Friday, April 20, 2007

Want Ads

In our discussions we occasionally hear the claim, “But you atheists are trying to convince others to become atheists just as much as Christians are trying to convince others to be Christians. You are an atheist missionary. Why are you complaining about our evangelistic efforts?”

Probably because if Christians would stop proselytizing, so would most atheists. Let’s look at this idea of “convincing others.”

First of all, I will make I perfectly clear—I am out to convince others to be atheists. What is so unusual about that? I am an atheist. I think atheism is correct. I want others to be correct. But it doesn’t unpack quite that simply.

I always found it funny when someone tells me, “You think you are right.” No surprise here, Sherlock! Obviously, I think I am right. If I thought I was wrong, I wouldn’t think it—I would change to thinking I am right. However, I am also bright enough to review my history and see that, at times, when I equally thought I was right, it turns out I was wrong. Therefore, while thinking I am right, I am open to the possibility of being wrong.

Further, if the other person wants to be wrong and disagree with me—what do I care? They are free, as a human, to choose to do so.

I have traveled to my current office for almost seven (7) years. I think I know the fastest route to there from my home. If someone asked for the quickest route, I would attempt to convince him or her of my route. ‘Cause I think its right. Now, they may argue with me. They may disagree with me. Fine by me. If they don’t want to take my route—take another! Plenty of roads for everybody.

And, there is a slim possibility they may just find a quicker route. Since it is only to my benefit to discover such a thing, I would be very tempted to listen to them…

What is so terrible, so shocking, to declare that we are trying to convince others of something we believe? We do it all the time. We think that hot woman at the bar would have a much better life if she dated us. We saddle up, put on our game face, and use every word in our repertoire to convince her how “wrong” she is to think otherwise.

We try to convince our kids that they will be so much happier if they ate broccoli. We try to convince our spouses that we need some particular item found in a catalog. (And often attempt to convince our spouse they don’t need some silly item found in a dumb catalog.)

We even attempt to convince complete strangers without saying a word! Ever have a driver zip past a long line of cars waiting for construction, only to attempt to merge at the last minute? He (or she) is attempting to “convince” drivers to let him (or her) in by “nudging” the corner of the front of his car in-between bumpers. And some cars “convince” him (or her) that they are asking for an accident by firmly planting their bumper about 3 millimeters from the car in front of them.

Persuasive speech in real-time action!

All day, every day, we are in a constant state of attempting to convince someone, somewhere that what we think is correct. Why, then, would anyone be reduced to a state of abject shock to discover that (gasp!) Christians are attempting to convince others to be Christians and atheists are attempting to convince others to be atheists?

The difference may be a matter of scale, but that, too, should not make our heads pop or eyes bulge with surprise. (Too many kids’ cartoons, I fear.)

Due to the wonderful variety of humanity, an issue that is compelling to some, and causes them to be anxious to persuade others, may be a matter of complete indifference to others. If you happen to flip off some comment about the poor system of justice that America provides, I am likely to roll up sleeves and proceed forward with numerous bullet points, arguments and twelve Russian experts, all to convince you of how wrong you are.

But mention the sad state of Lifeguard training, and I may paste that polite look of “I’m listening” on, while my mind is racing with far more weighty matters like, “Do I need to organize my sock drawer by color or by size?” Frankly, I could care less about Lifeguards, and you will get no opinion from me one way or another.

Likewise, I am sure there are some theists that their particular beliefs are of such import, that to challenge them, or to question their “rightness” opens us up to a long dissertation as to how wrong we are. Some theists are out looking for such discussions.

And, certainly there are atheists who are equally vehement.

However, it is nowhere near my highest priority. If I had a “highest priority” of what I desire to convince others, it would be to start implementing that “love” thing. To start caring other humans. Yes, it would be grand if we gave of our riches and helped those less fortunate, but there is so much more we can do besides.

How about common courtesy? “Please,” “Thank you” and “You’re welcome” have gone by the wayside. To hear those words (outside parents teaching small children who promptly remove that part of their brain upon becoming teenagers) is becoming a rarity.

Holding the door for people. Being patient in line. Hanging up the cell phone once in while. Allowing that driver in.

Part of the reason that I do appear adamant in this debate is that I see such discourtesy among the participants. People who dig in and refuse to even be polite to other person. How many times have you seen someone say in a blog discussion, “Oh I am sorry. I misunderstood you. My fault”?

OR do we see, “YOU did not describe YOUR position ADEQUATELY. YOU need to learn how to WRITE!”

