Considerations In Talking With Theists
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18-08-2012, 08:13 PM
RE: Considerations In Talking With Theists
(18-08-2012 12:34 PM)kim Wrote:  My point being - if I even have one; I could not really see what becomes labeled "extreme", until I became extreme... to a certain extent. It then becomes a matter of how far one lets one's self get out of hand.

It surprised me that we would even disagree on something. It doesn't surprise me that your response is nicely reasoned.

My girlfriend is mad at me. Perhaps I shouldn't have tried cooking a stick in her non-stick pan.
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19-08-2012, 03:05 PM
RE: Considerations In Talking With Theists
(16-08-2012 10:52 AM)Impulse Wrote:  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.

Yeah, I've been fat and happy living in my own little apatheist world for some 35 years now as well. Religion was nothing but good for me. Lutheran education involved memorizing Bible passages daily for 10 years which resulted in a keen memory which serves me well to this day. Losing religion was not painful for me at all. It felt natural. Like losing my baby teeth. ... And then I came here. Weeping

After watching what Hellbound's going through and some of the horror stories from Mark Fulton and many others here, I think my deconversion (errr, evolution) is likely not typical. So far I've been able to resist becoming an antitheist 'cause I'm really not interested in activism, but I do admit to being at least slightly conflicted now.

As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
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20-08-2012, 07:41 AM
RE: Considerations In Talking With Theists
(16-08-2012 11:08 AM)kingschosen Wrote:  Basically act like a human being and not a douchey jerk.
Well, I don't know. I tried to talk with one my theist friend but I think I botched it.
So in the end I just tried to warn him not to think that Bible is infallible, he should get used to the idea or one day it might come to him as a great shock.

What should we do when a believer says that Bible is inerrant? That America is a Christian nation? That abiogenesis has not been scientifically understood in a lab? That evolution and abiogenesis are the same?
No matter how nicely I put it, all of these are going to be bitter pills to swallow. I'm almost sure I make him feel like whatever he says is wrong, or I try to put it nicely, sugarcoat it, but it's still wrong.

We do not even talk the same language. For him, belief is everything. He has a hard time comprehending that in some situations belief is meaningless. And he doesn't get the power of scientific method and how it gave us everything we have. He doesn't understand that to be rational means to obey new scientific evidence.
And he studies a Master's degree in Pharmacology. Which is NOT an easy school. He is going to deal with microorganisms and scientific experiments and yet his world is so compartmentalized.

I think my friend one day will have a middle age crisis in which this all will blow in his face. Instead of easing gently into Christian moderation, agnosticism and atheism, it might be very rough on him and he might lose the support of faith without developing a strength of his own. I'm concerned about him.
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20-08-2012, 10:28 AM
RE: Considerations In Talking With Theists
Impulse, thanks for a well-reasoned post. I'm sure you'll be a strong addition to this forum and to the atheist community at large. I'd like to add a couple of thoughts that might be worth some further discussion.

IMBALANCED PLAYING FIELD

We atheists don't face a balanced fight. In the course of my day as I drive around I probably pass 10 churches with street signs with message such as "Jesus is Lord" or "God Loves You" and the like. These signs don't raise any controversy. But if I were to erect a sign on a public road that said "There is no God" it would raise a huge shit storm, and the opinion of the general public would be that it was provocative, unnecessary, rude and "in your face." As I see it, we're the new homosexuals.

NO INTEREST IN DISCUSSION

Theists, believers, etc. aren't interested in having a discussion about this, other than a one-sided prosletyzing type of discussion. If the issue comes up, most will either shut down or defer and back away. There is no general forum (writ large, not an internet forum) where discussions of atheism reach the greater public. So there is no mechanism for change. Again, I liken this to gays, prior to the gay pride movement.

TODAY, WE ARE INHERENTLY OFFENSIVE TO THE GENERAL PUBLIC

Quoting here from the University of Minnesota study:

"Atheists are one of the most unpopular minorities in America. Surveys consistently show that atheists are ranked less favorably than any religious group in America. Atheists are rated 18 points below Muslims, who are in the public eye because of the 9/11 attacks, their treatment of women and their superlegal attacks on cartoonists who draw Mohammed. Atheists are ranked 26 points below Mormons, who only 152 years ago stood off the American Army, who only outlawed polygamy in 1890, and who only allowed Blacks to become ministers in 1978. Atheists are ranked 39 points below Catholics, who still will not allow women to be church leaders, who deny members access to birth control and who are rocked by child-abuse cover-up scandals"

My point is that no matter how gently, reasonably or diplomatically we present an argument, most believers are offended at the mere mention of your atheism. For many of us, atheism is at our core. It is not severable from our identities. Thus, we are ourselves, inherently offensive in today's general public. Again, much like gays of the past.

