Considerations In Talking With Theists
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16-08-2012, 10:52 AM
Considerations In Talking With Theists
I have been an atheist for over 20 years, but have only recently started paying attention to other atheists. Up to now, I was simply content in my own belief that there is no god and went on with my life. However, lately, I have become more aware of the actual harms that come from religion and have therefore started paying more attention.

Given my realization of those harms, it became apparent that atheism is far more than a mere personal belief, but actually an important cause with a truth that needs to be convincingly communicated. However, as I am reading and listening to related materials, I too often see well-meaning atheists destroying their own very important cause. So I decided to create this post about things I believe atheists should consider before engaging in debates with theists. Feel free to add anything else I didn't think about or to agree or disagree.


1. If you want to be respected, then be respectable. It is important to be respected if there is any chance at all that the person you are addressing or debating will be open to considering your arguments. Theists often accuse atheists of having little or no morals. Why prove them right by acting like a rude buffoon? I think even small things like swearing should be avoided when talking to theists or talking in a place where theists might be paying attention. Doing anything else diminishes respectability and only lends support to the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of atheists regarding morals.

2. Part of being respectable also means withholding the insults (tempting though the insults may be at times). But this point also goes beyond the respect. If your goal is truly to have an intellectual discussion where a theist might really start thinking about and considering your position, the surest way to ensure they listen to nothing you have to say is to insult them - whether the insult is about their faith, their god, or about anything else that would offend them. That doesn't mean you can't say something like "the god you believe in punishes in cruel ways, displays many imperfect emotions in Biblical passages, and condemns people to eternal torture just for not believing in him", but it does mean you should avoid phrasing the same thing as "the god you believe in is a cruel tyrant". Additionally, it's far more effective even with the softer phrasing if you have the scriptural citations to back up your statements. (The example I gave was in talking with a Christian, but of course the point applies to talking with someone from any faith.)

3. Know what you are talking about or at least be willing to admit when you don't. Don't enter a conversation positioning yourself as some sort of expert when you have little more than an opinion to base your side of the debate upon. I see atheists doing this a lot. Then they get backed into a corner and end up just insisting they are right and frankly looking just as silly as theists do when theists do the very same thing. You don't have to enter a conversation at all on a topic that you know little about. Or, if you do, enter it from a learning perspective, not a debating perspective. Or, if you're confronted with an argument that you can't refute in the moment, simply admit it. You can acknowledge that it's a good point and tell them, while you don't agree with it, you'll have to go find out more information before you can properly reply to it. Then do so; go learn more about it so you'll know your answer next time. You'll gain far more respect that way than stubbornly insisting you're right when you have no argument to support that claim with. Again, without respect, you have zero chance of changing anyone's mind.

4. Get your facts straight about the opposing side. Too often, atheists (and theists) think they understand the opposing side and heatedly argue against something that is just plain factually wrong to begin with. For example, it is factually incorrect to say that Christians believe the Trinity means three gods are really one god. In fact, Christians believe the Trinity is one god, period, not three gods. There are supposedly three persons in that one god and each person is wholly and completely the one God. How this can be is somewhat of a mystery even to Christians and one of those things that is supposedly not fully comprehensible to our "limited human minds". But it is pointless to argue about three gods when that isn't what they believe in. Worse yet, when corrected by the theist, some even go so far as to insist that the theist has it wrong. If you do get caught in an error, just admit it so you can get on with discussing what they truly believe instead of something imaginary that they don't believe.

5. Avoid simply parroting what you read from other atheists. If that is what you do, then chances are you don't really completely understand what it is you are parroting and debating. If you read or hear what seems like a good point and want to use it in a future discussion, go research it first. Even make sure you still agree with it after researching it before bringing it up in a discussion.

6. Finally, a word regarding Bible contradictions and atrocities: Not all Bibles are the same. Specific wordings, translations, and even which books are included can be different. For instance, I have seen many examples of atrocities in the Bible with the book, chapter, and verse all given. When I have looked some of these up in a Catholic Bible, the wording is different there and the atrocity is therefore not present at all. For example, one verse that instructed us to kill our neighbor simply says the neighbor must perish in the Catholic Bible. That wording could simply mean the person will go to hell rather than that we would personally be required by God to do the killing. Yes, hell itself is an atrocity by God in the atheist's view, but that is not an atrocity by God in a Christian's view. So, if you brought up this verse to a Catholic where God instructs you to kill your neighbor, you'd be guilty of arguing something that, in their world, is factually incorrect. They may not realize the different wording offhand during the discussion, but when they look up your verse later, they will probably laugh about your "error" and lose all respect for any of your related points that they might otherwise have been pondering.

Thanks to any of you who stuck with me through that long post. Smile

"Religion has caused more misery to all of mankind in every stage of human history than any other single idea." --Madalyn Murray O'Hair
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16-08-2012, 11:08 AM
RE: Considerations In Talking With Theists
Basically act like a human being and not a douchey jerk.

But, yeah, thumbs up.

ThumbsupThumbsupThumbsup

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16-08-2012, 12:15 PM
RE: Considerations In Talking With Theists
Epic win.

Pretty much all of the points you made can be applied to basically anyone, anywhere.

Also, something I've noticed (But sometimes don't practice) is when someone is lashing out at me with all kinds of negatives and nastiness, if I act calm and reserved in my response, the opposite person usually calms down as well. Even if I do want to come at the person the same way they are coming at me...
I really need to be more pro-active about that more often.

