Question of the Week 8/10/2016

Aug 9, 2016

The Atheos app is intended to help you discuss your lack of belief with those who may find it hard to understand or sympathize with, and where things can go wrong. What’s an example from your own life of discussing atheism with a religious believer where things went right, where you reached out and built a new understanding? What resources did you draw from to make your points?

Our favorite answer wins a copy of A Brief Candle in the Dark by Richard Dawkins (no repeat winners).

And please don’t forget to send in your submissions for Question of the Week! You can suggest a question by emailing us at Please remember this is for “Question of the Week” suggestions only, and answers to the Question of the Week should be submitted through the comments section on the Question of the Week page  Thank you!

11 comments on “Question of the Week 8/10/2016

  • Cool Idea. It is a real benefit to be organized and be able to respond confidently and accurately in your apostasy, especially if it can keep one from sounding harsh or condescending. Does anyone actually have a conversion story, where a religious person listened, analyzed and accepted your atheist position? If so, please share. Or maybe that would be a good question of the week. Hearing any success stories would be motivating. Conversions are rare and usually happen over extended periods that include hard life lessons.

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  • …where things went right, where you reached out and built a new understanding?…

    A new understanding of what? Atheism? The difference between religion and secularism?

    Or, do you mean some kind of “Let’s all be friends and agree to disagree” feeling?

    Quite frankly, the rare times I’ve had a relatively decent conversation about my atheism has been with people who were not so religious to begin with.

    With “those who found it hard to understand or sympathize with”, on the other hand, I have always felt as if I had suddenly bumped into the Berlin wall at the very first mention of the word “atheist”…

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  • I tried downloading this to a somewhat older Android version, and it told me “No device found”
    Same with an Iphone 5: wrong IOS.
    And of course, a PC with Windows is out of the question!
    Why not release this as a DOCX format, so everyone can view it?
    That’s the purpose of this platform.

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  • My former brother in law (now my close friend) has taken a years in the making, rare near 180 degree turn from his previous religion bound, conservative ways. That this has happened in his middle life (he just crested his 40’s and is now dipping his toe into his early 50’s) is unusual in my experience. With a bit of queasy pride (I’m hesitant to take much credit) I’d like to think I had at least a little to do with that.

    When I met “DJ” we were young; he was in his early 20’s while I was in my late teens. Slightly older than me and far more sophisticated (or so it seemed – he drank craft beer and liquor!), it was natural for me to look up to him a bit, if for no other reason than to try to gain a measure of sophistication myself as well as gain points with his family. Time passed. I married his sister (yuuuuge mistake) and we became closer friends. One of our early bonding moments came when he became my only advocate on his side of the family when his sister and I started to have marital problems. Though it was plain for most to see that our problems stemmed largely from her mental issues, the majority of her family remained stoically rigid in their support of her. And of course a lot of their stoic rigidity stemmed from their faith (Southern Baptist or some weird amalgam of that). DJ had their faith as well, though he “adjusted” it and bent the rules so that he could enjoy life like a normal, dynamic human being who wasn’t ruled by a supposedly benevolent dictator. That said, the beginning of the end of his reliance on blind faith stemmed from a particularly religious period he entered during his 30’s.

