Let’s begin this conversation

Posted by on March 22, 2011 in Thoughts | 22 comments

While I may have a strange optimism for the future of humanity, and I think that the answer lies not in the division of the religious and the secular but in the joint efforts of all involved, I still see it as a troublesome proposition. As you may have seen in the “Revelation TV” interview with Richard Dawkins, talking plain sense to someone, even with staggering evidence, cannot sway the beliefs of someone who truly believes in their own experiences, however implausible they may seem from a rational standpoint. It is for this very reason that meaningful and open dialogue between the religious and secular must be initiated, not to try to prove one is right over the other, but to see how we can set about moving into the future with a unity that embraces all people, not just the faithful.

The main problem with this proposition is that many believers think it is not only their right, but their duty to impose their beliefs on others. In both Christianity and Islam, the very books they use as a basis of their religion include statements which say that proselytising is a part of the religion which should be adhered to. Admittedly not all sects of Christianity hold this to be true, and no doubt there are Muslims who just go about their daily lives without a thought for the beliefs of their neighbours. Those who quietly worship their God without imposing it on others are not the problem here. It’s those who scream loudly, who condemn and even threaten others with their doctrine that need to be addressed.

So the real question is “How do we move forward? How can we begin to tell someone who’s not listening that secularity is not only preferable, but necessary for progress on this planet?”

I have a few ideas, but I think the answer lies in the willingness to listen. Even Richard Dawkins, however calm and composed he may be, seems to talk past Howard Conder in their debate. And the likes of Christopher Hitchens in his debates may remain calm, and I’m sure a man of his intellect hears an understands what people are saying to him, even as he delivers the almighty “Hitchslap” to them, but is he really listening? The words people say and what they are implying are often very different things.

Sometimes, for instance, when someone says “There MUST be a God, and there MUST be a Heaven” what they might be implying is that they are scared of death, and can’t bear the idea that this 80 year ride is all they get and that they can’t imagine how life on earth could originate without a creator God. If someone says that “The bible is literally true” they may be saying they are afraid of the idea that they are alone in the universe, and the ideas if the scriptures gives them hope that they are being looked after. When someone says “You wouldn’t understand if you didn’t experience it yourself” may mean they themselves don’t understand how something happened to them, so they have to explain it away as a “miracle”. If someone says “I want you to understand the teachings of the bible as true” they may simply be  asking for a validation of their own beliefs, or they could be truly believing that God wants you to believe. Regardless of what words they say, the root of their belief stems from a fear of the unknown, fear of death, and fear of God’s righteous retribution against man for being born at all. These fears are real fears (except the one about retribution) and we all hold them.

These aforementioned fears may stem from a feeling of insignificance in the universe, a loneliness that for some is just unbearable, the fact that you are literally on your own through life, and that you only get one shot at this life. Also there is the idea that those who they love and who have passed on are gone for good, and they will never be reunited with them. It’s a big ask of someone to change the beliefs they have been brought up with, and nigh on impossible to convince someone that their deep seated beliefs are wrong.

So what to do? Well I think that the first thing to do is listen to what people are saying, really listen, and let them know that their fears are valid, that their words are being heard and that we understand the reasons behind their fears. Many when approached in this way will see that their beliefs are not rational, and while they won’t stop believing, they may be able to see why we have a problem with irrational beliefs.

You can’t crack every egg this way, but there are some intelligent people who hold irrational beliefs (I’d go so far as to say that ALL people hold some irrational beliefs, or are not acting rationally all the time.) Just because someone is religious doesn’t automatically make them stupid. Cherished beliefs are the hardest thing to deal with on a purely rational level. The more closely someone holds and cherishes a belief, the tighter that grasp becomes when they are presented with a perceived threat to that belief. To quote Richard Wiseman:

“When evidence conflicts with cherished beliefs, most people are happier to explain away even the most compelling data rather than abandon their beliefs.”

This pretty much sums up the situation at hand, but it doesn’t answer the question of how to approach these people.

Apart from listening to what these people are saying, we need to recognise that their deeply held beliefs hold a large amount of emotional baggage with them. Irrational beliefs, for the believer, offer an answer to some of the most difficult questions we ever have to face, at least enough to satisfy the believers’ curiosities.

If a person is offering up their reality in conversation, and believe they are not being heard, they will either clam up saying “You just don’t understand, do you?” or they become agitated and aggressive. The problem is that many of us do understand, and yet we still reject their beliefs offhand as being fancy. To believers their reality is as real as anything we might see in text books.

