesn’t mean he deserves to be mocked – as long as he isn’t an asshole like so many Christians – but it’s hardly the same

        • Tom

          but is he ”
          bad for mankind.” like Mushuukkyou also says?

        • Nordog

           Being religious is a choice?  Is atheism a choice?

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nicki-Waters/100003666683900 Nicki Waters

          Yeah, I think the choice distinction is a bit more muddy than you’re making it out to be here. I never felt like I was choosing to be a Christian, now that I’m not, I don’t feel like I chose that either. Belief is less of a choice than some make it out to be.

          • ortcutt

            Whether or not claims and beliefs are choices is really beside the point.  What matters is mutability.  All claims and beliefs are (1) mutable and (2) evaluable.  If our claims and beliefs were immutable, then if they were false or made without epistemic justification, that would be unfortunate but not something for which I could be criticized.  But they aren’t immutable.  They can be changed.  In making claims and holding beliefs for which someone has no credible evidence, the religionist is doing something that can be evaluated and criticized.

          • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

            I agree with you, Nicki. The choice distinction delves into an area that is not well defined. I’ve know people who have said they couldn’t make themselves believe if they wanted to and I’ve known people who have said they couldn’t choose to not believe that there was something more to the universe than atoms and energy states.

            The human race is broad and diverse. You are inevitably going to have a mix of those who are predisposed toward exclusively materialist perceptions, those who are predisposed toward spiritualist perceptions, and those who could swing either way. I don’t think these kinds of perceptions are as universally mutable as some atheists and some religious people claim they are.

            However, the bias in an environment such as this blog is to think that everybody can perceive and think of the world exactly as non-believers do. The analogous belief on many Christian blogs is to believe that everyone is capable of embracing their particular supernatural beliefs. Interestingly, both of these bias are useful to the project of evangelism.

            I suspect that both bias are untrue.

        • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

          Oh, so I suppose that bisexuals, should only choose to be in different sex relationships since for them, it’s a “choice”?

          • ortcutt

            Did Stev84 or anyone else here make that claim?

          • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

            Stev84 said:

            The difference is that being gay isn’t a choice, while being religious is.

            The justification “but it isn’t a choice” is used widely as a means of justifying homosexuality. It’s akin to saying, “Since those gay folks simply can’t help themselves, we can allow them to do their thing.” Although Stev84 has the best intentions, I’m sure, this justification has annoyed me for ages.

            Being someone who is attracted to both women and men, I could choose to date one or the other. Does my choice to date a member of the same sex then become immoral because I could choose to date the other sex instead?

            Who I date doesn’t matter because it hurts no one.

            This is a pet peeve of mine and has been for ages. It’s also not the best response to make to homophobes because many of them are as aware of bi people existing as I am. Heck, I’m sure some of the bigots have their own bi tendencies and it freaks them out to the point of being haters.

            And, because the sex one dates can be chosen by some queer people, it weakens Stev84s line of reasoning. (Bi people can “act gay” too if they happen to show visible interest in people of the same sex.)

            • Carla

              This thread is irrelevant to the topic. However, I think Stev84 means that you didn’t choose to be attracted to both men and women as a “fuck you” to the church or something like that. You are bi, so you can choose which gender you feel like dating, but you did not choose the biology that allows you to be attracted to both sexes. My biology keeps me attracted to one gender. I didn’t choose it, but I can choose who to date when attracted to them. Although if we get into it, attraction is all chemical processes that we don’t choose to initiate anyways….

              • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

                See my reply to Nicki in the sub-thread above. I think it makes my words in this sub-thread relevant.

              • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

                Besides, if one’s biology does permit choice, then one has a choice. I don’t see how you can get around that. Consequently, it still renders the “you don’t have a choice who you have a relationship with” justification inaccurate.

                And, as someone who is bi, I’m tired of having my life’s reality erased by common responses to the issue of homosexuality that simply do not fit my lived experience.

                • amycas

                   Thank you. Bisexuals are often brushed away as “fence sitters.” I’ve even been told that since I’m with a man now, I’m no longer bi. I always have to point out that my bisexuality is about attraction, not necessarily who I’m with at the moment. If I was not in a relationship and not having sex, would that make me asexual?

                  In fact, I don’t like the choice argument anyway. Even if it was a choice, so what? Just because you choose a way to live, doesn’t mean it’s not your right to make that choice.

            • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

              OK, this is bizarre. It looks like my reply to Carla was somehow lost.

              Here goes, again.

              Carla, see my reply to Nicki in the sub-thread above. I think it makes my words in this sub-thread relevant. I believe the binaristic “it’s a choice” vs “it’s not a choice” paradigm doesn’t accurately represent sexual orientation or spiritual vs. materialist perceptions.

              Besides, if one’s biology does permit choice, then one has a choice. I don’t see how you can get around that. Consequently, it still renders the “you don’t have a choice who you have a relationship with” justification inaccurate.

              And, as someone who is bi, I’m tired of having my life’s reality erased by common responses to the issue of homosexuality that simply do not fit my lived experience.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=750428174 Paddy Reddin

      The problem isn’t that he’s a theist, but that his friends are being dicks.   They are mocking him, not his beliefs, they assume things about him (like you just did) based on nothing more than the fact he is christian.  That is bigotry.

      He deserves better, we all do.  

      Incidentally, please tell me how one persons personal belief not being forced on anyone else is bad for mankind?

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/ZKNUHNCDDTRDITPKADLNVLOGAM jdze

      I used to be mocked by mean assholes because I was an outsider. Guess why I was an outsider? Because I didn’t want to be a mean asshole.

      Conclusion: Being a mean asshole might not always be the best option for getting someone to agree with you. Also applies to religion or lack of one.

    • Nordog

       Yeah, nothing like a little hate filled atheist bigotry for ya.

  • Mushuukyou

    This is stupid advice.  If the idiot has fallacious beliefs, your advice to him should be for him to educate himself and rid himself of such foolishness, so THEN he won’t be mocked! It’s never good to give advice to tell him how to try to get other people to treat him better WITHOUT attending to the problem! The problem is that he is a theist, and THAT needs to change because it’s mentally unhealthy and bad for mankind. THAT’S why they mock him!  Fuck.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=527982303 Jonathan Arthur

    He’s wants to be treated like  a human? Does that mean listening to his personal baloney as if it is beyond reproach? Otherwise I am “boorish, uncivil, or rude”? Did I just wander into the Twilight Zone?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

       I think he wants to be treated like he is not a fundamentalist. I think part of that is going to involve answering the questions like “do you really believe X?” and letting his friends see what his position really is.

      Perhaps he doesn’t know. Maybe he’ll learn something about himself.

      • Demonhype

         That’s a good point.  Some of the things he said made me think that maybe his atheist friends are trying to pinpoint what sort of believer he is and what the parameters are (so to speak), which can be important if you’re going to continue to associate with a believer.  And, in some cases, being completely devoid of tact while doing so.  “We can’t talk about this, we’ll probably offend him”–I’ve avoided certain discussions with/around Christian friends before because I wasn’t sure what would offend that person, but I wouldn’t say something like that right in front of them either.  That’s just rude.

        I don’t know if this guy expects people to listen to his personal baloney as if it’s beyond reproach either.  He doesn’t indicate it or mention it, but few believers include that sort of detail–hell, most people don’t include that sort of detail if it’s something they do without realizing it.  No, I’m not suggesting outright deception here, or to read things in that he never said, but I’ve known believers in various things who do broach the subject constantly and then get upset when the reaction isn’t what they’d like.  I’ve had successful friendships with believers, but usually when we left
        that aspect out of the realm of discussion, and the only times I get
        called “mocking” or “bullying” tend to be when they keep bringing it up
        and I eventually express my own views.

        Once again, like my mom, who keeps bringing up all her various supernatural and religious beliefs as if they are established scientific fact, while knowing that I am on the opposite side of that fence and have requested that we just avoid that subject because we always get into fights and I would like to keep our time together pleasant by focusing on what we both enjoy, and then getting angry with me and accusing me of “mockery” and “bullying” if I don’t listen as if it is beyond reproach and actually challenge her assertions.  And if she wrote a letter about this situation she would never include her own pushy behavior, because I think it’s a bit subconscious and because we live in a society where that behavior is seen as acceptable but challenging those beliefs is seen as “strident” and “militant” (particularly if your position is “none of the above” as opposed to “I believe some other supernatural thing”.)

        So while I can’t logically insist this is how the guy is acting just from what he wrote, I can’t entirely rule out the possibility that this is how he could be acting, albeit subconsciously, just from my own personal experience with believer friends.  It’s impossible to know for sure from a letter like this.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      No, you seem to be creating your own Twilight Zone around yourself. Nothing in my response states or implies that you must “listen to his baloney as if it is beyond reproach,” nor have I said that disagreeing with him by necessity makes you boorish, uncivil or rude.  I’ve said quite the opposite, if you were to read carefully.

    • http://twitter.com/happy_skeptic David

      It doesn’t sound like he’s the kind of Christian who goes around willy-nilly sharing his beliefs with anyone and everyone. I say as long as he keeps his nonsense to himself, let him be.

    • Tom

      Can we say Jonathan Arthur is just like the atheists described by our christian Jonathan?  Nothing more than an atheist who hates with big words.  He probably calls it ‘reason’ or some other holy cow of his…

  • http://twitter.com/WendyRussell Wendy Thomas Russell

    I think this is excellent advice, Richard, especially for people who value meaningful relationships and who understand that even friendships require work sometimes. (Given his anger issues, I’d be very surprised if Mushuukyou has many of those.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1518934458 Andy Jewell

    Well said, Richard. I would like to apologize for the boorish behavior of the other commenters, who it seems read neither Jonathan’s letter nor your response. They illustrate Jonathan’s point quite well.

    • Reason_Being

      I agree Andy—Well said Richard.  It is one thing to not not respect beliefs, it is another to disrespect the person.  In my conversations with theists and on my blog, I really try to maintain a level of respect for individuals, while I am arguing against their beliefs.  Finding the balance between these two ideas is, in my opinion, important if we are to change the public perception of atheists. That said, this is my personal approach. I think there are some atheists that are more strident, and that at times that tact can be useful–but for me, it is not a starting point.

  • http://twitter.com/TortugaSkeptic A secret red slider

    Richard, I like this advice. Weather or not you think what someone believes is wrong, there is nothing useful in being a jerk about it-that is the bottom line. If someone is your friend you should treat him as such even if you disagree with his views. Jonathan is willing to do that and we need more of his bridge building and less bridge burning.

  • pato

    The reactions I’m seeing to this post are absolutely absurd, and pretty good evidence of why nobody can take atheists seriously. Even if people believe something we don’t, nobody’s going to change anybody’s minds through ridicule. End of story. Get off your fucking high horses.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

       you are wrong, exactly the treatment he is describing is what shook me out of my theism. No one approach works for everyone, but that doesn’t mean you can dismiss an approach just because it wouldnt work for you.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nicki-Waters/100003666683900 Nicki Waters

        Why do you care if someone remains in their theism? Are we so incapable of living in a world where not everyone believes like us? I would much rather people put their effort into becoming kinder and more useful human beings than into believing the same as I do.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

           Because I care about the truth

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nicki-Waters/100003666683900 Nicki Waters

            Spoken like my fundamentalist father, grandmother and all the other Christian ass holes I’ve encountered in my life. I guess I just prefer to surround myself with people who value kindness and compassion more than their version of the truth.

            • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

               wait, all I was saying is that I was glad someone shook me out of my theism. Personally I count that as one of the kindest most compassionate things they could have done for me.

              • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nicki-Waters/100003666683900 Nicki Waters

                Hmm, well I took you as saying that mocking the beliefs of others to their face and generally being an asshole is justified in the name of “truth” if that’s what you were saying then I stand by my comment, but if you were just talking about your own personal experience then that’s valid, I just don’t think everyone feels the same as you did.

            • ortcutt

              Caring about making true claims makes you a “fundamentalist”? WTF?  Are scientists fundamentalists when they challenge each other on claims?  You’re making an absurd false equivalence.

              • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nicki-Waters/100003666683900 Nicki Waters

                I don’t think you understood my point.