    DJ, largely spurred on by another male family member (who was critical of his occasional drinking and partying), began to take bible study classes and attend “men’s groups” (this is the unfortunate moniker I recall; perhaps there was a more official name). In addition to Sunday services this brought his weekly church attendance to 3 days per week, sometimes more. Being a secular Jewish born agnostic (my bar mitzvah was never understood to be anything but a party, albeit I did have to give the requisite torah reading performance before hand, in Hebrew) I simply found this to be a weird waste of time and intellect (DJ is a bright, creative white collar professional). As it previously did though, this conflicted with some of his social activities, particularly our love of football with the requisite pregame festivities largely consisting of (relatively responsible) drinking. The other male family member (also part of our football fan club) began to be critical of DJ’s drinking. He claimed biblical verses that spoke out against it. DJ countered with his own cherry picked teachings from Jesus that he stated showed that one should merely not be characterized as a drunk. They went back and forth. I heard about these conversations from DJ via phone. The other family member slowly removed himself from our group of football loving friends. I offered my sober (ha) completely religion free opinion. This led to other conversations about religion. DJ knew where I stood but during his most ‘faithful’ period I did not speak out much out of, yes, respect for his faith. I was uneasy in doing so but hoped that the long game of rational conversations about other topics, such as politics, etc, would lead us to the broader topic of faith. And to my delight it did. Eventually. But it took time. A lot of time. And patience. Lots of patience and self control. I wanted to get atop my soap box many times, but our friendship dictated the deliberate (sometimes glacial) pace of this awakening.

    Of course it didn’t happen all at once. There was not one “eureka!” moment. Instead there were a lot of little moments (there still are). And I had/have my antenna tuned for them. When I would hear something positive of an irreligious nature I would reinforce my agreement with it. Formerly a conservative republican, he changed his party affiliation to democrat. He watches Maher religiously and went from voting for Bush to supporting Obama wholeheartedly. He still has a somewhat uneasy relationship with his faith which in my opinion proves the strength of early indoctrination. Early in his awakening I shared with him that the only time in my life that I ever prayed for anything was as a 12 year old when my mother was dying of cancer. Desperate not to lose my beloved mother, I prayed for her health and recovery. Of course she died soon thereafter, bursting my bubble in the power of prayer in the process. I was told that “only the good die young”, which was one of the stupidest, silliest things I’d ever heard. I was pretty sure I was a “good” boy and hoped I wouldn’t then be rewarded with my early death. To paraphrase RD, it was a mind shrinking falsehood. I was also told that she “went to a better place”. Goodness, who comes up with these nauseating platitudes? But I digress.

    So here we are. And while DJ isn’t a raving atheistic advocate, he is a reasonable human being who no longer waits for prayers to be answered, divine intervention to take hold, or constant judgment from on high. I’m not sure if this completely qualifies as reaching out and building a new understanding, but it comes close enough in my opinion.

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  • Back in the mid 1980’s I was attending university where there were speakers’ tables set up near the Student Union. The intent was that people or groups would have a place to share their information with the maximum number of other students in a civilized manner. At the time, the issue was secular humanism and how it was ruining the world and the US in particular. (There seems to be always something like that going on.) One of the tables had a group from the local evangelical church with lots of misinformation on secular humanism. I talked with one young woman and explained that many of our founding fathers were avid supporters of the concept. How the principles of secular humanism were the root of our constitution and our societal narrative. I didn’t convince her to atheism (I was trying to) but I saw her around campus later and she told me she had read some of the literature I had recommended. She also left the extreme church and joined a mainstream church. A good start towards secularism, I believe.

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  • Problems with operating systems underlie this whole question. When reformatting is not an option and there is no possibility of installing a more functional mind-set.

    My father’s family were Church of England and I had two older cousins who were vicars and one a canon of Manchester cathedral. They were mostly kindly people who saw their vocation as an opportunity to help others. The church was the social centre of his family, for sports and recreation as well as services though in composition the neighbourhood was also very Jewish. Many of his friends were Jewish and he liked their culture, especially the jokes. My dad sang in a choir for most of his life and was probably most influenced in his loyalty to the church by the music.

    I was fortunate. I was sent to Sunday school until one day, when I was about nine, I was thrown out for swearing. I said ‘blimey!’ and the repellantly sanctimonious young man who was trying to teach us (probably knowing, which I didn’t, that this was a contraction of ‘god blind me!’) sent me home. This unexpected reward alerted my parents who told me I needn’t go any more, which made me happy.

