How to Deal With Christians

I just saw that Cory Miller just posted an interesting link on his CCP blog about how atheists should deal with Christians.  I have to say, it’s one of the more interesting reads I’ve come across in some time on the topic.

Here’s a sample:

6. Don’t try to change the religious views of others, because they will resent that. If you are resentful towards religion, consider that much of your resentment probably stems from religious persons attempting to force their beliefs on you. If you feel like your friends are trying to “enlighten” you, explain to them that you have made a conscious choice and are not simply ignorant of their religion. If they still attempt to convert you, perhaps you should not be friends.

I think it’s definitely worth a read any Christians out there.  Take a look and see how we are perceived by those around us.  Some things I recognized from the article:

  1. We are considered elitist.  If a “dreaded atheist” is in our midst and we catch wind of it, evidently we’ve demonstrated a tendency to want to argue with them.
  2. We assume the word “atheist” is a pejorative.  A commenter here wrote in to me and suggested I use the word “bright” as an alternative.  Unfortunately, the connotation of that word indicates the opposite for a “theist” — dim.  We’ll stick with atheist for now, and we won’t consider it an insult either.
  3. Atheists have recently found the need to pursue group support, because of the way some are treated (especially in red states, I’m sure).  In reality, Christians like myself should be able to offer them the community they desire, without necessarily beating them over the head with religion.  They should be able to feel welcome around us, not shunned, hated, or disrespected.
  4. Evidently, we don’t like it when people try to convert us, but we’re more than happy to try to convert you.  I’m not saying evangelism is wrong, but don’t get mad when someone returns the favor.
  5. Christians, evidently, all too often see themselves as needing to “inform” the “unenlightened” as to what Christians believe.  Yes, there are many misconceptions about Christianity out there (mostly self inflicted though) and we need to set the record straight, but don’t be condescending.  It’s one thing to have a polite discourse without insulting one another, but it’s quite another to start acting like the other person is so colossally ignorant that they need you to speak to them like they are a 5 year old.

What do you think?  Should an atheist have to follow these “rules” just to be able to be in the same room as a Christian?  Are we THAT unpleasant?  And if we are, don’t you think we are in desperate need of a change of attitude?

12 thoughts on “How to Deal With Christians

  1. George

    We are considered elitist. If a “dreaded atheist” is in our midst and we catch wind of it, evidently we’ve demonstrated a tendency to want to argue with them.

    I don’t personally have a problem with that, but then, I like arguing. So long as there is mutual respect, I don’t see a problem with attempting conversions, from either side. However, one should be aware of limits. Obviously, I’m not going to convert you away from Christianity. We may continue to debate the finer points, but there comes a time when any further attempts at conversion would be futile, and only result in alienation. Now, the fact is simply that one of is right and one of us is wrong (or perhaps we’re both wrong, it could be that God exists but not in your conception of Him, but anyway either some sort of god exists or not- in that sense, one of us is right and the other is wrong). In that light, there is nothing wrong with each trying to convince the other of our opinion. But the key, guiding consideration in all of this must be mutual respect. You are not stupid merely because (I think) you are wrong. I am not stupid merely because (you think) I am wrong. Since we both recognize this and act accordingly, we can have a meaningful conversation.

    I should be clear: mutual respect does not mean an attitude of condescension. It does not mean, “You are so smart, it is such a pity that you believe something so dumb.” (Matthew, this means you! ;) ) It means, “We are both smart, we disagree on this, and perhaps by discussion we can come to an agreement.”

    We assume the word “atheist” is a pejorative. A commenter here wrote in to me and suggested I use the word “bright” as an alternative. Unfortunately, the connotation of that word indicates the opposite for a “theist” — dim. We’ll stick with atheist for now, and we won’t consider it an insult either.

    I dislike the connotations of ‘bright’ as well. Atheist is a perfectly usable term- although eventually, I hope the need for such a term will no longer exist. Do non-believers in astrology require a term to describe them?