        • sunburned

          “Why do you care if someone remains in their theism?”

          Because they vote.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nicki-Waters/100003666683900 Nicki Waters

            What does that even mean? Knowing that someone is a theist tells you nothing about the way they vote. When I was a Christian I was extremely progressive precisely because of my faith. Others will draw from their faith to become conservative or libertarian or moderate…same as atheists.

            • http://www.facebook.com/cestatheeconne Jezzie James

              When I was a Christian, I saw too many preachers using their position and their holy book to persuade their congregation into voting “the way God would want you to”.

              You may not have been as much of a sheeple as the majority, but after witnessing entire rooms of followers nodding in agreement because their pastor says that the Bible says that Peter said that Jesus said…  is freaking scary, and a big part of why I identify as an anti-theist.

              • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nicki-Waters/100003666683900 Nicki Waters

                Oh I totally agree, but I also think that’s changing. There’s been a huge backlash against the politicization of Christianity within the evangelical community over the last few years, particularly the younger crowd.

        • Demonhype

          In countries where the religious aren’t trying to legislate their beliefs on everyone else or trying to find de facto ways to punish unbelief, atheists don’t really care one way or another.  European atheists, from what I’ve heard, often find American atheists kind of strange because they can’t understand what the fervor is all about.  What people believe doesn’t really matter–unless what they believe encourages them or even commands them to infringe on your own life, at which point it becomes very much “my business”.  If the religious were all just sitting around being religious in their homes and churches, it wouldn’t be an issue and most atheists wouldn’t care one way or another.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nicki-Waters/100003666683900 Nicki Waters

            But see, most of them are just sitting around being religious in their homes and churches. You just don’t realize it because you don’t hear from them. That’s why I take issue with all of this. You’re painting the entire bunch as if they are fully represented by the loudmouths. This is a mistake.

      • pato

        Just to make sure we understand each other, people calling you an idiot for believing in a god got you to stop believing? That sounds a hell of a lot more like folding to peer pressure than discovering atheism on your own…

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

           People challenged me “do you really believe this or that?” and in trying to answer them I needed to actually examine the beliefs I’d held without thinking about them.

          If you want to call that “folding to peer pressure” knock yourself out.

          However, whatever you call it, it *did* work.

          • pato

            Okay, that’s different from what I’m criticizing. Analysis of faith is something that I think everybody should be subjected to. I think it’s pretty moronic, though, to just start calling people idiots because they believe in something that we don’t. That’s all.

            • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

               There was definitely an air of mockery to her disbelief though.

              There was a clear subtext of “I thought you were smarter than this” and in fairness I thought so too.

          • CanadianNihilist

             “People challenged me “do you really believe this or that?” and in trying
            to answer them I needed to actually examine the beliefs I’d held
            without thinking about them.”

            No doubt, That’s how Dusty (Cult of Dusty on youtube) got over his dilutions. Logic!

    • brianmacker

      “nobody can take atheists seriously”
      Bigot.

  • http://twitter.com/happy_skeptic David

    This guy sounds like the kind of Christian I don’t mind too much: The quiet one. Not that Christians should be gagged (blah, blah, 1st amendment rights and all), but I don’t go around disclosing to everyone that I’m an atheist, only doing so only when in the presence of utter religious douchery. As idiotic as this guy’s beliefs may be, at least he’s being respectful and not trying to shove them down everyone’s throats, so I think he has a right to be aggrieved. I can only hope that there’s a chance he can be reasoned with too if he’s reading Richard’s blog.

    • Glasofruix

       I have a friend like that, he once said that he was religious, I asked him if he really believed in that bullshit, he said “Yep, not you?” I answered “Nope” he followed by “Well, whatever” and we never mentionned this stuff again. Just to say that as long as people don’t wave crucifixes and bibles in front of my face I’m fine with them believing in whatever they want (but i’m not against occasional reality hints).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=513566395 Jackie McClanahan

    I have some religious friends. Most of them, we just don’t discuss religion, and we have a lot of fun together. I also have one religious friend I can tease about his religion and we have pretty good debates, and we both learn something about the other.

    This is how it should be, not belittling your friend because they haven’t reached the same conclusion you have. 

    • brianmacker

      I don’t even understand how these Christian guy ended up clustering with so many atheist friends.   I’m not even in touch with any of my atheist friends on any sort of regular basis.   I’m not even sure I have a plurality of atheist friends.   At the moment I can think of only one and I see him like once every five years.  In fact, we’ve had a falling out over his hatred of rich people, and my disagreement with him over it.   I do have atheist relatives however.   I don’t screen my friends on the basis of belief.

  • Kayla Knopp

    Wow, other commenters, what a bunch of assholes.  You have a responsibility to treat other human beings respectfully, even when you don’t respect their beliefs.  Appropriate times to criticize someone’s beliefs include when a person is using his beliefs to harm someone else, or when you’re actively discussing the topic of faith.  This kid isn’t doing either, and just wants his friends to stop belittling him; that’s totally reasonable.  Being skeptical and rational doesn’t excuse you from common decency.

    That said, Jonathan, your friends are being jerks, but you are NOT experiencing “discrimination” as you called it.  Don’t conflate other people’s jerky behavior with actual tangible discrimination; it’s not the same thing at all.  Resist the urge to succumb to the martyr complex.

    • Paul Caggegi

      I agree. Richard, this is fantastic advice. It shows us how to be better people, and better friends.

    • brianmacker

      Agreed.  I’m married to a Christian and if any atheists started treating my wife like this they’d soon finde themselves confronted and if nonrepentant they would end up non-friends.  

    • webcomicfan

      Yes! People SHOULD be decent, and respect other people where we differ. And we shouldn’t just criticize others because of their beliefs, especially veiled criticisms, or things with double meaning that only your own group of friends understands fully. If you have something to say, say it respectfully and openly to the person. Don’t talk smack about them behind their back, and don’t spread nasty rumors or stuff like that. This is not Kindergarten. In fact, not even Kindergarteners do that.

      Still, Jonathan /did/ say his ‘friends’ told him they ‘could not believe’ why he had religious faith. Usually, people say things like that in an offensive tone, and it’s almost never the opposite. And besides, openly saying that ‘something might offend him’- while HE HIMSELF is right next to them and can hear every word they say- that’s also kind of hitting below the belt. It’s like if you’re at a party and people are saying abd things about you, and they know you’re at the party too. Even if you aren’t in the conversation, it’s still a dick move.

       Perhaps Jonathan’s friends also said other things which were more hurtful, or something of the sort, and he didn’t include it in his letter out of feeling like it wasn’t necessary..   But I definetely agree with you on the martyr complex thing. There are times when you should defend your faith even if others smack you upside the head (but if they do hit you, defend yourself (DEFEND, not attack)). But you don’t have to just take what they give you. Like Richard said,  call them out on it, return the ball, make /them/ answer /your/ questions.

      And besides, people, why can’t we all just live with each other? If we want to discuss religion, sure, that’s wonderful. In fact, I like it, having educated discussions where both parties are calm and collected and respect each other fully. But fighting and making rude remarks and hating people over their beliefs is wrong from ANY point of view.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    Atheists should be polite to him. 
    That said, “I can’t believe that you actually think that” is a very long way, in both tone and intent, from “You’re goin’ to hell unless you fear God!”   Jonathan can’t have it both ways.   It’s a central tenet of Christianity that unbelievers are damned, and the ‘saved’ should not associate with them. Based on plenty of evidence, atheists have every right to expect Jonathan to be easily offended and narrow minded, because that is characteristic of Christians.  Perhaps this is another case of atheists knowing Christianity better than Christians.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nicki-Waters/100003666683900 Nicki Waters

      To be fair, it’s not necessarily a central tenet of Christianity that unbelievers are damned. When I was a Christian I didn’t believe in hell and there were many like me.

      The not associating with unbelievers thing is fundamentalist thing, not a Christian thing. I grew up steeped in Evangelical Christianity and was never taught this.

      It’s generally a bad idea to draw all your conclusions about a given group based on how the loudest and most obnoxious in that group behave.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-De-Fleuriot/611844223 Mike De Fleuriot

         You just like Hitler because he put the country to work and created the autobahns, all the nazi nonsense is not important.

        • Nordog

          In my opinion the invocation of Goodwin’s Law is over used in many cases.  This is not one of those cases.

      • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

         To be fair, read what the Bible says about unbelievers.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nicki-Waters/100003666683900 Nicki Waters

          I have, many times, and I read the work of many other scholars who did the same, and I agonized over it for years until I came to my belief that the Bible didn’t actually teach that.

          I’m not a Christian anymore though so I don’t really feel like going into all of that, kind of beside the point for me now. What’s important is that you have enough humility to take others at their word that they believe what they say they believe and it isn’t your place to say whether or not they’re a real Christian who understands their faith.

    • Tom

      How can you be sure of the tone with which “I can’t believe that you actually think that” unless you had an audio recording?  Tone is a description of sound actually, and very little tone can be conveyed accurately through text (source of “arguing on the internet is like the Special Olympics” joke).

      What if the phrase in question was screamed at Jonathan?  You can’t tell from a quotation (YOU COULD QUOTE IT IN ALL CAPS BUT THAT STILL ISN’T CLEAR) unless Jonathan said his friend screamed this at him.  I don’t think it was screamed, personally, but how do you signify a sarcastic tone or a snobbish tone through text?  It is really difficult.  I find it really telling how posters like yourself almost always argue as if they are really confident that it was the christian who was mistaken, not the atheist.

      There is such a dilemma of confirmation bias in this community!  It is really ridiculous since so many of these people are such vocal believers in science and the scientific method!

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    Jonathan,

    Just as some Christians view atheists as hell-bound immoral beasts, some atheists view Christians as bigoted assholes that want to tell everybody what to do.  Both characterizations are, of course, not generally true.  It is quite possible to be an atheist and also be quite moral, compassionate, and caring.  It is also quite possible to be a Christian and be respectful of other beliefs (or lack thereof) and not try to control everybody else’s behavior.  I would advise you to educate your friends that “Christianity” covers a lot of territory and for them not to paint all Christians with the same brush.  Perhaps you can agree with them that there are good Christians and bad Christians… and you are of the good kind. 

    If it applies, perhaps you can tell them that your version of Christianity is a tool to help you be humble and a better person…and you view the bible is a collection of metaphorical stories to help you live a better life – not as a literal accounting of history.    If you do believe the bible is a literal recounting of history, then that may be a subject you might want to avoid with them.

    One thing that bugs many atheists is Christians that go around saying who is going to hell or not.  I personally respect Christians who say the decision is up to God and leave it at that.  I’ve known Christians that have said that God could and may send atheists to heaven because it is in His power.  I’ve also known other Christians, though, that have said that all atheists must go to hell because it is impossible for an unrepentant sinner to be in God’s presence.  Your friends could be associating all Christians with the latter group.  Perhaps convince them that you are of the former group.

    Also, remember that people in their early 20’s sometimes tend to be a bit over-confident in the opinions they hold.  Your friends will probably mellow some with age.  :)

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    Two observations:

    First, I would ask Jonathan to make sure that what he is calling mocking and belittlement are actually that, and not simply oversensitivity to having his beliefs questioned. Jonathan sounds like a reasonable guy, so that probably isn’t the case, but we know how common it is for religionists to interpret attacks on their beliefs as attacks on them personally, so it’s always fair to ask this question.

    Second, I’d remind him (as I’ve said before), friends don’t mock or belittle each other. Perhaps he’s overgenerous in identifying what should just be acquaintances  as “friends”.

    While I think atheists in general are on more solid ethical ground than religionists in general, that doesn’t mean you won’t find jerks in their ranks, just as you’ll find them everywhere else!

    • Tom

      Having been in the atheist “sphere” for about 8 years, I HONESTLY believe there are disproportionately more jerks in the ranks of atheism than in any other demographic I belong to.  

      • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

        That’s not my experience, unless by “jerk” you mean people who are willing to speak their mind without extreme concern for the sensitivities of others… sort of the opposite of the saccharine niceness sometimes found amongst the religious. I prefer the former, and don’t consider it to be a fault at all.

