How Can We Effectively Talk to Religious People About Atheism?

The video below, part of The Atheist Voice series, answers the question: How can we effectively talk to religious people about atheism?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the project — more videos will be posted soon — and we’d also appreciate your suggestions as to which questions we ought to tackle next!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • L.Long

    You effectively talk only to those xtians that are sort of questioning already, even if they do not admit it to themselves. To a true believer, when you say atheist they hear ‘son of satan trying to tempt us from gawd.’ And if you point out anything from the buyBull that makes your point, the xtians will deny its there, and when you say it is and tell them to read it, they again deny by stating they have read the buyBull and it aint there and will refuse to even look.

    • Nate Frein

      This is an oversimplification. First, even when we talk directly to those “true believers”, we’re putting on a show for any and all bystanders. Personally, I think it’s the bystanders who are more important, for the simple fact that for every one of those intractable “Twoo Beweivers” (TM) you have hundreds or thousands of people who are simply buying what they have to say because they’re the only ones saying anything like it or they’re the ones saying it loudest.

      We also have two goals when we communicate. Yes, I think converting people to skepticism is a Good Thing (TM). Yes, I think getting people to apply skepticism to “deeply held beliefs”. But I also simply want to stop being “othered”.

      We have a lot to learn from the gay rights movement, which has made great strides simply by forcing people to come to terms with the fact that gay people are everywhere.

    • NateW

      I’m a Christian who follows this blog not because I’m questioning religion, but because a central part of my faith asserts that it is a very good thing to learn to see others, the world, and myself from other people’s perspectives in order to be better able to see areas in my own life and thought that I can change to be more empathetic, loving and Christ-like.

      Where do you think I fit in to your analysis?

      • Buckley

        Personally, I think you are more than welcome. I guess where you and I may have a disagreement (if it we to arise) is if you and I, instead of engaging in a discussion, attempted to convert the other. As a non-believer, I have no mission in life but to live it well and treat others well. If people want to know what I think I am more than happy to discuss. What I would avoid is trying to convince you that I am right and you are wrong. I know from a number of evangelical friends that they are called to save me. If we could avoid this, you’re OK by me. It’s sort of like my desire to keep the church and state strictly separate; so long as we keep it to curiosity and search for knowledge, that’s great.

        I don’t pretend to speak for the others who frequent this blog, but I will say that outsiders (those who are not Atheists/Humanists/Agnostic/Questioning their faith) are irritating when they come here to tell us we are wrong or to quote ad infinitum biblical passages that are somehow supposed to convince us or “win points for god”. Discussion is great; sanctimonious finger pointing is irritating. Of course, many no believer trolls do that on the Christian pages too and I don’t like that.

        • allein

          I totally agree with you. I rarely discuss religion outside of commenting here (and, very occasionally, a couple other places); most people in my life don’t even know I’m an atheist because it simply isn’t an issue. Don’t preach to me and we’ll get along fine.

          As for your second paragraph, when I see the trolls post long lists of Bible verses I just skip right over them. I’ll skim to the end to see if they actually have any words of their own to share, but usually they don’t and I move on to the next comment.

          • Buckley

            You are so right. The bible quoting reminds me of the Marxist-Leninists-Stalinists that I’ve studied about the history of Eastern Europe…I feel there is a mentality that if they quote something enough it makes it so and in the end they “win the argument”. I too skip past the nonsense. I like questions, personal questions that come from the mind-heart. That I can relate to, the mindless quote machines drive me nuts.

        • Tainda

          I’m the same way. I call myself a cuddly (for the most part) atheist because as long as you leave your religion out of the government, don’t hurt anyone and don’t try to convert me, I don’t care what you do.

        • NateW

          Thanks for the welcome.

          I think that right and wrong are a matter of doing righty with what you already have (including whatever beliefs or knowledge that you possess) rather than being about what you believe or know in your head. I mean, obviously what we believe and know plays a role in shaping our behavior, but the beliefs that play this role are of a deeper nature than, say, thoughts about whether God exists or not. These deeper beliefs (whether to act for one’s own good, or for others or whether it is better to show preference to the poor and outcast, or the powerful and influential, etc.) are the stuff that every moment by moment decision is based on, the beliefs that matter and that have the potential to bind all tribes together. You don’t need to believe that God exists to talk about what the greatest good for humankind is, and to work out together what it would look like to work towards that in unity—but you also don’t need to NOT believe in God. ; )

          • Kodie

            God just doesn’t add anything to the equation but judgment. You may be, or see yourself as, a different kind of Christian. Most of them use god as a reason to judge other people for not living their lives the way they want them to, but not because they are judging them, of course, only because god will judge them. And these people are worried for themselves if other people live differently – they are not so worried about how the other people will fare, given god’s judgment. They are superstitious about these things, and warding off evil in the weather if they can straighten out some gays or stop people from relying on birth control instead of abstinence. God is a bludgeon for these Christians.

            And then you get the Christians who never really talk about their beliefs until they’re challenged. You think people are cool, liberal, progressive, etc. until you say you’re an atheist. Sometimes, they are cool with it, and sometimes, they freak out and turn into a frightened child.

          • Buckley

            You are right about the need to NOT believe in god in the same respect that you DO have to believe in god. But I guess where my gears get ground is the need to enforce a religious belief in the public sphere. I was married once. On the day after we got the marriage certificate, the Presbyterian minister who married us asked us to stop by because he and we needed to sign the documents. This was about a week before we were married. We came by, he signed, we signed and he said “well that makes it official, as far as the state is concerned, you are married.”

            So a an atheist, it’s not that I think your positions are illegitimate to hold as personal beliefs, it’s at the point when your personal beliefs become the starting point to dictate what is and is not acceptable practices. The gay marriage debate is a fine example of this. If Christian practice is such that gays can’t marry in their church, then so be it. I can walk into a Catholic church and listen and participate in mass if I choose. What I can’t do it take communion. It is against the teachings of the Catholic Church for me to do that. I will respect this because I expect the same respect in my beliefs. I realize that I will receive no quarter from some Christians who disregards my non-beliefs, but I will not disrespect in return.

            So when there is a movement to ban abortions based on religious beliefs, ban marriages between two people because of religious beliefs, ban anything based on religious beliefs, then my tolerance for acceptance and discussion are at an end. If you believe that abortion is bad – practice what you preach and teach that to your children. If you think that gay marriage is bad – practice what you preach and teach that to your children. But, leave the rest of the population out of these religious-based laws because it means that if another religion comes to the fore in the US and has the means and the population to push its religious agenda on the rest of us and that includes Christians, then some Christian may be as upset as we Atheists are now.

      • The Other Weirdo

        That this is a part of your faith in no way invalidates the original idea.

  • Sk3ptec

    Unless you currently work for a church, why would you ever lose your job for being an atheist? I can’t think of a case where that would happen. It’s an unrealistic idea – except possibly in very rare cases.

    Also, equating atheists with the gay mantra “coming out of the closet” is a dumb move. It doesn’t help the atheist cause. The two are not directly related and don’t have the same intellectual value or significance. Atheists may maintain (or strengthen) support from the homosexual community, but then lose credibility with the rest of society.

    • Jasper

      I once worked at a place where the boss was asking job applicants whether they were Christians (before his employees begged him to stop, because it was illegal), because he didn’t want any “devil worshipers” working for him (aka, anything not Christian).

      If he had found out I was an atheist, there would have been problems.

      Most of the time, they’ll find some other reason to fire you, as a loophole around the non-discrimination laws.

      • Sk3ptec

        Yes, this would be what I meant by a “rare case”. That kind of profiling is illegal, isn’t it?

        • allein

          It’s illegal; that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. I’m lucky to live in a fairly un-religious area; I know several of my coworkers are atheist or at least non-religious, but the subject doesn’t really come up. I wouldn’t fear for my job here. In other parts of the country I wouldn’t be so sure.

          • Sk3ptec

            Of course it happens. Atheists fire religious people all the time too. But really how much energy should be spent on figuring out a cure for a situation that is rare (and already illegal) anyway. There are some things that are just not worth our time. Like road rage. Yes it happens, but aren’t there bigger fish to fry?

            • allein

              I honestly don’t know…because I don’t know how rare it actually is (and I’m sure it varies depending on where you live). It’s not like people admit that’s why they’re firing someone.