    Evidently, we don’t like it when people try to convert us, but we’re more than happy to try to convert you. I’m not saying evangelism is wrong, but don’t get mad when someone returns the favor.

    Exactly! Nothing wrong with trying to convince someone of your position, but evangelism is probably the wrong word to use. For atheists, the word ‘evangelism’ connotes the specific type of evangelism I urge both sides to avoid. Discussion is perhaps a better word.

    Reply
  2. Rindy

    Nearly every Wednesday afternoon during this past school year, I ended my work day at a school, sitting in a room with a friend of mine who’s beliefs could be bordering between atheist/agnostic. Nearly every week, we would somehow get onto the topic of religion/God/Jesus–it just always seemed to turn there somehow. I looked forward to our discussions–she made me truly think about my faith and I made her think about her beliefs. I was such a growing experience for both of us. I never set out to convert her to anything and the respect went both ways. I knew I was always going to be challenged, yet always finished farther ahead. She is still an atheist/agnostic, and I am still a Christian–yet, we both have enjoyed the debate/discussions

    Reply
  3. Shelley

    Well, should atheists follow those rules? Probably, yes. As should Christians. Barring “Get support from others”, the rest are more or less universal rules of *any* successful, polite discussion. “Don’t bring up controversial topics unnecessarily, make sure both you and your conversational parter are at least somewhat versed in what you’re discussing and open to new ideas, don’t force your points, be aware the other person may be taking this conversation more personally than you are”, etc, etc.

    In my case, I’ve never had an issue when someone ‘found out’ I was atheist. At worst, it’s been an odd look, an “…Oh”, and a quick topic change. (which can be a *little* strange, yes, but doesn’t exactly rate on the ‘oppression’ scale) So *I*, at least, haven’t seen the Christian community as all that problematic. But then, I live in a highly liberal enviroment (ah, college and post-college), and don’t talk about my beliefs all that often. So I can well imagine that some atheists get far worse reactions than I do.

    However, it’s true that ‘atheist’ has picked up some really weird connotations that, say, ‘agnostic’ hasn’t. Heck, I had them *myself* until a few years ago when I had a chance to have a good discussion with an atheist about this topic. He ended up showing my that what I had been calling ‘agnostic’ really *was* atheism: “I don’t think there’s a god because I’ve seen no evidence, but if I *did* see or encounter evidence, then I’d believe in all that.” I had thought that this wasn’t ‘extreme’ enough a view to be atheism. Somehow, I had gotten the notion in my head that an atheist was a strident voice who disbelieved with the pure furor of a fundamentalist against any and all concievable evidence, and objected strenously to the slightest display of religion in our society. I have *no* idea how the heck that idea became so pervasive.

    … Okay, that’s a lie. I know *exactly* how it got so pervasive. A combination of Marxism, Madalyn O’Hair, and reactionary movements from extreme religious groups over the course of modern american history. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

    So it’s quite possible that we either need a new word, or we need to *seriously* clean out the connotations of the old one. (which, um, rarely seems to happen in America. Connotations just *refuse* to die away. In my mind, it’s why the african-american community seems to switch terms every thirty years or so) But neither is going to be easy.

    The whole “Bright” thing is an almost laughably obvious attempt to change the language here, a la the abortion debate. No one’s ever ‘anti’ something. They’re ‘pro’ something: pro-life, or pro-choice. They’re trying desperately to imply the *other* side is the “anti” side. Everyone’s supporting rights, not eliminating them: ‘support the rights of the mother’ or the ‘support the rights of the child’. Because being “anti-something” or against people’s rights is of course obviously bad! … I hang my head in shame at humanity, that this kind of blatant manipulation of the language actually works on people.

    ‘Bright’ obviously won’t work because it’s being *so* blatant about it. “We’re not anti-religion. We’re pro-intelligence!” … …

    Which leaves… no real obvious way to go, in my mind. It’s one of those rather annoying problems that may not have any good solution.