The second part is to realise that without respect for the people we are making no ground. I respect the right for people to worship whatever they like, but it doesn’t mean I have to respect the religion. I can respect the historical significance of religious texts, in so much that historically they were relevant to a great many people, but I don’t have to respect them enough to feel compelled to introduce the words as law. I respect the right people have to follow their book of magical forgiveness as much as they like, so long as the beliefs don’t affect me, don’t hurt others including their own family members, and aren’t forced upon anyone else, especially their own children. The people I respect as human beings, as members of society, as valid voices and as worthy of this same respect I would ask in return.

The third part is that the believers must be willing to listen also, be willing to try to understand why a secular society is desirable, and must understand that nobody is going to take their precious beliefs away from them. Only they can do that to themselves.

All this is well and good, and in a perfect world all this would not only be possible, it would be the accepted norm. But people are afraid of change, and are afraid to lose the oh-so-convenient God-given sense of entitlement that comes with being one of God’s children. When you are one of God’s children, and not simply a human animal, you have the authority of God on your side, however you choose to manipulate that. And it is true that without this entitlement, the world is a much bigger place, scary, lonely and uncaring. At least it is on the surface. We make our own meaning in life, even the religious, we choose what it is to us that makes our life’s worth living, the things that bring us joy and happiness, and if religion does that for you, then good for you. I’m not tying to take this away, but I will point it out to you if you claim that my life is any less worthwhile than yours simply because you think your beliefs entitle you to more than me.

I don’t really know if this blog piece makes any bit of difference, but I do hope that at least some atheists and theists will read this. I do expect to get a bit of flack from the atheist community for this, but to be truthful, the next steps in improving the world are going to take some uncomfortable steps. I am willing to put forward this proposition, however awkward it may seem.

It is intended as a beginning of civil dialogue, so I guess we’ll see how effective it is.

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  1. Again, another really well written piece mate. The biggest problem with communications between theists and atheists is that both sides believe they are right, unfortunately only one side has any real evidence. However, as you say, most atheists probably couldn’t care less about what others believe as long as their beliefs do not affect other people adversely. The unfortunate thing is that many devout believers feel that without their religion being the one truth, and without it’s rules leading society then the world will automatically become a corrupt and evil place.

    I once had a long and drawn out conversation on a London bus who was convinced I was going to hell, and she refused to accept the idea that I simply don’t believe in it and that I’m happy to accept that game over in this life means just that, there aren’t any continues; unless you zip through Green Hill Zone really fast of course.

    I’ve all but given up on trying to talk to people like that, there’s simply no way of conversing with them without any mention of sin and the good of (a) god.

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  2. So you are going to have civil dialogue with a theist whom you respect, but whose religion you don’t respect ?

    You are going to say to her that all organised religions should have their privileges removed [e.g. no more tax exemptions] & religion must have no special standing or influence in any sphere outside of itself [e.g. setting moral codes, law making, no faith schools]

    And why would she have a dialogue with you when she has everything to lose & nothing to gain ?

    Martin, I don’t see how a dialogue with these people helps us or them. They need to be removed from all of public life. Ultimately our objective should be to stop them indoctrinating their children, despising homosexuals, treating women as chattels…. [long list here]

    There is no realistic compromise position that isn’t also dishonest. The trump card that atheists hold is a belief in evidence & an utter respect for the truth. To go your route would require atheists to hold back on these values & live a lie

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    • Fair comment Mike, but I really don’t see any alternative stance to take.

      On the point of “honesty” I disagree totally, these are people and their voices are as valid as yours or mine. I think we need to deal honestly with these people, be honest to them, and listen to what they have to say. While the facts and evidence back up a person like myself, faith speaks the same way for a theist. The fact is that they already have the upper hand, and I see the only way to move forward is to compromise SOME of what we want in order to get what we NEED.

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      • But the thoughtful theist will realise that it’s the thin end of the wedge.

        In your civil discourse with them are you going to admit that your compromise is only temporary ? That later on you will require them to retreat further (giving you time to convert some of them to a more rational world view). To do otherwise would be dishonest wouldn’t it ?

        Your comment: I don’t see how their voices are as valid as ours. Is ‘valid’ really the right word ? The various faiths are forming alliances with each other because they now realise they face a common threat to their unwarranted power ~ the threat they face is from those who uphold rationality. They are on the back foot & we need to apply more pressure ~ not less

        BTW ~ I admire you for blogging your thoughts out loud, but I cannot see how it becomes a policy. What would a civil discourse with a theist be like ? Isn’t it you biting your tongue so as not to offend while you steal the wheels off their car when they aren’t looking ?

