Help me, Help them away from the Lord September 3, 2009 3:32 PM   Subscribe

Christianity: Deprogramming Help?

I apologize for adding to the Metatalk conflagration that is today, but I find this question by LSK offensive in its present incarnation. Perhaps due to the traditional animosity that Christianity holds amongst a fair number of MeFites (if you hate it, that's fine - I ain't judging), I feel that this type of question is deemed acceptable versus if someone was asking how to talk someone out of being a follower of Islam, Hinduism, or Judaism.

I believe that it'd be far more appropriate to limit such an angle of questioning toward, "How can I better argue the merits of Atheism" or "What are resources I can use in debating Christianity with Christians?" I know we're getting close to splitting hairs, but in its current form I find its just too provocative and insulting to simply sit on my hands and ignore.
posted by Atreides to Etiquette/Policy at 3:32 PM (213 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Cortex and I both looked at the question the instant it went up and said "hmmmm" We decided to keep a close eye on is, since both of us were home, and that's what we've been doing.

Honestly, I don't personally like the question. That said, there have been a lot of people in the thread teling the guy pretty much "this is futile" or "this makes no sense" or "what, why?" in decent enough ways that I think it's not turning into the train wreck we thought it would be.

Sure, he could have phrased it better, a lot better. I think it's pretty edge case myself, but when we sat down and thought about "well, what guideline is it breaking?" we kept coming back to "well I think the thread's just going to go poorly" and actually it pretty much hasn't.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:36 PM on September 3, 2009


It is offensive, but I think that LSK didn't understand the mechanics of why it was offensive. He simply didn't know any better and thought there was some magic argument and didn't really have much experience with believers. I chalked the structure of the AskMeFi post up to naivete on his part, and I think that everyone gave him good answers.
posted by deanc at 3:42 PM on September 3, 2009


Can you talk about what you find offensive and insulting about it?
posted by 0xFCAF at 3:43 PM on September 3, 2009


Yeah, it doesn't actually look like a trainwreck to me., though perhaps the original question could have been posed in a less inflammatory phrasing.

Your post here makes me curious as to whether one would use different methods to "de-proselytize" members of different religions. That could be a fascinating discussion (if it weren't a conflagration of blasphemies).
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:43 PM on September 3, 2009


Full disclosure here: I'm an atheist, have been for a few years now. I strongly believe in my lack of belief, but I would not want to make it an argument unless someone started it up with me. Frankly, I find it in poor taste to try to force your opinion on others. It's just rude, no buts about it.

But, what can you do? He's looking for information, I say provide whatever you can that isn't flamebait.
posted by Askiba at 3:43 PM on September 3, 2009


Can you talk about what you find offensive and insulting about it?

It doesn't mention bacon.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:44 PM on September 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


OK, but remember that when someone asks another question that asks how to convert people to some other, less popular belief system.

I'm agnostic, and I really, really don't like the question. It is no more useful or helpful than any of the other "how can I convince someone else to change their opinions" questions, and I just really have a problem with a question that so fundamentally disrespects so many people. He's basically saying "how can I show people how stupid they are, and how smart I am, on a topic that is fundamentally about faith and the unprovable?" Or, "how can I convince people that green is their favorite color?"
posted by gjc at 3:44 PM on September 3, 2009 [13 favorites]


I am not offended by the question in the least (in fact, I tried to give a helpful answer). It does not appear to be a train wreck, and the answers, by and large, look helpful.

On the other hand, "How can I better argue the merits of Atheism" or "What are resources I can use in debating Christianity with Christians" would probably be giant train wrecks. The "resources" one not so much, but if it were "what arguments can I use," that would likely be a mess.

I do think it's interesting and odd that LSK specifically is looking to convert Christians to atheism, rather than just trying to convince religious people. But I just assumed that was an indication of a western culture style of atheism that tends to be focused on debunking a stereotypical Christian deity.
posted by The World Famous at 3:45 PM on September 3, 2009


Thank you for the quick response, Jessamyn. I asked, you responded, it's about all I can ask for. Please feel free to close this down, unless it might serve as an outlet for any flare ups in that question should it lean train wrecky.
posted by Atreides at 3:45 PM on September 3, 2009


Would "how can I convince people that health care reform in the United States is necessary" be an offensive question?
posted by The World Famous at 3:46 PM on September 3, 2009


I initially flagged it because it sounded like a chatfilter trainwreck waiting to happen, but most of the answers have turned out to be pretty reasonable, and they fit within the usual guidelines. And I say so as a [more liberal] Christian who evidently needs to be set straight by the OP.

Do I like the question? No. All I can say about that is that I hope the OP doesn't complain about Christian witnessing any time soon. But maybe I wouldn't be so peeved if he'd asked about improving his debate skills instead.
posted by katillathehun at 3:46 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Frankly, I find it in poor taste to try to force your opinion on others.

Exactly. You know what EVERYONE likes, no matter their religion? Someone else fervently proselytizing and trying to convert them.
posted by graventy at 3:47 PM on September 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


Can I deconvert anyone into not making these frivolous call-outs? No.
posted by Dumsnill at 3:47 PM on September 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I feel like this is a situation where someone is trying to ask in good faith (hurf durf) about something that's just difficult to ask about in a non-risible manner. The thread has been a bit bumpy (I know Jessamyn removed a number of early kind of thread-crapping comments) but all in all it can go pretty well and seems to be trying to so far.

It could have been presented better, but it seems workable as is with the understanding (shared in part by the asker, n.b.) that it's a touchy and complicated thing to even try and ask about. I appreciate that a lot of people so far have engaged it civilly and constructively, regardless of whether they support the goal or premise LSK brought to the table.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:47 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I do think it's interesting and odd that LSK specifically is looking to convert Christians to atheism, rather than just trying to convince religious people. But I just assumed that was an indication of a western culture style of atheism that tends to be focused on debunking a stereotypical Christian deity.

Or maybe he lives in a country where Christians outnumber any other religious group by almost 50:1?
posted by 0xFCAF at 3:48 PM on September 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm pulling for him, and hope he keeps us updated on his progress.
posted by found missing at 3:49 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Or maybe he lives in a country where Christians outnumber any other religious group by almost 50:1?

My reference to "a western culture style of atheism" was intended to convey this, yes. Sorry I didn't make that more clear.
posted by The World Famous at 3:51 PM on September 3, 2009


I guess I don't get the offensiveness...
posted by kathrineg at 3:51 PM on September 3, 2009


I'm a former-atheist-turned-Christian, and I don't see anything particularly objectionable about the question in and of itself. It hasn't yet turned into the awful thing I thought it would be.

I find the actions he is proposing objectionable, but that comes from having a fundamentally different world view than that of the OP. I don't see any way that the OP has broken a guideline or stepped out of bounds.
posted by DWRoelands at 3:53 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


"I'm pulling for him, and hope he keeps us updated on his progress."
I am too, found missing, but probably not in the same way. ;)
posted by DWRoelands at 3:54 PM on September 3, 2009

I guess I don't get the offensiveness...
The assumption that Christians only believe in God because they haven't heard the magical argument that suddenly makes them realize the error of their ways. It's offensive on its face, but at the same time I understood it as a question coming from someone who just doesn't know any better when it comes to issues of human belief systems.
posted by deanc at 3:55 PM on September 3, 2009 [9 favorites]


The assumption that Christians only believe in God because they haven't heard the magical argument that suddenly makes them realize the error of their ways.

Well, what else is an athiest going to think? Especially a converted Christian -> Athiest. That's what happened to them, isn't it?
posted by kathrineg at 3:57 PM on September 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


I guess I don't get the offensiveness...

The whole "How can I make people think the way I think?" angle bugs.
posted by katillathehun at 3:57 PM on September 3, 2009 [10 favorites]


Is it really so offensive to imply that someone might change their mind if presented with evidence, especially in a culture where Christianity is assumed and not often challenged with intellectual vigor?

Anyway, people get more stubborn when you try to convince them of things (as far as I know), but oh well.
posted by kathrineg at 3:58 PM on September 3, 2009


jessamyn, part and parcel of giving an answer to LSK in the AskMeFi thread had to comprise trying to explain to him why it isn't a good or well-posed question. There are always going to be certain questions in which those trying to give an answer will have to address flaws in the question's very premise.
posted by deanc at 3:59 PM on September 3, 2009


The whole "How can I make people think the way I think?" angle bugs.