        • Tom

          Are you serious?  I don’t mean “willingness to speak their mind blah blah blah what you said.”  I mean JERK.  Like the dictionary definition.  This bring to mind that false dichotomy fallacy, something like that.

          Again, I really don’t enjoy the company of most other identifying atheists.  I live in Virginia not far from where the Reason Rally was held, and my previous experiences with  atheism-centered culture kept me from going.

          • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

            Well, then again, not my experience.

            In fact, I don’t know very many jerks at all, of any philosophical persuasion.

            • Tom

              I know quite a lot, since I make the effort to know people from various philosophical backgrounds.  I don’t believe in many of these philosophies, but I try to understand why these people might think so.  And unfortunately some philosophies have a strong draw amongst people who feel the same way.  One of the strongest glues that hold groups together is hatred of some common enemy, and whole philosophies draw from that. =/  I have known quite a few people who associate themselves with atheism out of hatred for religion, Christianity specifically

              • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

                I also know people with many belief systems. I don’t find that to increase the number of jerks I know. Perhaps I’m simply more tolerant of how different people express themselves.

                I don’t know anybody who becomes an atheist because they hate religion. A good many people who are atheists (because they’ve worked that out for themselves) recognize that religion is a major force for evil, and therefore hate it. But hating religion does not mean hating people who are religious. And hating religion doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk towards the religious… and most atheists are not.

      • brianmacker

        You mean higher percentage not more.  Oh, damn, there I go being a jerk.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.wonderboy Chris Pata

    I always thought the fight was against fundamentalists who aren’t able to even breathe without shoving some god in our faces, not against people who bother no one. If he is not bothering people, who cares what he believes? What does it change? We want people to leave us alone, so why should we not leave him alone if he’s harmless? He said he only talks about religion when specifically asked. Live and let live.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1078695333 David Kopp

      The problem is that many Christians still vote for the fire-breathing fundies. That needs to change.

      But no, we don’t have to be jerks about it.

      THAT said… the way he lists all of the minority religions he’s gotten along with, a-la “I don’t hate gays, some of my best friends are gay, I just don’t want them to get married!” seems a little circumspect. He says he doesn’t proselytize, but perhaps he doesn’t actually understand how some of his statements are taken. There’s a large amount of indoctrination that happens with Christianity, so much so that a lot of people don’t actually understand when they’re speaking “Christianese”. Perhaps his friends are reacting to that. Or they’re just being dicks.

      • Nordog

         “The problem is that many Christians still vote for the fire-breathing fundies. That needs to change.”

        David, “many Christians” are fire-breathing fundies.  I doubt that will change.  What can be done is to defeat fire-breathing fundies at the polls.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nicki-Waters/100003666683900 Nicki Waters

        The anti-gay marriage stance is a thing of the past. As in, older Christians still maintain that view but most younger ones don’t. In any case, plenty of Christians think being gay is perfectly fine not to mention the fact that there are many gay Christians.

        It really is better to attack the actual viewpoint you find abhorrent, not the overarching stereotype.

  • Jim McCall

    What does it mean when someone calls themselves a Christian? If someone were to say “I’m in the Klu Klux Klan” can we assume they’re a racist? Why is it irrational to think that if someone calls themselves a Christian they believe they are saved and non-Christians are not? At what point does calling yourself a Christian become meaningless? What does “Jonathan” really believe? 
    How is saying “I can’t believe that you actually think that” or “Oh, we’d better not talk about this- it would probably offend him.” worse than saying  whatever  “I am a practicing Christian” means ?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=750428174 Paddy Reddin

      The fallacy of false equivalence strikes again.  The KKK is set up as a racist organization.  Christians, however, do not all subscribe to the same beliefs.  The only thing to tie all Christians together is the belief that Jesus was the redeemer, son of god, beyond that.. some have saints, some don’t, some believe in hell, some don’t, some hate gays, some don’t, some think Jesus was god, some think he was the son and thus not equal, and so on.

      Have you not seen the recent post on this very site where a pastor said a good non-believer is more loved by god than a bad christian?  Just because someone says they are Christian this doesn’t mean Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist or even if they have any other belief beyond “I get to go to the happy place after I die”.  Even then, some Christians don’t’ go along with this either.

      • Carla

        I think Jim may have been trying to point out how difficult it is to tell what a Christian thinks based on the label. Not the best way to put it, but it brings up whether it’s up to the Christian to make clear how they use the label or if it’s up to the atheist to keep an open mind until they find out. It’s a big debate in psychology in a number of areas, and a difficult one.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Are these rhetorical questions, or are these genuine information-seeking questions?

      If you really want to know, then I suggest that you start asking many different Christians from many different backgrounds, because the Christians with whom I have interacted cover a very broad range of responses to your questions, and to many other questions. For someone to assume that a stereotype is a good general representation only serves to make that person more bigoted, less informed, and less open to accurate information.

      If these are rhetorical questions, then enjoy your self-assured sense of superiority.

      • Jim McCall

        These are only somewhat rhetorical. You in particular seem to know what Jonathan means when he says he’s a Christian. I am fully aware of the range of responses Christians have. Are you saying that the label Christian is meaningless? That is NOT a rhetorical question. How is saying “I can’t believe that you actually think that” or “Oh, we’d better not talk about this- it would probably offend him.” worse than saying  whatever  “I am a practicing Christian” means ? That is NOT a rhetorical question. Do you believe there is such a thing as a sectarian bigot? Do you think it’s just fine if someone believes you are going to burn in Hell? Is that not bigotry? What I object to is bigotry and hate. I’m sure Jonathan is a “nice guy” but are you sure you know enough about what he believes to know that he doesn’t believe that being a Christian makes him, in some small way at least, better that non-Christians? If Jonathan is some sort Universalist Christian could he not say so?

        • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

          If you were one of Jonathan’s atheist friends, these are the kinds questions that I would advise you direct to him, delivered in a respectful tone, and only if they are fully information-seeking questions.  Your statements to him should be phrased as statements.

          I’m not saying that the label Christian is “meaningless,” I’m saying that it does not have to fit as narrow a criteria as you seem to think it must in order to have meaning, and I’m saying that one Christian’s sincere and well-considered self-definition does has to fit what you decide is the “right” definition.

          I’m saying that taking the care to talk respectfully to the individual in front of you is far more important, far more productive, and far more intelligent than grasping for shorthand definitions so you can “know” them instantly and pigeon hole them without further investigation.

          • Nordog

             Not wanting to get into “No True Scotsman” territory here, I would say that generally speaking to be a Christian means to be baptized and to hold to the Nicene or Apostle’s Creed.

            Beyond that the term does border on the meaningless imo.

            • Erp

               Even that is a bit narrow.  There are Christians (e.g., Quakers) who do not baptize and many reject creeds (though they might accept ‘Jesus is Lord’ Romans 10:9)

              • Nordog

                Some guy once said that the way was narrow.

          • Jim McCall

            I want to be clear that talking respectfully to the individual in front of you is of critical importance. What I’m unclear on is why it is wrong to criticize someone for giving themselves a label  that has a meaning. When someone calls themselves a Christian I don’t assume I know what they believe or what kind of person they are. But I have found that, most of the time, I know more about the history of Christianity and the dogma of the main denominations than the people who call themselves Christian and don’t believe in hell. Talking about what it means when you call yourself a Christian is a good way to bring those things up and explain why the  label Christian may not be the wonderful thing they think it is. When I’m confronted with a Christian that doesn’t believe in hell the label they are giving themselves is the main issue I have with them and if they’re willing to qualify it by saying Universalist Christian or something like that then I’m done.  They have dissociated themselves from bigots. Do you think it’s reasonable to argue that calling yourself Christian means you believe atheists are eternally damned?  Do you believe there is such a thing as a sectarian bigot? Do you think it’s just fine if someone believes you are going to burn in Hell? These are not rhetorical questions and I’m asking you Richard.

            • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nicki-Waters/100003666683900 Nicki Waters

              But see, when I hear atheists say things like “I understand the Christian faith better than most Christians” I’ve learned to be a little skeptical. Usually it means that they know the fundamentalist interpretation. They interpret the Bible and Christianity like a fundamentalist does: basing the entirety of it on their own modern understanding of an English translation of an ancient text.

              It only takes a little bit of humility to recognize that perhaps a Christian who has spent years refining and study their own beliefs might have a different understanding than your likely cursory attempts. There is church history and tradition, relational and individual experience, all of which hare taken into account differently and to different degrees depending on the strain of Christianity and individual in question.

              Are many Christians pretty ignorant about what they believe? Of course, but so are many atheists, and your comments about hell leads me to believe that you might be one of them.

              • Jim McCall

                I did not say “I understand the Christian faith better than most Christians” I said “…I know more about the history of Christianity and the dogma of the main denominations than the people who call themselves Christian and don’t believe in hell.” What people actually believe is something else entirely.

                 How is it possible for a person to not know what they believe? A Christian may not know the official dogma of the denomination they say they belong to or may not agree with it but I think the overwhelming majority of people know what they believe. 

                And what don’t you like about my comments about hell?

              • Jim McCall

                Do you think it’s reasonable to argue that calling yourself Christian means you believe atheists are eternally damned?  Do you believe there is such a thing as a sectarian bigot? Do you think it’s just fine if someone believes you are going to burn in Hell? These are not rhetorical questions and I’m asking you Nicki.

              • TheAnalogKid

                Do you mean some Christians cherry pick the Bible and Christian traditions?

                • brianmacker

                  Yep, just like you probably cherry pick from whatever ideology you aspire to, if you do.   Communists do it, libertarians do it, objectivists do it,  liberals do it, etc.    Atheism isn’t an ideology so it’s not something you can “cherry pick” from.

            • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

              Do you think it’s reasonable to argue that calling yourself Christian means you believe atheists are eternally damned?

              It is reasonable to ask them for clarification. It is not reasonable to then insist or imply that they’re “wrong” to call themselves a Christian if their set of beliefs do not include all the beliefs that you think must be included in some kind of universal and uniform definition of “Christian.” Your knowledge of the history of Christian theology might be extensive, and theirs might be lacking, but your knowledge of  them and their particular beliefs is what needs to be strengthened if you want to understand them as the individual in front of you.  If as your respectful conversation goes along, someone  says that he’s a Christian who does not believe that atheists are necessarily damned, or he doesn’t believe in hell at all, then that’s the kind of Christian he is. He’s a not-believing-in-hell Christian. Is he “right” or “wrong” to use the C word? Who but he can be the judge of that?

              Yes, the sets of beliefs that you’ll encounter are inconsistent. Yes, the ideas of people who call themselves “Christian” have broad variety and loose parameters.
              But to say then that the term “Christian” is therefore completely devoid
              of meaning is an unnecessary and counterproductive dismissal. The
              vagueness and uncertainty of someone’s self-label is an
              opportunity
              to ask open questions and to increase your
              understanding of that person.

              Do you believe that there is such a thing as a sectarian bigot?

              Bigotry is in the actions, not in the orientation. Automatically considering a whole category of people to be inferior, or despicable, or stupid, or untrustworthy, or whatever loathsome quality, can be built with religious ideas, race, nationality, age, gender, and so on, even the ideas that some atheists have. Sectarians are not necessarily all bigots. Only sectarian bigots are sectarian bigots. It’s their bigoted actions that make them bigots, not their sectarian membership. Again, if you’re going to insist on some definition of your own, then they might all be bigots to you if that is included in your definition.

              Do you think it’s just fine if someone believes you are going to burn in Hell?

              Frankly, Scarlet, I don’t give a damn. That’s their superstitious beliefs.  What goes on between their ears does not make or spoil my day. I find those ideas ugly and bizarre, and full of the potential for self-righteousness and full of the potential for spurring hateful behavior, BUT until that behavior is actually committed, there’s not much I can do about it. I will respond strongly to hateful behavior in ways that I hope will lawfully put a stop to it.