              • Sk3ptec

                Well… how many court cases have there been recently? That would be a good place to start. I obviously don’t know the answer to that question.

                But outside this forum I haven’t *ever* heard of anybody getting fired for being atheist… and I know and work with many. You would think if this were a big ongoing problem, there would be at least a common underlying awareness of the potential threat. Some office chatter or something.

            • j9clements

              So, Sk3ptec, because YOU don’t see it happening in your sphere of reference you don’t feel it’s that big of a deal? Would it be a big deal if it happened to you? If you suddenly could not support your family? Could not afford to pack up and move?

              To some it is a VERY big deal, and it is very much worth their time. Obviously it isn’t for you. However, that does not make it unworthy of their time, only unworthy of your time.

              • Sk3ptec

                Yes, worth an individual’s time, but does it deserve serious time in the larger public arena? No. We simply can’t focus on every global injustice at once. We have to focus on the largest ones – that seriously affect the most people. But I think we all know that.

        • Jasper

          How rare do you think it is? And what level of rarity do you think is the cutoff point where it is no longer a legitimate concern?

          A big part of the problem is that we don’t know, when we become an “out atheist” what the repercussions are going to be. It doesn’t have to stem from a guarantee of a lost job – just enough of an incidence rate where it’s an actual concern.

          • Sk3ptec

            There’s a saturation point at which society stops caring about petty concerns.

            Sure, it’s technically a legitimate concern. But with the daily onslaught of enormous threats to safety, freedom, economics, etc. how does this even register as worth paying attention to?

            And also… what do we expect will be the cure? It’s already illegal. What do we want, riots in the streets? Government intervention and mediation in every employer/employee relationship (which is almost here already actually)?

            • Kodie

              You think people losing their jobs is not important enough to worry about? Fuck you.

              • Sk3ptec

                What do you mean by “worry about”? I reject your statement completely.

                • 3lemenope

                  Completely? I thought the “fuck you” part was pretty compelling.

                  Any time you’re tempted to write off the concerns of others as not real enough to bother with, don’t.

                • Kodie

                  Not having a job is kind of like, and I don’t mean to dramatize it, having a disease. If you don’t care about an individual or their family problems caused or increased by no longer having a job because someone broke a law, nothing you say matters. There is nothing wrong with being an atheist. You keep saying there are bigger fish to fry, well, what are those fish you keep talking about? World hunger? I fucking hate world hunger. I hate when one person is hungry. I hate when that person is me. And I hate when the reason I’m hungry is because some intolerant asshole fears atheists and finds some unreasonable cause to fire me from my job for doing my job well and on time and going beyond the call of duty because I really care about the program – not the paycheck even. Multiply that for a lot of people, and consider that they have to stay closeted because they depend on their paycheck, and possibly other people depend on their paycheck, and they have no way of predicting how their revelation will unfold to ruin their future with the company they work for. The only prediction they have is that it turns out rather unpleasantly for enough people to decline to risk it.

                  But keep brushing it off and say there are bigger issues to fathom. Tell us what they are and everyone will switch to no humane concern for even one formerly employed person who thought it might be safe to open their mouth about how they don’t believe in god, by the way.

                • Sk3ptec

                  I think you misunderstood me. I said “There’s a saturation point at which society stops caring about petty concerns.” I’m speaking of society, not me personally. Society has to prioritize it’s problems, that’s all I’m meaning. The inconvenience of finding another job is not even noticed compared to the various other issues we face daily.

                  Military actions abroad, gang violence, various huge government scandals, impending economic implosion, decreasing freedom, climbing racial tension, climate change, etc. We have our hands full.

                • The Other Weirdo

                  Fine. Let’s ignore the complaints of all the minority groups, not just atheists.

                • Sk3ptec

                  Well if you go there… that changes the discussion completely.

                • j9clements

                  “Military actions abroad, gang violence, various huge government
                  scandals, impending economic implosion, decreasing freedom, climbing
                  racial tension, climate change, etc.”
                  The majority of the issues you have just listed do not directly affect my daily life nearly as much as being unemployed would. Having a job, a roof over my family’s head, food on our table, and rest of the very basics of life depend on my not letting anyone know I’m an atheist is definitely a hell of a lot more worthy of my time that ANY of the issues you listed as YOUR more important things.

                • Sk3ptec

                  “The majority of the issues you have just listed do not directly affect my daily life nearly as much as being unemployed would.” – - This is just your perception. It is not reality. You obviously don’t realize how these things actually influence local situations. I guarantee, every one of the issues I mentioned WILL profoundly effect your employment status in the near future, even if you can’t perceive or imagine it at the moment.

                  But back to the point, I meet atheists all the time. I’ve never met one who was ‘scared’ to reveal their atheism to anyone – even employers. It’s a non-issue.

                • Daniel Schealler

                  Sk3ptec explicitly stated that he was referring to the level of society, not individual persons.

                  Society is just ducky regardless of whether you’re employed or not. But impending economic implosion? Less so.

              • Guest

                True, but my comments are from a societal standpoint. Not from me personally.

            • Nate Frein

              The primary problem is we simply do not know how pervasive this profiling is. We have lots of anecdotes.

              I agree that there’s going to be a threshold below which we simply cannot effectively reduce occurrences. Welfare’s a good example. We know that “some” fraud occurs, but we know that the vast majority of recipients are legit, and that trying to take down the tiny number of abusers would be detrimental to those legitimate recipients.

              But that is information we simply do not have in this area. Until that problem is rectified, these anecdotes cannot be dismissed so easily.

            • j9clements

              It’s an enormous threat to the economy for some people!!

              • Sk3ptec

                True. But what are you saying? Everybody should stop what they’re doing and focus our complete attention on this comparatively minor problem that only affects 0.000001% of the population? (obviously that’s not meant to be an accurate statistic)

                Yes, it is a concern! Yes, it is a problem! Yes, it does affect real people! But the world is full of all kinds of injustice. We as a society have to maximize our impact and focus on the problems that affect the most people. That’s all I’m saying.

        • Kodie

          Just because something is illegal doesn’t mean people don’t do it and get away with it. And just because you “can’t” get fired for it, doesn’t mean you won’t be fired for “something else,” or at the very least, be treated differently, causing one’s productivity to deteriorate due to lack of cooperation amongst one’s co-workers, etc. You seem to think employers know, observe, and adhere to anything that is the law, and that people who are victims will take them to court. In reality, people bend the law to their will all the time and test people’s willingness to go to the trouble to sue them. It’s usually easier to just find another job and having learned your lesson, keep your mouth shut next time and go with the program.

          I say this as someone who possibly lost one job because I said I was an atheist (in a meeting where everyone was sharing their personal diverse stories, i.e. religious beliefs, national origins, etc. – which was part of the academic program, although I was the admin). I had really busted my ass to get a few major projects complete the few weeks before, and get ready for the new school year of interns and even stayed late hours by myself to get everything done on time, and within a few days of the introduction session, my boss found a reason to not only get me gone, but to pre-emptively accuse me of a violent and destructive reaction to the news that I had been let go.

          • Sk3ptec

            Yeah, I agree, he/she sounds like a jerk.

            Leaving a job because you don’t like the atmosphere is very common and expected. I’ve done that many times, as probably everyone has at some point. But that’s very different from being fired.

            • Kodie

              Changing the atmosphere to make someone uncomfortable enough to quit on their own is similar to being fired. Creating or facilitating a hostile work environment is one way to get people to leave, and it’s illegal. It’s not everyone’s favorite thing to do to file a lawsuit against one’s employer, especially if you will be blamed for doing nothing wrong while your employer probably won’t end up having to pay. See: sexual harassment – I have been in this situation, although I didn’t see it as centered around “sex” so much as my co-workers finding juvenile ways to make working there increasingly uncomfortable – I mean teasing, taunting, and some bullying, all of a sexual nature (this was a different place I worked than I wrote about upthread). I logged everything they did and did a lot of research on what is and isn’t a hostile work environment. Even though I thought I had a legitimate case, I worried about backlash, and I knew I didn’t have to quit, but it was really just easier to put in my notice. There were a lot of other screwed up things about that workplace, including my boss, and I just put the whole thing behind me.

              Sure, while most people who do so quit their jobs must find something wrong with it, if your co-workers or superiors make it a hostile environment due to some revelation about one’s atheism (or anything else protected by EEOC), you have a suit. An environment in which someone feels it’s easier to quit than to file a suit is not uncommon, but it is still illegal.

