(RNS) Got faith? Peter Boghossian says get rid of it.
Boghossian is a philosophy instructor and author of a wildly popular new book, “A Manual for Creating Atheists,” that seeks to equip nonbelievers like him with the skills to convince believers to abandon their faith.
And while the book is sure to upset many religious people and even some atheists, it may signal a change in the way atheists engage believers. Unlike previous best-selling atheists Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, Boghossian wants his readers to refrain from high-decible attacks against God and, instead, home in on faith.
“Faith is an unreliable reasoning process,” Boghossian, 47, said in an interview from Portland, Ore., where he teaches at Portland State University. “It will not take you to reality. So we need to help people value processes of reasoning that will lead them to the truth.”
He compares reasoning people out of it to administering treatment to drug addicts. “Faith,” he writes, “is a virus.”
To fight that virus, Boghossian’s book details techniques for creating “street epistemologists” — atheists trained to attempt to get believers to think more critically. He writes that he has used these techniques on friends, students, strangers and prison inmates. They include:
- Avoid facts: Facts seldom persuade, but getting someone to question why they believe can cause them to re-evaluate.
- Avoid showing frustration: “De-conversion” takes longer than conversion, he writes, and requires patience for those who would make nonbelievers.
- Avoid politics: They sidetrack the discussion, which should be about faith.
In what is perhaps the biggest difference between his methods and those of other, better-known atheist authors, Boghossian insists that his street epistemologists be, above all, kind, considerate, empathetic and respectful of people of faith.