I came across a video by Hemant Mehta called “6 Things Atheists Shouldn’t Say to Christians”, but I have to admit that as I watched it (video at the bottom), I actually think that his points aren’t all that great. Therefore, I wanted to take a look at his 6 things and explain why I think most of them are actually good points that atheists ought to point out to Christians.
1. Don’t assume Christians believe for simplistic reasons. Of course, people hold beliefs for a wide variety of reasons, some simple, some complex. What Christians, and indeed all theists, fail to do however is to examine their beliefs with a critical eye and a demand for their beliefs to map to reality. Granted, we can say the same thing about some atheists, I’m not above criticizing anyone and everyone when they fall short of critical thinking, but there isn’t a single Christian out there who has done it or they wouldn’t be Christian. Religion of all kinds is believed for emotional, not intellectual reasons. Therefore, there isn’t a logical reason to accept what they accept and we ought to point that out. It might not be simplistic but it isn’t intelligent either.
2. Don’t dismiss Christianity easily. While I admit that a lot of Christians, and this probably goes for most religions, go to their churches or synagogues or mosques or whatever for reasons outside of hating gays or being afraid of their bodies, that happens to be part and parcel with the belief system whether they like it or not. Yes, churches can and do charitable work and they can and do help people. However, the vast majority of such charitable work isn’t really there to help people, it’s done as a vehicle for pushing their beliefs on the most vulnerable members of society who feel obligated or threatened to buy into the message in order to get a hot meal or a place to sleep for the night. I’ve done stories about charitable organizations who refuse to help those who won’t listen to a sermon or feign religious adherence. That’s not charity to be proud of. Sure, you can find Christians, typically the very liberal Christians, who totally eschew the hatred that has marked Christianity since it’s inception, but those really aren’t the ones that we often complain about, are they?
3. Don’t assume there’s one “correct” form of Christianity. I don’t. I’d be surprised if any atheists did. If we thought there was a “correct” form of Christianity, we’d be Christians, not atheists. We’re convinced that all forms of Christianity are wrong. While yes, it is true that some Christians can be pretty decent people and support some decent social causes, the fact remains that they are still delusional adults with an imaginary friend in the sky. Religion is limited to one’s spiritual beliefs and as we’re convinced that all of those spiritual beliefs are wrong, why would we give a pass to any religion, Christianity or otherwise? Just because they are good people outside of their religion doesn’t mean that their religion is good or that it contributes to their goodness. Remember Steven Weinberg’s saying, “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.“
4. Don’t say religious people are stupid. Sorry, but when it comes to their religious beliefs, they *ARE* stupid! When it comes to believing in an invisible father figure for which no objective evidence exists, they are stupid. Sorry, that’s just the way it is. That doesn’t mean they are stupid in everything they do, it just means that when it comes to religion, indeed, they are stupid. We want to convince them to stop being stupid and to look at the world around them intelligently and rationally, to learn about how things actually are instead of reacting to the world emotionally as they’ve done all along. I honestly don’t get accommodationists who are convinced that a single word must always describe everything that a person does, says and believes. If I call someone ignorant, it doesn’t mean they are ignorant of every possible thing, it means they are ignorant of the idea that we are discussing. The same goes for stupidity. There are some really smart people out there who, when it comes to religion, are absurdly stupid. People need to deal with reality.
5. Don’t say religion is a virus or a mental illness. Okay, he has a point there, at least on the mental illness side. Certainly, religion does operate like a virus, the model maps very well to the reality of religion so I have no problem with saying that. Perhaps a better way to say the second though is to acknowledge that those with religious beliefs engage in a mental aberration. It’s really no different than conspiracy theorists who take a long walk off the short rationality pier when it comes to their crazy conspiracy of choice. I don’t think that being extra nice to theists so they’ll keep talking to you is a good idea necessarily either. The goal isn’t to keep them talking, it’s to convince them that they are wrong, or failing that, as you almost certainly will, to show other people watching how absurd their beliefs are. If that means saying there is something wrong with them or their beliefs, so be it. We’re not here to make friends.
6. Don’t say “let’s tax the church”. While it is true that there are lots of credible non-profit, tax-exempt organizations out there, the overwhelming majority of them actually have to do something with that money that actually helps someone. Churches don’t. They automatically get tax exemption and never have to actually do any charitable work. I have no problem with actually giving a church tax exemption on demonstrable charitable activities, I don’t see why they should get it on the building which does nothing but exist to delude people sitting in the pews. Maybe it’s time to break up 501(c)(3) charities into groups that actually do charitable work and those that do not but are only religious in nature.
So anyhow, here’s the video:
See, I don’t buy that our goal as atheists should be to convince theists to come to our side. This isn’t a popularity contest, we don’t want to say “come to the atheist side, we have brownies!” The only way I want a theist to come to atheism is because they are intellectually convinced that belief in gods is unwarranted. Because so many of them are utterly incapable of doing so, the debate becomes more about convincing the crowd than convincing the theist and even then, most of it is a waste of time. Winning isn’t about making them agree with us, it’s about actually being right and being able to defend your views with critical thinking, logic and reason. If nobody else ever agrees with you, so be it. It doesn’t matter anyhow. Most religious debates are just an exercise in logic, not in changing minds.