            • Nate Frein

              “Hostile Work Environment”

            • C.L. Honeycutt

              I think you’re missing the point. I’ve seen it. Employers who don’t want to fire you will make it impossible for you to earn a living at your job. I’ve seen them cut hours to get rid of employees, going from full-time scheduling to under 10 hours a week. I’ve seen them shuffle people into jobs they aren’t physically suited to perform, that they aren’t trained to do, even positions where they wear them out by abusing a health issue that wasn’t a problem at the old position. I’ve even seen them give good employees bad reviews on purpose to keep those employees from being able to transfer away from them, and then get rid of those employees when their morale suffered. I’ve seen them “lose” peoples’ transfer paperwork, incident reports for possible injuries, and withholdings and benefits alteration paperwork, all of which were already filed and not just lying around somewhere. These people will force you to quit and trash your references in the process. I could name at least fifteen people that I know, none of them relatives or close friends, who are in constant fear at their places of business because they’ve seen their coworkers set up and sabotaged like that.

              • Sk3ptec

                I agree with you.

                But my point was that this happens to everybody. I’ve seen this many, many times myself. It’s not exclusive to atheists though. That’s all. And I would be surprised if this happens to atheists at a higher rate than the rest of the population. Might be interesting to find a study on it somewhere.

          • Buckley

            I too was let go for arbitrary reasons from the school I worked at, and because I didn’t have tenure I didn’t even have to be told why…it was only later I found out the truth because of the friends I had in the administration. Because i questioned and sought to better the school instead of blindly following the principal they found ways of letting me go, because as each and every one of my reviews stated, my teaching was superb. People are let go for a myriad of reasons, and often not for legit reasons. Stay strong. I’ve learned to now voice my opposition in anonymous ways…that’s why I’m Buckley.

    • Tainda

      I once worked in a pharmacy and the lead pharmacist made everyone else leave and he talked to me about how I was going to hell and he wanted to help me. He gave me a bible and made me pray with him.

      Luckily I was a tech AND worked in the med staff office because I went straight to HR and asked to be moved full time into my office job. I made something up because it’s a very small town and I didn’t want to start anything. I quit a few months later and I will NEVER work in a small town again. I should have gotten the asshole fired but I was young and dumb.

  • A3Kr0n

    Caption under Hemant’s video:
    Ya gotta listen to reason!

  • http://twitter.com/bmk bmk

    As someone who went from atheist to Christian, I’m obviously coming at this from a different angle. I just want to emphasize that there are many Christians who don’t subscribe to a literal reading of the Bible. There are many Christians who strongly support separation of church & state. There are many Christians who are dismayed and angered by the dismissive and discriminatory treatment of nonreligious people. And even though we’re not as loud, and often ignored by the media, we’re still here.

    I know it’s hard to remember that when there are angry preachers screaming that you’re going to hell — that’s happened to me, both as an atheist and a Christian. (And I know we progressive-Christian types need to be better allies in general.) But if you want to effectively talk to us religious types about atheism, that’s a key place to start.

    • Roy Gamsgrø

      “many Christians who don’t subscribe to a literal reading of the Bible.”

      Do you know the will of God? If no, how can you decide that what the Bible says isn’t the truth, unless the Bible isn’t the word of God? And if the Bible isn’t the word of God, what good is it other than as a fairy tale?

      When the Bible says that coloured people can’t be saved, or that you should beat your children, unless you know the will of God, how can you say that that isn’t what is actually meant, that it isn’t a metaphor or an allegory?
      (And don’t get me started on wanting to know what it is an allegory -for-…)

      If the Bible is the word of God, how can you -not- read it literally unless you know the will of God?

      • The Other Weirdo

        That’s what preachers are for, so believers don’t have to think. They just have to believe.

        • http://twitter.com/bmk bmk

          For a thread called, “How Can We Effectively Talk to Religious People About Atheism?”, this is a good example of what not to do. Don’t assume all believers don’t think — that’s a good place to start answering Hemant’s question.

          • Nate Frein

            So on the one hand, you say you understand the frustration of atheists.

            But on the other you give the same boilerplate arguments that frustrate atheists.

            And then concern troll when you get snarked at.

            • http://twitter.com/bmk bmk

              I don’t think it’s “concern trolling” to answer the question “How can we effectively talk to Religious people about atheism?” in a thread that’s called, well, that.

              • Nate Frein

                I dunno…

                Maybe because you claim to want to be an ally…

                But then regurgitate boilerplate fluff…

                Oh, and give uncited assertions about those mean fundamental atheists…

          • The Other Weirdo

            How do you know which part of the Bible is not to be taken literally and which ones are?

      • http://twitter.com/bmk bmk

        I’m going to try to understand these as good-faith questions, and respond accordingly.

        First: no, I don’t know the will of God. But I do have a conscience. I do have the ability to read, comprehend, and interrogate texts — fiction, philosophy, history, etc. — that deal with ethics and morality. I am capable, as is everyone, of evaluating morality, albeit in a way that is flawed by my own perspective, biases, and assumptions.

        Second: what does “Word of God” even mean? Christian theologians have argued for centuries on the nature and implications of divine inspiration. Inerrancy and infallibility are much more modern concepts (oddly, they’re both rejections of modernism). I’m unwilling to agree with your underlying assumption that a handful of preachers in the 1910s (see: fundamentalism) finally solved that question once and for all.

        Finally, I understand the basic concept of “genre.” I know that the books of the Bible (like other religious and non-religious texts) encompass many different modes of writing. I’m capable of reading Hamlet as drama, not as the literal history of Denmark. I can read and enjoy Brave New World without assuming that every single facet of every single fact is *going to happen*. Why should I have to read the Bible in a way that ignores that?

        [Edited for clarity.]

        • Roy Gamsgrø

          But if you are “capable, as is everyone, of evaluating morality”, why do you need God? And which god do you believe in?

          The biblical God ordered several genocides and made some very gruesome laws.
          Is that your god?
          If not, which god do you believe in? If it is the Christian God, then how can you dismiss what the Bible clearly states about that god?

          And just to clarify, I’m not asking these questions to be difficult. (Well, not only… ;) ) I am genuinely baffled as to why anyone, much less someone with even basic education, can point to a text describing a god who orders children’s skulls to be crushed against rocks and say “Yes. That is the deity I will worship.”
          The line between ignorance and evil is very thin there, and the cognitive dissonance of someone who says that they are able to make moral decisions and still worship a monster leaves me baffled.

          But again, you may say that’s not the god you worship, then which god do you worship?

          • http://twitter.com/bmk bmk

            I don’t have a definite answer to your question, “why do you need God?” In a large part, it’s because I recognize my own limitations, and my inability to ever definitively answer questions of morality. Christianity gives me a framework, vocabulary, and a connection to people across centuries and cultures who are interested in answering the same questions I have. It’s not that it provides the answers, because it doesn’t. (That’s the granfalloon answer, but I’m also tempted toward a different Vonnegutian, Bokononist answer: “Live by the [lies] that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.”)

            As to which god I worship, since I don’t take the Bible as inerrant, literal history, I don’t have to make that distinction, nor do I have to worship a god who orders infanticide. I think those passages reflect a particular understanding of god from a particular group of people at a particular time. The conflation of culture and religion makes it problematic to tease out which is which, but that doesn’t mean we should always accept that cultural influences on religion are inherent to that religion.

            • Nate Frein

              I’m sorry, but this is fluff.

              You use your own moral compass to decide which parts of the bible represent a moral god to you. You are assembling a moral god out of the parts of the bible you find acceptable. You are literally creating your own god.

              What framework does this create that cannot be created in a secular, humanistic way? What question does this answer in any way that you cannot simply answer on your own? You’re creating your own middleman where you don’t need one.

              I won’t question whether you really were an atheist before converting. I will question whether you were, or are, a skeptic.

              • http://twitter.com/bmk bmk

                A few years ago, I would have agreed with you — and I still do, to some degree. Religious people are all, at some level, engaged in building our own god. (Insert the apocryphal quote about man, being a gentleman, returning the favor.) We have to be willing to recognize the flaws in that, and to correct them. But I do think underlying all of that is some kind of more permanent, more universal, and sublime truth, and I personally understand and relate to that through the frame of Christianity.

