Why I Keep Talking to People Who Won’t Listen

Why I Keep Talking to People Who Won’t Listen December 14, 2013

not_listeningLike most skeptics, I go back and forth between a willingness to engage religious people in conversation about matters over which we disagree and complete exasperation with their inability (or else refusal) to see things from any perspective but their own. Some days I have seemingly endless patience for it; other days I’m ready to start flipping tables and plucking out my own hairs one by one. Some days even I can’t resist trolling the deliberately obtuse. But most days I keep talking to them. I keep engaging them in further conversation, despite hearing my friends tell me “Give it up, man. They’re never gonna listen.” They’re not entirely wrong, I’ll admit that. So why do I keep jumping in? I have my own reasons, and I’ll get to them shortly. But first let me address a couple of things that I already know some of you will bring up.

First of all, I must clarify that by “religious people” I mean those people whose religious beliefs override all other faculties of reason. For them, dogma always trumps logic. Not all people who subscribe to a belief in invisible spirits, an afterlife, or just “Something Out There” fall into that category. Some theists, for example, will concede that their holy book is wrong whenever it contradicts reason, science, or basic humanitarian ethics. Those aren’t the people I’m talking about. The people I’m labeling “religious” here are those who will not allow good sense to dissuade them from what they were taught to believe, no matter what. Two things I know about identifying these people are: 1) Naturally, nobody thinks he belongs to this group (ever heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect?), and 2) The quickest litmus test for this among Christians is to gauge their stance on the infallibility of the Bible. It is irrational to believe that a book written by imperfect people can be perfect, especially when it is demonstrably replete with errors and inconsistencies (“I am offended! Show me these alleged ‘errors’ immediately!”). So that issue makes for a fast diagnostic test that works most of the time. Of course, intelligence is compartmental, so even this test has its flaws. But my response (and my willingness to stay engaged in conversation) will depend upon where in the spectrum of rationality my conversational partner falls.

Second, I must point out how quick some are to charge me with hypocrisy when I accuse people of refusing to see things from another’s perspective. “You atheists do this too!” they insist. We call this the tu quoque argument, which is yet another form of changing the subject from one topic to another. But that aside, I disagree with this claim. While I cannot speak for those who have never belonged to a religion, I can say that those of us who spent years in the evangelical world know what we’re talking about. We were once insiders ourselves, so we speak of their “worldview” from first-hand experience—something they themselves typically cannot do in return. Most evangelical Christians have never inhabited my mental world, while I spent many years in theirs. I find that even those who market themselves as “former atheists” demonstrate a frustrating lack of familiarity with the perspectives of non-theists. They repeatedly say things which few atheists I know would ever say, leading me to suspect that they spent little time in their earlier years really thinking through things from that perspective. Far be it from me to name any names here, so I’ll just leave it up to you to figure out who those people are.

Like I said, not naming any names.

Back to my original question: Why do I keep engaging people in conversations about these things when I know from experience that so many of them adhere to beliefs which prevent them from even devoting a second to seeing things from my point of view? I know good and well how that works. You are taught to fear the influence of a nebulous, nefarious bogeyman who infiltrates minds through “deceptive philosophy” so that refusing to consider the other’s perspective becomes an act of devotion to God. Disallowing yourself from going down that mental path even for a second is an act of worship. With such a set of values in place, why do I even bother? I won’t try to convince you or anyone else that it’s worth your time to do this; I’m only going to explain why I can’t seem to give it up. I can think of five reasons:

1. Because I’m an educator by profession, and I can’t resist the urge to make people think and question and defend what they believe. In short, it’s my job. I teach critical thinking skills for a living (despite what some of my previous supervisors seem to think I was supposed to be doing). Like most teachers, I am quite accustomed to the inevitable resistance put up by minds that don’t want to change. I’m not easily deterred by such. If I were, I’d be a crummy teacher.

2. Because while minds don’t change overnight (much less during the course of one conversation), you can plant seeds of doubt which in time grow into full-fledged skepticism. You never know when something you say may help someone process their own thoughts more objectively in the future. The important thing is not to rush things. You can’t expect a complete mind change right away. You have to be very patient, and if that’s not your thing, then maybe you shouldn’t be having too many of these conversations. If you snap on people easily, maybe do us all a favor and find a different hobby.

