The Great Courses

If You Could Reason With Religious People...

Jul 21, 2016 at 8:26 AM

This is so stinkin' good, it's worth another look.


Anthony Magnabosco demonstrates that it's possible to effectively challenge someone's cherished God-belief without 1) being an asshole and 2) prompting a defensive, reinforcement attitude in the person being challenged.

Of course, those who care to paint atheist activism with a broad, clumsy brush are already pounding at their keyboards, defending the merits of mockery and ridicule, and proudly proclaiming that they are - in fact - proud to be an asshole. Fine. Knock yourself out.

My larger point is that, while mockery has its place and can be useful (often on the larger, "macro" stage), one-on-one discussions are seldom served by it...especially if we're genuinely eager to change minds. The jabs are satisfying in the short term (and they sure make us feel good), but they too often prompt Belief Reinforcement in the very person we're trying to help.

Not all atheist activists are interested in changing minds. I understand this (well...I get it, but I don't really understand it). For some, every religious person is an {insert insult here}...not worth our attention. Perhaps these atheists hold to that unfortunate House quote, "If you could reason with religious people, there would be no religious people."


house quote

Of course, this is tragically wrongheaded.

Certainly, some believers are impenetrable brick walls. But some are not. Some are quietly asking questions, navigating doubts, and/or are at a point in their own lives when they might be willing to examine critically the beliefs they had only previously assumed.

I was reasoned out of my faith. So many other atheist activists were reasoned out of theirs. We weren't stupid, we weren't mentally ill, we weren't bad people. We were simply victims of bad ideas. And it wasn't the berating of debate opponents that changed the game for us, but rather the opportunity to receive new information, and the environment where we could assess that new information without feeling accosted, berated or attacked.



Anthony and Kari spoke for just a few moments. With kindness. With goodwill. With respect. And I can only wonder how this short conversation may affect her own journey.

Nice work, Anthony.

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