Apart from porn, isn't this the lifeblood of the internet?
posted by found missing at 3:59 PM on September 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


The whole "How can I make people think the way I think?" angle bugs.

I don't find that it is universally considered offensive. I hate to bring other questions into this, but there are plenty of "how do I get x to change hir mind about y" questions that no one seems to find offensive.
posted by kathrineg at 4:00 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Can you talk about what you find offensive and insulting about it?

Well, as Brandon mentioned, it didn't include anything remotely bacon.

What I felt was insulting was the tone of the question, in which the OP seemed to liken liberal Christians as seemingly bottles teetering on the wall of faith that need a good knock to send them spiraling into what the OP perceived as a positive direction.

More so, I feel that faith and religion are rather private and personal affairs. If someone believes X faith, then they have a right to that belief. I'm not a believer in knocking on someone's door and asking them if they have or need Christ in their hearts. The best proselytizing is done by showing an example and a choice, and letting someone make that choice for themselves; not trying to argue or shout down someone's throat a message.

As as much, the question hit me as rude from that angle. The OP of that question, self-admittedly, is rejecting the personal decisions and opinions of people on a very important matter.

Lastly, I'll not lie and say that my own choice to be a Christian did not play a role in my posting. I considered mailing LSK, but also thought that it would be more of service to others who objected to have an outlet here to bring up the issue. For as much as Christians make up the majority outside of Metafilter, it can sometimes be uncomfortable explicitly stating and defending our faith here. I wanted those other Christians to know that they weren't alone, if they were upset with the question. Likewise, they can point an arrow at me and say, "This guy? He's crazy. I'm Christian and I don't give a damn!"

And on preview, I agree with katillathehun, deanc, and gjc to name a few above.
posted by Atreides at 4:01 PM on September 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


I changed my mind about flagging and call outs. They work, and they do not drastically limit anybody's freedom of speech.
posted by Dumsnill at 4:01 PM on September 3, 2009


More so, I feel that faith and religion are rather private and personal affairs.


Lastly, I'll not lie and say that my own choice to be a Christian did not play a role in my posting. I considered mailing LSK, but also thought that it would be more of service to others who objected to have an outlet here to bring up the issue. For as much as Christians make up the majority outside of Metafilter, it can sometimes be uncomfortable explicitly stating and defending our faith here. I wanted those other Christians to know that they weren't alone, if they were upset with the question. Likewise, they can point an arrow at me and say, "This guy? He's crazy. I'm Christian and I don't give a damn!"


Um, OK.
posted by kathrineg at 4:03 PM on September 3, 2009


I hate to bring other questions into this, but there are plenty of "how do I get x to change hir mind about y" questions that no one seems to find offensive.

Ironically, this is what is known as "Devil's Advocate".
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:05 PM on September 3, 2009


I think it's a good thing that he's able to post his question here and get feedback that maybe that's not such a good idea before he offends everyone he knows.
posted by desjardins at 4:06 PM on September 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, what else is an athiest going to think? Especially a converted Christian -> Athiest. That's what happened to them, isn't it?

Well, I invite contributions telling me otherwise from the peanut gallery, but I really haven't heard anyone explain their atheism with, "and then someone raised this specific argument that I had never in my life thought of, and I realized that God didn't exist."
posted by deanc at 4:07 PM on September 3, 2009


I hate to bring other questions into this, but there are plenty of "how do I get x to change his mind about y" questions that no one seems to find offensive.

You're right. There have been. If I recall, the majority of answers to those questions have been "Stop trying to change people's minds."
posted by katillathehun at 4:08 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


To me this is a "none of your business" issue. As an atheist, I don't feel it's anyone else's business to tell me what god/s to believe in. I also practice what I preach (pun intended), and would not even consider telling someone else what to believe, simply because IT IS NONE OF MY BUSINESS. I want to trust other human beings to be able to make the decisions about their own lives that they feel appropriate. That's part of what I love about being a human being myself.
posted by so_gracefully at 4:08 PM on September 3, 2009


Well, that's often how it happens (although maybe there are multiple arguments over time and a lot of thought). But if someone never hears those arguments, then, maybe they just keep being a half-ass Christian by default.
posted by kathrineg at 4:10 PM on September 3, 2009


I don't want to assume that fellow Christians feel the way I do, though, I would wager that some do, and thus, I want to provide a place where they can voice their opinions? As is, I didn't feel it would be appropriate in the question thread, as it would become train wrecky (with regard to my last paragraph).
posted by Atreides at 4:11 PM on September 3, 2009


Yeah, it was a bit of a cheap shot, sorry. Although I do find it ironic when people say that religion is personal and private and then go on to identify with their religion quite publicly, I see how it could be considered appropriate in this context.
posted by kathrineg at 4:13 PM on September 3, 2009


The whole "How can I make people think the way I think?" angle bugs.

You must find it hard reading the front page, then, because that would pretty much describe a large chunk of posts, unless you're suggesting "thinking about religion" is a special and protected class of thinking in a way "thinking about healthcare" or "thinking about racism" or "thinking about sexism" aren't.
posted by rodgerd at 4:13 PM on September 3, 2009 [13 favorites]


The whole "How can I make people think the way I think?" angle bugs.

So "How can I popularize the many-worlds interpretation of quantum theory?" is also offensive?

This question might be offensive if it were a majority person trying to exterminate a minority. When it's the reverse, it reads more like "everyone around me is crazy, how can I get them sane before it's too late?"
posted by DU at 4:14 PM on September 3, 2009


Christianity: Deprogramming Help? [more inside]

*springs from still-running car into thread with rope and blindfolds*

... *leaves dejected*
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:18 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


it reads more like "everyone around me is crazy, how can I get them sane before it's too late?"

See also: my right-wing family thinks that George W Bush is a saint. That he can, and has, done no wrong. How can I convince them otherwise?

Answer: Respect their opinions!
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:20 PM on September 3, 2009


Here's something that may or may not be relevant/helpful/instructive: List of former Christians (wikipedia).
posted by R_Nebblesworth at 4:20 PM on September 3, 2009


When I think angle bugs, I think of beetles in a vertex.
posted by everichon at 4:20 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not a Mormon, but when I see the young guys walking around the neighborhood, with their backpacks, and their little name-tags and their collared shirts and ties, I always hope that things are going well for them. Being a missionary is really discouraging work. I am also not an atheist, but I cannot help to have the same feelings of support for LSK. Maybe even a little more, because at least Christian missionaries can feel like they're doing work with and on God's behalf.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:27 PM on September 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Having done my time with belief in Jesus, and now not believing that...

I have no problem if there are people in the world who feel that belief in something helps them find a way to be nice to other people, to do good works, and to take an active roll in making life better within their limited sphere of influence.

The problem, for me, starts when others 1) assume that because I do not share those beliefs, I am an amoral, nay, ANTI-moral ball of chaos creating awfulness everywhere I go, 2) that theirs is the only belief system which will provide rewards in some existence once my brain stops processing sugar and having synaptic action, or 3) that the stringent set of behavior restrictions which accompany their belief system must be forced on everyone around them.

For myself, personally, the journey out of narrow-minded Christianity and into my current worldview seemed to mostly involve my lengthy struggle surround my homosexuality and the hostility I encountered while trying to sort all that out for myself. I'd never really been aware before that how often the Golden Rule is not practiced as "provide for others, in their circumstances what you would want to have provided for you in similar circumstances", and instead is practiced as "I know what is best for you, which is that you fit into my mold of what is good and right, and I will help squeeze you into that space for your own good". Once I realized that difference, life became much more livable.
posted by hippybear at 4:27 PM on September 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


Answer: Respect their opinions!

This! I'm all for an intelligent conversation about anything, but if the other person comes into it with the intention of converting me rather than sharing his opinion and listening to mine, it's not a conversation anymore. It's me being preached to. I hate being preached to. For example, we're debating right now, and that's fine. But if one of you asked, "How can I convince katillathehun that I'm right and she's wrong? When attacking her opinions, she says etc, etc, etc" it wouldn't go over so well with me.

Anyway, my issue with the original question is that it sounds like the OP wants to preach to somebody. The end result has, so far, been pretty smooth, though.
posted by katillathehun at 4:28 PM on September 3, 2009


I think that there is a lot less "being offended by this dude's question" and a lot more "awesome, a chance to be sanctimonious on the internet" going on.
posted by mckenney at 4:30 PM on September 3, 2009 [10 favorites]


Here's something that may or may not be relevant/helpful/instructive: List of former Christians (wikipedia).