3. Because some people are “fencesitters” or are still in transition out of a dogmatic ideology, so they benefit from listening in on these conversations. I’ve said before that when you convert to Christianity they often bombard you with indoctrination, offering orientation classes and specially-made literature sporting titles like “Now That You’re a Christian,” but when you deconvert there are no such helps available. Because those who leave their faith often do so alone, they do not immediately have a group to turn to which can help them work through the issues and implications of this transition. For some, seeing these debates and arguments may be a necessary part of clearing their own heads.

4. Because sometimes it’s just fun, okay? If you’re a person who enjoys thinking through things, then bouncing thoughts back and forth with another person can be an enjoyable activity in itself, regardless of the outcome. It’s like a sport for the mind. People who enjoy fencing or boxing or chess do what they do because it’s fun. Oh sure, some have to win in order to enjoy themselves, but I’m not one of those people (which is good because debates rarely ever have a clear “winner” despite the fact that both sides often claim it’s them). I can thoroughly enjoy the volley of a good ping-pong match (yes, I know I’m a nerd) regardless of whether I win or lose. The game itself is fun, just for the sport of it (Seriously though, you should see the way I play ping-pong. Injuries are not uncommon).

5. Because even if their minds never change, reasoning with them helps me process my own thoughts so I can root out and eliminate the many pockets of irrationality still left in my own thinking. This, to me, is the most important reason of all. I am still in process. I always will be. I always hope that I will know more ten years from now than I do today. That will not happen if I ever conclude that “I’ve arrived” and know it all now. Just because I’ve learned to value rationality over religious dogma doesn’t mean I can’t fall for delusions of my own making. As a human animal, I will always be susceptible to uncritically accepting unsubstantiated claims. That is why I need these conversations. Learning to pick apart the many ways we all cling to poorly-reasoned ideas helps me avoid gathering new delusions.

A friend of mine has for many years tried to care for both a mother and a sister who have schizophrenia. Her task is difficult for so many reasons, and I’m sure it takes a lot out of her at times. But it has helped to make her a preeminently realistic woman who knows how to combat irrational delusions with tact and precision. Deconverting from a religion is kind of like that, except the delusional one was me at an earlier age. Now I am tasked with recognizing whenever the old me raises his fuzzy head and grabs hold of an irrational belief so that I can try to talk some sense into that guy. I imagine I’ll be doing that the rest of my life, particularly when it comes to the self-loathing and self-deprecation which I learned so well as an evangelical Christian. Engaging in these conversations helps me do that. It helps me confront irrationality in myself.

These are the reasons I keep having these conversations. I’m not saying you should, too. I’m only telling you why I keep at it, even when the responses I get are mind-numbingly superficial and poorly reasoned. It’s not for everybody, and it takes a lot of patience. But I still enjoy it, most of the time. Except when I don’t. Sometimes the rudeness and callousness becomes too much (You should see the stuff they tell me!). Sometimes my buttons get pushed, too, and I resort to trolling because I’ve had enough. But I always get over it and jump right back into these conversations. The bottom line for me is always: Which kind of person is this? Can they listen to reason? Can they carry on a conversation without resorting to either insults or just quoting verses? If they can manage to talk to me like I’m a human being worthy of basic respect, we can have a conversation. If they can’t, I’m moving on. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

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  • You might enjoy A Manual For Creating Atheists by Peter Boghossian. You and he are of similar minds. I liked the book a lot.

  • I love your blog. When I hear virtually all of my family members swoon in adoration for Cameron, McDowell, and Strobel (all of whom I was once I once taken in by myself as a former evangelical Christian), I cannot adequately express in words my frustration–but you do exactly that exceptionally well. Reading this, I don’t feel quite so alone.

    For former believers like me (and you), we know that change is possible–even if it does take a long time. Those seeds of doubt can grow.

  • I second that.

  • Some days even I can’t resist trolling the deliberately obtuse.

    That’s funny.