A STRATEGY OF MULTIPLE APPROACHES IS NEEDED

You didn't discuss a strategy or the big picture result you would hope to achieve with your approach. If your desired outcome is not to offend, then I think it is fine. But for the reasons given above, the imbalance of the playing field, the lack of interest in discussion and inherent offensiveness of our existence, I don't think that your approach will "move the meter" in the general public. You simply won't have enough "at bats."

I believe that all of the different atheist styles together, from the in your face (the really flamboyant gays you see in the gay pride parades) strong atheist, to the pillar of society (the well respected gay individual who comes out of the closet) reasonable, inoffensive atheist, are needed. We need to recognize and value all of the styles as playing a role in waking up the larger population.

You can't sell atheism until you make the atheist acceptable. Some how, some way, we're going to need our "We're here, we're queer, get used to it" equivalent to get the general public over the shock of our existence.
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20-08-2012, 10:37 AM (This post was last modified: 20-08-2012 10:43 AM by Impulse.)
RE: Considerations In Talking With Theists
(18-08-2012 10:00 AM)kim Wrote:  Since we are discussing consideration... why is consideration the sole responsibility of the Non-Theist? Expectations often seem unbalanced...
Good question. Smile Ideally, it's not the sole responsibility of the non-theist. The list I posted applies to both sides. But, I am an atheist on an atheist forum and so I chose to address the atheist side. One can only control oneself. One cannot control someone else. So I do my best to control myself and use the principals that I specified in the original post. I was hoping my post might influence some others here to do the same. What the theists do is up to them. I can't control them nor can anyone else from the non-theist side. Likewise, they also can't control us. But, if there is every to be rationale discourse as opposed to a mere insult fest, someone has to start. Someone has to be willing to "take it" from the opposing side and not respond in kind. As ideasonscribe pointed out, doing so often even results in the other side responding in kind to the politeness. That's when a truly mutually beneficial discourse can happen - and only then.

One other thing that I perhaps didn't emphasize enough in the original post is the importance of arguing the atheist side. It's the same as the importance of removing religious influence from public matters. People should be free to do whatever they want in the privacy of their own homes and religious buildings, but when it starts going public, then we get things like refusal to legalize gay marriage, prayers instead of action, tragedies like 9/11, disregard for the here-and-now in preparation for an afterlife that doesn't exist, denigration of women, suicide bombers, suppression of science, Jim Jones types of people taking advantage of vulnerable people, ... the list is practically endless. The cause of atheism is far too important to throw away on a little pride because a theist insulted you. Remember, whatever you post stays there and can and will be read by countless people, not just by the individual you are having a conversation with. It has the potential to convince - or push away - every reader that reads it.

A good example to keep in mind is Mahatma Gandhi. No matter how much cruelty and violence was thrown at him and his followers, he/they responded with complete non-violence - and in that is where they got their power. And it was far more powerful than the violence. Granted that violence was physical and we're really discussing insults and general conversational tone here, but I think the principal is exactly the same. When readers read a polite atheist debating a rude theist, they will have more respect for the polite atheist and will be far more open to that point-of-view. I understand that the extremists will likely not be influenced at all by the rudeness or politeness, but there are plenty of people who merely go along with their upbringing and haven't given either side a lot of thought. Those are the people we want to be careful not to chase away with belligerence.

I believe the cause of atheism is not unlike our Revolutionary War here in the United States because, in many ways, it is a revolution. And I believe it needs to be taken with equal importance whatever the level of your role may be. If your like Hitchens or Dawkins or any others in the very public front line of the debates, it's especially important. But even if you have an occasional debate or conversation and that's the extent of your involvement with the cause, make it polite. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose by doing so. The cause is too important to reduce it to the level of childish, petty insults and to risk chasing away potential people who could otherwise become sympathetic to the cause.

Edited to add:
I almost forgot to reply to one other thing you said in a different post. It is true that even in perfect politeness, some theists will take something we said as an insult. But there isn't anything we can do about that and, for the reasons I just posted, I think it's important that this doesn't become an excuse for us to slip into insults ourselves. Instead, I believe the better response is to do our best to explain why what we said is not intended to be an insult and is really just a description of our opposing point-of-view. They may or may not accept our explanation, but again, we can't control them. We can only control ourselves.

"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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20-08-2012, 11:04 AM
RE: Considerations In Talking With Theists
(20-08-2012 10:28 AM)Jeff Wrote:  Impulse, thanks for a well-reasoned post. I'm sure you'll be a strong addition to this forum and to the atheist community at large. I'd like to add a couple of thoughts that might be worth some further discussion.
Thank you. And thank you for your input as well.