              • Jim McCall

                Do you think it’s reasonable to argue that calling yourself Christian means you believe atheists are eternally damned?It is reasonable to ask them for clarification. It is not reasonable to then insist or imply that they’re “wrong” to call themselves a Christian if their set of beliefs do not include all the beliefs that you think must be included in some kind of universal and uniform definition of “Christian.”I would agree that it is not reasonable to insist that they’re wrong. But that’s not what I asked. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to imply, advocate, or even argue, that a person who calls themself a Christian adhere to some basic definition of the word. I think it’s reasonable to say that calling yourself a Christian is about what you believe not what you do. I think there’s a tremendous difference between a person who thinks God will eternally damn someone for not having the right beliefs and someone who believes in a God that judges people based on their actions and punishes them appropriately. I respectfully advocate that people who don’t believe in eternal damnation at least qualify their label for themselves. Universalist Christian or not-believing-in-hell Christian are both good. But if you don’t believe God is going to torture people forever then calling yourself a Christian is idiosyncratic and likely to be misunderstood. Your knowledge of the history of Christian theology might be extensive, and theirs might be lacking, but your knowledge of  them and their particular beliefs is what needs to be strengthened if you want to understand them as the individual in front of you.My ultimate goal is reducing hatred, bigotry, and fear. How much I know about what they believe can vary greatly depending on the situation. What I need to know is what they believe about eternal damnation. That’s a big issue for me. Whether a universalist calls themself a Christian or a Universalist Christian isn’t a big issue but it is a discussion worth having, and a case worth making. My wife is a Universalist Christian but she doesn’t always call herself that especially when she’s talking to the decidedly non-universalist Christians. Equivocation to avoid conflict or getting fired can be a good thing.  If as your respectful conversation goes along, someone  says that he’s a Christian who does not believe that atheists are necessarily damned, or he doesn’t believe in hell at all, then that’s the kind of Christian he is. He’s a not-believing-in-hell Christian. Yep.Is he “right” or “wrong” to use the C word? It’s not about who is right or who is wrong. It’s about accuracy and understanding and hopefully being willing to disassociate yourself with people who believe something radically different. I’ll say it again – believing in a God that tortures people forever and believing in a just God are radically different.Who but he can be the judge of that?Everybody, history, probability, the Bible. When you’re trying to communicate you don’t use words in ways only you can be the judge of.Yes, the sets of beliefs that you’ll encounter are inconsistent. Yes, the ideas of people who call themselves “Christian” have broad variety and loose parameters. But to say then that the term “Christian” is therefore completely devoid of meaning is an unnecessary and counterproductive dismissal. The vagueness and uncertainty of someone’s self-label is an opportunity to ask open questions and to increase your understanding of that person.It’s also an opportunity to educate and increase their understanding of me and why I believe calling yourself an unqualified Christian has negative connotations.Do you believe that there is such a thing as a sectarian bigot?Bigotry is in the actions, not in the orientation. I think we might disagree on this. Is calling a black person “the N-word” action or orientation? Is telling someone they will burn in Hell an action? Wikipedia says “Bigotry is the state of mind of a “bigot,”“I think what a person believes is what makes them a bigot.Automatically considering a whole category of people to be inferior, or despicable, or stupid, or untrustworthy, or whatever loathsome quality, can be built with religious ideas, race, nationality, age, gender, and so on, even the ideas that some atheists have. That’s a definition of bigotry I agree with. But is considering an action or orientation?Sectarians are not necessarily all bigots. Only sectarian bigots are sectarian bigots. Absolutely agree.It’s their bigoted actions that make them bigots, not their sectarian membership. I would say it’s their bigoted beliefs that make them bigots, not their sectarian membership.Again, if you’re going to insist on some definition of your own, then they might all be bigots to you if that is included in your definition.Do you think it’s just fine if someone believes you are going to burn in Hell?Frankly, Scarlet, I don’t give a damn. That’s their superstitious beliefs.  It goes beyond superstition. Someone who holds those beliefs is a bigot.What goes on between their ears does not make or spoil my day. I find those ideas ugly and bizarre, and full of the potential for self-righteousness and full of the potential for spurring hateful behavior, BUT until that behavior is actually committed, there’s not much I can do about it. Hateful speech is hateful behavior. Once someone makes it known that they believe “a whole category of people to be inferior, or despicable, or stupid, or untrustworthy, or whatever loathsome quality” or going to burn in Hell, that’s hateful speech and I respond to it by speaking out, by not letting it go unchallenged. Of particular relevance to this conversation is the reply “I can’t believe that you actually think that”.I will respond strongly to hateful behavior in ways that I hope will lawfully put a stop to it.Me too.

                • brianmacker

                  “Do you think it’s reasonable to argue that calling yourself Christian means you believe atheists are eternally damned?”

                  Not if they don’t.   For many people Christ is a historical figure, and the bible the primative literature used to try to communicate his teachings.    They like Christs pacifism and reject all the Jewish Old Testament intolerance, along with anything else in the bible that is contradictory to the main pacifist message of Christ.

                  Christian is not equivalent to fundamentalist Christian.

              • brianmacker

                Sorry, I have to disagree.   If they actually believe I’m going to hell for no other reason than not believing as they do then they are bigots.  It requires no action on their part.  Just like people who think other races are inferior (in any way) without actually taking action are still bigots.

            • Carla

              Jim, I think the discrepancy is that you approach Christianity from a different perspective than Christians. This discrepancy is why many of us left the church. We couldn’t reconcile what the Bible and the dogmas said with what we actually thought was right to believe. We qualified our Christianity away into atheism (to speak very generally). Your deeper understanding of the religion without the “faith” aspect puts you in a different place than Christians.

              I think that if the label holds a strong importance to you, then you should ask a few questions. If an acquaintance says, “I’m going to the Ash Wednesday service, so I can’t go out,” then it’s probably fair for you to respond, “Ok. I’m really interested in religion, and since you seem to value your religion, could you explain to me sometime what Christianity means to you? I’m not interested in converting you, just learning more about you.” If they say no, move on and find other criteria to judge this person by. I had this same conversation with my boyfriend. Because of the nature of our relationship, I could be a little more pointed with my questions, but it was a very productive conversation that lead us to a deeper understanding of each other. We found that we had many more compatible ideas about life and faith than we thought.

        • Tom

          Jim I think you are missing the point: semantics are not what is at issue here, it’s delivery of a message aka communications.  

          Why is it so hard to give Jonathan the benefit of the doubt that his “friends” are harassing him?  Atheists by definition are no better practitioners of ethical behavior than Jonathan.  If someone calls themselves Christian, are we right to assume they behave unethically?  The Christian label is used by so many people of varying ethical calibers, I find it astonishing how sure you are that Jonathan is wrong here?

          • Jim McCall

            First of all, I’m assuming that Richard chose this email as vehicle to make a point to a larger audience and it doesn’t really matter if Jonathan is even real.  I think you are missing the point: semantics are what is at issue here. There are other aspects to communication but I don’t have access to the context and tone of Jonathan’s conversations with his friends. I just have his short email. The reason I’m not giving Jonathan the benefit of the doubt are the examples he gave. “I can’t believe that you actually think that” is a phrase that is very dependent on context. If that was the response to “I’m a christian” then I would think that is  to much generalization but Jonathan called this “mocked, belittled, and talked down to”. I think that is ridiculous. It could even be a compliment. If they had responded by saying “Oh, now I understand” that would be mocking. The phrase “Oh, we’d better not talk about this- it would probably offend him.” as  “mocked, belittled, and talked down to” is even more ridiculous. Are these supposed to be examples of going to far?

            • Tom

              You like your assumptions, huh?  They must make it convenient, the whiny manipulative christian makes a post trying to erode the foundations of rationality you espouse.  And you are the hero, saying the tough things you think all the intellectual softies on his side don’t want to hear.

              I think I got that right.  It’s pretty much what I’ve gleaned from your argument’s style.  I’m assuming you are used to feeling comfortable with your assumption, setting up a straw man whenever you can so you can know him down to keep yourself comfortable.  When you’re dealing with sneaky Christians, you gotta keep yourself on edge by fighting each time you encounter one, lest you let your guard down and get fooled.  Right?

              • Jim McCall

                “You like your assumptions, huh?”-
                I don’t know what assumption you’re talking about.

                ” They must make it convenient, the whiny manipulative christian makes a post trying to erode the foundations of rationality you espouse.”-
                I don’t know what or who you’re talking about here. 

                What strawman have I set up? Did you read what I wrote? please include quotes from my previous posts.

              • brianmacker

                That wasn’t fair.  The examples aren’t really a big deal, so Jim does have a point.

            • brianmacker

              I gave those two statements to my wife and she responded “What’s the big deal” and “Oh, they are just teasing him”.   So yes those two examples are not representative of “mocked, belittled, and talked down to”.    I’m assuming the guy just isn’t a good letter writer and has other things in mind.    Obviously he is a bad communicator.

        • brianmacker

          “Oh, we’d better not talk about this- it would probably offend him.” worse than saying  whatever  “I am a practicing Christian” means ?”

          Because one is a positive statement about self, and the other is a negative claim about someone else.    One assumes the other persons beliefs and assumes they are overtly sensitive.   Another is merely a broad labeling of self.

          The difference between saying “I’m white” or “I’m black” and saying “Ooo, I better be careful you might just take me as a slave” or” “We better not eat watermelon around you”.

      • Jim McCall

        In particular, what does Jonathan mean when he says he’s a Christian? Do you have more information you are not sharing? Not rhetorical.

        To me there is a tremendous difference between a Universalist and non-Universalists. How I approach discussion with  dualists depends a lot on that difference.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/ZKNUHNCDDTRDITPKADLNVLOGAM jdze

      Some Christians do think that everyone is saved. Some Christians think that you shouldn’t impose your beliefs on others, including me when I still believed. The difference between an atheist and a very liberal Christian is basically that the latter believes in the divinity of Jesus.

      When you say “I can’t believe you actually think that” when they’re minding their own business, you’re imposing your judgement based on a stereotype. You can ask someone about what they believe and why, which can even be constructive. If you really want to deconvert people, you have to make them think about their faith, you cannot bash your ideas into their heads. I don’t really see how being mean to a person is constructive.

      Attack ideas, not people.

      • Jim McCall

        When you say “I can’t believe you actually think that” in response to “I’m a practicing Christian” You are criticizing an idea. If it were me I wouldn’t say that without more information. But I’m not sure it’s right to be so critical of someone who assumes that calling yourself a Christian means what Christian has meant for the overwhelming majority of the history of the organization.

        • Tom

          I think Jonathan experienced something more along the lines of “I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU *ACTUALLY* THINK THAT!!!” but was consciencious about being sensationalist.  There is more to communication than word choice, and I can see inflection being used where this statement was just a vehicle for projecting outrage towards him.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nicki-Waters/100003666683900 Nicki Waters

          I’m sorry, but when I was a Christian if I would have heard a fellow Christian telling an atheist “I can’t believe you don’t believe in God!” I would have called him out as an asshole. There’s just no need to get so combative over a personal belief so easily. I don’t care who you’re talking to, there are better ways to approach the situation.

          • Jim McCall

            I would in no way consider a Christian who said that an asshole. I don’t consider it even slightly combative. I would consider it an opportunity to educate. 

            You are right there are better ways to approach the situation.

        • brianmacker

          It is just fine to criticize specific beliefs, and do so as a criticism of the religion.   It is not correct to assume that every person to self identifies as being a member believes every dogma.

          If someone says the bible is literally true and inerrant then have at them personally via criticism of bible stories.  That is if they bring it up.   However, don’t just assume that “I’m Christian” is an invitation to make false assumptions of what that means to them.

    • Carla

      I think that’s a good assessment of the moral dilemma here. There is no way for someone outside of a group to understand how each individual in a group applies the group label to himself differently, and you could argue that it’s not the outsider’s responsibility to do so. Being Christian implies belief in at least part of the Bible. The Bible says that it is the correct word of god, and must be believed entirely for salvation. It is fair to assume that a Christian believes all of the Bible, because his holy book tells him to, unless he tells you otherwise. If he tells you he only believes part of the book, it is fair to ask him what makes him believe the other part (usually the Jesus bit) is true. If he cannot defend its truth, it is fair to ask him why he is a Christian in the first place. If he claims faith, it is fair to ask him, now that we know his holy book may be wrong, what he has faith in. (This chain can go on.) It is fair and ethical to respectfully question what he believes and why he believes it in an attempt to better understand him, and to allow him to better understand you. If this results in “converting” him, so be it. If not, so be it. But treating a friend, who I assume you know well, as lesser than yourself because of beliefs you have not attempted to understand *from his perspective* is not fair, and never will be. Otherwise, saying “I’m an atheist,” becomes about as good as saying, “I’m a practicing Christian.”