  • Gra*ma Banana

    I like #5. It is the best fit for me. However, I have been a ‘solitary Atheist’ for close to 50 years (in the 1960s it was dangerous to ‘come out’ as an atheist) and having been a ‘lazy Christian’ in the beginning I don’t have enough Bible (knowledge) skills to be able to ‘debate’ a theist and I would be bored out of my skill too. So I choose NOT to engage with theists about their religious beliefs. Actually, it was a Catholic priest who said to me that anyone who did not believe ‘as a Catholic’ would be condemned to ‘everlasting hell’ that started me on my journey to Atheism. I have many friends who are of different faiths (including Protestants, Mormons, Buddhists, Hindus, etc.) and I couldn’t believe they ALL would not be joining me in ‘heaven’ in the end. Never tell a teenager that they won’t see their friends in the afterlife! That’s a sure fire way to get them to think about what they really do believe!

  • Gra*ma Banana

    Correcting a line…”bored out of my skull” Too bad there is no edit for comments…

  • David W

    I have a question for you. You write that the religious people you are taking about are:

    “I must clarify that by “religious people” I mean those people whose religious beliefs override all other faculties of reason. For them, dogma always trumps logic.”

    But then you suggest that if they can’t listen to reason, you generally won’t talk to them.

    “Which kind of person is this? Can they listen to reason? Can they carry on a conversation without resorting to either insults or just quoting verses?”.

    It seems that you are talking about VERY small group of people whom you are interested in debating, and it seems to me that that small group of people isn’t the problem.

    Am I giving your post a fair reading here?

    I am asking you about this is because I am struggling with what to do in my life in regard to speaking with the religious who are the ‘problem.’ The religious who are the problem are those who deny science and those who attempt to force their faith-based beliefs on others, through legislation, or other means.

    Now, I really do want to do something to decrease the power and numbers of those people, and I have been engaging them in conversation, in the hopes that I will be able to dislodge them from their dogmatic positions, but I do not know if this has been working; I wonder if I am only forcing them to become more dogmatic.

    So, bottom line for me, I am not terribly interested in having conversations about religion with reasonable religious people who are harmless.

    I am interested in dissuading the religious who are the problem from their harmful beliefs, but these people usually can’t be reasoned with.

    The only conclusion I keep coming to is to avoid conversation with the religious as no good is likely to come of it. I *might* plant a seed, or I *might* just inspire more dogma or a type of ‘boomerang effect.’

    What are your thoughts on this? I am definitely open to persuasion here; but I don’t really want to speak with unreasonable people in the first place, and if I do, I REALLY don’t want the result of the conversation to be an increase in their ‘unreasonableness.’

  • I can’t speak for Dixie, but there were a lot of seeds planted in my head by well-meaning atheists I knew personally when I was a fundamentalist. Though it may have seemed like they were just making me drill down all the harder, the seeds were there, and they came to fruition in time. I just needed time to think about things. They wanted me to admit right then and there that my religion was false and my god wasn’t real, and I couldn’t do that for a variety of reasons. But when left alone, I was able to mull over what they’d said, and combined with my own research and my own observations/experiences, I was able to break free. I don’t know that my awakening would have happened so early (in my mid-20s) if not for them and their questions and astute observations.

  • Tough question. I wasn’t super clear with my definitions above, but once you eliminate the liberal adherents of a religion, the more fundy-leaning folks have enough diversity among them that many can still carry on an intelligent conversation without resorting to name calling and insults. Because intelligence is compartmental, even people who believe irrational things have “pockets of sanity,” and I like to look for those. Most people have at least some things about which they are quite reasonable. So I can talk to a wide range of people, even some who are in that “religious” group. If they can’t resist being rude and dismissive, I move on.

    But to your larger question, what can we do to stem the tide of religious coercion in the culture wars? I think the two most consequential things we can do (and are doing) are 1) Championing science, and 2) Taking them to court. The former seems too indirect for many people’s tastes and the latter sounds vindictive. But here’s why both are necessary.