    When I was about 13 my dad asked me not ‘when’ but ‘whether’ I would get ‘confirmed?’, which is essentially a formal acceptance of what baptism foists upon children too young to understand; the creed. I said I would think about it and began reading. By recognising me as an individual separate from himself and how essential intellectual integrity is to any such profession he authorised and underwrote my freedom of thought. By the time I was 14 I had serious doubts and criticisms of the doctines I was being asked to affirm. He and I had many discussions.

    His was a default position which came from the operating system installed in his pre-cognitive childhood but within it were enlightenment updates which he himself had downloaded and accepted. He recognised his own values in me and by seeing me as an autonomous person affirmed the basic value we both shared, that of love: the foundation of communication.

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  • 10
    fadeordraw says:

    An app eh. I should think that communicating with the enthusiastic religious would involve putting down the I-phone. Probably not going to happen. For me, at around 14 and with puberty, I gave up the RC mysticism that framed my childhood. My compulsion was to see things as they are; existentially for a long time and now it’s about living on the planet; how it would and does work. In my 20s I saw pity on faces of people (mostly women) on hearing my atheism, believing my life would be without the l joy of theirs with their enthusiasm for their belief in Christ. There was no way of comparatively demonstrating one’s living experience with or without Christ or a belief in the supernatural forces or a saviour, though I strongly contended that my view from the majestic mountain is far more richer than those believing that some supreme being created this. At work, every so often religion came to the floor, during breaks or group drinks, but that faded with my witty lecturers about meeting the challenge or making the money was about down-to-earth assessments, training and performance (praying involves time better spent on working out what needs doing). However, despite rehearsing in my head, I have been terrible with knocking on our door Jehovah’s Witnesses. I become agitated and unglued, spouting profanities and being unlike I like being. If I had an I-phone, I could tap in for options before greeting a door knocking Jehovah’s Witnesses; but then again, after my foul outbursts over the years, they haven’t been around lately. An app eh really. Sounds like folk in need need to strap on the appropriate biologic ingredient.

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  • Baby steps…In my experience it’s best to break the conversation down to basic questions, to try and understand the foundation on which the other person rest their beliefs. I was raised Southern Baptist in the heart of the Bible Belt. My approach in talking with others about faith and religion has been shaped by my journey from belief to non-belief.

    It wasn’t until I was in my mid 20s that I really began to start questioning my faith. It started with leading a small group apologetics class at my church and a genuine desire to find out what was true. If the bible was true then I should be able to find at least some credible evidence to support that claim. I found, in fact, the opposite was true. The more questions I asked, the more questions I had and the less credible evidence I found. It’s this journey that I keep in mind anytime the conversation of faith and religion comes up with others.

    My approach in discussing my non-belief with friends and family has been a constantly evolving lesson. Through conversations with a close friend I’ve learned to refine my approach. My goal is not to convince or change the other person’s point of view but to just engage in genuine conversation at a level with which they are comfortable. We usually have more in common than not on what the consequences of our beliefs should be. Do good to others, help the poor, love your fellow man/woman, don’t force your beliefs on others, etc.

    I know that I’m not going to be the one convince anyone. In the end, it wasn’t any one person who convinced me of anything. It was my desire to find out if what I was raised to believe was actually true.

    So when asked about my beliefs I try sharing, from my point of view, the importance of knowing what I believe is true as well the way in which I arrive at the conclusion that what I believe is true i.e., science. This helps at least create a baseline for each to hopefully understand where the other is coming from. Most people will say that the truth is important to them and they care what they believe is true, the main difference is the criteria we use to determine what is true. In this case, science or faith.

    In discussing faith with my friend recently, while neither was successful at changing the others point of view, we were at least able to come to an understanding of how each other approaches the issue.

    We place priorities on different things when it comes to seeking the truth. For them, their religious belief is the truth and they find comfort in believing that and all that comes with it, they accept it on faith. My comfort comes not from what I accept as truth but in knowing that I arrived at that truth through a sound scientific process. With that understood we can begin to discuss other topics.

    Baby steps… the flaws of using faith in determining what is true will be left to another conversation.

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