Wow. If I were to base my religious decisions on that page alone, I would probably convert to Islam or Judaism. There are what, 6 formerly-Christian atheists listed? Eight if you count Lenin and Stalin? Not a helpful list.
posted by The World Famous at 4:32 PM on September 3, 2009


I don't know, I'm a serious Christian (as in, I was raised in a minister's household, I'm the secretary of the church Council of the congregation I'm a member of) and I don't really see anything wrong with this question. People try to argue each other into changing their beliefs about all kinds of things all the time and if there is one thing I agree with the proselytizing atheist movement about it's that there's no reason religious ideas should be exempt from this. The objections to the questioner's framing of the question raised here have pretty much been addressed in the question. I would like to see how a question that featured someone asking how they can bring their atheist friends back to the saving belief in the Lord would fare in the green, though...
posted by nanojath at 4:35 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I admit - I know it was a poor and improper question to ask in several regards. I asked it primarily because there wasn't an easily-found discussion of that angle anywhere on the internet and because I was curious what others would answer. I knew there would be backlash; but few other internet communities can handle a question like this with such dignity.
posted by LSK at 4:35 PM on September 3, 2009


katillathehun -- why do you think a person can't respectfully attempt to sway another person's opinion? People deserve some measure of respect. Opinions don't.

I see what you're saying about "preaching" (though that's a pretty loaded term, isn't it?), but when someone asks for a way to "convince" someone of something, they're generally looking for:
a) evidence, and/or
b) logical arguments

neither of which they may have to hand, or be very good at expressing. There is no intrinsic lack of respect in this.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:40 PM on September 3, 2009


I guess I'm not thrilled either by the fact that it's specific to Christians. (Why not, "How can I convince Jews they are not the Chosen People?" "How can I convince Mormons that Joseph Smith was just a guy?" "How can I convince Muslims there is no Allah?" "How do I get Buddhists to understand that there is no such thing as a reincarnated Lama in the body of a randomly-chosen toddler?") I consider myself a cultural (and liberal) Christian (that's the narrative that works for me and part of my background) and I wouldn't "turn my back" on that even as I am firmly in the agnostic-leaning-towards-atheists-most-days camp.

Another vote for, "I would have preferred a 'Deconverting theists in general' question".
posted by availablelight at 4:44 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I admit - I know it was a poor and improper question to ask in several regards.

It would be a good idea if you wouldn't ask questions that you feel are poor and improper for the site. It's not really our responsibility to manage the fact that there are no other outlets for your question and while I'm happy you got some good answers, the question and this MeTa have been a fair amount of work for us today.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:46 PM on September 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


I saw the question and attempted to answer, but I kept typing variations of "You are stupid, stop it" so I didn't hit the submit button. I suppose I get why some people are rankled by this question and are up in arms, but I don't think you should let the idiots of the world wear you down with their stupid antics. Life is short, move on.

Huh, I put a lot of "I's" in that para...oh wait.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:56 PM on September 3, 2009


I guess I'm not thrilled either by the fact that it's specific to Christians.

Most Americans are Christians, there are specific arguments against Christianity that would be different against other religions, etc.
posted by kathrineg at 4:57 PM on September 3, 2009


The assumption that Christians only believe in God because they haven't heard the magical argument that suddenly makes them realize the error of their ways. It's offensive on its face, but at the same time I understood it as a question coming from someone who just doesn't know any better when it comes to issues of human belief systems.

I was a little skeptical about the question too, but then I said to myself "Meh. He probably just doesn't know any better." Then I replaced "atheists" with "Christians," just to make sure I wasn't unfairly giving him the benefit of the doubt, and I said to myself "Meh. He still probably just doesn't know any better."

In conclusion: Meh. It looks like the thread's going really well and he's actually learning from it thread, which is awesome. Go AskMe!
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 5:00 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I did not like the tone of the question. It struck me as condescending at best, contemptuous at worst. However, I wouldn't support a policy of taking down all such questions, and if this one isn't a trainwreck, that's great.

But yeah. Arrogant atheists who think they know what's right for other people are no less grating than arrogant Christians who want to introduce me to the love of Christ.
posted by prefpara at 5:00 PM on September 3, 2009 [8 favorites]


:%s/it thread/it/g
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 5:05 PM on September 3, 2009


Is it "call out", "callout", or "call-out".

(Honest question)
posted by Dumsnill at 5:09 PM on September 3, 2009


I'd say call-out.
posted by ericb at 5:15 PM on September 3, 2009


It's up to you not to heed the call out (I don't want to snark).
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:17 PM on September 3, 2009


Yes. It's specific to Christians, it's focused on what he supposes to be the "easy pickings" (liberal Christians), and it is NOT "how can I convince them my way is better", but that it's "how can I convince them their way is wrong." It's not at all about caring about these people, it's about getting a win. And there is some implication that because these people happen to worship the same god, that they condone everything any Christian has done in the name of God.

What's the difference between this and an issue question like healthcare? Because healthcare and other worldly concerns have facts and statistics and causes and results. Because there are consequences in the here and now to supporting or not supporting something. Religion or lack of religion isn't. It's about faith. Pure emotion.
posted by gjc at 5:27 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think his question is just as valid as any other questions regarding God, faith or lack thereof. And, well, need a point out the parallels of this question to "How do I get the girl/boy?" question(s)? They're of the same coin. It's about getting someone to feel a certain way. So, why is it that we're okay about that (sometimes) when it comes to relationships, but not when it comes to belief systems? If the question were "How do I beocme a more persuasive public speaker?" no one would be here discussing this, even though history has had plenty of persuasive public speakers that have led to mass misfortune. (I'm thinking charismatic dictators here.)

His question seems genuine, and I gave a genuine answer. Some of you may think what he said, and how he said it, is arrogant, and perhaps he could have worded things better, but I think you may also need to consider that a part of him is probably asking this from the perspective of, "How do I get people I care about completely out of what I deem to be a horrible, corrupt and 'evil' system of irrationality? How do I get them to see their system for what it is?" Many religious people fear for their atheist friends' souls. Just as often, we heathens fear for you, even if you're moderate. I can't speak of LSK's motives, but I would almost bet that at least a small part of his asking this question comes with that in mind, even if it might not seem that way on the surface.

I say don't let things get too derailed in the topic, but don't censor it entirely.
posted by metalheart at 5:28 PM on September 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


As an atheist, I don't feel it's anyone else's business to TELL me what god/s to believe in.

As an agnostic (or whatever) I agree, except I'd have to phrase it as ... "As an agnostic, I don't feel it's anyone else's business to TELL me what god/s or NOT-god/s to believe in."

That said, I do love it (assuming I have the time and there's good wine to drink), when someone tries to convince me I'm wrong about NOT being certain one way or another. Fact is, it's one of my favorite sports.
posted by philip-random at 5:29 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's not at all about caring about these people, it's about getting a win.

How do you know this from a question of a few hundred words?

And there is some implication that because these people happen to worship the same god, that they condone everything any Christian has done in the name of God.

Actually, he stated pretty well the opposite to that in his first sentence: "Obviously "Christian" isn't an all-encompassing or precise term, and there are a plural of sects, approaches and levels of worship."
posted by metalheart at 5:30 PM on September 3, 2009


Well, anyway: I'd like to invite you all to a fight, like one child calling out the rest of you.
posted by Dumsnill at 5:31 PM on September 3, 2009


Because healthcare and other worldly concerns have facts and statistics and causes and results.

Note that I followed a) evidence with b) logical arguments. People have been knocking arguments for and against the existence of a god for a long, long time. There is some ground already covered there, you know, that a person might ask and learn about.

Because there are consequences in the here and now to supporting or not supporting something. Religion or lack of religion isn't.

Belief in religion has no consequences in the here and now? Alrighty then. Might want to pick up a paper/look out the window/pull head out of sand.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:37 PM on September 3, 2009


I hope this won't be seen as wildly inappropriate by people here, or to LSK (if so, I'm sorry), but his last question mentioned he has Asperger Syndrome. Tactlessness is not always intentional...
posted by metalheart at 5:39 PM on September 3, 2009


I admit to being irked by the suggestion (which is not uncommon on Metafilter) that liberal Christians are already not really Christians anyway and just need a little more convincing. To me, that's someone telling me that the atheists and the fundamentalists get to define what real Christianity is. Christianity is 2000 years old, and has included a lot of different practices and beliefs over the centuries, while fundamentalism is only about 100 years old. They do not have a monopoly on the word Christian and they certainly don't get to say who does and doesn't follow Jesus (and nor does any atheist on the internet).
posted by hydropsyche at 5:40 PM on September 3, 2009 [7 favorites]


Yes, upon reading it, I did indeed anticipate bristles.