    1) I’m convinced that the most powerful threat to religion is the steady growth and availability of information through the internet and through the growing presence of scientific progress. Religion exists to explain the unexplainable and to control the uncontrollable. It doesn’t do either very well, but that’s why we invented it, I think. Science will do a better job of both, and in time, people will drop religion because it never did what it was supposed to do anyway. Plus, it has the added bonus of being an indirect approach, so the religious are less likely to see how fundamentally it is eroding the ground beneath their feet.

    2) Real social change doesn’t happen without taking people (and institutions) to court. We’ve got an excellent Constitution, but it still has to be enforced through battle after battle in the courts. As much as I hate to admit it, all “men” will never be treated equally until the powers that be are forced to do so by our laws. Those with privilege will not give up their position of privilege willingly.

    So Facebook and reddit and coffee shop conversations are helpful in a general sort of way, but real change happens in court, and in our investment in science education.

  • Your reply, and your original post, is spot-on! Happy holidays and all the best to you and your loved ones throughout 2014 & beyond!

  • I just found your blog and am intrigued. First of all I am a man of faith. But I believe that all faith must be tested and weighed. I believe in Science, but I also believe that Science, being a process is as open to error as is any form of theology. So I have no problems ignoring a scientific “fact” than I do ignoring a Religious “fact”. If that fact runs counter to my experience. But I also love a good argument, one that challenges me and to be honest, few atheists offer this, instead they offer insults and attacks against faith in general based of weak understanding of texts. You seem different, a man who is not absolutist, a man who clearly loves his family and a man who is devoted to the truth, even though I believe you to be mistaken in where you are currently in your journey I respect you deeply for this.

    With that being said I have one questions for you, perhaps it has already been answered on this blog and if so I apologize, You refer frequently to your being brought up Evangelical and it seems to me that much of your criticism, criticism that I share by the way are based on the narrow definitions of Southern Evangelicalism. For my part, I was raised Southern Baptist, but consider myself to be a sum-total Christian, taking gold from all Christian traditions and happily casting out the rocks that many people mistake for true faith. I deeply admire the Evangelical commitment to passion and emotions in faith, to paraphrase CS Lewis, sometimes we need to enjoy emotionally what we examine intellectually. However, there is too much of a tendency in evangelicalism to embrace ONLY passion and ignore the intellect, which is also a gift from god. In your case, is your current leaning towards secular humanism an outgrowth of your experience with evangelicalism specifically, with the people who represent this tradition or with the Christian faith itself.

    There are many ways this can be answered, and I look forward to hearing how you do so, but one thing most of all interests me, if I may be so bold. All stories have wisdom, all stories contain at least some truth. Too many atheists treat the Bible as some odd historical aberration, as if it were a book composed of nothing but lies. This suits an agenda, but it is hardly evocative of any truth. So I would like to know, in your own words what is there about the Bible that strikes you as true, as wise or as worthy of emulation by people?

  • Just a point of curiosity… You argue that taking a group to court is necessary in order to force social change. You seem agree that this sounds vindictive. I think it is. I am a man of faith, deep abiding faith but faith that is tested and measured. I do not agree that a child should be made to pray in a public school for example. But the process of litigation has only resulted in a situation where zero tolerance policies have forced people of faith into the shadows. It is one thing to prevent a school from forcing a child to pray, but quite another to use the threat of litigation to force schools to make it impossible to allow free expression of deeply held religious views. Would you not agree that forcing religion out is no different from forcing religion in?

    I could use an alternate non-religious example where a small child was recently suspended for hugging his teacher because the school feared sexual harassment lawsuits or where children have been expelled for drawing guns because the school district is afraid of litigation. If a belief is true then it should spread organically. Civil Rights is a good example. Civil Rights legislation did not create Civil Rights. The process of Creating Civil Rights happened organically. The legislation only provided some protection for what was already happening in public. By contrast litigation that prevents prayer in school or the display of a Nativity during the Holidays is forcing change in a manner that actually makes atheists look bad in part because it makes the case that atheism is not a personal belief but an opposition to Christianity. To go back to the example of Civil Rights, no rights were gained or protected because the black community argued that the White community was bad, or wrong but rather they argued that the Black community was equal to the white. This is a lesson atheist could certainly learn. Where do you stand on this?