My second priority is just to get theists (and non-theists) to recognize that the other side is NOT a complete idiot, and they actual have some valid points. Sure, they may not be convincing to you, but the other person is convinced by them. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

I have priorities about explaining the law is not completely stupid. Priorities about helping others when they need a hug. Getting a hug when I need one. Priorities about being the best parent, best child, best brother/sister/relative. A huge priority about being a good friend.

There are so many things I want to convince you that I am right. I can understand for a Christian who believes in eternal torment how convincing me to be a Christian would be a priority to them. The opposite is not for me. Please don’t presume that YOUR priority is mine.

I have a friend who is very interested (read “completely obsessed”) with farm tractors. No kidding. (Do you think I could make that up?) We all know to avoid that topic like avoiding a root canal. In fact, going to the dentist for a voluntary root canal would be preferable to getting into a conversation with him about this topic. He can tell you the history of John Deere from the very first tractor to today’s newest model. Every engine type, every body model, every thing you never wanted to know about tractors.

And if you dare ask which is the better tractor, be prepared for a long speech as to the comparisons of various models, years and what-not. Not to mention about 50 places to obtain each distinct tractor.

I once made the mistake of telling him I simply didn’t care about tractors. His face froze with terror. I think if I had stood on his coffee table, unzipped my fly and proceeded to pee on his brand-new sofa--he couldn’t have been more shocked.

He presumes that since he loves tractors—so too must the rest of the world. To not is…well…unthinkable.

Christians—just because I say I want others to be convinced of the viability of atheism please do not presume that means I have the same depth of commitment to that endeavor as you do to yours.

In fact that reminds me of another priority—that others will realize we all don’t have the same priorities. Can we respect the other person’s difference?

Yep. I want you to be an atheist. I also believe you should have at least 16 songs from ABBA on your iPod. So what do I know? *shrug*


  1. **Probably because if Christians would stop proselytizing, so would most atheists. Let’s look at this idea of “convincing others.”**

    I would agree with this. Most agnostic/athiest blogs, or any blog that comments on Christianity when the person is not a Christian, is not trying to evangelize to Christians. Rather, the blogs are a reaction to the evangelizing of Christians. There are days, with myself being a non-fundamentalist/evangelical Christian, that I get very scared by some of those in power. I would imagine it's worse for an athiest, who is one of the least trusted groups.

  2. Heather,

    I don’t think it is “worse” for me as compared to you. Not at all. I think, we are floating in the same boat.

    In my discussions, I often engage fundamentalist Christians. And I see an occasional liberal Christian join the conversation. You know—one of “those” that dares believe evolution, or has the audacity to be persuaded there are errors in the Bible. That heathenistic sort.

    And what I see is a vicious attack on the liberal. The heat is turned up to “incinerate.” I have often been informed that at least I am honest about my rejection of God (channeling their statements, here, of course) whereas those liberal theists are wolf-in-sheep’s clothing. I am a minor nuisance, you are a heretic poised to destroy the very essence of faith.

    The Bible says my type will always be around. We will get our just deserts in that lovely Lake of Fire. But YOU!—Oh, you are going to hell with me, but YOU could conceivably, by your wily ways, modify all of Christianity by DARING to question a literal genocide of Joshua.

    And yes, it is true that you, simply by virtue of having a belief in some God, regardless of what that is, have a better chance of being voted president of the United States than I, an atheist, has. And yes, in America people get a little edgy upon learning a person assumes the title of “atheist” rather than conforming to the more comfortable, “I think there is a higher power of some sort.”

    But don’t kid yourself. I am an apostate. You are a heretic. And you know what they do to heretics. (Hint: Don’t accept that invitation to a late night bonfire.)

  3. Thus saith DagoodS:
    "And what I see is a vicious attack on the liberal. The heat is turned up to “incinerate.”"

    I admit guilt here. Christ himself said in Revelation that he would rather have us hot or cold. The Lukewarm he would spew out of his mouth. In a sense, I still have that sentiment. I was as Fundamentalist as you can get, but I don't see how a liberal theology will work for me - much as I would like it to.

    DagoodS ventures forth:
    "But don’t kid yourself. I am an apostate. You are a heretic. And you know what they do to heretics. "

    I still thank God that we live in a day and age where we can openly question his existance. I just cannot imagine the horrors of days past where live burnings or heretics, apostates, jews and even protestants or catholics was a reality.

  4. HeIsSailing,

    To be fair, I could not find a safe place to land in liberal theology either. Once my method was in place for determining what was most likely true, I could not find a “safe” harbor at which point any of theism was not human-made.