However, this is another case where removing subjectivity in a stated MetaTalk post might not be a bad idea. How about "It is offensive ... to me?" Of, if you want to get all E-Prime about it, "I find this offensive," or even "When I read this, I responded with indignation."

Not everyone has the same level of offense about everything, to the same things. Just something to think about.
posted by adipocere at 5:44 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Meh. The term "Christians" has become a loaded term in the U.S. of late, and is commonly used by both self-identifying "Christians" and detractors of those people to refer only to a very specific and narrow sliver of what is actually, academically, "Christianity." It seems more and more to only refer to American Evangelical Christianity, to the exclusion of Catholicism, Lutherans, Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, and lots of other religions that could justifiably use the term. This usage seems to be a very political one, actually.

LSK seemed to be using the term in that sense. And in that sense of the term "Christians," I think it's fair to say that "liberal Christians are already not really Christians anyway."
posted by The World Famous at 5:45 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I try to use "Xian" and "Xianist" to denote people who follow Jesus with a tyrannical bend, and try to reserve "Christian" for those who follow him with love and kindness. To say that "Liberal Christians are not really Christians anyway" is to buy into exactly the belief system that Xians force onto the world all the time, and does a great disservice to all those who use the red letters in their Bibles to inspire them to make a positive change in their lives and the world around them.
posted by hippybear at 6:09 PM on September 3, 2009


Hippybear, unless you're talking about a capital in Shaanxi, I think you mean Zion/Zionist...lol...
posted by metalheart at 6:11 PM on September 3, 2009


Is it really so offensive to imply that someone might change their mind if presented with evidence, especially in a culture where Christianity is assumed and not often challenged with intellectual vigor?

Honestly? Yes -- because more likely than not, your argument is going to be one that they've already heard before and one that they'd have to have lived under a rock in a cave at the bottom of a well in Liberia NOT to have heard before. You know how annoying it is when Christians try to preach at you by telling you things because they assume you've never heard it before, when in truth you've been told all those very same things to death? ...It's the same the other way round. Richard Dawkins? Yep, heard it. Occam's Razor? Yep, heard it. "Invisible pink unicorn in my garage"? Yep, heard that one. PLenty of times.

So when you're implying that they might "change their mind" when "presented with evidence," what you're actually doing is exhibiting your own belief that you think they're too oblivious to have noticed that this "evidence" has already been all around them and screaming at them in the face, and SURELY that's the reason why they believe as they do. And if you're implying that they're too stupid to have noticed it before, why should they listen to you?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:11 PM on September 3, 2009 [8 favorites]


As one of the faithful, I'd be offended if the question were directed to me. As it's safe to assume it wasn't, I'm not.
posted by klarck at 6:32 PM on September 3, 2009


Is this the right room for an argument?
posted by fixedgear at 6:36 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hippybear, unless you're talking about a capital in Shaanxi, I think you mean Zion/Zionist...lol...

Metalheart, Xian, Xianist, etc, is a shorthand for Christian on Metafilter. Ever since the athiest forced the removal of the crucifix key from the alpha-numeric keyboard, it's been something folks have adopted around here.
posted by Atreides at 6:36 PM on September 3, 2009


I don't know, EmpressCallipygos. I changed my mind - or rather my mind-set shifted as I learned about the history of Christianity.

I completely see your point of view, and would say that I agreed if you were talking about educated Christians in more urban areas, but there is a lot of mis-information and omission when it comes to this. I have no data to back me up, but my personal experience says that it is even more so on either end of the spectrum.

Until I was probably 27 or so I had no idea that there was any problem with the historical chain of manuscript transmission, for example. If I had to guess, I would have guessed that the earliest copy we had of the New Testament was maybe around 70 CE. I was shocked that the oldest one we have is a couple of centuries or more after that. Similarly, I had no idea what was going on in the Holy Land, Rome, or Alexandria at the time. I just figured that they wrote it, spread it around, everyone echoed a sigh of relief that it was all figured out, Rome fed a few Christians to the lions, and then they had a mass when Constantine converted. Maybe if you are Protestant Luther then came along a thousand years later and outlined the connection between faith, grace, and works.

I am not really joking about that. Most people don't know about the history of their faith and what actually went on to get the doctrine where it is. I think that it can be a powerful tool for either refutation or education/understanding, depending on one's point of view and the durability of their faith.

But you are correct in that you should never make the assumption, intentional or otherwise, that your audience or target is an idiot if you are trying to sway their opinions. You are also right that a believer should NEVER be insulted by the whole "pink unicorn" anti-argument.

But civil historical discussion should always be on the table. On both sides.
posted by Tchad at 6:46 PM on September 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos, typically I love your posts, but I'm not sure I agree with you at all here. Very few of my atheist friends know the first (real) thing about religion, and very few of my religious friends know the first thing about the theory of evolution; heck only a handful of my atheist friends care enough about their lack of belief and science to know about Dawkins. (And a fun story I have about my religious friend concerns her asking my atheist boyfriend whether he could still celebrate Christmas, since he didn't believe in Jesus.)

I think very few have gone throughout life without hearing debates, as you say, but I think few have listened in debates or rationally discussed, which we should all do. For instance, citing Communism as a sure sign that atheism fails on a wide scale is a frequently-used, illogical argument. It wouldn't be used so frequently if people were actually and calmly thinking about things, reading information, etc., as you seem to somewhat suggest.

Considering that, it seems there is plenty of room for discussion concerning how one can better communicate certain ideas, be they religious or atheistic in nature.
posted by metalheart at 6:55 PM on September 3, 2009


Metalheart, Xian, Xianist, etc, is a shorthand for Christian on Metafilter. Ever since the athiest forced the removal of the crucifix key from the alpha-numeric keyboard, it's been something folks have adopted around here.

In that case, it's just plain confusing! :P
posted by metalheart at 6:56 PM on September 3, 2009


I try to use "Xian" and "Xianist" to denote people who follow Jesus with a tyrannical bend, and try to reserve "Christian" for those who follow him with love and kindness.

I wish Christer had caught on as a catch-all for the loud-mouth, narrow minded evangelical brand of conservative Christians (or, as the Church of the Subgenius liked to refer to them "Those loving Christians who want to kill us").
posted by philip-random at 7:09 PM on September 3, 2009


Aside from the fact that the OP seemed to be asking for a magical argument, the part I found offensive was his overt description of liberal Christians as individuals who go to church on Sundays but don't live according to the principles of their supposed faith.

How well would this go over for anything else?

"Reform Jews are just Orthodox Jews who don't feel like living by all the rules."

"Agnostics are just atheists/Christians who are too cowardly to admit there is no/a God."

"Pagans are just fantasy fans who like playing pretend and don't really believe any of that stuff."

"Atheists are just believers in denial because they hate God."

This wasn't just a matter of a general implication that Christians are mostly conservative. Okay, a lot are. I don't really like that but it's fine. This was specifically accusing one particular group of people of not actually believing in the things they say they believe in. That's a rather big deal, and I would consider it offensive no matter which group it applied to.

If he had just asked for a magical way of converting Christians to atheists, I would have found it ludicrous but not offensive.
posted by larkspur at 7:41 PM on September 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


I guess the question I have here is: What exactly would "deprogramming" a Christian accomplish? Because if you're associating Christianity with a lot of negative social values -- bigotry, close-mindedness, fear of science, et cetera -- there's no real reason to think that any of that stuff will change just because this person's no longer a Christian. Plenty of people who are largely secular in their outlook hold ignorant and/or antisocial beliefs. Maybe a better idea is to try and show them they're wrong to be bigoted, disbelieve in evolution, think the earth is only six thousand years old, or whatever it is that's bugging you about them. Being unprejudiced and actually knowing things about the real world are not, contrary to popular belief, necessarily inconsistent with holding religious convictions.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:41 PM on September 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


I guess the question I have here is: What exactly would "deprogramming" a Christian accomplish?

