Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Question 2: Why don’t you just leave believers alone, their beliefs aren’t hurting anyone?

The first thing that comes to mind when theists bring this up is how evangelistic they are.  Though truthfully, many theists are, in fact, not very evangelistic.  Some believe religion to be a private affair, and many say they believe in the idea of evangelism but very rarely make any effort to “convert” anyone.

"I should totally convert her to Christianity...well maybe tomorrow"

The thing is, most atheists don’t really do this either.  Of course there are exceptions, there are people in any group who aren’t satisfied unless everyone else sees the world the same way they do.  

Stop believing in god or so help me I will end you with this spork.
However this behavior seems rather rare from atheists, at least no more common than it is from theists.  As a theist I frequently engaged in forms of evangelism, including walking up to strangers in a beach to convert them.  As an atheist I have yet to approach one stranger to start evangelizing them.  Every serious conversation I have ever had about religion with someone I was not very good friends with were initiated by the theist trying to convert me or someone else in the room.

I imagine atheist evangelism looks something like this.
Personally I think this problem is in part due from the normal bias that anyone has with beliefs they disagree with.  I’ve often found myself discussing interviews/debates done between famous atheists like Hitchens or Dawkins with theists and I am surprised that they say how abrasive or mean that the atheist was; even during interviews where I felt that the atheist was rather tame or circumspect and the theist was.

I had just such a conversation about the above interview between Dawkins and O’Reilly in which Dawkins comes across rather gentlemanly and O’Reilly comes across, as usual, as a jerk who immediately attacks Dawkins’ atheism despite the fact that Dawkins had not mentioned religion or god at all.  Don't get me wrong I'd happily admit Dawkins can come off insulting at times, just not this particular time.

Now, that being said, there are a few topics which often invite the ire of atheists.   Things like church-state separation related issues or religious based bigotry tend set quite a few of us off.  I believe that one of the main reasons this question gets asked is often because our weighing in on these topics is often viewed as a type of evangelism.  

I, of course, disagree with this assessment, but it does bear some discussion.  I think part of the problem is that, in this country, theists (Christians in particular) have a certain natural sense of entitlement when it comes to their beliefs.  

It seems a little like this to us.
 I have had many conversations with Christians who are offended that other groups, Muslims for example, should have certain freedoms that they feel are an intrinsic right of their group.   Those of you who question my assessment may want to give a moment of consideration to the significant group of Christians who believe that prayer and creation science should be reintroduced in public schools.  Yet the Christians who argue for this are unlikely want Muslim prayers or Hindu creationism taught in school.  

Exactly what evolution predicted humans evolved from.
Our early manophant ancestors were strange and wonderful creatures.
 This is typically where we atheist step in and say that given the disagreements among these groups the safest thing to do is not have any prayers from any religion publicly endorsed by any teachers in the school.  This is where we recommend simply teaching scientific facts about our universe and limit the teaching of creation myths to that of history class.  The best way to allow society to flourish is to keep government out of the business of mandating beliefs.

Some disagree.
 Unfortunately despite not being evangelistic in the least it is often interpreted as such by theists largely, I suspect, because atheism is viewed as just another competing religion to most theists.  They do not want to allow non-prayer in schools for the same reason they don’t want to allow Muslim prayer in school.  They try to remove the teaching of evolution in schools for the same reason they reject the teaching of the Japanese creation myth in science class.  

If you have ever heard a fundamentalist Christian say that evolution is just a creation story for atheists then you may have an idea what I am referring too.  I have heard them say, indeed, when I was a young believer I said it myself, repeated from sermons I heard.  To them non-prayer is viewed as a sacrament of atheism the same as prayer to their god is a sacrament to them.  Science, rather than a process by which we explore the natural world, is viewed as part of the “religion of secularism.”  Too many theists who ask this question secularism is just another competing religion that is seeking to drive their religion out of the public square and replace it with our own.

Extremism does differ a bit from group to group.
I wish a knew a way to win this particular debate because I truly think a secular government is not only better for me, but its better for theists of all types as well.  However some theists strongly believe that their religion should be given favored treatment by whatever government they live under, and any attempt to undermine that will be seen as an attack on their beliefs.
How dare you make laws saying we can't burn people at the stake!  Stop interfering with our religious freedom.

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