    And lastly in regards to Science. I agree that Science must be taught. I believe in Creation, but am not a six day creationists. In fact I reject that idea as being rubbish. But how do you teach science in a manner that doesn’t simply create anew system of absolutes. Case in Point, most arguments that atheist use are arguments that originate with Dawkins or Hitchens. Both brilliant men, and both equally filled with animosity towards religion, calling for it to to be abolished, calling it the greatest evil of all, etc. When you teach absolutes, even in Science you face the same problem you do in Fundamentalist Christianity. You begin to define truth around its ability to discredit the thing you oppose and not for its objective truth.

    In short do you want atheism to win because it is truth, or because it is against Christianity? If the former then litigation is not needed because it will win organically and if the latter then any victory can only be hollow.

  • Tam

    Just finished reading it and really enjoyed his points about meeting folks where they are and knowing the difference between showing respect for a person versus an idea. Planting seeds of doubt takes patience and many may not grow. But those that do are well worth the effort.

  • David W

    Thank you for the reply,

    I like your “pockets of sanity” point as it gives me a good way to see the silver lining in otherwise stubbornly obtuse people.

    In regard to litigation and the promotion of science as two of the most consequential things we can do; I agree in regard to promotion of science, and I probably agree in regard to litigation.

    As an educator yourself, what is your view on how we can best support the promotion of science?

    Also, how can we best support the litigation of violations of separation of church and state; do you suggest membership in one of the atheist organizations, FFRF for example?

    Look forward to your response.

  • David W

    Thanks Cassidy,

    Your point about how ‘seeds’ were planted that later came to fruition is encouraging.

    My worry results from the difficulty in knowing how many of the ‘seeds’ we plant do come to fruition, and how many wither and die, and just result in the believer hunkering down even deeper into their dogmatic belief.

    I often wonder, after a conversation with the fundamental believer, if I am doing more harm, more good, or if my efforts result in zero net effect. There is probably no good way to discover the truth of this question; and it is probably better to act with the hope that these conversations have a net positive result, rather than to let the possibility of a net negative result force me into inaction; I use the word “probably” intentionally.

  • I’m glad to be of encouragement. It’s incredibly humane and good of you to want to help folks like that. Probably a lot of those seeds wither and die, but that’s the way of it for religious people too when talking to non-believers. Don’t let that discourage you if you feel a draw to helping religious people break free. A Christian’s spiritual “paycheck” depends upon being right and their ideas being objectively true and real. It takes a *LOT* to get them to question those ideas, consequently. I think in my own case I would have gotten to that questioning stage faster had I had people around me I could trust to open up to about my doubts and worries. I think most ex-Christians go through a long period of doubting and worrying about being wrong–but many of us feel alone and have to reinvent the whole wheel when we finally do start to escape. We may not even realize we’re walking down a path that has been traveled many times before by many other people. I certainly didn’t. I did know atheists and non-Christians of all sorts when I was leaving the religion, but I didn’t know anybody I could really talk to about it–everybody I knew, I thought either they would have some vested interest in either keeping me in the faith or else pushing me out of it. I was deeply humiliated and embarrassed about the idea of being so utterly wrong about something I’d been so publicly cocksure about once, as well, so the idea of asking for help or even for just a sounding-board never even occurred to me. I felt adrift in every single way when I began to doubt.

    So I think it’s better to question and to raise dissenting points in a gentle way than it is to do absolutely nothing, and I think it’s even more important to be that friend that someone can talk to about doubts and fears when they do finally start to arise. Fundamentalism especially can make finding and keeping such friends difficult, yes–a certain amount of bubble isolation is part of what that sort of religious system encourages and maintains–but how lucky I would have felt to have had just one person I could really talk to! If wishes were horses, even beggars would ride, hmm?