                My own “faith journey,” to use a phrase I dislike, is trying to reconcile humanism with Christianity. Maybe they can’t be reconciled. But I’m not willing to accept that as an answer without living my life inside that question.

                (I usually find Christian apologetics to be a frustratingly boring topic, but I am enjoying you pushing me out of my comfort zone. Good way to spend a sick day.)

                • Nate Frein

                  So your evidence for your belief is that deep down, in your heart of hearts, you really want it to be true?

                  I’m not trying to make fun, but you’re consistently giving evasive, vague answers. I’m happy to try to argue in good faith, but as this discussion continues, I’m less and less convinced you are. Your chronic inability to give a forthright answer (or support your clear truth claims, like your Pharyngula comment) is coming across as dishonest and disrespectful.

                  If you hadn’t already gotten snark from The Other Weirdo, I’d say it was only a matter of time before someone lost patience with you and gave you snark (which I assume you would pounce on as a chance to lecture, just as you did with TOW).

                • The Other Weirdo

                  Christianity is inherently anti-human. It doesn’t care about this life(in fact, you are commanded by Jesus himself not to care anything in this life, not family, not friends, not the where your next meal will come or what you will eat next season). It only cares about the life yet to come, that undefined and undefinable paradise where all your enemies will be slain and sent to the bowels of hell. The return of Jesus, for example, will be marked by total genocide, the complete destruction of all life on Earth. How do you propose to reconcile waiting for this event and humanism?

                • Blacksheep

                  “Christianity is inherently anti-human. It doesn’t care about this life…”

                  That would ring true were it not for the amount of time and level of importance that Christ placed on helping others here on earth, loving one’s enemies here on earth, healing the sick here on earth, etc. The eternal may have been at the heart of the Gospel, but the here and now was always extremely important.

                • Kodie

                  Saving souls and spreading superstition is the most important part of being a Christian, at least in my observation. You might do it by feeding a hungry person or healing a sick person, but that is because everyone has a deadline on earth, not a life on earth, in which to make their decision where to go after they die.

                • Blacksheep

                  I did say that “The eternal is at the heart of the Gospel” but my comment was replying to TOW who said that “Christianity is ant human and it doesn’t care about this life.” That’s not correct, especially the way it’s worded, since there is so much scripture on caring for people (with no mention of spreading the gospel). It doesn’t say “care for the sick, children, and widows to save their souls” it simply says to care for them.

                • Kodie

                  In real life, people have ulterior motives and warped screwed-up agendas. Plus, nobody should need the bible to instruct them about compassion. The first word I think of when I think of Christians is “judgmental” not “compassionate,” not even “well-intentioned but wrong-headed,” but “selfish” and “self-serving”.

                • Blacksheep

                  I have no doubt that you are honestly reporting your experiences. Which is pretty bad, since so much of Christ’s teaching was on exactly that – compassion, caring, etc – especially the judgemental part. (Don’t judge others lest you be judged, etc.). Sef-serving should be the antithesis of our faith.

                  Anyway, I have no explaination or excuses for it.

                • Nate Frein

                  Except that Jesus’ ideas of helping people were fundamentally wrong.

                  Jesus taught his followers to forsake their bodies and their lives and to focus primarily on the afterlife. Mother Theresa worshiped pain and suffering as Good Things.

                  Yes, it’s warm and fuzzy to think that he wanted to help people. Mother Theresa wanted to help people. But the methodologies employed are so evil that whatever good intentions there may have been are washed away by their actions.

                • Blacksheep

                  whether it’s warm and fuzzy or not, there are scores of verses about helping people – just to help them.

                  even in the OT we have:

                  “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.”

                  In the NT it’s everywhere.

                • Nate Frein

                  None of which changes the fact that it is a Death Cult.

                  It’s a nice, warm, and fuzzy death cult…if you like death cults, I guess.

                  But this makes it fundamentally irreconcilable with humanism.

                • Kodie

                  And in the real world?

                • Blacksheep

                  Not so much – but more than you think. Sometimes it’s perspective, sometimes it’s reporting on the bad more than on the good.

                • edb3803

                  It sounds like you have some sort of god-belief, and you go with christianity, presumably because you are part of a culture with a lot of christians. The god-belief is a large spectrum, which is why I generally ask believers, “please describe to me your god”. Which goes to the fundamental premise that god-belief is just each individual’s own imaginary make-believe. Your god is whatever you create in your own mind, and does not exist outside of there.

            • Roy Gamsgrø

              I’m sorry, but I’ll have to go with Nate Frein (below) here: This doesn’t answer anything.

              You turn away from biblical Christianity, you turn away from classical Christianity and traditional Christianity.
              Why do you call yourself a Christian?

              This is what is so confusing to me about religious people, Christians in particular. They say they worship the Judeo-Christian god and Jesus, but they make up almost on the spot what that god is.
              Smoke and mirrors, deluding oneself to feel better.

              • http://twitter.com/bmk bmk

                I disagree that I turn away from Biblical Christianity, or classical Christianity, or traditional Christianity. I’m unwilling to let those things be redefined by fundamentalists, or to elide centuries of history and theology that happen to disagree with the fundamentalist narrative of religion.

                • Nate Frein

                  You have yet to show how we are, in fact, relying on fundamentalist interpretations only a century old.

                  You have asserted this. You have not demonstrated this.

                • 3lemenope

                  Nobody is saying you must take the Bible completely literally. The confusion is this: if you don’t take the Bible literally, then you have to have some method by which to decide which parts are still to be understood pretty much as they are presented and which parts should be read through the historical or cultural perspectives that have dictated its final form. How do you decide which parts those are?

                  Let’s start in the absolute easiest place. Do you believe that Jesus was crucified, died, and was physically resurrected?

                • Roy Gamsgrø

                  Because biblical Christianity is following the god of the Bible, which includes the god that meant you should kill rape victims and anyone that ate a prawn cocktail, and also ordered genocides?

                  Because classical and traditional Christianity includes the promotion of misogyny, racism, hunting witches and, yes, genocide?

                  (Note: I take it for granted that you do not, in fact, follow any of those concepts.)

                  If you disregard the fundamentals of a religion, and I don’t only mean being a through-and-through fundamentalist, but also the foundations of the religion, how can you be a follower of that religion?

                  Please note that I’m trying very hard not to say you’re not a ‘real’ Christian here, but what makes someone a Christian if you don’t actually follow what Christ, according to the Bible, said?
                  How can you be a Christian if your idea of Christianity is something you made up?

                • Blacksheep

                  To add to that: (not trying to put words in your mouth bmk)…

                  When the first disciples encountered Christ, they were moved to follow Him. There was no Bible, no Christian tradition, none of that. Just Jesus words and presence. That was all they needed to follow him.

                • edb3803

                  More make-believe that attempts to inspire one with warm and fuzzies.

                • Blacksheep

                  Whether you believe it’s make believe or not, that’s the story as told in the Bible.

                • 3lemenope

                  If a charismatic guy showed up one day and pulled off some awesome magic tricks (walking on legos, instant neon skywriting, turning sweet tea into beer, etc..), and those tricks, such as they are, stand up to immediate analysis repeatedly, I would, if I were standing there, admit readily that they guy has some skills.

                  But I wouldn’t expect anyone else to believe me if I reported what I saw. (And no, I don’t have a smart phone. So no pics.)

                  If, on the other hand, I came upon a very old book which in its text describes a charismatic guy showing up and doing the parlor trick special, it wouldn’t be very impressive.

                  People today are not in the alleged situation of the apostles. We do not have access to the acts and words that got everyone all in a tizzy. All we have is a record of what some folks way after the fact thought may as well have been what was said and done. So it does no good to point back to the apostles and say, well, Jesus was enough for them. Well, yeah, because they were there. We aren’t.

                • Blacksheep

                  I hear you 3lemonope – but the experience that a new believer has upon encountering Christ in his or her own way often resembles the “follow me” experience that we read about in the Bible, from a psychological / emotional perspective. If someone experiences peace and joy upon beginning their “walk” with Christ, they are not concerned at that moment with theological details, usually just the Gospel itself. I think in that way there is a valid comparison.
                  But as a logical person, (believe it or not) of course I agree that reading about miracles in an “old book” is hardly the same as experiencing them first hand.

