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*