  • Empire1432

    Tory – I think you may need to sit down with more Atheists and understand that most Atheists look upon the bible in the same way as we look upon any book written at that point in time. While the Bible I am sure is in some sense historically accurate (I do think a man named Jesus existed at that time) the mystical parts of the bible such as virgin birth, resurrection, and other mystical stories are fables, which were handed down from generation to generation. I look upon the bible in the same way as I would look upon say mythical greek stories. Think about it this way. Imagine you were someone who had a working knowledge of science, who had no experience with Christianity and you were given a bible to read. If you read the Bible as a book (Not a Holy Book) and you put the book into the context of who wrote it (Ancient Greeks) and when it was written (100’s of years after the events), could you honestly tell me that you would take the stories in it as historical fact? That is exactly how Atheists look upon the Bible. We look at it as we would any book written at that time in history. We must apply rational thinking to the things that we read, and understand that we live in a world based on scientific reason and understanding. If you read something that seems illogical and doesn’t fit within the current scope of known physics, then it is our duty to conclude that at this point in time the statements are not accurate. If at some future point we discover new evidence that could prove the stories, then the statements should be reviewed again.

    Lastly, we must understand the Bible was a book written by men based on their knowledge of the world that they could see at that point in time. They were a simple people with a very limited knowledge of science or reason and were also very superstitious. They used used their limited knowledge to explain their world. We should understand these facts and apply them to the book.

  • Re: lawsuits. I think the legal system is a requirement to keep religious overreach in check. Overzealous Christians have shown time and again all over the country that they will not do the right thing by the Constitution, even though that means breaking the law, without being forced by lawsuits to do it; it is not until a lawsuit gets filed (and won) that they finally choke and step back from their behavior. The financial penalties, as well, discourage them from trying it again too soon. It doesn’t matter if folks get squiffy about those bringing the lawsuits; what matters is whether or not these lawsuits are meritorious (many of whom are actually Christians–the Dover lawsuit was brought by Christian parents against the creationist school board, you might be interested in knowing). It’s also worth remembering that when things tilt the other direction–like a school not realizing that private prayer or student-led private displays are okay–then non-Christians usually are the first to speak out in defense of those situations because we know how precarious freedom is and how we must guard against overreach of all kinds, even non-theistic overreach. Of course, such reactions are largely in the imagination of Christians, not in reality; there are wayyyy fewer examples of schools illegally cracking down on such private displays of religious faith than there are of schools trying to shove religion into kids on taxpayers’ dimes.

    The idea that growing secularization in society is “forcing Christians into the shadows”–and that’s what you’re really saying here when you use the much-broader term “people of faith,” since “people of faith” could also mean Wiccans, Satanists, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, or even Scientologists and you don’t seem all that worried about the fact that they’re all largely already in the shadows in most communities–and that it is happening all over the place is just part of the evangelical martyrdom fetish.

    I’ll end by mentioning that equal marriage for gay people and straight people is largely occurring through the courts. You might want to revisit your assumption about civil rights happening organically; lawsuits were a big part of how those happened as well. Lawsuits are how we correct the balance of power; they don’t care what the majority wants or thinks but rather courts care about what action is the best course of action according to our legal and legislative system. Without lawsuits, there would be little recourse against the constant onslaught of attacks on our civil liberties by religious zealots.

    Also, I’m really not surprised that a member of an oppressive majority is telling the oppressed minority that maybe they shouldn’t be so quick to take the one course of action that actually works–demonstrably and efficiently works–to end the oppressors’ tyranny at least temporarily. Being nice and hoping the oppressors start being nice back doesn’t work. We’ve tried that. Sorry.

  • Lee

    Empire nailed it. If you haven’t, give the Jefferson Bible a read. It takes all the good parts of the Bible and eliminates almost all of the the hocus pocus crap.

  • I think the Song of Songs is muy caliente. Some of the poetry in various spots is quite moving. The King James version’s given us a number of proverbs and sayings that are very pretty. Probably I’d say the same thing about the Bible that you’d say about any other religion’s holy books. What do you think of the Bagavad-Gita? or Hesiod’s Works and Days? Or the Prose Edda? Well, that’s probably what most non-believers think about your holy book. Even you’ve admitted you mine it for what you can and take the rest with a grain of salt; well, non-believers just take that a lot further, is all.