                • edb3803

                  You should clarify your statement as follows: “they were supposed there.” A book is just a book full of stories. Whether the stories are true or not depends on other evidence outside of the book. In the specific case of the ‘the bible’, there is scant evidence that any of the jesus stories even happened.

                • 3lemenope

                  That’s why I wrote “alleged”.

                • C.L. Honeycutt

                  I am so sorry. I am TRYING to read your comment, really I am, but the bit about Legos makes me giggle too much to continue.

                • Tom

                  Moreover, according to the book, the apostle Thomas allegedly *was* there and still demanded proof. Interestingly, Jesus is depicted as treating this demand as perfectly reasonable, and providing such proof, which is a far cry from the way skeptics get treated by the devout today. If it’s OK for the apostles themselves to need proof before believing, it should be OK for anyone else now to have similar standards.

                • Buckley

                  I’m sure that’s what Ancient Greeks said as they defended their gods or what the Ancient Mesopotamians said about their gods…stuff we call mythology today.

                • C.L. Honeycutt

                  That’s highly plausible. That’s how most cults form: a charismatic leader saying just what a few people need to hear at that moment. Phyllis Diller said that Bill Cosby told her that if only 2% of the world thought she was funny, she would always perform to a packed house. That wouldn’t make the other 98% wrong. It just meant that somebody who can put on a show at all can always earn a living, regardless of comparative quality, if they can find a niche.

                • The Other Weirdo

                  So what? That means nothing. Harold Camping attracted who-knows how many followers. He even made millions of dollars off them, and he didn’t even claim to be a god. Just a few words that people wanted to hear.

                • Frank

                  Camping is done. After 2000 years Jesus followers are still adding numbers.

                • The Other Weirdo

                  Wait 300 years. A king or an emperor or some random idiot might still adopt Camping as the fount of all knowledge and truth. If Constantine hadn’t made Christianity the default religion of Rome, I wonder what would have become of it.

        • Nate Frein

          Why should I have to read the Bible in a way that ignores that?

          No one is saying you “have to”.

          But you call yourself a Christian (however progressive) which means that you are treating at least some of the bible as truth, and how you separate this truth from the rest is important.

          • http://twitter.com/bmk bmk

            No, no one is saying I “have to”. I’m not going to pretend that as a part of the privileged Christian culture that the minority atheists are forcing me to do anything. But I am going to call out the unfounded underlying assumption that the books of the Bible are all literal, inerrant history

            I doubt you’d find any two Christians who fully agree on Biblical hermeneutics. My own way of separating the truth from the rest is similar to the way any of us reads anything – dependent on the genre, and encompassing historical context, literary context, linguistics, introspection, and basic observations of the world around me. And, ultimately, whether it leads me to be a better human being toward other people.

            • Nate Frein

              So on what evidence to you base the foundational truth claim of your religion?

            • Kodie

              I doubt you’d find any two Christians who fully agree on Biblical hermeneutics.

              Don’t you see that as a problem? Billions of people believe and have believed that Jesus Christ was the one savior and the son of the god of the bible but they are basically coloring in a coloring book, and so are you. A box of 64 crayons can make a lot of variations on the picture. Who is getting the real story from god? Nobody. Why is it so difficult to grasp what god is really like and what he really wants? If you’re making it up yourself, why do you still think he’s there? It’s a nice story you base your life upon, and your afterlife, I suppose, but who knows what you’re like in your inner world and what you have imagined happens.

              To me, it seems like an obsession. There’s this god figure, a legend. You obsess about figuring him out and finding clues and living your life according to what you like to think you’ve figured out about this myth. I get that you think you’re progressive and liberal and that’s all nice and stuff, but why do you think you’re that different from someone else who comes up with imaginary friends, along with imaginary excuses why they can or can’t do things? Why can’t you say what you want to do or don’t want to do because it’s your personal standard?

      • raerants

        Dude. They say that the only people who insist that the Bible be taken literally are fundamentalists and a-hole atheists. Please don’t be one of those.

        • http://twitter.com/bmk bmk

          There are 2 kinds of people who have specifically told me I’m not a real Christian — politically conservative Christians, and self-described atheists. From a practical standpoint, they’re indistinguishable to me: fundamentalists gonna fundamentalize.

          • Nate Frein

            I really doubt anyone here is going to say you’re not a true Christian.

            • http://twitter.com/bmk bmk

              I don’t think so, either – that’s why I’m here. But it has happened to me at PZ’s blog, and at other atheist blogs.

              • Nate Frein

                Oh, I’d love a cite…

          • raerants

            Ugh, the No True Scotsman fallacy. No, thank you. Personally, even though I’m one of those “self-described atheists,” I have zero opinion about what makes someone a “real” Christian, having never been one myself — I was raised in a secular, culturally Jewish household, where Chanukah meant getting together with my favorite relatives and getting chocolate coins.

            Am I not a “real atheist” because my husband is Christian and I don’t paint all theists with the same broad brush? I care more about a person’s behavior (including voting record) than I do about their beliefs, regardless what they do or don’t adhere to.

          • Kodie

            I think you’re a real Christian because at heart you believe in a fantasy. From a practical standpoint, I do see a difference in that you are at least willing to acknowledge reality as some part of your scheme. But you piece together what you don’t know and fill in the gaps like a real Christian.

        • Roy Gamsgrø

          I’m trying not to be, but I am very baffled that anyone can say, with a straight face, “Yes, I believe in the Judeo-Christian god, except those parts I don’t like.”

          If they are able to make those moral distinctions, why would they want a god, especially one whose belief in has caused so much evil through the ages?
          If you’re going to make up a god, why not make a nice one?

          • Blacksheep

            “If you’re going to make up a god, why not make a nice one?”

            I think all thoughtful Christians agree with this statement. I would eliminate the idea of hell, for example. But we believe because we think it’s true, not because we like everything that we understand about it. Gravity is real, and it holds everything together. But it’s not too nice when you fall down.

            • Nate Frein

              Gravity has a measurable impact on reality.

              God does not.

              • Blacksheep

                I know that – I’m not using the analogy to prove that God exists, I’m using it to point out that “real” and “nice” (or our perception of it) don’t need to go together.

    • Jolee

      Very curious, What was the turning point for you? What was the “thing” that made Christianity make sense to you? How old were you when this happened?

    • LesterBallard

      I would say that if you don’t take the Bible literally you’re not a Christian. If Adam and Eve didn’t exist, and sin, and cause the need for a savior, then there is no need for Jesus, no need to be a Christian. But people like for words to mean whatever they want them to mean, regardless of what they do mean.

  • Guest

    I have a suggestion. It seems like a lot of people convert to a religion or stay in a religion because they have what they feel are powerful personal experiences of the divine. Until we have a way of explaining those emotions and what triggers them, and maybe even a reliable method for inducing them outside of a religious setting, there’s going to be a gap in our understanding that religious people will pick up on.

    Here’s an example of the type of thing I mean, from Bad Catholic:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/badcatholic/2013/06/why-i-cant-conceive-of-de-conversion.html

    I think atheists are good at talking about the facts of the physical world, but not so good on subjective human experience. Maybe we need more psychologists.

    • Nate Frein

      Or you’re good at ignoring all the people who do show that they can trigger those experiences at will, without any “divine intervention.”

      We’re well aware that the human brain is a really bad data collector. The fact that Bad Catholic ignores those arguments is, well, no surprise.

    • Kodie

      People who say they have religious experiences or spiritual encounters are attributing a normally experience human emotion to a cosmic supernatural otherworld that doesn’t really exist. What’s really annoying is that they think nobody else has these feelings for rather secular reasons or that when we do, we’re denying god is the source of these emotions. There is no proof for that, and there is plenty of proof how brains work (although not comprehensively, there is still no proof of the soul or god or special “religious” brains with implanted radio receivers so things they come up with actually come from god and not their own neural activities conjuring up the answers to their questions or indecisions).

  • Kerry

    I will say that for me, as one who was deeply involved in the fundamental christian faith for 50 years, it took the abrasive, irreverent, provocative style of Hitchens to shake me up. Previous as a defense of my faith, I would read Spong as my way to keep up on the “opposition.” Hitchens is not for every one, but he was an integral part of my de-conversion.

    • Octoberfurst

      Same here! Hitchens was just what I needed.