      • ctcss

         Personally, I would not want to be badgered at great length by my “friends” regarding my religious beliefs just to satisfy their idle curiosity or to satisfy some desire of theirs to pigeon-hole me. I would much prefer them to take me as I am and evaluate my character over time. The fact that I believe or don’t believe, or that I am Jewish or Christian or Muslim or Wiccan or whatever shouldn’t really matter to them. If I am hanging out with them because I like them, that’s a pretty good indication that I am not hostile or dangerous. If I, because somebody asked, wanted to know what religion I am, I might very well cautiously answer “Christian” simply to give them a very, very general sense of where I fit in the religious world. But to assume anything else about me because of my chosen label, or to badger me about it when I have freely chosen to associate with them on a friend-to-friend basis is stepping over the line IMO.

        It’s not that they should never ask me about my beliefs (in a respectful, non-pushy, non-combative, style, of course), but the friendship relationship should come first. If they cannot regard me as a friend when our relationship was started on that basis, but instead insist on treating me in a political way as though I were an outsider or some sort of stranger (What? You’re one of them!), then something is wrong.

        People are people and should really only be judged by their actions, not by their labels (whether chosen by themselves or by others). The whole point of Jesus’ parable about the good Samaritan was to illustrate that actions towards others, not affiliation with others, is what counts. (To Jesus’ Jewish audience, the priest and the Levite were “insiders” and thus would be considered as “good”, whereas the Samaritan was a reviled “outsider” and would therefore be considered as “bad”. However, the actions of each person in the story showed just who was the best example of “neighbor”.)

        • Carla

          I agree. My response was poorly worded. My intention was to say that there are acceptable, fair, and friendly forms of discussion and disagreement that can stem from a person’s affiliation, and inappropriate, unfair ones. Jonathan’s friends have chosen the latter. If a person finds that they just can’t work past another person’s label, or are curious about someone’s beliefs, then there are appropriate ways to approach that. With friends, that should never have to be the case, of course. 

          • brianmacker

            If we take the letter writer at his word.  Which is fine.   I wouldn’t convict his friends on such evidence if they were to become publicly known.   I’d need better evidence than given in the letter.

    • brianmacker

      Jim,  You are just ignorant.    I’m married to a Christian.    She doesn’t believe any of the nonsense you think she does.   Many liberal Christians believe all good people will be “saved” regardless of whether one believes in the divinity of Christ or not.

  • Carla

    A lot of this talk smacks of, “we’re right and he’s wrong (read:stupid, ignorant, or blind), but he’s a nice one so we’ll give him some leeway.” It’s sort of like saying, “we’re white and he’s black, but he’s a nice one so we’ll give him some leeway.” Or insert “straight” and “gay.” Or “men” and “women.” 
    I don’t care who’s right and wrong here. He does not get leeway or begrudging tolerance because he’s a “nice Christian” any more than you would dream of liking your black neighbor because he “acts white.” Bigotry can happen on both ends, especially when we insist on seeing each other as “atheist” and “Christian” rather than “people with different opinions on religion who can engage in open discussion.” He gets the right to honest compassion and respect because he is a human being. End of story.Dawkins has brought this whole debate about the effectiveness of ridicule to new levels with his Reason Rally speech, and I’ve read convincing arguments in all directions. But, like Richard says in his advice, you don’t reach someone by trying to bring them to your thinking first. You talk on their terms and work towards middle ground. Belittling someone just to do so is never appropriate, and not what I think Dawkins meant. 

    Jonathan: I would add to Richard’s advice an attempt to understand what your friends are thinking. I agree with their worldview, but I suggest you do this as a way to harmonize. If they can see that you have thoroughly examined their viewpoint, but chosen your own, there is little they can say against you. Insist that they give you the same courtesy of non-judging understanding (even if they think  you’re wrong, they can still understand an appreciate your motivations for belief). I would, however, suggest thoroughly reading the Bible first; chance are these friends know the Bible fairly well. I suggest “Human Faces of God” for some good, Christian Biblical criticism and responses. What they are doing seems to me like what atheist frequently accuse Christians of doing: yelling and mocking to avoid real discussion. It is an unfortunate reflection on the “rational” atheist community that those we accuse of being the most close-minded must remind us to engage in respectful dialogue. If they continue to ridicule you after you have attempted a reasonable discussion, find new friends. 

    Richard: re-read the letter, but make Jonathan an atheist and his friends Christians. Would you have given the same advice? I will strongly suggest that you would not have. 

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Carla, I did read the letter considering a reversed set of positions, and it would be exactly like many letters that I’ve received and answered. My response would essentially be the same: Differentiate respect of beliefs from respectful treatment of persons, always take the high road in your comportment, appeal to the values that they hold, (perhaps that would be loving kindness and tolerance if the particular Christian friends in the situation seemed to hold those values) and strive for mutual accurate understanding rather than for agreement.

      My advice to Jonathan, whether he were a Christian or an atheist is givenresponding to his desire to preserve the friendship and still keep his integrity. If the relationships were of a different nature, then the details of what I’d advise would probably be somewhat different, but probably not the main themes that I’ve mentioned here.

      Here is an old example of a letter with similar issues, the tenth Ask Richard I wrote: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2009/07/15/ask-richard-being-an-%E2%80%9Cout%E2%80%9D-atheist-without-being-a-jerk/

      • Carla

        I’m not sure how commenting on internet discussion boards bears any relationship to dealing with real life friends of differing beliefs. However, one quote exemplifies why I think you would have answered an atheist differently:

        “Think of it as planting seeds. The seeds of reason and skepticism [insert religion in place of skepticism] grow best when planted gently, just under the surface, not when stomped into the ground with the heel of a boot. For most people, giving up superstitious [rational/satanic] thinking is a gradual process. You might never see the final germination of the seeds you plant, and so you’ll not be able to say you “won.”[i.e. got them into heaven] Many other skeptics [Christians] will be adding their encouragement before the person embraces reason [Jesus]. The real winner is the person who matures to become more reasonable [faithful], and all those who benefit from his improved thinking.” 

        You tell Jonathan to call out his friends hurtful behavior, but avoid addressing their beliefs. You told the atheist to keep up the proverbial good fight for reason while being a nice guy about it. If you were being wholly equal, you would have told Jonathan to keep exemplifying Christian love in hopes of converting his friends to his belief system without proselytizing. The seeds will grow slowly when planted gently, to borrow your phrasing. Can you really say you wouldn’t have advised an atheist to try to get his friends to see reason?

        “Propose that they should practice good skepticism by looking for evidence in you before they assume things about you. They can do this by asking you about your beliefs, your emotional reactions, and your social or political opinions. Assure them that you’ll answer their questions without a sermon. Point out that you don’t proselytize, and of course you will appreciate them not trying to do something similar to you.”

        You’ve essentially told Jonathan that his friends should be able to like him in spite of his beliefs, which I assume are a central tenet of his person based on his letter, because he is a “nice Christian.” Your answer overall implies that you put no stock in Jonathan’s ideas, and that open conversation will only serve to get his friends to see that he’s not a gay/woman-hating fundamentalist who wants to institute a theocracy, and that they should stop mocking him for beliefs associated with his religion he personally doesn’t hold. If his friends are the sort of people who make assumptions like that about friends without investigation, he does not need enemies. You should never have to suggest that a person’s friends humanize them by actually getting to know them; the friends should have already done so, or are not worth his time. I suggest you would have told an atheist to start eating lunch with a different crowd. 

        “They probably do not respect your beliefs, and you can understand that….”

        Your good friends have no respect for your belief system, and it’s your job to understand that? No. That is a deeply disrespectful and hurtful statement, and I’d be shocked if Jonathan read any further. He does not have to understand that his friends have no respect for the beliefs that make him who he is. You would never say to an atheist that they should understand why Christians don’t respect their beliefs, because you believe the atheist is right and that his beliefs should be respected based on their truth. What you’ve told Jonathan is that his beliefs deserve no respect because you think they’re wrong. 

        I’m out of time, unfortunately. This, in a nutshell, is why I disagree. 

        • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

          Carla, much of your remarks seem to be based on what you think you would do if you were me, and what you think you would do if you were Jonathan, and then insisting that I and he would do what you think you would do if something were different, such as if the atheist/Christian roles were reversed. I cannot argue against your projection; I can only say that projection is not a reasonable argument.

          The post that I linked to is not an atheist/Christian mirror image of the letter here. I referred you to it to illustrate that the main themes that I listed are present in both.  As I said in my first reply to you, if the basic nature of the relationships are different, then the details of what I would suggest will probably be different. The quotation that you cited is an example of one of those.

          In Jonathan’s letter, he presently has friendships that he wants to preserve if he can, and that is what directed the thrust of my advice to him. In the linked post, the letter writer  is not trying to preserve a friendship, but is trying to engage in debates with a level of decorum that will possibly increase his persuasiveness, and not simply get him dismissed as a “jerk.” So these two letter writers share some  similar challenges, but they have different goals.

          You seem to  assert that Jonathan’s friends should already be able to navigate the complexities of a friendship like this without any errors, that they should already be able to sort out the differences between person and belief, and if they cannot,  then he should drop them and get new friends. Perhaps that is the demanding standard that you hold for your friends, but that is not for me, nor do I think it is for Jonathan.  I think that friends can teach each other many valuable things about friendships as they stumble along, and they can help each other become better at it.

          Finally, your assumption that Jonathan would immediately refuse to accept my differentiation between respect of his beliefs and respectful treatment of him as a person I think is you projecting how you would feel. To actually know, you would have to ask him if he found that unacceptable or not. I have seen both atheists and theists be able to accept that, so it is certainly possible. Although I have met some Christians who strike the posture that they are their beliefs, making it impossible to criticize their beliefs without them claiming personal insult, that is not universal among Christians, or among holders of any sorts of beliefs, for that matter. That kind of assumption seems to be part of the stereotype that I’m asking people to stop lending credence to.

          • Carla

            Richard, I admit that I posted my response with limited time, and didn’t do the thinking and research I normally would before making that argument. I apologize for my haste. 

            I still think that the two posts are too unrelated to be used together in discussion, but I’ll let that be a moot point. I do agree that you always insist on open compassion, understanding, and respect, and it was unfair of me to even appear to accuse you otherwise. 

            I do not think that Jonathan’s friends should be able to easily navigate this relationship, but I think that their behavior shows a lack of basic decency. Perhaps they can come to realize that and become better people and better friends. Let’s hope so. 

            I did not mean to stereotype Jonathan based on his label, and that was wholly an accident of projecting my feelings on to him. I, personally, feel that it is disrespectful to the rational mind of a person to say that you can respect the person but not his beliefs. To me, it seems to be saying that you think they’re a little daft but all around an ok person. I draw a very firm line between disagreeing with someone’s beliefs and disrespecting their holding of them. I do not want friends who do not draw that line, and distance myself from those people. I think everyone deserves the assumption that their rational mind has come to the conclusion of their beliefs, and respect of those beliefs derives from that assumption, unless and until they have proven otherwise. I think my disagreement with that one statement shaped my reading of your advice.

            However, in this post: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/01/23/ask-richard-atheist’s-boyfriend-doesn’t-take-her-views-seriously/  
            you told the atheist that her relationship may be salvageable, but that no relationship is worth having your beliefs disrespected. You told Jonathan to accept that his beliefs will be disrespected. These two articles have the same general themes, but subtly different advice. If that perception is wrong or biased, I would like to know why.

    • Tom


      A lot of this talk smacks of…” 

      This expression.  I hate it.  Why should I care if your “tastes” are offended?  Don’t care if you don’t like how it makes you feel, and it’s rather obnoxious you choose to inform us of how you are offended first thing in your post.  Get over it.