(20-08-2012 10:28 AM)Jeff Wrote:  IMBALANCED PLAYING FIELD

We atheists don't face a balanced fight. In the course of my day as I drive around I probably pass 10 churches with street signs with message such as "Jesus is Lord" or "God Loves You" and the like. These signs don't raise any controversy. But if I were to erect a sign on a public road that said "There is no God" it would raise a huge shit storm, and the opinion of the general public would be that it was provocative, unnecessary, rude and "in your face." As I see it, we're the new homosexuals.
Yes, I agree. Please see the edit I just added to my reply to kim just after your post. My reply here would be the same.

(20-08-2012 10:28 AM)Jeff Wrote:  NO INTEREST IN DISCUSSION

Theists, believers, etc. aren't interested in having a discussion about this, other than a one-sided prosletyzing type of discussion. If the issue comes up, most will either shut down or defer and back away. There is no general forum (writ large, not an internet forum) where discussions of atheism reach the greater public. So there is no mechanism for change. Again, I liken this to gays, prior to the gay pride movement.
Fair point and I agree. But we must remember that, when our conversations are on public forums, our audience isn't just the person who we are debating. We may not convince the person we are directly conversing with, but there is a much better chance of convincing someone who might be still trying to figure out exactly what they believe in.

(20-08-2012 10:28 AM)Jeff Wrote:  TODAY, WE ARE INHERENTLY OFFENSIVE TO THE GENERAL PUBLIC

Quoting here from the University of Minnesota study:

"Atheists are one of the most unpopular minorities in America. Surveys consistently show that atheists are ranked less favorably than any religious group in America. Atheists are rated 18 points below Muslims, who are in the public eye because of the 9/11 attacks, their treatment of women and their superlegal attacks on cartoonists who draw Mohammed. Atheists are ranked 26 points below Mormons, who only 152 years ago stood off the American Army, who only outlawed polygamy in 1890, and who only allowed Blacks to become ministers in 1978. Atheists are ranked 39 points below Catholics, who still will not allow women to be church leaders, who deny members access to birth control and who are rocked by child-abuse cover-up scandals"

My point is that no matter how gently, reasonably or diplomatically we present an argument, most believers are offended at the mere mention of your atheism. For many of us, atheism is at our core. It is not severable from our identities. Thus, we are ourselves, inherently offensive in today's general public. Again, much like gays of the past.
I couldn't agree more. But that is precisely why we must do our best not to ever really be in the wrong. Every time we are insulting (I mean really insulting, not just incorrectly perceived that way), we add fuel to their fire. And then we can't argue that they are wrong either in that case when our very statements and behavior provide evidence to the contrary. In fact, if we are ever going to change that public perception, we have to be loudly, visibly, and overwhelmingly upstanding and moral before they will even begin to notice.

(20-08-2012 10:28 AM)Jeff Wrote:  A STRATEGY OF MULTIPLE APPROACHES IS NEEDED

You didn't discuss a strategy or the big picture result you would hope to achieve with your approach. If your desired outcome is not to offend, then I think it is fine. But for the reasons given above, the imbalance of the playing field, the lack of interest in discussion and inherent offensiveness of our existence, I don't think that your approach will "move the meter" in the general public. You simply won't have enough "at bats."

I believe that all of the different atheist styles together, from the in your face (the really flamboyant gays you see in the gay pride parades) strong atheist, to the pillar of society (the well respected gay individual who comes out of the closet) reasonable, inoffensive atheist, are needed. We need to recognize and value all of the styles as playing a role in waking up the larger population.

You can't sell atheism until you make the atheist acceptable. Some how, some way, we're going to need our "We're here, we're queer, get used to it" equivalent to get the general public over the shock of our existence.
My original post was only intended to address the one specific area of polite vs. rude and informed vs. uninformed debating. Regarding a more complete strategy, I mostly agree with you. A variety of approaches is needed from the message board posts, to the public debates, to the more visible parades or some other equivalent. But, if you meant to include rudeness and condescension in "all style of atheists" (I'm not sure if you did), I don't think those have any place at all in the strategy. Those can only hurt our cause.

"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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20-08-2012, 11:32 AM
RE: Considerations In Talking With Theists
(20-08-2012 11:04 AM)Impulse Wrote:  But that is precisely why we must do our best not to ever really be in the wrong.

I'd be interested to see the examples of being wrong that you're referring to, so I can understand the impact of what you're describing.

(20-08-2012 11:04 AM)Impulse Wrote:  But, if you meant to include rudeness and condescension in "all style of atheists" (I'm not sure if you did), I don't think those have any place at all in the strategy. Those can only hurt our cause.