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    • Now imagine them saying the same about atheists: “I don’t see how a dialogue with atheists people helps us or them. They need to be removed from all of public life.”

      They also could consider atheists living a lie too. The religious believers dominate society. They will NOT disappear, no matter how virulent you are against them.

      To spout rhetoric thinking it’s that easy to ‘remove’ them is fundamentalist thinking and completely unrealistic (imagine now how your “removed from all public life” could apply to homosexuals, cultural minorities, ageism…).

      To see it all as just either/or is completely unhelpful. Dialogue is the only way. The same way it is for any minority who deserves a voice.

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  3. An option may be not to argue about God, but about the teachings of religion. Point out that the holy books were all written by people and transcribed. Not by God, as to why God can’t write is a question I have. In Christianity and Islam the Bible and Q’uran were not written by the prophets even.
    We can discuss with religious people that the books have lots of contradictory things and that possibly people wrote stuff down wrong. So lets leave out God and address the religious institution and them claiming to have the answers and know what God wants. Also point out the research that even babies and toddlers have morals and empathy.

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    • I like where you are coming from Samir, but you do not have a chance in hell.
      (What you said is true, but they will claim inspiration)
      You have to hit them where it hurts…….Jesus, they all have a conception of him that is not in his sayings.
      I have recently found a web site that might do the trick.
      The one they might actually read was a book written in 1927.
      Since they all love Jesus so much.

      It simply puts all of the things that Jesus said in order, with some context.
      Nothing here but bible verses.

      If you take away the miracles, which were done to further his cause, and do not prove anything anyway, because it is all hearsay evidence, no eyewitness.
      (otherwise heal all the sick, this would have been reported worldwide)
      He condemned them for seeking signs.
      (Then turns around and does miracles and the resurrection)
      He believed devil spirits and sin caused illness.
      He told the disciples (men) to leave their families (wives & children).
      He came not in peace, but with a sword, to destroy families.
      (family values?)
      The one time he shows some real compassion and offers to take their yokes, because his is light.
      (dying by crucifixion for all of Man kinds sins is not a yoke?)
      He has no work ethic, nor money, nor kids, condemns the rich.
      (if you think I am wrong, find it)

      What you will find is an egotistical bully that never asks people but orders people around, justifies his transgressions of the scripture, by, see look what David and other leaders did, disrespectful to his mother, claims to be a servant, but never does, talks in code, mostly high is opposite low, up is opposite down, etc.
      (not one shred of NEW wisdom)
      The sermon on the mount is about the only coherent thing he says and most (Christians do not even give lip service to half of it.)
      He does not claim to be god.
      (this comes from the church creed and other writers)

      Most of what they think of Jesus comes from the other writers and fantasies they have made up in their heads.

      To give you an example, when the poor woman came with the ointment and used her tears to wash his feet and her hair to dry them, he should have stopped her and got down on his knees, and took her ointment and used his tears to wash her feet and his hair to dry her feet.

      You will not find where he turned the other cheek, or did good to his enemies.
      If they doubt his ramblings, he will proclaim you wicked and sinful generation.

      One of the weirdest things he does, is tell the ones he heals not to tell anyone.
      This is absolutely crazy for 2 reasons.
      He is trying to convince people he can do miracles?
      (not to mention you got them published in a book)
      He usually has a multitude of people around?
      To use one of his sayings, why are you hiding your candle under a basket Jesus?
      (And of course they always go off and tell everyone, even though they think god told them not to?)

      I do not know about you, but if I had just been cured of some horrible disease, the last thing I am going to do is pick up my bed and carry it off.

      The worst thing he does is curse a fig tree out of season, now no other weary traveler will be able to get food from the tree.

      It is true they will not get what I got out of it, but I think it really puts a different light on him.
      This stuff would be hilarious, if it was not so sad.

      By the way, I know how to tell a true Christian.
      They will have cut off their hands and plucked out their eyes, needless to say, I have not found one yet!

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  4. Naive, Marty. Very naive.

    I for one have no respect for people who have religion in their lives. I can like and get along with them…but at the end of the day I still view them as delusional and emotionally immature. There is no reason to engage these people in debate, or even in rational conversation. It’s like arguing with a child and it is very illogical to think the religious can be both sane and insane.