      “It’s sort of like saying, “we’re white and he’s black, but he’s a nice one so we’ll give him some leeway.” Or insert “straight” and “gay.” Or “men” and “women.” ”

      This is all a projection.  No idea where you get that from the main post.  You are finding examples of common controversies that have popular consensus  and sticking near your offended tastes,  hoping our strong feelings on those issues drive outrage over your disagreement about the post.  Really tacky and cheap.

      “(even if they think  you’re wrong, they can still understand an appreciate your motivations for belief)”

      Oh yea?  These atheists described have shown no appreciation, so why shouldn’t they be the ones who should do some work, getting to know Jonathan better?  It seems like you are saying Jonathan is the one that doesn’t understand them and has the onus of changing that, while it’s these punks who are teasing him that need to understand him better before they assume he is scheming to convert them or damn them to some firey hell.

      “Oh he’s a Christian!  And one of those ‘nice’ ones, hah.  We know what he REALLY thinks of us atheists!  You know the drill, boys!  Begin the snickering and teasing!”

       

      • Carla

        Well, Tom. I’m apologize that you dislike that phrase, and I thank you for projecting motivations on me that I didn’t know I had. I was going to be offended that you opened your comment by telling my how offended you were, but you told me to get over it, so I figured you’d do the same.

        The analogies were directed the commenters, not Richard. I can see how that would be unclear given the nature of the comments, and the fact that I deliberately separated the portion of my comment intended for Richard. However, the analogies stand. These commenters are only so kind to Jonathan because he doesn’t hate the people we don’t hate, and doesn’t talk about his ideas, while they would skewer him if he hated gays or talked about his relationship with Jesus. We can ignore his religion because he seems to be a decent person. This is inherently wrong. It bears a striking resemblance to a racist who doesn’t mind this one black person because he doesn’t act like all of “those other ones,” allowing him to like this person while leaving his stereotypes intact. It is an interesting phenomenon. You should read the research on it before assuming that atheists are immune to this form of bigotry. (hint: we’re not.)

        “Insist that they give you the same courtesy of non-judging understanding (even if they think you’re wrong, they can still understand an appreciate your motivations for belief).”

        Please read the whole statement before you lambast me for something I didn’t say. While it is unfortunate that Jonathan must take the initiative here, he seems to want to remain friends with these people, and so initiative is needed. I even suggested a good book to help him stand up against the inevtiable criticism of his beliefs. But if you had read everything…

        “What they are doing seems to me like what atheist frequently accuse Christians of doing: yelling and mocking to avoid real discussion. It is an unfortunate reflection on the “rational” atheist community that those we accuse of being the most close-minded must remind us to engage in respectful dialogue. If they continue to ridicule you after you have attempted a reasonable discussion, find new friends.”

        …you would have already known I felt that way.

        “‘Oh he’s a Christian! And one of those ‘nice’ ones, hah. We know what he REALLY thinks of us atheists! You know the drill, boys! Begin the snickering and teasing!’”

        I have no idea where that ^ came from, as it bears no relationship to my thoughts, feelings, or words, so I can’t answer it. Sorry.

        • Tom

          Again, as others with your opinion about Jonathan, there is a serious distrust of him.  For being Christian.  This is prejudice 

          Whatever, your words accuse anyone who writes in support of Jonathan of pandering, which I would guess you think half the commenters are dying to do.  I’d guess you probably call them accomodationists.  Then you insult “the commenters” by implying they are motivated by hate and then I guess fooled by his polite presentation.  You go on to say they’re logically inconsistent, and would only realize they hated him if he started railing on gays or something seriously offensive.  Don’t think very highly of these commenters I take it?  Oh and with as often as you bring up racism you’ve gotta be the Jesse Jackson of the forums, for sure.  It’s a powerful card to play, feels good I bet.The last part was just to show how angry I was.  No answer necessary!

          • Carla

            I suppose I must apologize again for making you angry with things I didn’t say. It’s very difficult to predict how you’re going to take what I say when your interpretations have little basis in actual words. 

            I have no distrust of Jonathan based on his religion (please, show the quotes that make you think so), and am arguing that he is being shown respect here *in spite of* his religion, not because he is a human deserving of it, and that this is disrespectful. It’s a fine distinction, but an important one. I AM saying the he deserves respect and compassion because he is another human seeking help, and completely ignoring his religious affiliations in my judgement of him. Please stop accusing me of projections while yelling about things I haven’t said. You are making up motivations for me based on what you want to yell about, not what I’m actually saying. Slow down and read. I am not “playing” the racist card. I’m a white female; it’s not exactly a card I have to play. I am using race as a more common, noticeable example to illustrate a phenomenon found in other areas of human psychology. I’m sorry that you find is so far-fetched that this phenomenon could spread elsewhere; the research does not support your assumption. It is not that I think poorly of the other commenters. It is that I think they are humans who make human errors, and I have attempted to point these out. I understand that it is uncomfortable to have your implicit prejudices pointed out, but they do not make anyone a bad person. Being aware of the process can help to make you a better person, but not being aware of it never makes you a worse person. I’m also not certain how you’ve decided that I think the other commenters are motivated by hate. You seem to be revealing an ignorance of human psychology more than an insight into what I’m thinking. Please calm down before spouting off another answer, and make sure you’ve actually read what I’ve said. 

      • http://leinnxx.blog.com/ S.

        The more I read your comments, Tom, the more you sound like S.E. Cupp. Obviously you missed Carla’s entire point of prejudice being prejudice, regardless of what the context may be. 

        Perhaps you should get off your high horse of being above those “damn punk atheists” and stop speaking so bigoted towards “your own kind”. Actually read what people are saying, in context, before you try to lump them as being tacky, cheap, or punks.

        You’re worse than any “asshole militant atheist” I’ve seen when it comes to hastily generalizing members of a group (one you claim to belong to).

    • brianmacker

      “… any more than you would dream of liking your black neighbor because he “acts white.”

      So are you saying I shouldn’t like my black neighbor no matter what?   WTF?   You are arguing that we shouldn’t like Christians even if they are nice, right?  Blacks are playing the part of Christians in your analogy right?   I think you’d better edit your comment and correct this analogy, because while it doesn’t make you neccesarily sound like a racist it reads like your audience is supposed to be racists.  

      • http://leinnxx.blog.com/ S.

        You seem to not be realizing the sort of prejudice that Carla is trying to point out. She’s saying that when you make the claim, “We like you even though you’re X because you don’t act like the rest of X.” you’re still making a prejudice comment. Whether X is Christian, atheist, black, Korean, woman, what have you, claiming you like someone or tolerate someone because they don’t act like their “classification” is still acting on prejudice – you’re still including the prejudice remark against the group, stating it’s wrong to be like the group.

        What she was saying is that people should be treated as people, not by their classifications. We shouldn’t like Jonathan because “even though he’s a Christian, he doesn’t act like a typical one” or he’s a “nice Christian” – we should  like Jonathan because he’s a nice person. (Not saying he is, but to explain the argument.)

  • I_Claudia

     I’m always dissapointed when I see that for some people the value of respect, acceptance and non-bullying behavior is purely directional, and certain behaviors are only violations when directed at people with your worldview, and not when commited by those people. I’m glad to see that such hypocrisy is being called out in our community, at least.

    I agree with all the advice and would only add that Johnathan could also explain to his friends that just as they find it aggravating and offensive to hear Christians constantly equate “good” with “Christian” and implicitly or explicitly indicate thuat non-belief is unacceptable, you feel the same way, particularly given that even if society at large is religious, your particular circle is not, making you the minority. Many of your friends will have dealt with being a minority within a religious world. Ask merely that they treat you as they wish they were treated by religious people who make unfounded asssumptions about them.

    • Tom

      Wow well said!  It is really obvious in my observation that virtually all atheists believe their  in-group deserves ethical treatment, but believe all bets are off when it comes to their cheif rivals, the Christians (but they will swear otherwise).

      • I_Claudia

        While I thank you for the compliment I cannot accept your characterization that “virtually all” atheists hold that attitude. While an unfortunate number do (and any number would be unfortunate), this very post demonstrates that this is hardly a consensus opinion, much less one held by “virtually all” atheists. The atheist answering the email advocated for equal respect, and the vast majority of those agreeing, as well as rebuking others for a double standard, are also atheists. Those comments are also the most highly rated on this atheist website.

        The available evidence points to a double standard being a generally rejected position, at least in this corner of the internet. I’m sure you would find somewhat different results on reddit’s r/atheism, but it would likely prove insignificant when controlled for the background dickishness of reddit in general.

        • Tom

          I attribute it to this indeed being a little corner of the internet, when it comes to atheism.  It’s why I hang out here.  But for the same reasons you brought up the top voted posts here to illustrate a mixed picture, r/atheism’s top posts illustrate just what I have said with a larger population.  r/atheism also has people who would be upvoting those you mentioned here, but it is a minority.

          I appreciate you critiquing my wording (“virtually all”).  It’s not a great description, but I feel right saying it and I desire to come up with a better characterization.  I feel like a serious hatred for Christians/the religious hides beneath a huge number of atheist’s rational front.  Even the most intelligent humans are prone to feelings of victimization and revenge, and I’ve seen far too many examples, on the internet and in person, of atheists talking about ethics like philosophers yet behaving like snobby bullies.

          • brianmacker

            The people on r/atheism are self selected.  Also you can’t tell who is or who is not a real atheist.    You are making some of the same mistakes that Skepchick did.   I’ve never met an actual jerk atheist in person.  I’ve met plenty of jerks on the internet of all persuasions.   Anonymity brings out the worse in people.   Care to start using your real name like me because you are starting to sound like a jerk?  Which I guess supports your claim in a way seeing how you claim to be an atheist.  But how does anyone know for sure?   

      • brianmacker

        Tom, that’s bigoted.

    • brianmacker

      A current example is that conservative woman in Wisconson being bullied because she worked as a waitress in Hooters.    Apparently it’s OK to do this to a conservative, whereas it would be taboo otherwise.   

  • Whizzer53

    Sounds like a bunch of narrow-minded, bigoted, proslityzing atheists. I thought we were supposed to be the intelligent, logical good guys. Not a herd of fanatics. Maybe we have a few moles trying to bring back the Inquisition?

    • Carla

      Burn ALL the infidels! 

  • AshtaraSilunar

    I was struck that the writer referred to his friends’ use of the sentence, “Oh, we’d better not talk about this- it would probably offend him.”  As an atheist, there are DEFINITELY things I don’t discuss with religious friends, because I know, based on their previous reactions, that the discussion won’t go well.  It doesn’t matter to me how open you are to others’ beliefs if you get defensive when something is questioned.  If you don’t think you’ve reacted that way in the past, ask why they feel you would be offended.

  • Gus Snarp

    Please don’t make the straw man atheist asshole real. I don’t know the specifics of the situation, there are certainly cases where saying “I can’t believe you really believe that” is quite reasonable, but assuming that it really took place in a very mocking and belittling way as the writer says and applauding that? Don’t do that. You’re making the rest of us look bad. Mock and belittle bad arguments made publicly, don’t mock or praise mocking people on a personal level just for holding a religious belief.

  • Skjaere

    My mother is an evangelical Christian who became born again around the time I finished high school. One of her atheist friends (who was always very dear and close to her when I was growing up) has responded to my mother’s conversion by pretending to believe in alien abductions and other conspiracy theories in some kind of twisted attempt to “out-ridiculous” my mother. It’s obnoxious, rude, and unloving of her, and mom doesn’t understand that she is being trolled; she just thinks her friend has gone off the deep end. It just makes me feel sad and tired.

    • ortcutt

      My mother used to talk about heaven and ghosts sometimes and I eventually decided to confront her about it. I said, “why do you believe there is a heaven or ghosts?” We had a long discussion and she admitted that there isn’t any evidence but that she needs to get over 30 years of Catholic brainwashing. Her attitude to nonsense like this has change remarkably.

  • Bholly72

    I think I’m like the vast majority of atheists: most of my friends and family are believers of some sort. So I don’t understand these atheists who are rude or disrespectful to believers. How do you end up having any frends?

    • Tom

      srsly

    • Forrest Cahoon

       

      I don’t understand these atheists who are rude or disrespectful to believers

      It’s a response to the real, crippling pain of social ostracism. It’s probably not effective or productive, but it’s natural.

