Skepticon 5 Day One – JT’s “Dear Christian 2″

JT Eberhard PROPOSED to his girlfriend on stage at Skepticon 5!

During an emotional moment at the pinnacle of his speech tonight JT Eberhard actually proposed to his girlfriend Michaelyn! JT has a habit of outdoing himself every year, and this was a true masterpiece of theatrics as well as a beautiful expression of love. Congratulations to them both. And DAMN YOU JT for your theatrical shenanigans! What am I to do in MY speech?

Up next, atheist rockstar JT Eberhard with a sequel to his famous “Dear Christian” talk, inventively titled “Dear Christian 2″. JT is one of the best speakers on the circuit: funny, fluid, smart, and with a good sense for the dramatic – yes, he proposed to his girlfriend on stage tonight!- and his work with high schools for the Secular Student Alliance has been amazing. This talk, like the last “Dear Christian”, is an imaginary dialogue with Christians, aiming to annihilate Christian arguments and explain why they are not convincing to him.

“God has abandoned you”, he declared, stating that God could have given the argumentative advantage to Christians but did not – he gave it to atheists like us! His message, then, to abandoned Christians? “Come with us.” JT cares about Christians’ beliefs because “beliefs are the gatekeepers of actions”. He want to root-out irrationality before it does harm, and so it is his moral imperative to challenge the irrational beliefs of Christians.

Having set the stage for a spirited dialogue, he then moved through a series of arguments against faith: the moral argument; arguments against the religious concept of “free will”; the argument against the life-changing powers of belief (the beliefs aren’t true just because they change your life for the better!); challenging the argument from ignorance; a great tilt against presuppositionalism; a sensitive response to the argument from religious experience; and a powerful response to the cop-out of faith.

One thing I love about JT’s talks is his great grasp of rhetoric and persuasive technique. He is a very emotionally-compelling speaker who uses humor, pace, tone and rhythm to give his points weight and moment. He also uses strategic concessions to build his credibility, repeatedly saying that he believes Christians are sincere when they say they hear God talking to them or feel God. This is a far better persuasive strategy than outright dismissing the feelings they claim to have had, since it shows respect for their own account of their experiences but still allows JT to critique the nature of the experience. Smart move.

One criticism: some of JT’s views of “Christian doctrine” elide some pretty large disagreements between Christians themselves on many of the topics he discussed. There are many forms of Christianity, and many hold, for instance, that entrance to heaven is dependent upon compassion and good works, not just beliefs. By making arguments which do not address the range of Christian thought on this issue JT attacks a weaker opponent than he might – some steelmanning is in order here, since it would improve JT’s own arguments.

Some choice quotes:

“I believe that reason can change your life in ways that faith never could.”

“The less we’re ignorant, the greater the extent to which we flourish.”

“Within the ever-crumbling ruins of ignorance, that is where God lies.”

“To understand [the universe] as it really is…that’s when it becomes truly beautiful.”

“Can you distinguish faith from gullibility?”

“Faith is a moral failing. It is an intellectual failing…I’m telling you this because I believe you can do better.”

“[My girlfriend] gives me more access to heaven than any belief about God ever did…I want to spend my life with you. Will you marry me?

“I don’t want to follow Greta Christina even on Skype!”

JT ended his talk with a passionate call to Christians everywhere who find themselves doubting what they hear in church:

“We understand. So many of us were once religious. We know how it feels to be scared…We know what it feels like to feel like we’re the only atheist in the world, we’re the only one that’s having doubts…You’re not alone…God has abandoned you, but we have not.”

He’s right. If any of you out there are doubting your faith, asking questions you’ve never asked before about God and your faith, and are scared of the consequences of expressing those doubts, that’s a good sign you’re in the wrong place. Atheist and Humanist communities online are here to help you out: out of faith, and into freedom.

About James Croft

James Croft is a Humanist activist and public speaker who has swiftly become one of the best-known new faces in Humanism today. He is a graduate of the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard, and is currently studying for his Doctorate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. As a leader in training in the Ethical Culture movement – a national movement of Humanist congregations – he is an in-demand public speaker, an engaging teacher, and a passionate activist for human rights. James was raised on Shakespeare, Sagan and Star Trek, and is a proud, gay Humanist. His upcoming book "The Godless Congregation", co-authored with New York Times bestselling author Greg Epstein, is being published by Simon & Schuster.

  • Norm

    Fortunately so many people have positive personal spiritual experiences that all the witty,sharp and clever talk wont persuade them they are dreaming.On the other hand if there are agnostics out there realizing they are in denial to justify their life style,stop,turn your life around and find a spirit filled church,and thus ,truth.

    • David Hart

      There’s a big difference between having a ‘positive personal spiritual experience’ and actually being in touch with a supernatural entity that exists outside of your own imagination. The fact that people of all religions report such experiences proves that your particular religion doesn’t have any unique access to them; the fact that people who are not religious at all can have them and recognise them as mental events that, however blissful and serene, do not prove the existence of anything outside of their own minds ought to suggest to you that these experiences cannot be held to clinch the argument in favour of any gods at all, let alone your particular god or gods.

      And the fact that our brains are known to have all sorts of cognitive glitches (my favourite analogy is that optical illusion with the black squares on a white background, where you see grey dots at the corners between the squares, unless you look directly at them – the explanation is far more likely to be that our visual systems reliably make a processing error and report things that aren’t there than than that the grey dots really are there but magically disappear when focussed on) also argues against you. Before you can even begin to put forward gods as an explanation for spiritual experiences, you must first explain why you dismiss the most likely hypothesis – that they are simply an artifact of our brains’ machinery.

      • James Croft

        Did you perhaps mean this comment to go elsewhere? :)


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