Without getting into all the ways many atheists feel society will be better once we get over our old-timey superstitions, I think you could boil down the logic to simply:

People that believe the Bible are wrong. People make better decisions when they make informed decisions.
posted by floam at 8:07 PM on September 3, 2009


I'm a half-assed buddhist married to a Christian who doesn't go to church, so we have some interesting conversations. Proselytizing (sp?) isn't part of Buddhism - either your karma will direct you to the teachings or it won't. He doesn't try to convert me but he does love a good debate. He doesn't understand the concept of rebirth and will try to poke holes in it. That's fine, because if he has a better argument, I'd change my mind. The Dalai Lama has even said that if science proves that the tenets of buddhism are false, he'd change his beliefs. Questioning one's faith can be healthy, but I do understand why having someone else question it would offend people.
posted by desjardins at 8:15 PM on September 3, 2009


The Dalai Lama has even said that if science proves that the tenets of buddhism are false, he'd change his beliefs.

That, right there, is 100% awesome.
posted by The World Famous at 8:18 PM on September 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


People that believe the Bible are wrong. People make better decisions when they make informed decisions.

Well, yeah, that's probably not gonna fly. The main reason being that no one asked, but also that it's really really hard to prove that the Bible is wrong in every particular, and ultimately it may just not be that important whether it is or not. Because unless you're just one of those people who has to be right, you probably don't care all that much about the Bible itself and whether anyone believes it, and care a lot about the informed decisions part, because it's the inability to make the latter that actually affects you personally. You will have an easier time getting people to accept evolution, let go of prejudice, all that kind of thing, if you aren't telling those people the price tag for all of that is atheism. Like I said, I think what you should want -- while we're telling people what they ought to want -- is for their relationship to society to change; talking them out of their religious beliefs could do that, but I think it's a pretty indirect means of attempting to affect that change. I also think it's damn near impossible to talk someone out of their religious beliefs anyway, so I'm unconvinced that there's any real point in trying it. I mean, if you'd like to feel constantly embattled, then okay, you've found the irresistible force to your immovable object. If you'd like instead to bring about positive changes for society, getting people to change their attitudes is probably a lot more likely to actually work.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:27 PM on September 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yes -- because more likely than not, your argument is going to be one that they've already heard before and one that they'd have to have lived under a rock in a cave at the bottom of a well in Liberia NOT to have heard before.

Whoa, incorrect. I've lived much of my life in an echo chamber of unreflected-upon Christianity. I know quite a few Christians who have rarely, if ever, had their beliefs challenged via argument. Christian belief is so pervasive and assumed in my hometown that I don't think my family's noticed yet I'm an atheist, despite my years of politely and impolitely refusing to attend church*, gazing idly at the ceiling during preprandial blessings and a facebook profile which plainly lists my religion as "Godless heathen". Hell, I've overheard my friends discussing atheism, and isn't that mind boggling, have you ever met one? no, have you? and HI, I'm right here!!

Of course, if you're categorizing eastern Kentucky with beneath a rock in a cave at the bottom of a well in Liberia, well, you may have a point, but we probably ought to move this over to the stereotypes thread conveniently already in progress.

*I did attend church once about a year ago, because my mom was again inviting me to go with the family, and I was all no, church is stupid and we've had this conversation, then I said fine, I'll go to church, but only if I can go naked under this trench coat. And she said fine, go naked under the trench coat. Wear nice shoes. And it was funny enough that it was worth it to sit through a Sunday morning Southern Baptist service. So the last time I went to church was flasher-style, and I am not joking not even a little bit this actually happened.
posted by little e at 8:47 PM on September 3, 2009 [14 favorites]


Not that I am suggesting a logical attack would change anything at all whatsoever. Pretty sure that would end with all parties offended and holding even tighter to the same positions held before.
posted by little e at 8:51 PM on September 3, 2009


i wonder what would happen if someone posted this question -

How do I convince [the more conservative] atheists to become Christians?
posted by pyramid termite at 8:52 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


tchad and metalheart -- I'm not saying that one shouldn't raise discussions in general. I'm just saying that in my experience, if one is specifically looking to "convert" someone, their arguments tend to fall into some well-worn paths, which degenerate into a series of "talking points". "Preachers" tend to not think from a position of "how can I best present my position" so much as they are thinking "how can I counter what I assume the other person is thinking". The problem is that you are assuming what the other person is thinking, rather than thinking about what YOU think about your cause.

Specific points: tchad, what you say about some people not knowing the history of the errors in translation is true -- yep, some people don't know that. But amongst liberal Christians, of the sort that the OP is trying to "convert," the tendancy for people not to have encountered any such evidence is pretty low. You say you would agree if we were talking about "educated Christians in more urban areas" -- however, from the original post, "educated Christians in more urban areas" are precisely the kinds of people we ARE talking about.

And metalheart, I'm not entirely sure what you're getting at. You say that " I think few have listened in debates or rationally discussed, which we should all do. For instance, citing Communism as a sure sign that atheism fails on a wide scale is a frequently-used, illogical argument. It wouldn't be used so frequently if people were actually and calmly thinking about things, reading information, etc., as you seem to somewhat suggest." And you're right, I am suggesting that.

It's just that furthermore, I'm also suggesting that someone entering into a conversation with the express goal of trying to "convert" someone is the surest way for that conversation to not be actually and calmly thinking about things.

It's one thing to engage in a conversation where you are advancing An Idea. It's quite another to engage in a conversation where you are Converting A Person. The people who are Advancing An Idea tend to be the ones making the reasoned debates. They can get passionate about their idea, sure, but their attitude is still one of, "okay, I think this is cool, but let me just lay it out there and you can see what you think." Whereas the people trying to Convert A Person have the attitude that "you WILL come around to my way of thinking! I AM DETERMINED!!!!"

It's the conversion conversations I'm talking about. The Advancing An Idea ones I have no trouble with. And there is a difference, because people have engaged me in both.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:59 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've lived much of my life in an echo chamber of unreflected-upon Christianity. I know quite a few Christians who have rarely, if ever, had their beliefs challenged via argument.

Would you categorize those individuals as the kind of "liberal" (read: casual) Christians that the OP was referring to in his original thread, though? I'm not so sure I would. As you've posited, if someone actualy did try to challenge them on their faith, they'd just dig in further and get pissed off, and it wouldn't work. Which is telling me that for these individuals you describe, they may not know some of the particuar arguments against, but their personal faith is really strong, and it is their personal faith that is keeping them in the faith anyway, and so whether or not they even know these particular details of contradiction is irrelevant anyway.

The OP seemed to be expressly talking about the people who were more casual and low-key in their faith -- and seemed to have been coming from a place of "well, huh, they're not like those other Christians, but they're still Christians. They must be juuuuuuuust about ready to become atheist and it'll probably just take one little push...." And the idea that these people also having their faith be based on....faith hasn't occcured to them. Maybe these "liberal" Christians' liberal-ness came about because they informed themselves of the arguments against, but they still didn't see it as a reason to abandon their faith either.

Like I comment above -- if you want to present an argument, just present an argument. Don't make it into a game where you either "win" or "lose" by converting someone or failing to convert them, because faith issues don't work that way. Just present your argument and accept the conclusion your listener comes to.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:09 PM on September 3, 2009


I thought it was a reasonable question.

If you're so worried that your proselytising faith (or that of your co-religionists) will be disturbed by the proselytising of someone who has to for help on AskMe, you've probably got even bigger issues. If you're offended that the dominant religion in the Asker's location was singled out, then ask your own question about how to deprogram the Bahai or whatever.
posted by pompomtom at 9:20 PM on September 3, 2009


...to ASK for help...
posted by pompomtom at 9:21 PM on September 3, 2009


If you don't want Christians trying to convert you, don't be trying to convert Christians. That's why I don't like the question.
posted by smackfu at 9:24 PM on September 3, 2009


(Given that, I don't see any harm in leaving it. Lots of people have dumb ideas, and it's better to rebut them then to stop them from asking the question.)
posted by smackfu at 9:29 PM on September 3, 2009


Would you categorize those individuals as the kind of "liberal" (read: casual) Christians that the OP was referring to in his original thread, though?

Some of them, yes, actually. Definitely the Christmas but probably not Easter churchgoing types.
posted by little e at 9:31 PM on September 3, 2009


I interpreted the question as asking how best to convert so-called Christians who don't really have faith, but who just go on Sunday out of habit or cultural pressure. People who are already doubting religion and who have not really thought of it critically in a way that would allow them to rebut common atheist arguments. In short, people who are already on their way to atheism. I did not interpret "liberal" as having a particular political or doctrinal meaning in the context of the question.