    You need to talk to more non-Christians. Most non-believers think the Bible isn’t 100% a pack of lies, but we have a generally nuanced view of the documents in it as occasionally containing some rough kernel of truth wrapped in centuries of propaganda-making and jingoism, along with a bunch of superstitious folk beliefs. It’s the story of a people’s moral and social evolution, told to advance a political and religious agenda and to give those people hope and a toehold on a particular bit of land. Most of its details are not accurate, but really, no holy book’s really that accurate either. I don’t think the Bible’s lack of accuracy is its most damning aspect at all. If I found out tomorrow that nope, 200 years of archaeology are totally wrong and everything it talked about had actually happened for realsies, that wouldn’t make me convert–just as you likely wouldn’t deconvert once you found out how little in it actually happened the way it said. I think deep down most of us–Christian and non-Christian alike–know that objective accuracy isn’t actually a dealbreaker.

  • Empire1432

    Atheists want people to think with their scientific and rational minds and not through the lens of a any book or faith written by and conceived thousands of years ago at a time when the populous was overly superstitious and completely devoid of science and reason. The problem with only allowing Atheism to grow organically, is due to the fact that religions indoctrinate most people when they are still children and really never give children the time to make up their own minds about what they are being taught. Atheists use litigation to try and keep religions out of the public schools and try and give children the ability to understand what religion is and what its not. Its very difficult for children and adults to think their way out of religious belief when it is in many cases an identify they have accepted. Its very difficult to give up a belief that you hold as an identify. If children were never taught about religion until later in life, they would not identify themselves as any particular religion and would be free to think and rationalize as they see fit. If later they want to believe in religion, then they have done it on their own accord and not because that’s the way they were raised.

  • You are correct that the subculture of Christianity I speak towards is both evangelical and to some degree colored by my Southern context. Based on what I’m seeing in American religious life, however, it seems to me that many of the excesses I speak about here show up all over the country. We tend to speak of “red states” and “blue states” but the reality is that there are red and blue patches all over every state. A truer map of the US would have to show red houses next door to blue houses all over the country. The same is true of American religious variety. Evangelicalism isn’t confined to the Deep South any more than conservatism is confined to “red states.”

    Having said that, it seems to me that most of the positive contributions of the Bible can be found in secular humanism (as well as in many other religions, some of which predated the Bible) without the accompanying misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, or metaphysical dualism (and that’s just the New Testament). In short, there are so many negative, unhelpful aspects of the Bible that I would rather extract those gold nuggets from something less plagued with religious baggage. I think it does more harm than good.

    TL;DR – I would take Robert Ingersoll over Jesus any day. You could build a much healthier moral code around the former than you could around the latter.

  • “…no rights were gained or protected because the black community argued that the White community was bad, or wrong but rather they argued that the Black community was equal to the white. This is a lesson atheist could certainly learn. Where do you stand on this?”

    My point is that no rights at all were gained by arguing (alone), but by litigation. These battles are fought in the courts. Without court review and subsequent law enforcement, people will not treat each other equally.

    As to the charge that I would want atheism to “win out,” my honest answer is that I don’t greatly care what other people think or believe. That’s their business. I like the idea that the framers of the Constitution had which includes both freedom *of* religion and freedom *from* religion. I will not support any legislation which tries to infringe upon the free exercise of religion by anyone, no matter what their creed. The problem comes when people whose religion enjoys a privileged position in their region (as Christianity does in the Deep South) want their government to continue privileging them even in places of public governance. The Buddhist and Muslim children should not have to sit and listen to Christian preachers proselytizing at school. But that’s the kind of thing which people in my region want to see. That, to them, is “free exercise,” meaning that *they* are free. But it never occurs to them that the others are *not free*. It’s a highly egocentric way to see the issue.

    Lastly, you make it sound as if atheism began with Richard Dawkins. I can assure you that skepticism and secular humanism have been around much, much longer than either he or the late Hitchens ever were. And personally, I was never keen on their approach to things, even though I’m less inclined to disparage their contributions now than I once was. I just wasn’t helped much by them, and I don’t personally identify with the mission to eradicate religion from the face of the earth.

  • Joyce Rutter

    I’m reading it right now and am loving it. I’m not a confrontational person at all, but I’m hoping this will give me some knowledge and on speaking up when it would be a good idea to do so.