    Reply
  4. Ben

    As a Christian (and a pastor no less!) I’ll be the first to admit that we can be complete jackasses. Living in crystal cathedrals sheltered from any objection to our belief system tends to breed an elitist mentality.

    In recent years, however, I can see the tide changing somewhat. Open discourse is more socially acceptable. It’s more common (I think anyway) to see two people with opposing belief systems have an honorable discussion on the topic without either feeling threatened or alienated.

    It must be possible to be passionate and civil at the same time.

    I suppose we are all learning…

    Reply
  5. Matthew D.

    George,

    “””I should be clear: mutual respect does not mean an attitude of condescension. It does not mean, “You are so smart, it is such a pity that you believe something so dumb.” (Matthew, this means you! ;) )”””

    I wonder if you have ever heard the saying “if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and smells like a duck…”?

    I am not inclined to entertain people’s fancies, and sadly that still includes your desire to promote the idea that atheism is somehow intellectually on par with theism.

    Cheers,
    Matthew

    Reply
  6. George

    The only reason theism could at all be considered an intellectually valid position is because of intelligent design- assuming it is true in the first place. It’s generally a bad idea to use a ‘fact’ to back up your position in an argument, when the veracity of said fact is under heavy contention by both sides. And even then, intelligent design would be at most substantiation of deism, not theism. It certainly would not back up your specific religious sect.

    Reply
  7. Matthew D.

    George,

    Arrogant? Honesty comes across like that, sometimes, doesn’t it… especially when you keep trying to convince yourself that your nice “just so” story is actually somehow scientific.

    Reply
  8. Ubuntu

    ‘A commenter here wrote in to me and suggested I use the word “bright” as an alternative. Unfortunately, the connotation of that word indicates the opposite for a “theist” — dim.’

    Ignorance, ignorance, ignorance! First off, look here: http://mw1.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bright Intelligence (strangely what everyone seems to assume the term is about) isn’t mentioned until 5b! 1b, however, says “radiant with happiness.” That is more accurate: the term bright is intended to connotate optimism and enthusiasm. Note also that “bright” is exclusively a noun, not an adjective.

    You might argue that the word implies that theists, supernaturalists, and so forth are not enthusiastic, optimistic, joyful, and so on. But consider the Gay Rights Movement, the source of inspiration for the Brights’ Movement. The opposite of gay is not glum; qe tend to call heterosexuals “straight” (but we don’t call homosexuals “crooked”). In the same way, the opposite of bright is not dim (or dumb). Members of the Brights’ Movement have proposed the word “super” (in reference to belief in the supernatural) for the opposite of brights – that is, people who do not have naturalistic worldviews – but the religious (and those with similar types of beliefs) are free to pick whatever name they like (note, once again, that the use of “supers” does not imply that theists, psychics, and New Ageists are superhuman, and brights subhuman in comparison).

    I think the new terminology is a breath of fresh air, and it irritates me to see so many people dismissing the idea without really looking into it!

    Reply
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  10. Nix

    “Should an atheist have to follow these “rules” just to be able to be in the same room as a Christian? Are we THAT unpleasant? And if we are, don’t you think we are in desperate need of a change of attitude?”

    I think that the article is more about how to deal with it when Christians try to force their beliefs upon those who walk other paths and still be polite and reasonable. And many Christians do ram their beliefs down peoples’ throats. Often, and often not so nicely. I looked at this more as an “in case of” then as a general guideline to deal with anyone who wears a cross.

    Lest I generalize, I can say that I’ve met many Christians who don’t do this, who are lovely people and are true, shining examples of the path that Jesus walked. I would never start an argument with either type of Christian, the former or the latter, but I can tell you that the dialog I tend to enjoy and learn more from are the ones that are based on a mutual, open respect.

    Reply
  11. ...

    I think christians need to open their eyes.
    Sometimes i think they believe in hell and heaven and all that other junk to make themselves feel better about life.

    When you die, you die.
    Tough titties.

    Another thing that makes my blood boil is that christians
    thank an imaginary god for food that farmers struggle work
    for

    Reply

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