      • Matt Bowyer

        Indeed, Hitchens was the one who gave me that necessary “push” to seriously consider my position on things like religion.

  • Blacksheep

    The still shot on the video player is funny – Hemant, looks like you’re commenting on the veal parmigiana. :)

    You have a terrific, very likeable presence on these videos, by the way. (in my opinion).

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      I thought sure that someone would say he looks like a dictator or something. Your idea is way more amusing.

      • Blacksheep

        There is that one old Mussolini video… but Hemant looks friendlier than that.

  • Itsrealfunnythat

    I think to communicate with theists you have to address their thoughts. I told my mother I was an atheist and she asked me “Why do you hate God?”. I felt she missed the point. My ex used to ask me “How I could believe in beauty but not God” I think Theists cannot fathom the nonexistence of God so they assume there is some thing about God we do not like, not that we just dont believe.

    • http://twitter.com/bmk bmk

      Absolutely — and the best way to uncover these assumptions is through dialogue. People who have remained in only one faith tradition often hold many assumptions about other religions and non-religious people, without even realizing what they’re doing. (I know I did.)

      • Itsrealfunnythat

        Exactly, especially when you hear religious “facts” from family, friends and your neighborhood all day long. To get them to understand we have to address their concerns, for instance that we dont eat babies and worship Satan.

  • C Peterson

    The thing is, there are so many forums! And the most effective, most appropriate communication style varies widely across them.

    I live in a small town. I teach science at the local school. I’m on the school board. Everybody knows I’m an atheist, although I’ve hardly ever said it. It’s simply apparent in what I say about nature, about astronomy, about any number of things that are factually at odds with religious views on nature. Occasionally people ask my view, around town or in the classroom. I simply say what I believe in… not so much what I don’t believe in (particularly in the classroom, that distinction is important). I’ve never seen ruffled feathers from this approach.

    With religious friends, of course, I can be more “aggressive”. That is, we can really discuss things… what we believe, what we don’t believe, and why. Again, no ruffled feathers. I’ve never lost a religious friend because of our differing views.

    In online forums for atheists, anti-theists, secularists, etc, it’s a different matter. There, we are exploring all sorts of ideas. There is no real limit on what is open to discussion, or on the ideas tossed around. I have no problem in such forums explaining my utter disdain for religion, for theism, and in some cases, for individuals who hold such views. I’m not forcing my ideas on anybody. They are voluntarily participating, and that includes the occasional religious person who decides to get involved (often trolls, but not always). I don’t feel bound to tread lightly with them. A Christian who comes to an atheist forum had better have thick skin, and not whine if his ideas are attacked… forcefully.

    I don’t have any social media accounts. But on my astronomical website (heavily visited), on my blog (not so much), I’m very open about my views (on the science site, focusing on skepticism; on the blog, anti-theism). Again, these are forums where somebody has to come to me, and I have no problem being very assertive.

    Bottom line: we most effectively talk to religious people about atheism (and ideas shared by many atheists) by judging the forum and matching our style to it.

    • Justin

      If an atheist “friend” makes fun of you, as a Christian, then that atheist is not really your friend.

  • Jayn

    The one thing that bugs me as a theist is when it’s suggested that I’m stupid and/or objectively wrong for believing in something more than the physical universe we’re able to sense and explore, even though I know from your perspective that’s the case. That’s the point when I want to stop listening to you. I’m perhaps unusual in that I do realise that it’s likely wishful thinking on my part, but where you can’t believe in God, I can’t not. I don’t mind specific aspects of my faith being questioned or debated, it’s just the direct, blanket ‘you are wrong’ types of statements that bug me. (The ‘Fiction for Fiction’ campaign would be near that line, though I’m not entirely sure where)

    • 3lemenope

      You’d think that atheists, being hammered relentlessly and unfairly for supposed moral faults due to our status as godless heathens, would be more reticent to make blanket statements about the merit qualities of whole groups, and yet some just can’t help calling theists dumb.

      Just a bit more evidence if anyone needs it that we’re all just (rather annoyingly) human.

    • The Other Weirdo

      Objectively, you are wrong to believe without objective evidence. If you had objective evidence, you wouldn’t need to believe in it. That doesn’t mean that you deserve to be mocked or disrespected. The mocking and disrespect comes when you try to enshrine your faith in the law and also when you don’t even try to prevent others, more theologically aggressive than you, from doing the same.

      • 3lemenope

        The mocking and disrespect comes when you try to enshrine your faith in the law and also when you don’t even try to prevent others, more theologically aggressive than you, from doing the same.

        I think this claim is our version of a fig leaf. I don’t believe–in fact, have no reason whatsoever to believe–that atheists only call theists dumb because some theists try to secure secular power and inflict religiously-inspired policies on us all. Atheists call theists dumb because it makes us feel better, and it isn’t much more complicated than that.

        • The Other Weirdo

          Citation with context required.

          • 3lemenope

            I’m arguing simple human nature, in-group out-group tribal behavior. You’re the one arguing against available evidence (wherein people, inexplicably, do not act like people). Let me ask, why do you believe that atheist mocking and disrespect comes only from fighting the good fight in the public square and not, y’know, because a lot of us think that theist beliefs are stupid and anyone who holds them must be so too?

            • Kodie

              I think the human species is not as smart as we all like to think we are. Theists find wonder in our supposed intelligence, elevated above the lower animals, and atheists …. I don’t know, take the intellectual credit of a few, but it is kind of stupid to believe in fairy tale stories. It’s not beneath humanity, I think it’s at the level. I think the stimuli of life are complex and people need ordering tools, and religion is just one of them. I find myself disagreeing with atheists a lot when they just pile on and feeling superior, but faced with a theist, I find myself a little stumped as to how to respond a great deal of the time. It’s not that they said something stupid, it’s that they fight with non sequiturs entirely and aren’t even listening. No time for that shit… sometimes a little time to vent some tension with this particular sort of pest.

              Let’s take another example. Mice are pretty smart. I think most animals are as smart as they need to be to survive. It’s all they think about. I don’t have any time for mice, but if one finds its way in, I can’t just catch it in a trap and be done with mice, like, ha ha you stupid feeble-minded mouse have the gall to enter the home of the superior human! I’m not sure how mice regard humans – a source of food, for sure, but do they regard our size or respect our intellect? No. They chew through the wallboard and piss on the baseboards and poop behind the stove. It’s gross. They don’t know they’re gross. I find a lot of religious people, as per their claims, to live as close to the way of the mouse as they can. Opportunistic procreating animals who don’t question how it all works and when they find their way in, they poop behind the refrigerator with zero regard for how gross that is and how I don’t welcome them.

              So I’m going on a little tangent, but they stick up for themselves, they are mice. Mice don’t recognize they are bad, for they are really good at being mice and living as mice do. They aren’t doing anything wrong as per their species dictates. And if I find myself with a mouse problem, my life is now dictated by the invasion. How is that creature not superior? I have to go to an awful lot of trouble to secure my home against them. When I talk to a few theists, not all of them, the brainless things they say, and when you try to reason with them, respond with some other magical chant that has dick to do with the topic or anything, I have the same feeling. We’re not on the same level, and I hesitate to say they’re intellectually superior, but they’ve figured out the best method to survive and keep their beliefs from being eroded while frustrating people just by being there.

              Like mice.

              • 3lemenope

                I think the stimuli of life are complex and people need ordering tools, and religion is just one of them. I find myself disagreeing with atheists a lot when they just pile on and feeling superior, but faced with a theist, I find myself a little stumped as to how to respond a great deal of the time. It’s not that they said something stupid, it’s that they fight with non sequiturs entirely and aren’t even listening. No time for that shit… sometimes a little time to vent some tension with this particular sort of pest.

                That’s a good point. And I totally get lashing out from frustration; two folks engaging over what are likely to be just fundamentally incompatible views of the world is a recipe for plenty of that.

                I’m taking more aim at those who suggest that theists are fundamentally stupid or defective as a baseline opinion, rather than as a psychological fall back when shit gets annoying.

              • Buckley

                Holy crap that is funny as hell and I’m gonna quote the crap out of that…”Opportunistic procreating animals”…I wish I could thunb up this 20 times. Ever see the stickers on the back of mini vans with the multiple kids (5+)? That’s usually when I look at my girlfriend and say “Fundies”.

