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Thu Feb 1, 2018, 08:20 PM

Engaging with Believers

You guys have given me great insight in the past. In a few days I'm moderating a Deep Dive discussion on "Engaging with Believers" in our Meet-up Group. Most of us, I know, now have, or have had, difficulties in answering questions, communicating with family members and co-workers, etc., about our stance as atheists or agnostics. I'd be interested in knowing, especially, what works for you and what really doesn't. How do you answer the, "where do you go to church?" question. "What happened to you?" "Why don't you believe in God"?, etc. I'm mainly interested in hearing about how confrontational you choose to be. Or not. Do you exploit opportunities to lead others to rationality or let them slide? Is it better to lay low, or do you feel an ethical responsibility to speak up? What's the best way to engage with believers without burning all the bridges. Or should we care?

I'd be grateful for any experiences or insight you're willing to share.

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Arrow 31 replies Author Time Post
Reply Engaging with Believers (Original post)
Brainstormy Feb 2018 OP
Mr.Bill Feb 2018 #1
Brainstormy Feb 2018 #17
procon Feb 2018 #2
Brainstormy Feb 2018 #4
procon Feb 2018 #7
Brainstormy Feb 2018 #11
procon Feb 2018 #19
JNelson6563 Feb 2018 #3
Mariana Feb 2018 #6
procon Feb 2018 #8
Brainstormy Feb 2018 #12
Brainstormy Feb 2018 #16
Freelancer Feb 2018 #21
Ferrets are Cool Feb 2018 #26
TwistOneUp Feb 2018 #5
Brainstormy Feb 2018 #13
Timewas Feb 2018 #9
Brainstormy Feb 2018 #14
Timewas Feb 2018 #18
TwistOneUp Feb 2018 #20
safeinOhio Feb 2018 #10
Brainstormy Feb 2018 #15
Freelancer Feb 2018 #22
Mariana Feb 2018 #23
Freelancer Feb 2018 #25
trotsky Feb 2018 #24
Iggo Feb 2018 #27
Brainstormy Feb 2018 #28
Iggo Feb 2018 #29
lindysalsagal Feb 2018 #31
Brainstormy Feb 2018 #30

Response to Brainstormy (Original post)

Thu Feb 1, 2018, 08:36 PM

1. I don't try to "convert" believers.

I pretty much feel that if they have a need to believe in a diety, and it makes them feel better or somehow complete, then that's fine with me. I only get defensive when they intrude on my lifestyle, or try to force theirs on me.

If they say I'm trying to force my Atheism on them, I tell them I promise I will never demand that it say There Is No God on all our money.

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Response to Mr.Bill (Reply #1)

Thu Feb 1, 2018, 11:41 PM

17. I get that

but are there no believers among your friends or family that you must engage with. Are you really scot free of this dilemma? It just doesn't come up?

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Response to Brainstormy (Original post)

Thu Feb 1, 2018, 08:48 PM

2. I feel no compunction to explain why I'm an atheist.

If someone does not agree or can't grasp the concept of not believing in any supernatural beings, then that's it's their problem, not mine. If asked, I just state that I'm an atheist. If pressured about the necessity for everyone to believe in religious doctrine, as firmly and politely as I can, I say I don't find any reason to do that and I'm quite content, thank you for asking. Sometimes I have to repeat myself until my words sink in.

I don't like it when religious folks try to push their dogma on me, so I never proselytize. I'm in my 70s, but I'm not a philosopher, a wise sage or a learned guru of human spirituality. I never define my POV, that's personal and it's mine, mine alone.

Everyone has different values, ethics and needs, so I don't set out to criticise someone else who wants to seek comfort in religion. However, I expect the same courtesy from the them. Just be sincere. Be confident and strong in your views and don't allow anyone to pull you in a different direction and you'll be fine.

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Response to procon (Reply #2)

Thu Feb 1, 2018, 09:05 PM

4. I really appreciate the sincerity part, but

also the confidence advice. I think sometimes we're too defensive, which undermines our confidence. And believers don't always have the same compunction to be courteous. They have, if they're sincere, an ethical obligation to proselytize, which I don't suppose any atheist actually has. But it does put us as a disadvantage often. Passion against courtesy? If we're not "angry" as the stereotype insists, then the energy is often with them.

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Response to Brainstormy (Reply #4)

Thu Feb 1, 2018, 09:24 PM

7. Why do you feel the need to engage anyone?

No one forces you to speak, let alone defend your private thoughts, so maybe the problem lays within you. Really, you aren't required to say anything, it's entirely your choice, but if you choose to argue and get into verbal battles over religion, surely you realize that no one ever wins those contests?

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Response to procon (Reply #7)

Thu Feb 1, 2018, 11:15 PM

11. True. but surely there are times

when it comes up. We're not talking about proselytizing atheism. But we live in Georgia, the Bible Belt, and engaging with believers is a given. It just is.