  • Marco Conti

    By the very nature of Atheism, we cannot speak for all atheists but only for the one atheist that dresses us in the morning.  Therefore I feel no allegiance that makes me want to defend the letter writer’s atheist friends. At the same time, I find that his description of the mocking and belittling is missing those few specific examples that would make the situation a lot clearer.

    From the tone of the letter, it seems to convey that the writer has done nothing to bring upon derision other than declaring his Christianity. That may or may not be the case. Many Christians are unable to realize that their behavior can be obnoxious and certainly they do not see their beliefs as being outlandish. But from our standpoint they often are. 

    “I can’t believe that you actually think that”  

    Well, I often cannot believe that some of the intelligent, caring Christians I know can think that either. In my case, I know what that is: young earth, statements about the evils of Hitler and Stalin, and other silly arguments like those. In this letter we don’t know what these arguments were. They could have been silly and misguided. 

    In a group of friends that’s not justification to belittle one another, but certainly it would be a great chance to start a debate. 
    But we also do not know of that debate ever took place. If it did, maybe the statement:

     “Oh, we’d better not talk about this- it would probably offend him.” 

    Has some base in truth. 

    of course, it could just be his friends, atheists or not, are jerks. That he really is among those Christians that do not deserve mockery and contempt.

    But then I have to wonder: what is it that keeps him hanging around these people? If  group of friends treated me like that, they would quickly lose the “friends” label and I would suddenly find better things to do with my time and new friends. 

    I simply think we don’t know enough to make a proper judgment of the situation. Richard’s job is to counsel the letter writer and in that regard he did a great job. But in my opinion it would be helpful to have a few more specifics to better understand the letter writer’s position and his friend’s 

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    “I don’t proselytize, and I generally only talk about my faith when asked directly.”

    I call bullshit on this.

    • I_Claudia

       Why? I know people just like this. I’ve had friends I was utterly unaware were Christian until religion came up as a topic, and then only when their beliefs became relevant to the conversation.

      Lots of religious people are almost as passive about their faith as many atheists are about their non-belief. Even many more “active” theists are no more overt than mentioning that they will be at church on a given day or that it’s their kids 1st communion this weekend, which is hardly shoving it down anyone’s throat (to borrow a phrase from homophobes who think mentioning your spouse while gay is some sort of activism).

      • brianmacker

        I call this the motorcycle effect.    Very few people see the motorcyclists who stay put in traffic, only those in the immediate vicinity.    Everyone sees the assholes who weave in and out of traffic, and pass between lanes.  Thus they get a skewed sample.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

         Funny, because just about every Christian I’ve had the misfortune of talking to has been vocal and obnoxious about their Christianity. It’s “God” this, “Jesus” that, hell-fire, brimstone, burnination, blah  blah  blah.

        So, yeah, I’m gonna go with “experience” on this one, and say that the LW is flat out lying when claiming that  he “doesn’t proselytize” — he may legitimately think he doesn’t do it, but Christians are notoriously oblivious to their own behavior, and tend not to adhere to commonly -accepted definitions of words (such as “proselytize”).

        • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

          I don’t know the letter writer, but we don’t know what kind of Christian he is. He could belong to a “normal” denomination that doesn’t go around talking about God and Jesus and hellfire and brimstone. Not all Christians proselytize. Catholics certainly don’t, and if he’s a Protestant, he could be something relatively tame, like Quaker, United Church of Christ, or United Methodist.

    • Nordog

      Why?

      • brianmacker

        Why indeed.

        • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

           Experience.

          • Nordog

            That’s what’s known in the trade as anecdotal evidence.

          • brianmacker

            a.k.a. anecdote.  

            • Nordog

               Yes, and what does one call the rejection of an individual based on anecdotes about group identities?  Why prejudice and bigotry of course.

              • brianmacker

                That’s true even when you replace “anecdote” with “strongly supported statistical evidence”.  

  • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

    tl;dr version of rather a lot of comments on this:

    “Christians have been jerks to us for a long time, so any chance we get, we’re returning the favor and they can just shut up and take it.”
    Lemme know how well that works out for you sport. Hey, here’s a test to see how sincere y’all are in your baddassery: if you work for a christian, tell them you think they’re a fucking idiot for believing and that they can’t not be an idiot until they’re an atheist. In precisely that kind of language, (you know, the language you’re all bad with on da intertubes). Let us know how that went.

    • ortcutt

      This is complete nonsense.  I don’t know of any atheist who claims that you are under an obligation to ask for evidence for people’s claims in any context.  I wouldn’t raise or respond to any discussion of religion in a workplace, but I would certainly respond to one among my friends.  Why the hell not?  Religionists have tried to make asking for evidence forbidden and we are rightly challenging that social taboo.  It’s really odd idea that Christians have that they can raise the subject of Christianity and then control how we choose to discuss the matter.  Believing something for which you have no evidence is irresponsible behavior and so I have no problem with being disrespectful to someone who does so, no more or less than I would to someone who flouted moral obligations.  Believing that Jesus Christ rose from the dead is to epistemic responsibility what hitting old ladies on the street is to moral responsibility.

      • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

        “Since I can’t be a jerk at work, I’ll be a jerk to my friends and mock them until they think just like I do”

        Here’s a thought, unpopular: if the friend in question isn’t being a jerk about their beliefs, maybe you don’t have to be a jerk about it either. If the WORST thing you can say about someone is they believe in something you don’t, and other than that, they’re not jerks, or even close to it, maybe try this:

        let it go.

        I have a lot of friends who believe things I don’t. They know how I feel, I know how they feel. They aren’t jerks about the beliefs we don’t share, nor am I. We Let It Go. I don’t celebrate zombie jesus day, but I don’t call them stupid or make them prove shit to me, because a) that’s being a jerk and b) they don’t OWE me fuck-all anything in terms of proving their beliefs.

        As long as they aren’t jerks about their beliefs, I don’t give a fuck. They want to believe in Jesus, Unicorns, and Voltron, I don’t care, because unless they’re actively, PERSONALLY doing stupid shit in the name of Jesucorntron, it neither picks my pocket, nor breaks my leg.

        Do I wish religious people as GROUPS were less jerky? Sure, but it’s not like atheists are just as capable, willing, and even eager to be a giant asshole collective as theists, albeit along SLIGHTLY different lines. (NEVER FORGIVE THE GELATO GUY! FUCK HIM INTO THE GROUND! IF YOU’RE ANY KIND OF ATHEIST, YOU MUST AGREE WITH THIS!!!OMGWTFKHAAAAAN!!!!!  only the wtfkhaaaaaaan bit is made up.)

        People as individuals encompass the full range of human behavior, and if someone’s willing to take the effort to be a decent dude, I don’t give a fuck if she goes home and fellates a furby because she was raised as a Pentacostal AF and that’s how you get into furby heaven. Just don’t be a jerk about furbatio, and we’ll get along just fine.

        If you’re going to reject people solely because other people in the groups they belong to may be assholes, you’re going to find yourself rather alone, or being a raging hypocrite. 

        The presence religious beliefs do not give you a right to be a jerk.

        • Tom

          Haha, brilliant!  You should write for Hemant, or do you write somewhere else?  I don’t think your perspective gets much airtime on the atheist hate-o-sphere

          • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

            there IS that link thing on my name :-P

        • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

          Holy crap.

          John, you’re my new internet crush.

    • http://www.integralmath.blogspot.com/ The Justicar

      Sorry, John, I fail to see the force of this analogy. Read ‘Jonathan’s’ letter again. He cites as examples of persecution having his friends ask if he really believes the magical stories, and his friends expressing that they should avoid certain topics because ‘Jonathan’ might get offended.  And how is it that the internet finds this out? We find it out by reading a letter written by ‘Jonathan’ expressing his offense taken because his friends reckon that he might be easily offended.

      I mean, um, really: why oh why might any of his friends possibly think he might be a bit sensitive considering that he expresses emotional pain by being thought of as being sensitive. And being asked if he really believes some proposition.

      A closer analogy for the sake of your test would have someone saying to their boss: I’d rather not discuss my views on religion because I don’t enjoy offending people I like (or people who sign my checks, or whatever).

      • Tom

        Oh yeah, they sure are just asking.  Definitely not teasing, no way.

        • http://www.integralmath.blogspot.com/ The Justicar

          Your psychic powers must be better than mine.

      • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

        well we don’t know. As you point out we have a single source for information, so we’re stuck with that. I’m disinclined to read too much into it, that way lies conspiracy theory. 

        Given my experience with the asshole minority of Atheism, I don’t find his story unbelievable at all. that doesn’t make it accurate, just not unbelievable. If his atheist friends are all hardcore FTB commenters/readers, for example, i can easily see this. 

        Since we don’t have any, yet, reason to doubt his story, and it’s not unbelievable, I’m going with it until better data is offered. I also don’t read him as being offended as much as being either hurt that his friends now treat him differently, or puzzled by it and trying to figure out how to handle it. Either way, if is story is accurate, his friends are kind of being jerks about it.

        • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

          Given my experience with the asshole minority of Atheism, I don’t find
          his story unbelievable at all. that doesn’t make it accurate, just not
          unbelievable.

          My thoughts exactly.

        • http://www.integralmath.blogspot.com/ The Justicar

          Once again, I’m at a loss. I needn’t consider any harebrained ‘conspiracy’ nonsense, for the letter contains little telltale signs denoted by quotation marks. No speculation whatever is required to resolve the caliber of questions he gets inasmuch as examples are given by him. Had his friends been saying worse things, I’m hard-pressed to know why he didn’t cite those instead of these very mild exchanges.

          Again, the fact that he’s seeking advice on how to cope with emotional turmoil of having his friends asking him if he really believes that stuff – stuff one notes that amounts to nothing more than allegedly real people reciting magical incantations to get a powerful wizard to cast magical spells on their behalf – doesn’t persuade me to think he’s a person one shouldn’t expect to take offense quite easily. And, as a matter that might look pedantic but really isn’t, you draw a distinction between hurt feelings and offended that is entirely imaginary, for having one’s feelings injured entails being offended. They are synonyms.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

       Wow, re-read the comments, please. That’s not what people are saying at ALL.

      • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

        Maybe you should without the lens of “anyting atheist say about theists is always right”. It’s kind of obvious to me.

  • Good and Godless

    Whenever I read something written like that my immediate thought is “this was written to under fictitious premise with the intent of creating derisive situation” and I still stand by my original assessment. 

    Grammar, content and recollections are a basic run through of the turnabout tactic and frankly this one would have gone into the recycling and anyone claiming this to be authentic is going to be hard pressed to substantiate it as written.

    Send them back a note – letting them know we are on to their “gambit” and enlighten them a little bit in rational thinking.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      You are just as penniless of evidence that the letter is a fraud as I am penniless of evidence that the letter is genuine. I respond to the letters as they are, taking them at face value, hoping that my response might help a real person on the other end.  If there is no real person on the other end, oh well.

      • nvrtalk

        So for you it is all about advertisers getting  hits and having something to write today. 

        http://bluecentauri.com/tools/writer/sample.php  puts at an eighth grade level – yet it refers to “high school” in the past tense.  

        This is in opposition to the level of commas used unless indicating a mixed hand in writing. 

        The use of  “I” and first person is creating leaves the author as the sole source of information – pre-weakening any challenges.

        It did everything to scream out lie other than spell out an actrostic message for you.

        • Nordog

          The same Blue Centauri puts your post at the 6th grade level.  You are very precocious for a 6th grader.

          Of course the “grade level” scale at that website is not an indication of the grade level of the writer, but rather the level at which someone can comprehend what has been written.

          You really seem to be competing for some type of “fatal purity” in your skepticism.

          Do you always assume the least charitable thing possible about other people?

          • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

            The same Blue Centauri puts your post at the 6th grade level.  You are very precocious for a 6th grader.

            LOL :)

          • brianmacker

            Damn, my training with Godel’s theorem immediately put me in the mind to run his comment through like you did.  A kind of iterative self refutation. You beat me to it.   Plus I’m pretty sure I probably write at the 8th grade level not in comprehension but in writing skills, yet I’m way way out of college.