                • The Other Weirdo

                  This is what I hate. People step out of some narrowly-defined boundary that someone has completely arbitrarily assigned and suddenly they are the other. Where I come from, people(women, mostly) used to mock pregnant women, especially if they know–or suspect–it’s not her first pregnancy, saying, “Who does she think she? What is she, rich or something?” Do we really want to be aping communist countries?

              • The Other Weirdo

                Opportunistic procreating animals

                So your mice a little rapey?

                • Kodie

                  Are you mocking me because I should put a comma in that clause?

                • The Other Weirdo

                  Far be it for me to provide instruction on dealing with rapey mice. :)

                • Kodie

                  I actually saw it on a documentary about a variety of animals that male mice are extremely protective and nurturing the female who has just given birth and in other research, they make more mice about every 3 weeks. I don’t know if rape is a part of mouse culture. I also know they like paper towels and can climb a wall if it’s textured (like brick). Mice are opportunistic dwellers and they are also prolific breeders. I don’t know if they mix the two.

            • The Other Weirdo

              I don’t. Maybe it’s confirmation bias, I don’t know, but the examples I’ve noticed were people getting angry at a particular line of reasoning, calling the other person a dumbass and backing out of a conversation. You know, the atheist version of “I’ll pray for you.”

              Besides, there is nothing wrong with mocking.

              • Kodie

                I agree with you but mocking is still also ingroup/outgroup behavior. Instead of insisting someone learn English, you might mock their accent. Instead of giving someone instructions how to be popular at school, you mock their appearance. So there is something wrong with mocking, depending on who is mocking and why. If an atheist is mocking the religious, I kind of see it as kind of a way to make them insecure about their beliefs, like someone might be insecure about being an immigrant or not popular at school, which they shouldn’t be. Because a religious person may have just said something absurd only a child would believe, I don’t really see the problem with mocking, so long as we understand they generally belong to a bigger group strategic about how it handles mocking, such as calling attention to the bible passages about how believers will be mocked, and to regard this as a form of persecution, and the mockers to be fools – because they believe absurd things, of course they believe all the hype about atheists because it’s prophesied in the bible. So in their own way, they have it set up where they are mocking us for not seeing their delusions, and how we are bound for hell, and we are just impatient with absurd childish beliefs, although nothing bad should happen to them, it just proves the rule for them.

                • The Other Weirdo

                  My apologies. I assumed we were all adults here and knew what is expected of adult behaviour, even if we sometimes–perhaps even often–fall short.

              • 3lemenope

                Mm. There is that too; I think of it like an atheist mike drop. I’m more talking about when it is offered in earnest as an opinion, rather than out of frustration. I’ve definitely seen the opinion offered on these threads that theists must have defective minds for accepting theism, that despite apparent intelligence in other areas, theism can only be accounted for by a defect or by stupidity.

                I’m not sure I agree there is nothing wrong with mocking. Mocking is a rhetorical tool that, like all the other ones, is restrained by being appropriate only to certain circumstances and fora. When it is used outside those moments and situations, there can definitely be something wrong with it. When someone is stepping outside their comfort zone to initiate dialogue, I’d suggest that moment might be the very worst for a bit of ribbing.

                • The Other Weirdo

                  Yes, and that is very true. However, when a person jumps into the middle of a conversation with 1700 comments in it with nothing more than a bunch of Bible quotes that are only tangentially related to the topic at hand, even if they honestly believe they are 42, mocking is pretty much the only sane response.

                • 3lemenope

                  On that I wholeheartedly agree.

          • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

            Nah, I’ve seen it plenty. I’ve even done it when I get irritated and frustrated enough, even though I really truly do know better.

            Usually i just call theism stupid or silly though, because it is a rather stupid and silly idea. That doesn’t mean that everyone that believes in it is stupid, of course- lots of very smart people believe lots of very stupid or silly things for all sorts of reasons. Unfortunately, a lot of people are very bad at separating “that’s a stupid idea” from “you are stupid”.

    • Art_Vandelay

      I actually have no problem at all with the idea that you can’t “not” believe in a God. I don’t think we can control our beliefs. Some people just can’t grasp the idea that this universe could be a product of cumulative, mindless natural processes. Maybe they are right. It’s when you start pretending that you’re special…made in it’s image…a 950 trillion light year sized universe was created for one of a billion species living on a speck of dust…you know what it wants from you…what to eat and on what days…who to sleep with…how to raise your children, etc. This is when it goes from being just something stuck in your head to something intellectually dishonest.

    • Nate Frein

      To echo The Other Weirdo, I’m not sure what you expect if you enter a conversation with a skeptic and offer unsupported views and expect them not to be rebutted.

      One thing that drives me up the wall is when people assume they are being called stupid just because it has been pointed out to them that they are not thinking critically.

      • Jayn

        I don’t mind people saying “I see no evidence that…” because I know that my faith makes no sense to you (to be entirely honest I’m not sure it makes much sense to me–I just know that atheism didn’t stick). But some people do turn it into a direct attack, which is the point where I have problems. Which is perhaps a fine line to draw, and I know that many people probably don’t see it at all, given how personal a belief system is. So sometimes that distinction won’t matter anyways. All I can say for certain is that it does for me.

    • Kodie

      Well, when you bring it up, depending on the forum, what do you expect will happen? You think on an atheist forum, like here, you will be welcomed in for your astute observations of nothing and evidence of nothing? Oh sure, Jayn, that’s really interesting and I have nothing to say about that – sharing your personal viewpoint in a different conversation circle would not necessarily invite conflict. It’s just agree to disagree. But if you’re venturing to a forum populated with atheists to share your ideas, expect to have them criticized for being insubstantial and lacking evidence and being a product of your own imagination and limited skills in building a universe that you can fathom.

    • Daniel Schealler

      The one thing that bugs me as a theist is when it’s suggested that I’m stupid and/or objectively wrong…

      I’m right there with you on the implied stupidity thing. Some atheists do have a a bad habit of framing nonbelief vs. belief in terms of clever vs. stupid.

      I’m guilty of it myself – but I acknowledge it’s a problem. Firstly, it’s an ethos that is guaranteed to turn people against us, so it’s a rhetorically foolish stance to be taking. But it’s also untrue. I do think that you are mistaken, but I also think that it is possible to be simultaneously mistaken and highly intelligent. Being rational has much more to do with training and discipline than intellect. In the absence of those, intelligence leads people to be more effective rationalizers, not rationalists. :P

      But as for the ‘objectively wrong’ part? That depends on what we mean by the term.

      A) To be objectively wrong is to lack objective (mind-independent) evidence for a position.

      B) To be objectively wrong is to hold a position despite the presence of direct objective (mind-independent) evidence that it is mistaken.

      Both of these are reasonable uses of the term ‘objectively wrong’. Under A, you are objectively wrong.

      Under B you are not – but you can only escape B so long as your position remains disconnected from objective reality. But from that understanding, ‘objectively wrong’ would be a step up from being unfalsifiable or incoherent.

  • Frank

    The answer is quite simple: dump the hubris and stop criticizing them.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      The irony is of course lost on you.

      • Frank

        No not at all. The point is lost on you it seems. I was answering the question posed.

    • The Other Weirdo

      The hubris that pretends to know how the universe came to be, exactly how the first life, let alone humans, appeared, and what the Infinite Creator Plus One has in mind for each and every one us? That hubris?

      • Frank

        Sigh. The question was asked and I answered. The question as not how can Christians better talk to atheists.

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      I like being treated as a person. If someone is advocating that legally I be treated as less-than-a-person, I’m going to “criticize” them.

      • Frank

        Who is advocating not treating you as a person?

        • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

          Any pro-lifer. Anyone who says I am incapable of morality or love because I don’t believe in God. That encompasses a great many religious people, though by no means all of them.

          • Frank

            Well I have never heard anyone utter those words.

            • Nate Frein

              Then you have your head in the sand.

              • Frank

                Enlighten me with proof. Show me a verifiable quote.

                • Nate Frein

                  You can start with any pro-life website you want.

                • Frank

                  You made the assertion its your job to provide proof.

                • Nate Frein

                  I made the assertion that you have your head in the sand. You’re only proving my point.

                • Frank

                  I thought atheists valued intellect and reason? I guess most of them are still working towards it. Keep working.

            • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

              You’ve supported Andre Villaneuve a few times. He has clearly stated that morality comes from God and atheists cannot have any sort of morality. He has also accused us of being unable to love, since it’s all just chemicals or something.