Is dancing half-naked in a gay pride parade rude? My guess is that many people would say yes, especially 20-30 years ago. If so, I'm for rudeness. The problem with the rudeness standard is that many are offended by the mention of atheism. So if the standard is what a man from mars objectively viewing the situation would consider rude, then I'm fine with not being rude. But if the standard is what believers believe is rude, then I don't think we can have an impact without being "rude."
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20-08-2012, 12:56 PM
RE: Considerations In Talking With Theists
(20-08-2012 11:04 AM)Impulse Wrote:  ... But that is precisely why we must do our best not to ever really be in the wrong. Every time we are insulting (I mean really insulting, not just incorrectly perceived that way), we add fuel to their fire.

This might be amusing ...

For the first few months I'd been on this forum I had a forum signature which read: IF YOU DON'T SIN, JESUS DIED FOR NOTHING.

During a discussion with a Theist who came here, I was informed by him... in no uncertain terms... that he found this signature disgusting, blasphemous, and I was going to hell for such an insult. Oops.

Shortly thereafter, during a discussion with different Theist who came here, I was informed that this very same signature was absolutely right on! This Theist said it actually explained very well his own love and understanding of his savior. Oops.

Gee, talk about being damned if you do and damned if you don't. Dodgy

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20-08-2012, 12:57 PM
RE: Considerations In Talking With Theists
(20-08-2012 11:32 AM)Jeff Wrote:  
(20-08-2012 11:04 AM)Impulse Wrote:  But that is precisely why we must do our best not to ever really be in the wrong.

I'd be interested to see the examples of being wrong that you're referring to, so I can understand the impact of what you're describing.

(20-08-2012 11:04 AM)Impulse Wrote:  But, if you meant to include rudeness and condescension in "all style of atheists" (I'm not sure if you did), I don't think those have any place at all in the strategy. Those can only hurt our cause.

Is dancing half-naked in a gay pride parade rude? My guess is that many people would say yes, especially 20-30 years ago. If so, I'm for rudeness. The problem with the rudeness standard is that many are offended by the mention of atheism. So if the standard is what a man from mars objectively viewing the situation would consider rude, then I'm fine with not being rude. But if the standard is what believers believe is rude, then I don't think we can have an impact without being "rude."
I understand the point you are making and I agree. There will be some things that theists will find rude no matter how it is intended, said, or presented. I'm really talking about things that are more objectively rude (and I realize what's considered objectively rude can itself be subjective - oh the tangled webs we weave...) Probably the best way to say what I mean is to say that rudeness should not be our direct intention and especially not our main goal. Whatever we do or say, it should be with the best of intentions and with the goal of promoting the good that should come from atheism.

"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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20-08-2012, 01:18 PM
RE: Considerations In Talking With Theists
(20-08-2012 12:56 PM)kim Wrote:  
(20-08-2012 11:04 AM)Impulse Wrote:  ... But that is precisely why we must do our best not to ever really be in the wrong. Every time we are insulting (I mean really insulting, not just incorrectly perceived that way), we add fuel to their fire.

This might be amusing ...

For the first few months I'd been on this forum I had a forum signature which read: IF YOU DON'T SIN, JESUS DIED FOR NOTHING.

During a discussion with a Theist who came here, I was informed by him... in no uncertain terms... that he found this signature disgusting, blasphemous, and I was going to hell for such an insult. Oops.

Shortly thereafter, during a discussion with different Theist who came here, I was informed that this very same signature was absolutely right on! This Theist said it actually explained very well his own love and understanding of his savior. Oops.

Gee, talk about being damned if you do and damned if you don't. Dodgy
Well, for the record, I think the first atheist was justified in being offended and the second doesn't understand his/her religion very well. The statement seems to encourage Christians to sin because otherwise their savior's death would be for nothing. But sinning is obviously contradictory to Christian teaching. So I can understand why it would be offensive. On the other hand, Jesus purportedly died to save us from original sin. New sins are not necessary to be saved which is why the second was incorrect to say it was "right on".

More to your point though, yes you are damned if you do and damned if you don't in some cases. Again, if you do your best not to be offensive, that's the best you can do and if someone gets offended anyway, at least that wasn't how you meant it. I'm not sure what your intentions were with that signature. Maybe you honestly didn't intend or expect it to be offensive. Maybe you even still disagree that it is objectively offensive. I would just listen with an open mind when someone tells you your statement is offensive and see if their claim rings true. If so, I would refrain from the statement in the future (remove it if it's a signature type of thing), but if not then politely explain what your intention was. Maybe ask them why it is offensive to them and see if their rationale makes sense to you. In the end, it's all about being sensitive to the other side as much as possible to create an environment for intelligent discussion. Of course, there will always be some people who won't be sensitive to you no matter what you say or do. I would probably just leave those discussions and move on to someone else or a different topic. Those aren't really discussions anyway so there is nothing to be gained.

"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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