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    • Like I said to you on FB, there are those who have come from religion, intelligent people, who see religion and religious belief as not a mental illness, but an honest mistake of the mind. I really don’t think this is naive at all, it’s a realistic look at the way we need to interact with religious people, and THEY WITH US, if we want to make any headway in keeping religion out of politics, schools and other parts of society that they don’t belong in.

      That said, I appreciate your comment. In any case, I am actively seeking some sort of resolution to the problems at hand, not throwing stones at those I dislike. That is too easy and only causes resentment. But then again, there is a time and place for stone throwing.

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      • The answer is simple. LET’S EAT THE RELIGIOUS!!

        Come on, all of you who think we can’t live with them, can do without them – there’s a worldwide crisis in terms of good food supply!

        Can’t stomach the idea of discussion? Too narrow-minded to recognise that your peers, your relatives, your co-workers and indeed, your future spouses might even nominally support a religion and celebrate Christmas? Too bitter and twisted to even contemplate that it’s a far greater and for more complex social and cultural issue than a rant on a ScienceBlogs.com blogpost?

        Sort it out once and for all, with your very own hands, take to the streets with your knife and fork, oh fellow atheists! If you can say it in the comments, why not say it to their faces – “you are nothing but future nutrition to me as you serve no purpose as a human being otherwise!”

        Soylent Green is Catholic [Except in select areas, where it’s halal and ordered through all the best butchers]!

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  5. It is for this very reason that meaningful and open dialogue between the religious and secular must be can not be initiated

    That was one very naive post. Especially since you started off with the Dawkins interview on R TV. That should have made it clear even to you, that there is no point in trying to reason with religionists. Just as there is no point in reasoning with my 4-year-old whether he needs that head wound stitched up or not.

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  6. Hey there,

    I discovered this blog through Zite and have only read a few posts, but this is a topic that is relatively important to me because I used to be one of those irrational Christians. I like to say that I used to be a Christian, but then I escaped. :P

    If nothing else, my story and the story of those like me proves that there are people who will listen to reason, even when trapped in the clutches of the church. However, you can’t get too far ahead of yourself when approaching people like my former self. The idea that “believers must be willing to listen also, be willing to try to understand why a secular society is desirable” is a noble end goal, but I wouldn’t try to start there. If an individual is already willing to concede that a secular society may be more desirable than a religious one, then most of the work has already been done.

    Try to understand where they’re coming from. I grew up in the church, had Christian parents, and was “born again” when I was only 6 years old. I grew up hearing from the most influential people in my life that God was real and faith was important. From an early age we were taught that there would be people out there who would try to shake our faith and that these people were the devil in disguise. Resisting them was a cause for celebration. Not listening to them is the right thing to do. So this whole resistance to questioning and change is built right into the system. It doesn’t mean that all Christians are unreachable, just that you can’t come across as being too aggressive or like you’re looking down on them, or the self-defense automatically kicks in.

    The Socratic Method is particularly valuable here, so you’re not telling the person what is true and what isn’t, but you’re merely asking questions and trying to get them to question it on their own. Don’t get frustrated. Easier said than done, but if you lose your cool or start to get arrogant, they’ll start to get defensive and that gives them permission to ignore everything you’ve said. Don’t expect a conversion to reason right on the spot. Most people won’t throw away a lifetime of belief in one conversation. However, if you stay friendly, open, and calm and if you ask reasonable questions, I guarantee that the person will remember what you’ve said and think long and hard about it after you’ve gone.

    Every Christian has doubts. When they take hard-line stances and throw out wacky ultimatums, it’s partly because they’re compensating for the doubts that they have. But if you can get them to let their guard down around you, you will allow them to more fully consider the questions you ask.

    Although it is an either-or scenario, try not to paint it as one. Ask questions that include the two of you, like: “You know what’s strange? If you and I had been born in Saudi Arabia, we’d probably be praying to Allah in a mosque right about now.” This doesn’t pit you vs them and still begins to illustrate that their religious beliefs are, in part, an accident of birth.

    We all believe that we’re on the right side of things here. Remember that Christians believe that they are, too. If you’re too direct or too confrontational, they will close up. Remember, too, the stigma that comes with being an atheist. For years after I stopped believing in god, I would give half-assed answers to questions about my religious beliefs like “I’m spiritual, but not a fan of organized religion” or “I don’t really care.” It took a long time for me to admit to myself that I was an atheist, and even longer for me to be able to admit it to other people. I still haven’t made it my “religious view” in Facebook, just to avoid the certain fights and questions that would inevitably arise from family and Christian friends. All of that is to say that it’s a process and, for some people, a long one. Keep that in mind.

