This actually comes from Martin Pribble’s blog and while he answers the four questions quite admirably, I find that I’ve got some different answers. There’s nothing wrong with Martin’s, of course, but we all approach things from a somewhat different perspective and while he’s a nice guy, I, as I have been told so very often, am not.
Even though I have a reputation for being an attack dog, it has to be understood that I do so because it is actually important to come to demonstrably true beliefs and to reject unsupported false beliefs, as well as being able to tell the difference between the two in a consistent, predictable manner. The fact that I won’t accept unwarranted claims and unjustified beliefs as fact tends to offend those who cling to them tenaciously. It isn’t I who is doing anything ridiculous though, it is the believer in things who wants to demand their assertions are true without being able to actually demonstrate that they are true.
And so, on to the questions. You can go look at Martin’s blog to see his answers to these questions, there’s some really thought provoking stuff there too.
1) What are the three biggest mistakes that Christians make when discussing faith, or life in general, with atheists?
It’s honestly hard to come up with just three because there are so many. The first, I would have to say, is that Christians think that their own personal beliefs, faith and experiences have any impact on atheists. Those things may be very powerful to the theist but they really mean nothing to the atheist. It’s probably easier to see if the theist looks at those exact things, coming from another faith tradition. A Muslim, for instance, saying all of the same things to a Christian, just from a different theological perspective, really has no impact on the Christian. The Christian won’t accept that Allah was talking to the Muslim, that Allah acts in the Muslim’s life or that the Muslim just feels right believing as he does, any more than the Muslim will accept the exact same things coming from the Christian. The atheist, of course, will reject it from both sides because none of those beliefs or feelings can be backed up critically or rationally.
Second has to be the automatic rejection of science when it comes into conflict with their religious beliefs. As Martin says, atheism isn’t a position designed specifically to harm the theist or their beliefs, neither is science. Science is a systematic means of looking at the world around us and coming to demonstrable conclusions based on observation. It is the only system we have come up with so far that actually produces demonstrable results. Remember that word: demonstrable, it is important. That’s just not something that religion can do. Religion can only make claims, based on assertions, based on beliefs, it cannot prove that any of those claims, assertions or beliefs are objectively true. This is a problem for atheists and it ought to be a problem for theists as well, but for some reason, they value their emoti0nally comforting beliefs over what is actually demonstrably true in the real world. Oftentimes, when science says something that contradicts their beliefs, they will entirely ignore science, no matter how clear and undeniable it is, and cling to their faith. This proves to atheists how little many theists care about reality.
Third, I’d have to say telling atheists you’ll pray for them or something along those lines. It’s not only insulting, it’s really meaningless. If you want to talk to yourself for me, knock yourself out, but it doesn’t make you look better in a debate or a discussion. Fanatical, unsupported faith in a god isn’t something to be proud of, I’m sorry. Praying to such a god is about as valuable to me as offering to write a letter to Santa Claus for me. If it makes you happy, go ahead, but it’ll leave me shaking my head. Also, don’t try to condemn me to hell or any other farcical place that you can provide no evidence for, it doesn’t do your position any credit.
2) Of course a Christian does not want to back off from their beliefs, but how does one draw a line while at the same time not offending a non-believer?
To begin with, there is no right not to be offended. If a theist gets offended because an atheist tells them they have no objective evidence for the existence of their god, there’s nothing anyone can do because the statement is factually true. Whether a theist gets upset at reality or not is irrelevant, it doesn’t change the fact that it is, in fact, reality. The unfortunate truth is that debating theists over the existence of their gods is really no different than debating children over the existence of Santa Claus. I’m sorry if that offends theists and I know that theists have strongly objected to me making this comparison in the past, but it’s true. The fact is that both the theist and the child have an overwhelming emotional interest in maintaining the belief, regardless of what the facts say.
3) A Christian wants to start a relationship with an atheist, what would be a good start to gain that trust? For example, what could be three steps?
It depends on what you mean. If you’re talking about a romantic relationship, I’d never recommend that. Ever. I say that for the same reason the theist does, because differences in belief put an unwarranted strain on a relationship.
If you mean a friendship, there isn’t a lot that needs to be done except an understanding that certain subjects are just off limits. I have lots of Christian friends. We just know that it’s pointless to discuss some subjects and that’s not necessarily limited to religion. We also don’t talk about politics where we know we vehemently disagree. We enjoy the things we have in common and we don’t worry about the rest. That said though, my best friend started off as a Christian and over the past 30 years, he’s rejected his belief, mostly because of discussions with me. Take that as you will.
4) How do we steer society back towards civil discussion? (Now that you have stopped laughing) Parts of society are still involved in good discussions, but online and in the general media there is a strong belief that it’s OK (an expectation even) to fire off a hateful comment. How do we wean people off this idea?
The problem here, and I’m sure theists will disagree, is that the reason we’re having uncivil discussions generally doesn’t come from the atheist side, but from the religious. Now I’m not trying to be insulting, but it becomes painfully obvious that the two groups are talking about entirely different things. The atheists, in general, are concerned about what demonstrably is true in the real world and theists, in general, are concerned about what makes them feel good emotionally. It’s no surprise that discussions tend to get heated because the two sides aren’t even speaking the same language. Theists get upset when atheists don’t get how they feel about their beliefs. Atheists get upset when theists don’t see how irrational their beliefs are. The more strongly the two sides feel about their beliefs, the worse it gets because they’re much more attached to their particular worldview. The only place in society you’ll get any good discussions are between people who are not particularly attached to their positions and I don’t know that’s really a good discussion to begin with. As far as hateful comments on the Internet, there is probably nothing you can do about that, it’s the nature of the beast and if you want to have productive, intelligent discussions, you really simply need to avoid doing it online entirely. You will never wean people online off the idea that trolling, attacking and calling names is an acceptable way of doing things.
Therefore, your best bet is to limit your debates to face-to-face encounters where politeness is a prerequisite, lest someone get smacked in the face for being a douchebag. Also, understand that debating with fanatics on either side is not going to produce a civil discussion. Civility requires the ability to step outside of your comfort zone and try to understand how the other person feels. Fanatics can’t do that. In fact, in that regard I’d probably consider myself somewhat of a fanatic because I am convinced that theists, almost without exception, are simply not looking at the world rationally and that rationality is the most important element to any evaluation of the world we live in. It’s like someone stumbling around with their eyes clenched shut, screaming that there’s no such thing as color. All they have to do is open their eyes. I know that theists may claim that’s what atheists are doing, but they can describe no means where a rational, evidence-based atheist can come to the objective determination that God is real. Until they can do that, there’s no reason to take their claims seriously.
And so, I bid adieu to another set of theist questions. These weren’t bad, they certainly weren’t rude, I would guess, although I have no means of knowing, that this theist isn’t a fundamentalist or an evangelical, they strike me as a much more liberal theist. They can, of course, correct me if I’m wrong.