12 November, 2008

Progress Report


You know, this is all going to go much better when Aunty Flow's been and gone. Look up the symptoms of perimenopause if you really want a gruesome description of how I'm feeling just now. But we're making progress despite the unrelenting uterus.

I've collapsed a couple of chapters together, and have inklings of a few to add. Not that I've really had time to think about it - mostly, it's just whacking out as many words as quickly as possible without too much thought as to what the next bit might look like. I'm afraid it shows in the manuscript, but that's why we have revision.

Here's the end to Chapter Four, What to Expect if You Bring Up God:


So how can you do it? How can you get into a contentious argument about religion with atheists, and survive?

Believe it or not, it is possible. You're probably not going to win, but you can walk away with our respect.

Let me give you a quick list of survival tips:

1. Be honest about your faith. We have a lot more respect for those who can freely admit that they believe in God for their own reasons. Maybe it's because you can't imagine a life without God, or because of a personal experience that seemed like revelation to you. Maybe the Bible has special meaning for you. Maybe you need the promise of Heaven to get you through the day. Maybe you think the idea of God makes so much rational sense that He must exist. It's quite all right to say so, even if you think we'd be more impressed with a theological argument worth of Aquinas. The truth is, we won't be, and we'll see through the attempt. Just tell us honestly why you believe.

2. Answer the question asked. We atheists are just a little tired of having to ask the same question a thousand times because the believer we're speaking to keeps giving answers that don't answer anything at all. If we ask you, for instance, if you agree with every single one of the Ten Commandments, and you answer by talking about how wonderful the Sermon on the Mount is, you'll completely lose our respect. Our respect rises in direct proportion to the relevance and honesty of the answer.

3. If you don't know the answer, just admit it. It really is okay if you can't answer a question because you don't know enough. Rather than trying to bluster, just explain that you don't have the answer. Atheists are used to not having all the answers, so we appreciate a sincere, "I don't know" much more than a smokescreen.

4. Give as good as you get. Whining gets you nowhere with atheists. Robust debate and a sense of humor, on the other hand, gain respect even if we don't agree with you.

5. When all else fails, shake the dust. You're going to be talking about God to a lot of people who don't believe in God and never will. Jesus once said, "Shake the dust from your sandals and move on." It's great advice. There's plenty of other stuff to talk about, and you've done all you could to get us pigheaded atheists to come around to your views, so it's okay to move on.

Talking about God with a bunch of atheists can be a bruising experience, but I've also seen plenty of conversations between atheists and Christians where the discussion has been a benefit to all. Religious fanaticism threatens us all. It's good for us to find strength in each other so that everyone's freedom of religion (or lack thereof) is preserved.

Believe it or not, there's a lot of believers in atheist forums who are well-loved and well-respected. They take their hits just like everybody else, but they dish out as good as they get, and they're great friends to have. We don't agree on everything. We don't have to. We just have to hold the best conversation we can.

And that's about where we stand. I'll have the actual Bible verse quoted when I go through the revision. There's a lot of niggling detail that'll get bunged in later, when I have the luxury of chasing it down.

I didn't put in goal-post moving and all of the other things that piss us off beyond belief because those admonitions are going to be in the Rules at the end. In this section, I just want a few simple, positively-stated bits o' advice to keep innocent religious sorts from making absolute asses of themselves.

As always, suggestions, commentary, and disagreements welcome in comments. I've been getting excellent use out of what you've all said so far. Don't stop.


Hank said...

"Talking about God with a bunch of atheists can be a bruising experience..."

Not as bruising as talking about God with a bunch of religious fanatics! One fanatic is enough but when you are unfortunate enough to walk into a herd of them and start a discussion about religion, it is akin to gang rape!

Cujo359 said...

Whining gets you nowhere with atheists.

You're not being persecuted when you don't always get your own way. Atheists are used to that thought, also.

stevec said...

"1. Be honest about your faith. "

Well, not sure how much this will save them from a bruising, as many atheists think that the very concept of "faith" is quite possibly the very worst thing that religion has brought to the world, faith being a kind of mental weapon of mass destruction.

Maybe you don't mean the word in the sense of the concept of faith , but if a theist says to me something along the lines of, "well, it's not a matter of reason, it's a matter of faith," that will make his bruising rougher, not easier.

But maybe that's just me.