              And surely you’ve met just a few pro-lifers? As I recall, you are one.

              • Frank

                I don’t know who Andre Villaneuve is. Yes I believe in the value, dignity and ethics of allowing a created life to come to fruition.

                • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

                  But clearly, not in the value, dignity, and ethics of the woman you relegate to walking incubator. Which is why I criticize your position and say you’re not treating me like a person.

                • Frank

                  Well you can make assumptions if you choose. I could argue that anyone who chooses to engage in actions that result in pregnancy but does not want a baby and decides to eliminate it is not treating that life with respect either. But I don’t have time to get into an abortion debate.

                • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

                  Me either. We shall cross swords another day.

    • Kodie

      If they say or do things that need criticizing, they’re going to get criticized. You religious people tell us there’s a god, and that you two have a personal relationship, and that he wants ME to live my life the way YOU say.

      You also say things like, I’m just in denial or mad at god, or that I deny god so I can do whatever I want, and you oh so arrogantly think you can invent your apparition to agree with you, so you can tell me how to behave more superstitiously and cautious about random things that are not actually bad for anyone. No matter how many times people tell you, repeat over and over – prove your god exists or keep walking – you continue thinking what you want to think, what they tell you to think about us, not what people, us, who know how we feel and think, have explained to you.

      So, you’re going to keep getting criticized. It’s part of your religion to value the opinions of your tribe and judge others on the outside of it, and it’s part of your religion to say rude untrue things about people you don’t understand until they fight back and then act like we’re wrong and we’ve wronged you. As long as you want to continue asserting your blatant ignorance, you will be criticized.

  • Charles Chambers

    Hemant, thanks for this video series! I’ve watched them all and agree with you. Your book was a great read. Thanks for your good work. Please keep it up.

  • Eddie

    I see atheism as a dead end street. With all due respect to the folk here, I just don’t see anything of substance to stand on, as it pertains to life. Like, why does this world have so much bad stuff in it and why do we strive to make it a better place? Then as we strive to make it a better place how do we know we are doing it right? Why do we desire temporal justice and dismiss there being ultimate justice beyond this life? Why am I dying, but desire to live? Why am I depressed at the thought that of all that I gain in this life, I lose by death? I see a sign above the door to atheism that reads, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter”. Just an observation. Peace.

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      Will you listen to us tell you why we live? It’s a personal philosophy, of course, but atheists are not generally nihilists. This is only about me: I clearly can’t speak for other atheists, because there is no unified philosophy by which we live.

      The world has bad stuff in it because people can be careless, cruel, greedy, and heartless. Also, evolution means there’s lots of viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites that are harmful. Additionally, natural weather patterns + human building patterns = natural disasters on occasion. We try to make it better because we are empathetic. We do not like pain, we do not like others to be in pain (it causes us pain, too), and so we want to alleviate all the pain we can. We know if we’re doing it right or not by measuring it. Babies dying of measles is very painful for everyone involved, so we give out measles vaccines, and overall global pain goes down. Win for falsifiable, measurable results!

      We desire temporal justice because it’s the only justice there is, and justice is a way of decreasing pain by both exacting retribution for wrongs done and discouraging others from doing those things. Justice is how we, as a society, tell people what is and is not acceptable behavior without making it a free-for-all, because part of justice is having it carried out by lawful authorities. Justice is part of building a society that minimizes pain. We reject ultimate justice beyond this life because there is no evidence for it. It might be a nice idea, but it’s not worth putting up with injustice in the here and now for the hope of something better later. Far better to fix it in the here and now.

      You’re dying because you’re an animal, as we all are, and your telomeres are degenerating with each cell division in your body. Living is generally pretty nice, though, so you don’t want to die. The idea of nonexistence is scary. I don’t see it as depressing to lose everything though, because that means you leave it behind for others to use. Your body gets eaten by worms and beetles and other things, and decomposes into elements that fertilize the soil, which lets plants grow, which can then be eaten by other animals (human or not). Your stuff goes to your friends and family, who remember you and use it as they will. Your legacy of what you did while you were alive, good and bad, continues on as ripples through history as everyone you ever interacted with was changed, however slightly, by interacting with you. You live on in memory and how you changed the world, even though you are dead. That isn’t depressing to me at all. It’s inspiring.

    • Daniel Schealler

      The most substantial thing for a person to rest their worldview upon is substance: The natural world itself*. It can actually be shown to exist. If we start there and build up, we’re likely to get to answers that work in the real world.

      If you don’t like the answers and prefer to substitute your own, that’s your business. But don’t act like we’re the one’s who are missing something obvious.

      Reality can be chilling at first. But once you work through it to the other side you realize that the things that actually do give life meaning and significance are still there. The metaphysics and fictions you’ve built up around the good things in life are flawed and are obscuring your vision. But it’s okay. The good things still remain once you clear away the millennial detritus that has built up around them due to cravenly wishful thinking. The goal is to see their place in the universe for what it really is rather than what you’d like them to be – to keep the baby while throwing out the bathwater. Then your appreciation and understanding deepens, and your ability to live well has only grown.

      And for the record Eddie, you seem to feel that our ‘due respect’ is none at all. ‘Just an observation’ indeed. Passive-aggressive much?


      *Apologies everyone for the horrible deepity. It was just so perfectly set up that I couldn’t help myself for the sake of the pun. :P

    • Kodie

      We’re animals, we live on a planet. Why wouldn’t it be like this? Adam and Eve is a myth created to tell a story about how it used to be even greater than our humble imagination, and that it was ruined, and that’s why it sucks now. We strive to make it better because we have foresight? Because we’re intelligent and detect a notable pattern that after people die, there are still people here who need to be cared for. How do you know you’re doing it right? Because god gives you that assurance that everything you do is fine and don’t worry how it turns out for anyone else? That this life doesn’t matter?

      Why do you desire eternal justice? Why do you think anything anyone on earth has done deserves punishment and torture forever? We’re a cooperative species and we don’t like it when a person breaks trust and harms someone or is careless enough to make it a risky environment for others. It needs some refinement, but what is wrong with it? Is it not fair? “Who are we to judge?” We are in this together and we’re all we have. You are intelligent to have knowledge of dying and death and you fear it because you love people and you want to see how things continue. Religion says you’ll reunite in heaven, so long as your kids and your friends all believe the same as you do, which is meant to comfort you toward death. Everything alive dies and even religion acknowledges that fact, in its way. You will go to heaven and never worry again, which is actually what happens when you die, without the heaven part. I guarantee, you will not be disappointed or have any worries. My favorite is the religious people who threaten us, telling us we’ll be on our knees begging god, once we see him and have proof, to let us into heaven. You think that offers something nice?

      The universe doesn’t care about you, and that bothers you for some reason, you can’t handle it. The universe doesn’t care about any of us, whether we live or die or are in pain or fuck up our existence. We care. Humans care. Humans care so much, they devise stories to pretend it used to be more perfect and painless, and that if we choose the correct god story, live our lives according to superstition, we get to arrive at that perfection again. So what, atheism doesn’t offer you a bedtime story. Grow up?

  • scroogleu

    Frank, I’m waiting for you to do that first. I’m waiting for you to climb down from that shit-scented pile of “holy” books, dogmas with which people like you violate Constitutional separation of church and state. I’m waiting for you to stop persecuting gays for doing what is natural for them, stop blaming autism and cancer on anybody’s sin, and stop polluting our population with children who are taught to think illogically in the narcissism of your faith system, which always causes harm to others! We only criticiuse e who unfairly criticise others, when they should be seeking to understand them.

    Religious people reach for the personal sedation of simple answers. Well, I’ve got one for you – there simply cannot be any peace when you try and surpass understanding!

  • aslanscompass

    As a Christian, I think both sides have to deal with the issue of how to present their beliefs to those who disagree with them. While Christians may (nominally, imo) be a majority in America, the general stereotype –homophobic, anti-women, racist, etc–is unpleasant in a different way than the atheist stereotypes.

    The only way to break down these stereotypes is to actually listen to what the other side says. As one of my professors said, “Before you can say ‘I disagree,’ you must first say ‘I understand.’” Which doesn’t mean you have to buy into what other people believe, but you should honestly make an effort to see where they’re coming from and what they actually believe.


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