If "liberal Christian" as used in the question meant "intelligent, critical-thinking, not Fundamentalist/Bible literalist," then I agree wholeheartedly with Pater Altheias' statement in that thread that "[i]t's a pretty short hop from fundy to atheist--all you have to do is stop trusting in a literal interpretation of scripture. Paradoxically, it's a much longer journey from liberal Christian to atheist."
posted by The World Famous at 9:38 PM on September 3, 2009


And, sorry, I hope my initial comment didn't sound completely obnoxious or anything. I'm just feeling a bit distressed right now about the situation, because I know someone who's seriously ill, and there's lot of keep her in your prayers!! in communications, and there's no good way for me to respond to that.
posted by little e at 9:48 PM on September 3, 2009


I've lived much of my life in an echo chamber of unreflected-upon Christianity. I know quite a few Christians who have rarely, if ever, had their beliefs challenged via argument.

Pretty much all the Christians-turned-atheists I know describe a similar life experience.

Pretty much all the observant Christians I know have stayed with (or returned to) Christianity after years of questioning, discussion, reading secondary sources, etc., etc.

So, as Pater Aletheias says, maybe LSK would have better luck proselytizing among people who belong to the proselytizing sects, rather than among the mainline Protestant and liberal Catholic and Orthodox folks.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:13 PM on September 3, 2009


I know someone who's seriously ill, and there's lot of keep her in your prayers!! in communications, and there's no good way for me to respond to that.

My husband, who is a fervent hater of all religions, responds by saying "I really appreciate that you will be thinking of her; so will I" and then, if the person doesn't get the hint/is close enough that it would be appropriate to discuss Big Topics with them, says, "I'm not religious, so praying isn't something I do. I will be keeping her in mind, and if there's anything she needs, please let me know."
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:15 PM on September 3, 2009


I loved this question, mostly as I've recently decided religious tolerance is essentially unpalatable to me on a personal level--although, of course, states should make no preference for or against religion. If you believe that any spiritual, supernatural, or divine concepts are real in the same way that chairs or the Incompleteness Theorem are real, you are insane. I mean "insane" clinically... as one holding on to maladaptive and irrational thoughts and behaviors. You're welcome to believe in any interpretation of an untestable hypothesis that you'd like... but, the moment you argue that it should have the slightest impact on the consensual hallucination of "real life", you're nuts.

For instance, I prefer the Copenhagen Interpretation and the Participatory Observation Interpretation on alternating days. However, I recognize them as functionally equivalent to the Multiverse Interpretation... and all the other ones. In the same way, Buddhism is functionally equivalent to Judaism. Neither a quantum interpretation nor a religion makes predictions observable or testable from within our reference frame.

What disappointed me about the question was that essentially nobody tried to answer it... everybody just told him it was a bad idea.
posted by Netzapper at 10:27 PM on September 3, 2009


Ask Metafilter: the only place on the internet where people with the ability to answer this congregate.
posted by finite at 11:17 PM on September 3, 2009


deanc: "
I guess I don't get the offensiveness...
The assumption that Christians only believe in God because they haven't heard the magical argument that suddenly makes them realize the error of their ways. It's offensive on its face, but at the same time I understood it as a question coming from someone who just doesn't know any better when it comes to issues of human belief systems.
"

Well, don't a lot of Christians assume that non-Christians only don't believe in God because they haven't heard the magical Gospel of Jesus Christ that makes them realize the error of their ways (i.e. sin)?

As I said in the thread, some churches are cult-like and harmful and people actually need someone to make them see they need to get out. (Please notice I said some, not many or most.)
posted by IndigoRain at 11:31 PM on September 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


Odin's gonna smite you all so hard
posted by EatTheWeak at 11:42 PM on September 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Well, don't a lot of Christians assume that non-Christians only don't believe in God because they haven't heard the magical Gospel of Jesus Christ that makes them realize the error of their ways (i.e. sin)?" -- IndigoRain

When I was younger, I heard that view a lot; I don't think I've met many people who haven't "heard" that meta-idea, let alone the idea of the Gospel itself. The idea that many with that sort of worldview have is that the only reason they don't believe it is that they haven't heard it. I'd put spiritual/religious "experience" in a different category of mental process from the categories of emotional or intellectual or sensory experience.
posted by artsygeek at 12:18 AM on September 4, 2009


I am glad to know so many highly-functioning insane people then, Netzapper.
posted by that girl at 12:36 AM on September 4, 2009


I am glad to know so many highly-functioning insane people then, Netzapper.

So am I. And many of them are quite nice. And I consider them friends.

But some of my friends are also high-functioning psychotics, who're quite nice people.

It doesn't mean they should skip their meds, though.
posted by Netzapper at 12:40 AM on September 4, 2009


The DSM does exclude cultural beliefs such as religion from criteria for dementia and such. Being tricked to believe something that's not true doesn't mean you're crazy. It may have some bearing on your cleverness, but really, I think this is just something humans suck at, especially since it's basically brainwashed in since birth. It's no more psychotic than I am, as somebody that previously believed in Santa.
posted by floam at 12:59 AM on September 4, 2009


I mean "insane" clinically... as one holding on to maladaptive and irrational thoughts and behaviors.

Maladaptive and irrational thoughts and behaviors? You mean like applying a made up personal definition of "clinically insane" to the vast majority of people?
posted by The World Famous at 1:13 AM on September 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


> More so, I feel that faith and religion are rather private and personal affairs.

There's a whole lot of Christians that I wish shared this sentiment.

Why is it that whenever someone who is an Atheist even so much as mentions this fact, they are being "offensive" to Christians because it "implies" they are stupid? I mean, we can both play that game. I'm offended you're a Christian because the implication is that I'm going to hell for not sharing your beliefs. Oh, that sounds like a pretty lame thing to be offended by? Well, I'll be damned.
posted by cj_ at 1:33 AM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't get what's wrong with being a Christian. Jesus was cool. I would like to have a beer with Jesus. If I could travel back in time in a time machine, I would go talk to Jesus.
posted by klue at 1:58 AM on September 4, 2009


if the person doesn't get the hint/is close enough that it would be appropriate to discuss Big Topics with them, says, "I'm not religious, so praying isn't something I do.

Yeah, that's normally how I deal with the situation. This time, though, the illness is so sudden and distressing I would feel like a complete jackass to be making any sort of point right now--hey, that person we both care about who just got horrible news and has some hellish months ahead, yeah that sucks, btw I'm not praying. And I live far away from them now, so we're mostly emailing. I feel it comes across much harsher typed than spoken.
posted by little e at 2:08 AM on September 4, 2009


Well, don't a lot of Christians assume that non-Christians only don't believe in God because they haven't heard the magical Gospel of Jesus Christ that makes them realize the error of their ways (i.e. sin)?

Yes. Yes, they do. And they're usually wrong about that, no?

It's often the same the other way too.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:01 AM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't get what's wrong with being a Christian. Jesus was cool.

Jesus was WAY COOL.
posted by Greg Nog at 5:11 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you start calling most people in the world insane... and you are in the only sane group, you might be in trouble.
posted by smackfu at 6:13 AM on September 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

What disappointed me about the question was that essentially nobody tried to answer it... everybody just told him it was a bad idea.
Actually, they told him it was a bad question.
posted by deanc at 6:26 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Netzapper: What disappointed me about the question was that essentially nobody tried to answer it... everybody just told him it was a bad idea.

I tried to answer it. Unfortunately it betrayed hints of the same categorical misunderstanding of what religiosity/spirituality means for the kind of religious and spiritual people you'll find on Metafilter that you demonstrate so much more clearly here. As long as you or the OP think it's even relevant to discuss the notion of spiritual experience being "real in the same way that chairs... are real", you'll never even begin to find the connection between religious/spiritual people and hardline atheists that would be a necessary precursor to doing any useful persuading. So to refer back to a recent MeTa thread on premise-questioning... it was exactly the kind of question that demanded premise-questioning, for reasons intrinsic to the question.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:33 AM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Jesus was a Capricorn.
posted by Sailormom at 6:58 AM on September 4, 2009


Hypothetical question:
"I have a friend who is a Muslim, but a 'liberal' Muslim, and I'd like to convert him to my belief system: Christianity. How should I do it? Help me AskMe, you're my only hope!"

Would it stay up?
posted by rocket88 at 7:02 AM on September 4, 2009


To: Atheists; people concerned with cultural imperialism.

