While tabling the other day, a woman with a sizable cross necklace approached the table and opened with “So you guys are what, atheists and agnostics? Why?” with a tone suggesting that not believing a person rose from the dead was something out of the ordinary.
Take a moment and imagine if an atheist went up to the Christian table and said the same thing: “So you guys are Christians? Why?” You can imagine the offense they’d take.
Anyway, I elected to indulge this woman. Within 20 minutes of conversation (in which I was perfectly nice) I had gotten a few admissions of “that’s a good point” out of her (though, I doubt that will keep her from using the same argument next time). I also made her cry, I suspect from the good points (since, like I said, I was overly nice).
Of all her bad arguments, I wanted to talk about one. Michaelyn told the woman that god’s hatred of LGBT people, as confirmed in the bible, has made it such that even if god existed that she wants none of him or his heaven. The woman’s response was “what about forgiveness?”. I told her that Christianity mangled the concept. She asked how so.
I told her to imagine that Michaelyn and I had both robbed separate banks for identical amounts of money. Both of us felt remorse and wanted forgiveness. So I began working two full-time jobs, all the while donating 80% of my income to charity. I do this for the remainder of my life. Michaelyn, on the other hand, does none of that. She doesn’t donate a single dollar to charity, she doesn’t even return the money she stole. Instead, she believe an absurd story of a man rising from the dead.
No objective observer could honestly say that Michaelyn deserves more forgiveness than I. No fair-minded person could even say that she had done enough to earn forgiveness at all. Yet god, a supposed god of fairness, not only believes just that, but he believes it so much that I get to burn for all eternity for robbing the bank while Michaelyn is rewarded with paradise on account of being forgiven. Societal order, I told the woman, would crumble if we were to employ god’s shoddy idea of forgiveness.
She then went on to tell me about Jesus sacrifice, and at one point proudly declared that nothing could change her mind. I told her “You say that with such pride, when I think it’s one of the worst things you could say. It nullifies the point of conversation. If we all said nothing could change our minds, we’d never grow as people. There would be no point to learning new things, to education. And there would be no point of conversation. Why even begin this conversation with me if it’s only my mind that can be changed?”
The irony is that she kept insisting that the evidence was all around me, but that it was I who was too close-minded to see it. I did point out to her that, for the evidence being all around me, it hasn’t managed to provide her with a single good argument for god’s existence (she opened with Pascal’s Wager). She said that I was just a good debater. I said, in kinder language, how she knew it was my eloquence allowing me to win every point and not the fact that she had shit arguments. She said that wasn’t what she was saying, then she said it again.
This all sounds frustrating, but it’s worth it. Because more regularly than you’d expect, these conversations corrode the “nothing could change my mind” barrier over a period of months before actually changing the person’s mind. I’ve seen it happen too often, and that’s why I don’t mind enduring the frustration of bad arguments.