    The closest I could find was a remote deistic belief of an impersonal force that initiated this mess, but even that had so many problems I could see that the only thing sustaining it was my personal motivation of retaining a god, brought on by years of believing in a god.

    However, that is my journey, and not yours. What I am persuaded by, you may not be. So I always hesitate to impose that same system on another.

    As to God “spewing” people out of his mouth—isn’t it curious how petty we make our God(s)?

    On the one hand, we say it is this hugely sovereign creature that has the ability and privilege of squashing us like a bug on a whim, yet on the other hand what I do or say or think in a matter of a few minutes causes this god consternation, anxiety and anger. I control this God more that it controls us.

    (I once wrote a bit on whether God was more afraid of us than we are of him.)

    I think Mark Twain said it best:

    “Blasphemy? No, it is not blasphemy. If God is as vast as that, he is above blasphemy; if He is as little as that, He is beneath it.”

  5. To what degree is Christian proselytizing motivated by "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" as opposed to "Go and make disciples of all nations"? Do you think atheist "evangelism" is motivated by either of these attitudes (not the source, of course, but the ideas behind them)?

  6. DagoodS,

    ** You are a heretic. And you know what they do to heretics. ** Yup. I can just look at the Inquisition for starters. But I am familiar with the 'cheery picking' insults. WHat I'm not sure many fundamentalists understand is that liberal Christians *can't* follow the entire Bible as literal truth - some of the actions in it are incredibly immoral and cruel.

    I think the attacks are sad, though. For many liberal Christians, they have had experiences with God, and yet common sense tells them that the first three chapters of Genesis 1-3 aren't literally true, evolution does exist, the universe is very, very old, and that some of the events in the Old Testament are just horrific. Not taking the Bible as inerrent has nothing to do with wanting to live a sinful life -- it has to do with compassion.

    **As to God “spewing” people out of his mouth—isn’t it curious how petty we make our God(s)?** I think it says more about the people than about the God(s). Say there is this infinite, all-knowing, all-powerful being. Shouldn't S/He/It be above most of what fundamentalists attribute to the Being? The best type of humans are those that are above all the pettiness.

  7. Guy Sonntag,

    Yes, for my part, my “evangelistic” tendency is partly based on doing to others what I wish had been done for me. (Off-topic, but someday people will figure out the better golden rule is “Do unto others as they would like have done to them.” I think I will call it the Platinum Rule!)

    I wish I had seen the other side. I wish someone had encouraged me to actually read a book by a non-literalist. Read some liberal scholars. I wish someone had recommended I actually look at both sides and make the decision for myself.

  8. DagoodS sez:
    "The closest I could find was a remote deistic belief of an impersonal force that initiated this mess, "

    I have considered that briefly. The universe does show evidence of something initiating it (I am not talking about intelligent design here, which is bunk) and that is about the only thing keeping me from declaring myself atheist. A deist belief in God winding up the universe like a watch, then just letting it go to unwind as it will makes some sense - but what is the point of beleiving in and revering something as impersonal as that? - it really kind of pointless and gets you nowhere.

  9. **- but what is the point of beleiving in and revering something as impersonal as that? - it really kind of pointless and gets you nowhere. **

    I've always wondered why God needed worship to begin with. If He's that all-powerful and all-knowing and just that far above us, why would He honestly care who worships him and who doesn't? Some days, it just makes God come across as very needy. All the comments in the OT about God being a jealous God and such just come too close to how the Greek Gods behaved. So why is that a main thing that pleases Him? Why does He require us to love Him?

  10. Wow, revelation. The reason for burning heretics is because God likes His people "hot" and spits out those who are merely lukewarm. This must be what is meant by "destruction of the flesh for the salvation of the soul. Those middle agers were onto something.

  11. Gosh, Dagoods, I completely agree with you. I think that people feel differently when it comes to religion is because they don't put religion in the same category as everything else. When I'm trying to convince you that my dog bites, I'm referring to something in the actual world--some mind-independent reality. But people tend to think of religion in more subjective terms. Religion has more to do with what's going on in your mind than what's going on in the real world. Religious claims are subjective claims, not objective claims. So to try to pursuade somebody about religion is like trying to pursuade somebody that your personal preferences are "correct." At least I think that's why people find it so objectionable.

    I was glad to read your remarks about civility between bloggers. When you first started coming to my blog, I found you a bit abrasive and condescending. You've become much more pleasant since then.