CC: Everyone else.

Subject: Understanding the DSM and the lack thereof.

Please read the DSM
before trying to use it to imply that certain people are necessarily crazy, or to imply that certain institutions are evil because they would necessarily treat certain other people as crazy.
posted by CKmtl at 7:39 AM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


"everyone around me is crazy, how can I get them sane before it's too late?"

and

If you start calling most people in the world insane... and you are in the only sane group, you might be in trouble.

Seriously. If you're so convinced that you are the only one in the roomful of people that is sane, well. Need I say more.
posted by kingbenny at 7:58 AM on September 4, 2009


rodgerd:
You must find it hard reading the front page, then, because that would pretty much describe a large chunk of posts, unless you're suggesting "thinking about religion" is a special and protected class of thinking in a way "thinking about healthcare" or "thinking about racism" or "thinking about sexism" aren't.


Well I would say that there's a difference, because (although I don't want to get into a semantics argument) I'm pretty sure there's a difference between 'belief' and 'opinion.'
posted by shakespeherian at 8:03 AM on September 4, 2009


I interpreted the question as asking how best to convert so-called Christians who don't really have faith, but who just go on Sunday out of habit or cultural pressure. People who are already doubting religion and who have not really thought of it critically in a way that would allow them to rebut common atheist arguments. In short, people who are already on their way to atheism. I did not interpret "liberal" as having a particular political or doctrinal meaning in the context of the question.

This. The OP specifically characterized the behavior of those he wanted to appeal to as engaging in the activity of attending church on a weekly basis. Considering how common it is for people to attend church rarely but still answer that they are Christian when asked what religion they are, I think the OP would be aware of that.

I interpret the question as that the OP personally knows a person(s) who goes to church every Sunday, and is seeking advice on talking to those specific person(s), but didn't want to give the details of how they know the person(s) or find it necessary to the question. I don't get the impression that they plan to loiter outside of random churches or start knocking on strangers' doors.
posted by yohko at 8:16 AM on September 4, 2009


Need I say more.

I think you do.
posted by Dumsnill at 8:30 AM on September 4, 2009


If you start calling most people in the world insane... and you are in the only sane group...

...you might just be Bob Newhart.

If you're so convinced that you are the only one in the roomful of people that is sane...

...you might just be Bob Newhart.

If you think reality is just a dream you had while sleeping next to Suzanne Pleshette...

...you might just be Bob Newhart.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:34 AM on September 4, 2009


If you believe that any spiritual, supernatural, or divine concepts are real in the same way that chairs or the Incompleteness Theorem are real, you are insane. I mean "insane" clinically... as one holding on to maladaptive and irrational thoughts and behaviors.

I can't say I was really surprised when I clicked on your profile to learn that you're a programmer. What happened to you poor fuckers?
posted by Skot at 8:55 AM on September 4, 2009


Hypothetical question:
"I have a friend who is a Muslim, but a 'liberal' Muslim, and I'd like to convert him to my belief system: Christianity. How should I do it? Help me AskMe, you're my only hope!"

Would it stay up?


We don't play that game here anymore.

Good faith questions tend to stay up. That said, one of the reason that LSK was asking his question here is that he knows there are large groups of atheists, former atheists, former Christians and Christians of various stripes so he was pretty sure he'd get a variety of responses to his question. There is, as far as I can tell, a very small group of Muslims on this site making this site a lot less of a reasonable place to ask your formulation of the question. Plus, we tend to frown on copycat question type stuff in AskMe as a sort of point-proving technique.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:59 AM on September 4, 2009


Yeah, that's normally how I deal with the situation. This time, though, the illness is so sudden and distressing I would feel like a complete jackass to be making any sort of point right now

I got way less interested in showing off my atheism after dealing with a serious disease, not because my beliefs were altered, but for just the reason you state, that people were offering prayers and mentioning god and stuff, and it just seemed completely unnecessary and basically bitchy to analyze the logic of their sentiments at that time. I knew what they were getting at, and appreciated it.

I realize accepting prayers is a little different than being asked to give them, but I've basically kept the same approach ever since - I don't use the word "prayer" myself, but just interpret it as "thoughts", and respond with something a bit more secular. But in the end, "sending love" is no more logical than "praying to god" - I'm not actually emitting healing rays of love-particles to my sick friend or anything. It's all just different people's ways of saying they care & there's no need to be overly literal about it.
posted by mdn at 9:01 AM on September 4, 2009 [6 favorites]


Need I say more.

I think you do.


You're right, sorry. The way I see it is: unless you are in a ward, or in some other way circumstantially surrounded by clinically diagnosed insanity, then it takes a massive and appalling amount of arrogance and lack of humility to assume you are the only sane person in any given group.
posted by kingbenny at 9:09 AM on September 4, 2009


I didn't mind the question. It was/is answerable, sincere, and not illegal or hypothetical.
posted by mattbucher at 9:10 AM on September 4, 2009


The way I see it is: unless you are in a ward, or in some other way circumstantially surrounded by clinically diagnosed insanity, then it takes a massive and appalling amount of arrogance and lack of humility to assume you are the only sane person in any given group.

That's a common enough argument, and given that it begs the question by granting gravitas to the status quo, one can see why it is so popular. It's a poor argument, though.

Assumptions are only arrogant or lacking in humility if you presume they are wrong. An uncommon opinion is neither better or worse for being uncommon, and likewise, the commonality of a belief in no way argues for its truth.

It is possible to be the only sane person in a room (although I don't personally make the argument that belief in the supernatural implies a lack of sanity, so don't think that I am here to support that claim). If that is my belief and I am wrong, then perhaps a diagnosis of arrogance and lack of humility might be apt. If, on the other hand, I am right, then it is as if I was the one person to insist that the sky is blue. It doesn't mean I was arrogant in my assumption, it means that I was perceptive and correct.

None of which addresses the issue that it is also quite possible to be both correct and arrogant, but the claim then should be that the behavior was arrogant, not the belief.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:29 AM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Having faith questioned gives the Christian the opportunity to get Satan behind her and cleave a little closer unto the Lord; since the majority rule of the American Pharaoh muzzles the unbeliever in the public square, the infidel sits in a silent room questioning faith on a bulletin board. Congratulations to the Christians who ignore this worm in their ear and emerge with their beliefs intact. Would you really deny your coreligionists the opportunity to express their faith, to turn their back on Old Nick? Do you really think in the long run it helps their immortal souls for you to silence the Evil One's whispers and erase his tracks before they have a chance to profess their devotion? Seems to me you're doing the devil's work for him, denying Christians the opportunity to reassure themselves that they indeed walk in the Light.

Let the atheist offer what apple he may, and let the Christian instead choose Paradise.
posted by breezeway at 9:30 AM on September 4, 2009


Having faith questioned gives the Christian the opportunity to get Satan behind her and cleave a little closer unto the Lord; since the majority rule of the American Pharaoh muzzles the unbeliever in the public square, the infidel sits in a silent room questioning faith on a bulletin board.

which is why all the richard dawkins and christopher hitchens books were forcibly taken out of barnes and noble last night, put into a pile, and burned right there in the parking lot while people with funny hawk and cow heads looked on
posted by pyramid termite at 9:39 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can't say I was really surprised when I clicked on your profile to learn that you're a programmer. What happened to you poor fuckers?

Many of us started out in a place where we liked programming, only wanted to program, and wanted to surround ourselves with other programmers who thought the same way we did. Such a mindset isn't really conducive to spending time concerning yourself with how other people think. The fact that those other people (at least the ones you know when you're young) tend to have more poorly paying and less interesting jobs than you do only reinforces the belief that they are doing something wrong and would be better off if they were more like you.
posted by deanc at 9:41 AM on September 4, 2009


What happened to you poor fuckers?

They get to so used to telling testers "I won't fix this bug unless you can prove it happens" that they apply it to real life too.
posted by smackfu at 9:44 AM on September 4, 2009


None of which addresses the issue that it is also quite possible to be both correct and arrogant, but the claim then should be that the behavior was arrogant, not the belief.

I unequivocally agree with almost everything you wrote, It's Raining Florence Henderson. And I intended to place more emphasis on the behavior aspect of the belief than the belief itself.