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Response to Brainstormy (Reply #11)

Fri Feb 2, 2018, 12:08 AM

19. No. It really isn't.

Just don't get get emotionally involved with religious minded folks. If you challenge people who don't think like you, or those who criticise your views, expect them to automatically take on a defensive position and escalate the problem. Just let it go. It you're honest with yourself, and your convictions are firm, then you don't need anyone else to validate your philosophy. Be happy with who you are.

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Response to Brainstormy (Original post)

Thu Feb 1, 2018, 08:55 PM

3. Ok, here's to the "you're mad at/hate god"

It's funny how very many believers are convinced that we're just angry at god or hateful or whatever. They really cannot seem to grasp that not believing in something does not mean anger or hate.

The best way I have come up with to disabuse them of this notion is to ask them how they feel about Zeus. Seriously, what are your feelings about him? Oh? Nothing? Just a blank nothing because why would you have feeling about a nonexistent being? Yeah, it's like that.

Also, believers tend tho think themselves oh so clever when they stumble across the idea of "what if you're wrong?" I've never been asked this by an earnest face, always a cocky smile. Well I think it better as a question to them! Really? What if *you're* wrong? All that worry and fear of offending a violent, angry omnipotent being (who loves you!! lol)? What if it's all for nothing and all there is is this one life?

They never seem to consider the fact that it is possible they are the ones in the wrong and what that would actually mean.

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Response to JNelson6563 (Reply #3)

Thu Feb 1, 2018, 09:21 PM

6. Always a cocky smile ...

An awful lot of them do seem to get their jollies fantasizing about us burning for eternity.

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Response to JNelson6563 (Reply #3)

Thu Feb 1, 2018, 09:31 PM

8. Good points.

Coincidentally, I've also used the Zeus gambit, sometimes with amusing results. That parable seems work equally well by substituting the Tooth Fairy, unicorns, or a can of green beans... no, seriously, you've got to try it someday.

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Response to procon (Reply #8)

Thu Feb 1, 2018, 11:18 PM

12. It's funny. But it does work.

And sometimes it's exactly the thing that cracks a frozen mind. But the great thing, I think, about this approach, is that it's not hostile. The Zeus gambit, as you call it--and I'm stealing that--is not really confrontational, it's just a simple question.

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Response to JNelson6563 (Reply #3)

Thu Feb 1, 2018, 11:38 PM

16. I've honestly never used this tactic

It's like ground zero of atheist "debating," but I never have. I'm mulling this over now. Wondering why I'm not more Socratic. Seriously. Doesn't one good question deserve an even better one? And the, "what if you've wasted your life being a guilty, cringing, crippled pawn is a pretty good one.

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Response to JNelson6563 (Reply #3)

Fri Feb 2, 2018, 01:01 AM

21. Here's a scenario

Why are you atheists angry at God?

I'm not angry. There are plenty of people that ARE angry at God, though. Some of them are super religious out of fear of damnation... which is silly. If there were a God, he could see the anger in their hearts and damn them anyway. They should enjoy this brief life instead of wasting a chunk of it on church, either way.

So... batting cages this Sunday?

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Response to JNelson6563 (Reply #3)

Fri Feb 2, 2018, 11:57 PM

26. Good post. nm

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Response to Brainstormy (Original post)

Thu Feb 1, 2018, 09:17 PM

5. I used to volunteer

I used to volunteer to work the entry gates at a huge street festival here in SF. I had to take away people's beer cans, wine bottles, etc. when they were entering.

Every person that had a proscribed beverage treated it like it was The Last One In The World. That's when I learned *never try to separate a user from their substance*.

The "true believers" are addicts. Without their belief system they are certain they will DIE. And their deity is so important, it Must Be Shared with others!

As Robert Pirsig stated in Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Mainfenance, "the louder and stronger the believer shouts at you that you must believe, the more insecure their belief. What they are really after is for you to agree with them and tell them that they are right, so as to buttress their belief and help dispel their insecurity and doubts." (not verbatim)

So be aware you're arguing with an insecure, doubt-ridden addict.

hth

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Response to TwistOneUp (Reply #5)

Thu Feb 1, 2018, 11:27 PM

13. That is SO true

and so valuable to remember. I think that most of us, dealing with an addict of say, a chemical addiction, would get that almost immediately. And we'd understand what's at stake, and why the addict has to be nearly desperate in their defense, and need for their substance of choice. We forget, I think, that believers can be just as dug in. Can have their emotional survival at stake in the battle. You're spot on in reminding me, at least, of that. I think this can be very useful in trying to communicate with believers. There's just a lot more riding on their bet and they are, often, doubt-ridden and terrified.

