There is a Madness to My Method

A friend of mine from high school has recently abandoned Christianity in favor of atheism.  She messaged me on gchat yesterday to talk about it.  The conversation made me smile.  She told me how now, instead of thanking god, her children thank other people.  No more grace, but completely unprompted her kids will thank the waitress for bringing the food, the cook for making it, and even the restaurant owner for building the place.

But there was one part of our conversation that stuck out to me.

Ex Christian:  I’m a bit of a stalker on your blogs …

Me:  Oh my.  :P  How did that work while you were a believer?

Ex Christian:  um, pissed me off at first. confused me for a while.

Ex Christian:  did my own research because you COULDN’T be right …

Ex Christian:  then converted

I have gotten countless emails from people thanking me for helping them ditch religion who tell that exact same story.

This is why I do not care if religious people are pissed at me.  I do not care if they’re offended.  I want religious people to realize that if they are to protect their beliefs from criticism, hunkering down and hiding behind taking offense won’t stop us (or the conversation).  I want them to know the only way to put us atheists in our place is to engage us.

I am told by many other atheists that we should be careful not to offend religious people.  Though I do not advocate offending people for the sake of offending people, when this argument gets applied to genuine criticism of religion it does not move me in the slightest.  I do not want religious people to be comfortable in their beliefs.  I want them to worry that when they step out of church that they will lose an argument if Jesus gets brought up.  I want them to view me as the enemy – hell, I am the enemy of their religion.  I want them to be mad at atheists so much they either stop bringing Jesus up in public (win) or they engage atheists (win).  I want them to want to beat me because that means they’re learning, even if it’s in the interest of besting me.

As long as people are learning, as long as they’re exposing themselves to the facts, and as long as they’re thinking, religion is losing.  I may not convert them, but knowledge mixed with reality will.

GODLESSNESS: Half-naked atheism.
ACTIVISM & GODLESSNESS: Purpose-driven life and secularism.
HUMOR & GODLESSNESS: MST3K to riff on "God's Not Dead" at American Atheist Convention.
About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.



  • Somite

    Richard Dawkins keeps an updated list of numerous people that have converted due to reading his “strident” books and website.

    I haven’t seen a similar list from any of the accomodationists that are convinced their method is best.

    • Brownian

      They don’t need evidence. They just “know” that people don’t respond to the gnu strawmen they have in their heads.

      They’re probably not entirely wrong on that account. Strawmen, especially hyperbolic ones, aren’t very convincing.

    • TerraPosse

      Because they’ll just say that the interweb isn’t big enough to take all the names on their list. ;-)

  • Brownian

    As I’m sure you know, these sorts of stories aren’t uncommon, though they’re always pleasant to see.

    What would be a mindblower is if any of you militant, strident gnus managed to convince an accommodationist that such conversions at your hands happen at all.

    Go on. Tell one this story. See if they don’t stare at you blankly as if you’d said nothing at all, and then fall back on their default program, “I just think you catch more flies with honey…”

    • F


    • Richard

      He converted me, as an “accommodationist”. I didn’t want to talk to people about religion, though I had long since stopped believing in god. “Catch more flies with honey” and “Their mind is already made up, what is the point of having an argument?” were often my mantras.

      One single talk from JT, and now I’ve got pride in my step and a good argument in my belt. So JT wins again.

    • LeftSidePositive

      This has nothing to do with atheism, but once upon a time my colleague at a volunteer nonprofit was embezzling (laundered through inappropriate reimbursements, but FAPI&P, embezzling) and trying to hold the org’s info for ransom (yes, she insisted that we pay her to provide details on what she had done in her official capacity). I had a long meeting with the president of an affiliate org about what to do, and part way through he actually said, “You know, you’ll get more flies with honey than with vinegar…”

      And I was like, SERIOUSLY???? If I’m extra nice to this girl, give her whatever funding she wants, and don’t ask to see any verification of expenses, that’s likely to stop her from embezzling?!?!!

      But, yeah…sometimes I think accommodationism is some kind of mind virus. There’s just no other explanation.

      (ultimately, she left shortly thereafter and damage was minimal–we never were able to find out exactly how much money she appropriated, but life went on…)

  • niftyatheist

    Loved this. Great reminder, JT. And I appreciate your verve. Must point my teenaged sons in your direction (again).

  • Mike Haynes

    I really appreciate stories like this. I often get frustrated on the various debate forums, seeing the same arguments repeated over and over again, sometimes by the same people. It’s nice know that there may be a lurker or two benefiting from these repeated arguments.

  • No Light

    Brownian – I’d reply “Sure, flies may prefer honey, but they’ll go for the shit every single time”

    I was raised as an evangelical christian, though not in the US. I’ve always doubted it, but went along with it as a kid. As a teen I preferred secular charitable activity, but that was still ok with my parents. In my twenties I became very ill, and felt like a worm on a hook, powerless and punished.

    Three years ago I got an e-reader, braved some Dawkins (and got a bit irritated) and then read “Who Wrote the Bible, and Why?” by Bart Ehrman.
    The final nail in the coffin of my religion had been well and truly hammered in. Game over for god.

    I feel like I have some power, some agency, some choice in my life now. I’m not on a predestined path of pain and misery, I have one life to live and I want it to be as good as it can be!

    • Brownian

      Honestly, it doesn’t matter what you respond. Their minds are made, and they flatly refuse to consider that there are multiple ways of approaching people.

      • Sam Salerno

        Exactly how does an accommodationist approach a religious person?

  • Pierce R. Butler

    I want them to want to beat me …


    • NathanDST

      At least I wasn’t the only one who read that line in a manner not-quite-as-intended.

  • Mike de Fleuriot

    You know the other way to pronounce “accommodationist”, is “Neville Chamberlain”.

    • Drakk

      This is straying dangerously close to Godwin’s Law territory…

  • Ben Crockett

    And this, sir, is part of why you are a goddamn inspiration to people like me.

  • Lambur

    Way to go JT. Now if my uber religious friends would just beat me, instead of threaten to beat me up. I’d be a happier person.

  • Ana

    True story. I was a christian when a (christian!) friend of mine told me about Boobquake. I started reading Jen’s blog, followed the links to Greta’s blog, and by the time I finished her arguments I was hooked. Some more months of research and playing with ideas around in my mind and I had ditched god for good. And I’m a freethought blog’s stalker to this day. =)

  • Arancaytar

    Pissing off a ninety-nine people and provoking one to examine their belief critically is a win, I think.

    • JohnM

      Absolutely. It’s not like the 99 were about to suddenly look at the actual foundations and substance of their beliefs, see the light and become atheists.

  • Rachel

    God is REAL! I dare you to study the Bible with an open and willing heart and go to church every time the doors are open (a good church) for 30 days. If you do this you will find out God is real. I know because He changed my life. :-)