            Kudos.

        • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

          So for you it is all about advertisers getting  hits and having something to write today.

          What a dismally cynical thing to say. You should have that looked at before it grows into a tumor. The most self-defeating error that cynics make is to assume that everyone else is secretly as cynical as they are. If you fancy yourself a skeptic, then consider that cynicism is a leap to belief in the worst possible motives in someone without acceptable evidence.

          I might be insulted by your contorted interpretation of my motives if it was less silly than it is, but all I feel toward you is sadness.

          • Good and Godless

            As a beacon of  “rational thinkers” your lack of critical skills really lets us down when this obviously fake letter failed to hit the garbage can.

            • brianmacker

              Wow, Mr. Atheist Sherlock Holmes.    Your (and others) nasty behavior in this comment thread actually provides credence to the idea that it is possible this guys letter is real.  You are behaving like the people in the letter.

              Plus you can’t seem to reason you way out of a wet paper bag.

            • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

              it’s funny how the default value for “critical” thinking has become “EVERYTHING IS FALSE UNTIL PROVEN TRUE”, and yet, that is not just as stupid as the polar opposite.

              Richard is actually approaching this reasonably well as someone who *writes advice*. (Pro Tip: Advice columnists would not have much to do if their answer to everyone was “prove you’re real, and prove this is really happening”. Ponder that.)

              He’s not declaring it fake or real, but answering the question as put to him. Even if the letter IS fake, there may be someone else in that situation reading his answer who might be helped out by it.

              Do you do this with your friends? “Man, my day just sucked, my boss is an asshole”

              “Prove he’s an asshole and then prove your day sucked”

              If you do, I bet people don’t make the mistake of talking to you twice, at least not voluntarily.

              • Nordog

                Well put.  What you describe is not skepticism, but cynicism.  Instead of representing a lack of faith as a function on the part of the observer, it demonstrates a complete denial of “good faith” on the part of the observed.

                • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

                  I don’t even think it’s cynicism. Cynicism would tend to say “it’s probably bullshit, but sure it MIGHT be true” as sarcastically as possible.

                  This is “IT’S NOT TRUE UNTIL YOU PROVE IT TO ME AT THE LEVEL I REQUIRE” aka the Dave Chappelle R. Kelly level of proof. It’s entitlement is what it is. No one is REQUIRED to prove this kind of thing to anyone. I don’t even understand this. People I have known, literally, longer than Hemant’s been alive, are not “required” to prove their worldview to me. Nor am I required to prove mine to them.

                  Cthulu on a stick, poor treatment by a group does not give one a free pass to be a raging entitletard. I defy anyone to prove the stories of their childhood at the same level the “require” from theists, and, to EVERYONE THEY TELL THOSE STORIES TO. No one, No. One. is going to, nor can do that, and they’d be pretty fucking put out if “prove it” was the response to every damned thing.

                  “Dude, i was so drunk this weekend” “Prove it. Where’s the BAC measurement”. HOW THE BLUE HELL CAN YOU EVEN TALK TO PEOPLE IF THAT’S YOUR DEFAULT RESPONSE?

              • Good and Godless

                After 10 years of writing to Marylynne Vos Savant I can tell you that questions are screened this particular one in reeking of fraud should have been ash-canned.  

                More like:

                “my day at NASA where we’ve sent three men to mars and back on a rocket powered by an old bicycle pump and three left footed sandals sucked because my boss was just an asshole all day about the colony on the sun wasting all the tang and took it out on my department by releasing super-intelligent wasps into the airducts and they formed little tornadoes that wrecked all the card-houses on my ceiling.” 

                Which I would ignore and ask if his car still needs an alignment.

                • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

                  1) “Marilyn”. Names are important.
                  2) The fact that the questions for someone writing a national column are screened does not mean that all advice column questions are screened, nor does it state the purpose behind the screening for every situation. Vos Savant’s screening requirements cannot be assumed to apply to all advice columnists.
                  3) Does Richard “screen”? Probably, since it is logical to assume that he gets more questions than he can realistically answer.

                  Does any of that prove this question was fraudulent? No. In fact, no one has been able to PROVE that. Some people think it is, some people think it is not, and some people think it really doesn’t matter, since Richard’s answer, like all of his answers, are useful to far more people than the person who asked. If all Richard wanted to do was answer questions for one person, there’s already a tool for doing that: email.

                  Having Richard answer the questions here, in a one to many forum, serves a different set of requirements as it were. Is this specific question fraudulent? Well, no one has proven that either way.

                  Is it *believable*? Given the “PROVE IT OR IT IS FALSE” way some folks here evidently respond to well, everything, the idea of Atheists being total assclowns to someone who revealed they’re a theist? Absolutely believeable.

                  Maybe that should concern you just a tish: that tales of Atheist assclownery don’t even raise an eyebrow in terms of “is that believable”. Or, you can stay in denial. It’s up to you. 

                • Good and Godless

                  jonny,
                  thanks for defending dick’s methods of not screening his advise while overlooking dick has a great chance to be the most credible source on this issue. my take is – “he screens”.

                  my point is – current practice or not – this letter was pure garbage material.

                  failing to ashcan it detracted from the credibility of dick as a beacon for reason.

                  as for my personal method of dealing with the religious, your projections have scant  basis for such categorical assertions – and is because this is not the topic i opted reject based on the original post – not will not be part of my discussion.

                • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

                  I didn’t say he didn’t screen his comments:

                   3) Does Richard “screen”? Probably, since it is logical to assume that he gets more questions than he can realistically answer.

                   

                  I didn’t say for sure he doesn’t either, since I don’t actually know. I said that Vos Savant’s screening does not mean Richard screens. One does not require the other.

                  Secondly, you have yet to offer a SHRED of *proof* that this is false. Nothing. Neither you, nor anyone else making this claim has provided proof. The closest i’ve seen is supposition, and some “analysis” that even a kennedy conspiracy theorist would laugh at. 

                  But at no time, whatsoever have you provided empirical, objective, independently verifiable proof of your claim. In fact, to accept your statement as anything but utter bullshit based on “I don’t want this to be real”, would require faith. There’s not a jot of proof for your claim, so the only way to accept it as being true is to take your claim on faith.

                  Funny, I thought atheists didn’t do faith. Funny how that changes when it’s convenient for your needs, isn’t it.

                  We don’t know if it is true or not true. Richard did what advice columnists do: he accepted the letter on face value, and gave the best answer for it he knew how to give.

                  His only “sin” was not screaming “ATHEISTS WOULD NEVER BEHAVE THAT WAY SIR! THEREFORE YOU MUST BE A LIAR, WHICH SINCE YOU ARE NOT ONLY AN ADMITTED THEIST, BUT A CHRISTIAN AS WELL, IS A GIVEN. ” at the writer. 

                  Again, you’re stating as fact that the letter is false. Yet you have not provided proof, something that seems to be central to the people berating Richard here.

                  Again I say, Funny that.

                • Good and Godless

                  jonny,
                  thanks for defending dick’s methods of not screening his advise while overlooking dick has a great chance to be the most credible source on this issue. my take is – “he screens”.

                  my point is – current practice or not – this letter was pure garbage material. failing to ashcan it detracted from the credibility of dick as a beacon for reason.

                  as for my personal method of dealing with the religious, your projections have scant basis for such categorical assertions – and is because this is not the topic as i opted reject based on the original post – not will not be part of my discussion.

          • brianmacker

            “What a dismally cynical thing to say”  

            Yeah and not at all ironic.  At least he is consistent in his uncharitable interpretations with both Christians and atheists.  

            • brianmacker

              Oh, wait.  My mistake that was two different commenters, both uncharitable.   Again non-ironic since they agree.

  • Keulan

    My first though when reading Jonathan’s letter was to wonder why he keeps hanging around with these friends if they are such jerks to him. Richard’s advice is good, but if Jonathan tries that approach and they still treat him poorly, I think he should find better friends. I wouldn’t have stuck with my friends for so long if they had treated me similarly for being an atheist to the way Jonathan’s friends have treated him for being a Christian.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

       I thought Richard’s advice was good, but I think it’s a jump to think they are being jerks.

  • Thegoodman

    This post is interestingly divisive and I am going to have to side with the more callous side. I cannot and will not worry about the plight of the discrimination of theists by atheists. This is like a white guy complaining that all of his black friends make fun of him for being white (or even less so, because you cannot change your race by using your brain). In the confines of their little circle of friends, Mr. Theist likely feels like an outcast and a 2nd class citizen. Meanwhile, EVERYWHERE ELSE ON THE PLANET, his non-religious friends feel like hell-bound misfits not suitable for public office, jesus wafers+wine, and countless other things.

    I am sure it sucks to be this guy. If he does not enjoy being ridiculed for his ridiculous antiquated world view, he should go back to the pen with the other sheep.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nicki-Waters/100003666683900 Nicki Waters

      “Meanwhile, EVERYWHERE ELSE ON THE PLANET, his non-religious friends feel
      like hell-bound misfits not suitable for public office, jesus
      wafers+wine, and countless other things.”

      I’m sorry, this is simply not true. Maybe you live in the Bible Belt so it feels true, but not everywhere in the world is like that.

      • brianmacker

        Even if it was, two wrongs don’t make a right. In fact, seeing as how he would be an exception to the general rule of Christians being pricks (in this imaginary world) then he deserves commendation for wanting to be friends with atheists.

      • Thegoodman

         Planet was a bad word choice. However, in the USA, the vast majority of our citizens are Christians. I have wrongly assumed the author of the letter was from the USA, which isn’t fair.

    • brianmacker

      “This is like a white guy complaining that all of his black friends make fun of him for being white. ”

      This is supposed to be an example of acceptable behavior?

      • Thegoodman

         Perhaps this is a bad example. However, the point wasn’t that the attackers are correct in their actions, the point is that in the majority should put aside their fabricated martyrdom and stop being so selfish.

  • http://www.suburbansweetheart.com/ Suburban Sweetheart

    Richard, thanks for posting this question & its thoughtful response, as it’s not something I would necessarily expect to see on Friendly Atheist but is that that, I think, resonates with more than a few of your readers. I am, in fact, a person of some abstract faith, though I keep it to myself, don’t necessarily believe in the “power of prayer,” & identify more strongly with progressive atheists than many religious individuals. There are a lot of us who AREM’T crazy, who are thoughtful & logical & despise fundamentalists as much as you guys do – but who also aren’t convinced that there’s nothing else out there. I think there is or should be room for us in the atheist/agnostic community, too, & I appreciate this post as a reminder to some of the less tolerant atheists among your readership that we exist, we’re unthreatening, & even more than that, we can be strong allies if you give us a chance!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

    From the letter: I get remarks like, “I can’t believe that
    you actually think that” or “Oh, we’d better not talk about this- it
    would probably offend him.”

    I think that Jonathan’s feelings are valid. He wants to be treated as an indivdual, not as a faceless representative of a group. Fine. I’m on board with that.But look what his friends are saying. People are calling them jerks for that? For asking him questions or trying (and failing) to avoid hurting his feelings?Maybe they are jerks, or maybe they are just ordinary and unaware how much this upsets him

    • ctcss

       Sadly, having been a jerk way too many times on topics completely unrelated to this IRL, I’d have to say that being a jerk usually amounts to a person really not caring enough to “get” that a friend has suddenly gone rather quiet after “harmless and just in fun” remarks made by one’s self. I am usually aware that I am just digging the whole deeper when this happens but somehow I never make enough effort to help the offended person by actually and sincerely apologizing for my “harmless and just in fun remarks”.

      Basically, friends should have each other’s backs, and by repeatedly stabbing a friend in the back with a “Oh, he really knows I am just kidding” kind of remark isn’t saying much for a person.

      And furthermore (probably in this case), just because friends do not realize that a person may have put some serious thought into either choosing a religious path, or sticking with the one they were raised in because they realized just how important it was to them, doesn’t give those friends free license to trivialize or mock that person’s serious choice. Friendship demands a higher standard of behavior.

      Increased empathy and caring are the only real antidotes for one’s  jerky behavior towards others, especially friends.


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