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Response to Brainstormy (Original post)

Thu Feb 1, 2018, 09:37 PM

9. I never do

I never purposely talk to believers or in fact rarely with anyone as to my religious beliefs or lack thereof, when anyone is rude enough to actually ask I just tell them that I have my own belief system and it is really no one Else's business.

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Response to Timewas (Reply #9)

Thu Feb 1, 2018, 11:31 PM

14. true. but you're lucky if it never comes up

in my neck of the woods it's almost unavoidable. But do you just skate? Do you really say, "it's none of our business." ? Seems to me that's the proverbial Pandora's box. That, after that, you'd either really be in for it or that you'd have completely closed down a relationship.

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Response to Brainstormy (Reply #14)

Thu Feb 1, 2018, 11:52 PM

18. Last one to ask

Was a sister in law that I don't like anyway and I did tell her that. Usually at family reunions which include all of my super religious cousins, my most common answer when asked if I am involved with the church really is a polite " I have my own spiritual program" usually that ends it.. I don't get to the "none of your business" unless they get pushy.. has happened a couple times.

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Response to Brainstormy (Reply #14)

Fri Feb 2, 2018, 12:31 AM

20. A woman in TX

Once told me, "we all report to a higher authority." What nerve!

I told her, "that may be true, but I'm pretty sure that your authority isn't mine."

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Response to Brainstormy (Original post)

Thu Feb 1, 2018, 10:09 PM

10. I like to quote Jesus to them.

They always come back with OT quotes, for some reason.

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Response to safeinOhio (Reply #10)

Thu Feb 1, 2018, 11:31 PM

15. So, what's your fav Jesus quote? n/t

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Response to Brainstormy (Original post)

Fri Feb 2, 2018, 01:56 AM

22. Here's an idea...

Next time somebody decides to proselytize, you could try this:

I'll make you a deal. Give me $20, and then your best pitch for Jesus. If I'm convinced, I'll give you the 20 back. If not, well...

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Response to Freelancer (Reply #22)

Fri Feb 2, 2018, 11:23 AM

23. You better put a time limit on the pitch.

Otherwise, you'll be there all day.

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Response to Mariana (Reply #23)

Fri Feb 2, 2018, 11:55 PM

25. LOL. Too true. -nt

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Response to Brainstormy (Original post)

Fri Feb 2, 2018, 12:01 PM

24. On the Internet, I am very confrontational with certain believers.

Bigoted, arrogant ones primarily.

In real life, I'll confront ones if needed but I don't go looking for fights. Considering that long ago, back in my Usenet days, a butthurt creationist doxxed me and tried to make my life pretty awful, I am hesitant to engage someone who can know my identity. Christian love and all that.

I do like to drop lines like "Personally I don't care what someone believes, as long as they are a decent person." Provides a nice framing to see who's reasonable and who isn't.

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Response to Brainstormy (Original post)

Tue Feb 6, 2018, 02:00 AM

27. I tell the truth.

Where do you go to church?
I'm an atheist. I don't go to church.

What happened to you?
Nothing. I woke up. I grew up. I outgrew it. Education. Enlightenment. One of those, depending on how shitty they want to get.

Why don't you believe in god?
I've seen no compelling evidence for the existence of a god or gods.

They want to be nice, I'll be nice. They want to get shitty, I'll get shitty and like it.

And if they're smart, they won't try it in front of their kids. I'll bust out a Santa Claus analogy so fast it'll make their heads spin...lol.

Burning bridges? LOL.

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Response to Iggo (Reply #27)

Tue Feb 6, 2018, 11:57 AM

28. Interesting concept, the truth.

Thanks!

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Response to Brainstormy (Reply #28)

Tue Feb 6, 2018, 12:28 PM

29. Regarding this particular subject, I'm a lot nicer here than I am in person.



(Also, I live in Southern California, not somewhere in the Deep South. I imagine it's easier to take that stand in SoCal rather than somewhere in Alabama.)

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Response to Iggo (Reply #27)

Mon Feb 26, 2018, 07:27 PM

31. My latest response to why I don't believe was that I've seen

No evidence otherwise. Never heard from that guy again. He knew I was an atheist before he asked me, so not my problem. I did not challenge his belief, I changed the subject.

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Response to Brainstormy (Original post)

Tue Feb 6, 2018, 11:20 PM

30. Thanks for help, and just to let you know

The responses in our Deep Dive tonight were much oriented toward keeping the dialogue open with family members and close friends. Most of my group are mature atheists--by which I mean they've been "out," settled, confident, declared, whatever you may want call it, non-believers for a long time. [I'm not one of these, therefore have a lot to learn.] But the emphasis tonight seemed to be on what responses/questions might leave open the hope of further dialogue. Interestingly, many of these approaches were questions themselves: Does it matter? Why do you want to know? Why is it important? Do you care? What answer might I give you that would be the wrong one? What would you think of me, if . .. "

Bottom line: Socratic. Lessons from a a great pagan philosopher?

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