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16-08-2012, 12:16 PM
Considerations In Talking With Theists
(16-08-2012 11:08 AM)kingschosen Wrote:  Basically act like a human being and not a douchey jerk.

But, yeah, thumbs up.

ThumbsupThumbsupThumbsup

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16-08-2012, 02:20 PM
RE: Considerations In Talking With Theists
(16-08-2012 10:52 AM)Impulse Wrote:  2. Part of being respectable also means withholding the insults (tempting though the insults may be at times). But this point also goes beyond the respect. If your goal is truly to have an intellectual discussion where a theist might really start thinking about and considering your position [...]

[Image: 340x.jpg]

Jokes aside, have you ever debated with an adult fundamentalist/creationist/... and caused him/her to change his/her point of view by one bit? I have yet to experience that.

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16-08-2012, 03:41 PM
RE: Considerations In Talking With Theists
(16-08-2012 02:20 PM)Vosur Wrote:  Jokes aside, have you ever debated with an adult fundamentalist/creationist/... and caused him/her to change his/her point of view by one bit? I have yet to experience that.

Same here.
Haven't ever actually caused an adult Atheist to change his/her point of view.

I don't really expect to though. Unsure

“What you believe to be true will control you, whether it’s true or not.”

—Jeremy LaBorde
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16-08-2012, 04:36 PM
RE: Considerations In Talking With Theists
I take special considerations when talking to a child, a mentally challenged person, my grandparents, any elderly person, a doctor who is about to operate on me, a man pointing a gun at me,
a police officer pulling me over for a ticket, any person involved with making or serving my food at a restaurant and of course crazed lunatics.

I will treat any theist the same as any other rational person, until they cross that line into being a crazed lunatic. From what I've seen, it doesn't take that many steps.

But ya, you have a good post. Keep up the good work Thumbsup

Insanity - doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results
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16-08-2012, 05:38 PM
RE: Considerations In Talking With Theists
Do you remember this scene from Role Models where Paul Rudd kind of screws up that kid's running around in the woods with a goofy costume and role playing mess? At the end of the scene, the kid gets upset that Paul Rudd ruined something that was very personal to the kid, that Paul didn't seem to understand, and he proceeded to smashing his sword against a sign and yelling, "I do give a shit! I give lots of shits!".

I think one of the things that you really need to understand is that it is highly likely that you are going have an extremely, fundamentally different view of your perceived reality and experiences as a living being, especially in such a complicated and complex society, than the person you having a theist/atheist discussion with.

I'm the type of person that gets it when certain people have their thing(s) that they get excited about and are fascinated with. I might not understand why, but I get that there is something different between us, probably in the "hard-wiring" of our brains, that lead us to think, behave, perceive, interact, etc. differently.

As far as philosophy, thinking and ideas go, it doesn't matter if it's society, government, politics, science, religion, etc., even, and especially, if talking down to a fundamental level, I give a shit, I give lots of shits.

As described by a person who has one, I would be considered a person with absolutely "no life". This is, I'm sure, down to the way I think, a lot more than the circumstances in my life. I'm not saying that a certain set of specific circumstances in my life couldn't have lead to extremely "successful" and "fulfilling" experiences, given my way of thinking/personality, but I'd have to assume that would have called for a special or unique event that didn't happen.

Atheism, specifically in a society where theism is the norm, because there are other factors, as with any other major type of ideology or belief, I would hold has a lot to do with the way you think. So, when taking things into consideration, how much shits they might give, i.e. the importance of the conversation to that person, has to be taken into consideration.

Your typical Joe, as a highly social creature (animal) in a highly social society, specifically one where theism is the norm, isn't at all going to be affected or changed in any way by such a conversation. Throughout their time as a living being, it is most likely going to be slim to none, that is in the amount they are affected by whether or not they decide to keep an idea, even as improbable and impractical as it might be, open in the back of their minds as something that could be the case in reality.

And I say, "in the back of their minds" because I pretty much convinced that, even to most of the people who we might view as very religious, their actual belief in God is an afterthought. That is why I'm also convinced that if you are to get anything out of a conversation it would be through forcing them to question faith. It's already pretty accepted by both sides that there is absolutely no legitimate reason for a belief in God. So, if you can get any theist to, at the end of a conversation, think not only about why they believe in God, which will boil down to faith, but why it is they have chosen faith, basically getting them to reason about faith, I think you can call the conversation a win. That's regardless of what happens after you both move on.

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16-08-2012, 07:22 PM
RE: Considerations In Talking With Theists
(16-08-2012 05:38 PM)TrulyX Wrote:  If you can get any theist to, at the end of a conversation, think not only about why they believe in God, which will boil down to faith, but why it is they have chosen faith, basically getting them to reason about faith, I think you can call the conversation a win.

That is excellent. I will remember that in future conversations.

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16-08-2012, 09:48 PM
RE: Considerations In Talking With Theists
(16-08-2012 12:15 PM)ideasonscribe Wrote:  Epic win.

Pretty much all of the points you made can be applied to basically anyone, anywhere.

Also, something I've noticed (But sometimes don't practice) is when someone is lashing out at me with all kinds of negatives and nastiness, if I act calm and reserved in my response, the opposite person usually calms down as well. Even if I do want to come at the person the same way they are coming at me...
I really need to be more pro-active about that more often.

^_^

Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

I wish it were always true (as alleged), but it is effective sometimes. And it certainly couldn't hurt.

My girlfriend is mad at me. Perhaps I shouldn't have tried cooking a stick in her non-stick pan.
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