    As I said at the beginning of this hopelessly long comment, this subject is especially important for me because I’ve been on the other side. I’ve often wondered about the best way to evangelize reason — you’d think it would sell itself, but it obviously doesn’t. It needs help from people like us, and the very best thing we can do is to treat these conversations with extreme care and delicacy. The fact is, religion is a difficult thing to shake. Don’t make fun of those who haven’t “escaped” yet and don’t openly bash their religion. You’re only losing goodwill and making it more difficult for those of us who are trying to slowly bring people around to our side.

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    • You seem to be talking about just Christians Joel & just on a personal level ~ which is fine

      What about the big picture. The effect of crazy religion on society, freedom & the process of politics ? Why are faith heads dictating morality ? Why do we allow them to stick their nose into medical ethics ?

      I don’t want to spend years being nice to faith heads of any religion while they screw up their children & take too large a slice of the social pie because of their privileged position

      Let’s get ’em out of public life ASAP !

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      • And how’s that position working out for you, Mike? Seeing some real progress?

        Look, I’m as upset as anyone about the influence wielded by religion on politics and society. I’m one of those screwed up children. But you can’t simply beat down the world’s religious population because you know you’re right. You can’t possibly think they will back down quietly simply because you shout at them.

        With respect to politics, our countries are democracies, for better or worse. How do you remove certain groups from political participation because they believe the wrong thing? I mean that both philosophically and logistically. What good does it do to sound off about how we need to “remove them from public life?” Certainly it’s a desirable end goal, but simply shouting it doesn’t do anything to actually accomplish it, and arguably makes it more difficult to accomplish.

        Baby steps, my friend. Let’s first tout the achievements of science and technology and emphasize the importance of evidence-based decision-making in the public sphere. You can’t run around telling people you want to get rid of everything they value simply because you know better than them, even if it’s true. That’s the opposite of helpful and will hinder progress towards the goal that you and I both want.

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  7. I would say that the naive view is that respectful dialogue does nothing. Not everyone is born an atheist or, if converted, deconverts all on their own. People like Matt Dillahunty, of The Atheist Experience, know that dialogue is most likely futile in bringing about change in the people they are directly addressing, but they also know that other people are listening, and that, to those, it can make all the difference.

    Believers who are beginning to question or challenge their beliefs don’t always just go to atheist books and websites to discover the views of atheists. The ones who believe that atheists are bad, lonely, and miserable people need to witness that such is not the case. One of the best ways to do that is through dialogue.

    As long as someone is willing to listen, dialogue is a viable option. Maybe it won’t be the thing that finally convinces them that theism isn’t plausible, but that doesn’t mean it is useless.

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  8. And in case my first two paragraphs seem inconsistent: In the first paragraph, I was talking about dialogue being futile in getting theists to recognize the irrationality of their beliefs and the rationality of alternatives. Dialogue can be very helpful to the theist not only in showing them that atheists aren’t necessarily bad, lonely, and miserable (this demonstration would be hugely bolstered by the theist if they knew and regularly interacted with an atheist in real life), but also in showing them that there are alternative explanations and ways of thinking which they hadn’t even known to exist previously.

    If you’ve ever listened to multiple episodes of The Atheist Experience, you’d know that there, in fact, are theists who are kind and respectful, and who get off the phone with new ideas that they will be pondering.

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  9. Religion is already dying.

    Physics predicts the end of religion: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12811197

    Without engaging the insanity, present facts and reality, ridicule their religious ridiculousness, be visible, be vocal, live happy atheist lives…and let reason and reality prevail.

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    • Agreed. Well said

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  10. You have defined three groups of people. One – hard core believers. Two – both atheist and theist who will listen, and, Three – hard core anti-theist. What we see on twitter are primarily the two extremes banging their heads together, trying to convince the other of the foolishness of their ways, or blindly proving “their” belief is right. The second group may occasionally pop up, but I think most in the second group may hang back and watch. A cousin of mine is a christian zealot who attends a fundamentalist church, and she feels it is her right and duty to quote scripture and tell me how great god is whenever we talk. I told her once, and have held to it since, that you can only “minister” to a person who is open to being “ministered” to. To my surprise, she understood what I was saying, but the result is we rarely talk now. She has chosen her church beliefs over accepting me. Now that I have rejected christianity, I change that saying you can only convince a person of something if and when they become open to being convinced. If one thinks about it, that is how spiritual doctrine, or rejecting spiritual doctrine, comes into our lives. We have a questioning in our souls, and that questioning provides a crack in our spiritual selves into which truth can flow. Once we fully accept spirituality as in group one, or reject it, group three, we become set in our beliefs and the cracks disappear. That is why humans can become intractably irrational in defending their positions. From my standpoint, religious thought is the most insidious because it teaches to blind your mind from “deception — or anything that does not agree with the belief” and to choose the spiritual path even to the point of leaving your family should they remain unbelievers. To me, the worst of all possible lessons.

    I applaud the idea of mutual discussion among the three groups. However, I think the place to look is to group 2; to reach out and work only with those who are questioning. I think most “church” people embrace the concept of living a good life and letting your belief show through in the daily example of your life. As an atheist, I believe the same thing so those with questions feel comfortable in approaching me with question. I know I have to work on softening my responses when attacked by a zealot — although its is easier and a heck of a lot more fun to be sharp in return — but after reading your remark, I think that is the immediate challenge for me.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It is a good article and I join you in hoping people in all three groups take the opportunity to read it.

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  11. Marty,

    I gotta disagree with you on this one. The open line for communication has always been there from secularists on the condition that the religious side does not encroach upon us with their beliefs and that has continually been refused. They will not open any dialogue that does not involve them attempting to gain more power. I do not have any interest in listening to the feelings of hypocrites in power divulge their fears in some kind of group therapy session. There is a line in the sand between us and them in order to have a true dialogue. They repeatedly cross it, and then get upset when we push them back to the other side. As Hitchens says, let them catch up to modern morality, remove all supernatural claims to higher power than us, then we’ll talk about talking.

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  12. There is an inherent problem with the conversation here, particularly from the “let’s remove all religious people from society” crowd. The term ‘religious is being used here as if it was one thing. That is not true. Religion is a spectrum, from violent fundamentalist to the peaceful, the moderate or the just plain apathetic. Do I think that a rational conversation can be had with a suicide bomber. Not at all. There is no way to be a good neighbor with someone who would kill himself or one of his children just to blow you up. There is no conversation to be had with that kind of person and, yes, they should absolutely be removed from civil society and put somewhere where they can’t harm themselves or others. Then there is a religion like jainism that is kooky, yes, but ultimately peaceful and harmless. Do we really think these people need to be removed from society? Who are they harming? What progress are they hindering? Let’s not use the term ‘religion’ to blanket belief.

    For myself, I have found it far more effective to ask believers questions than to try and tell them anything. When confronted with a true believer in conversation, I play the part of interested observer. Literally, in my mind I pretend that I’m interviewing them for a documentary. They say something crazy and I ask them a question. They attempt to answer my question, but naturally it only leads to more questions. You get the point. Socrates knew it. It is still true today. If you point out someone’s own ignorance, they are going to focus their energy on despising you. But if you can manage to someone help them stumble across it themselves, then you are blameless and they are the better for it.

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  13. I think people who complain about how some atheist arguments may not persuade the people we are talking to are totally missing the point. They forget that, especially on the internet, others are watching. And those are the multitude that we are really wanting to convince! I don’t care about the person I am arguing with, as long as the others watching see the religious ideas shredded. If the religious person is publicly humiliated, so much the better!!! Fuck ’em.

    The bastards have had over two thousand years to get their arguments straight, and they still fail.

    Most religious believers are generally a lost cause, because their minds are made up. This means it is the younger generation we need to influence in order to generate a complete paradigm shift in how religion is perceived. And for them, tone is important – and in my opinion the more derisory and contemptuous of religion the better!

    The reason is this: on the subject of paradigm shifts, Kuhn said, using a quote from Max Planck: “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it”.

    Younger people are influenced by how their peers see them. In this case, public ridicule and deliberate contempt of an idea, combined with clearly explained derision toward those who hold the idea to be true will certainly cause people to think twice about subscribing to the same concept. It’s about making religion look un-cool and for brain-dead losers. We need to encourage our opponents to (naturally) die out, without being replaced.

    We also need to shift the balance away from the default setting of pandering to religion. This will open up the middle ground for polite, well-informed, quietly-spoken atheists such as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers to be more widely viewed as the clear-thinking moderates that they actually are – instead of being continuously and falsely painted as “radical” and “strident” by our opponents!

    In a paradigm shift, it is all about the popularity of the idea among the new generation that determines its eventual dominance. So, unless it is really a one-to-one conversation, the time for politeness is over!!!

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