Having said that - your blue sky example is predictable and pointless. Yes, if all of our firmly-held beliefs were as simple as knowing the color of the sky, then we could be safe with a pretty good deal of confidence in our own beliefs. But since few firmly-held and hotly-debated things that we believe are really that simple, I tend to think that, were it the case that you were entirely alone in your belief, it may, at the least, be cause to examine why you believe differently. And, perhaps, humility is never grossly in error. And we could debate the color of the sky all day and never actually know how somebody else sees it, for that matter.
posted by kingbenny at 9:51 AM on September 4, 2009


And I intended to place more emphasis on the behavior aspect of the belief than the belief itself.

By which I mean, it's one thing to know with a great deal of certainty that you are correct and that most everybody else is incorrect. It's another thing to then assume everybody else is not only incorrect, but actually INSANE.
posted by kingbenny at 9:57 AM on September 4, 2009


> I am glad to know so many highly-functioning insane people then, Netzapper.

Alice: But I don't want to go among mad people.
Cheshire Cat: Oh, you can't help that.
posted by jfuller at 10:00 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's another thing to then assume everybody else is not only incorrect, but actually INSANE.

Apple pie with neapolitan ice cream? YOU CRAZY.

I get where you're coming from, arrogance-wise (and it's a fascinating question -- what kinds of disconnects, particularly perceptual, might lead a person to question their own sanity versus the sanity of others), but, you know, we're talking about a range of beliefs that includes some pretty far-out stuff. The kind of stuff that would seem crazy if you were hearing it for the first time instead of the ten-thousandth.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:13 AM on September 4, 2009


unless you are in a ward, or in some other way circumstantially surrounded by clinically diagnosed insanity

As a Mormon, I read this very differently than most people would. And I laughed, because it's true.
posted by The World Famous at 10:15 AM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


>I realize accepting prayers is a little different than being asked to give them, but I've basically kept the same approach ever since - I don't use the word "prayer" myself, but just interpret it as "thoughts", and respond with something a bit more secular.

Quakers use the phrase "holding (you/him/her/them/me) in the Light"; even many atheist Quakers I know use that phrase (of course, there are some who dislike the term "light" because they believe that implies dark as being evil, but that's how Quakers are with things, you can probably find someone who thinks anything). It functions as a close to universal term that covers what most are doing when "caring about" a person.

After an auto accident that nearly killed me, I told many that "While I give credit to the thoughts and prayers of all my friends--from atheists to Zoroastrians--I also give credit to a God-given gift I've had from the get-go: I'm a tough old bastard!" I don't really know any Zoroastrians, but I know people from a VERY wide range of beliefs (some with their own Subgenius-esque religions) who shared that they were thinking about me while I was hanging on to life.

I tend not to get too deeply invested in doctrinal dong-measuring contests; they have little, if anything to do with the domain of my faith. I'll happily have doctrinal debate/discussion, though. I find them quite interesting.
posted by artsygeek at 10:31 AM on September 4, 2009


The fact that those other people (at least the ones you know when you're young) tend to have more poorly paying and less interesting jobs than you do

I think the interesting part is highly debatable, outside of programmers of course. I can't think of a more boring job.
posted by Dennis Murphy at 10:33 AM on September 4, 2009


...but, you know, we're talking about a range of beliefs that includes some pretty far-out stuff. The kind of stuff that would seem crazy if you were hearing it for the first time instead of the ten-thousandth.

...Unless you were like one of the many liberal-minded theists who chalk that up to "some of the passages in Scripture are actually metaphoric, poetic attempts at conveying complicated philosophical concepts and ideas, and weren't meant to be 100% accurate but were instead meant mainly just to say something in a prettier-sounding way."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:33 AM on September 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


We don't play that game here anymore.

Game? I'm honestly not sure what you mean by this. I was just trying to point out that if the decision to allow/disallow questions of the type "Help me try to change someone's religious beliefs from X to Y" is dependent on the values of X and Y, then that represents a bias.
If members and mods are OK with that bias, that's fine, as long as we recognize that it exists.
posted by rocket88 at 10:34 AM on September 4, 2009


So it's provocative, insulting, and offensive to attempt to talk people out of their beliefs? It insults their intelligence? It assumes they just need to hear your one super-genius argument to fold? Or it assumes they're bottles on a wall to be knocked down?

Wow, well. I really wish all the Christians who have tried to convert me over the course of my life had gotten that memo.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:50 AM on September 4, 2009


It insults their intelligence? It assumes they just need to hear your one super-genius argument to fold? Or it assumes they're bottles on a wall to be knocked down?

Those were the flaws of the question as it was posed on AskMeFi, yes.

game warden summed it up nicely:
it betrayed hints of [a] categorical misunderstanding of what religiosity/spirituality means for the kind of religious and spiritual people you'll find on Metafilter
posted by deanc at 10:56 AM on September 4, 2009


Game? I'm honestly not sure what you mean by this.

She means the "well what about this revealing counterfactual?" game. It's basically impossible to give an unqualified answer to that kind of What If proposition—the answer is pretty much always going to be "it depends".

The viability of a question and the degree to which it is problematic is overwhelmingly an issue of local context—we have to deal with this stuff on a case-by-case basis because it's the actual cases in practice when they occur that we can responsibly deal with. Trying to speculate about a question that was exactly the same Except For X is a no-win, generally speaking, because there is no fixed practical context in which to judge the imaginary question.

In short, "Would it stay up?" is a question that's not all that useful to us. If it's literally a question about the exact phrasing of a hypothetical, we could at best say "here's the issue with that presentation", but that doesn't generalize to the topic, it's just hashing out an isolated phrasing. If the question is really about whether a question kind of like that would stay up, we're stuck falling back to "it really depends on how it's handled at the time that it actually happens". Certainly there's no reason a question in that realm couldn't work, and there's also no guarantee that it would work. There's no way to be more specific than that, really.

If the counterfactual-driven inquiry here is actually just a rhetorical jab along the lines "yeah, but you'd totally delete it if it wasn't pro-atheist, admit it" or something like that, I don't know what to say other than "fuck that noise". That's not how we do things.

This question, the one that actually went up, could have handled both better and worse. We decided it was handled well enough not to kill it, but we also pretty much knew it was going to be a pain in the ass when we let it stand. That's the case for a lot of borderline/contentious issues in askme, and where that decision comes from has as little to do with our own personal ideological views or preferences as possible because none of us want what does or doesn't fly on askme to have a thing to do with our personal beliefs.

Now, from a personal perspective, I don't think it was a great question, I don't much like it at all, and I'm coming at this as an atheist who came from a religious background who finds the question annoying in part because of my background, rather than finding it in any way sympathetic. But that's my personal reaction to the question, not my professional reaction.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:08 AM on September 4, 2009


Game? I'm honestly not sure what you mean by this. I was just trying to point out that if the decision to allow/disallow questions of the type "Help me try to change someone's religious beliefs from X to Y" is dependent on the values of X and Y, then that represents a bias.

Sorry I didn't mean to sound all "nyah nyah" about it. My point is that it doesn't necessarily represent a bias, according to me. Context, and knowing how this site works, who populates this site, what other questions have been asked recently, and a bunch of other things go into figuring out whether a question is deleteable or not. So in the reversal that you've constructed, there are a few thigns that are different besides just changing up the X and Y

- the question is less "necessary" because the target audience for the question is not present in large numbers on MetaFilter
- the question seems stunty because it's coming on the heels of another very similar question that went poorly

Similarly, we've discussed in other places in MeTa changing a question from "Can you help explain something to me about {minority group in my culture}?" is a different question than "Can you help explain something to me about {majority group in my culture}?" because of the same sort of contextual setting things. I'm not saying either one of those questions is okay or not okay, but that they're very different questions. Trying to ask a question about how to deal with discrimination at work is likely to be a different animal depending on whether you're a man, a woman, disabled, of a different cultural/religious group, etc. Strategies for dealing with a domestic violence situation is going to be different depending on whether you are male or female and whether you are in a straight or gay relationship and whether you're the aggressor or the victim.

Again, this doesn't speak to the AskMe worthiness of any of these particular situations just showing that contextually since questions are about solving problems these problems are different, and have differing approaches and strategies and even possibly AskMe-worthiness depending on who or what is involved.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:11 AM on September 4, 2009


Wow, well. I really wish all the Christians who have tried to convert me over the course of my life had gotten that memo.

So why would you think that Christians would react any differently to being proselytized by atheists than you have to being proselytized by Christians?

I mean, yeah, if you want to race to the bottom, go for it, but so much for the moral high ground.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:15 AM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


You're right, sorry. The way I see it is: unless you are in a ward, or in some other way circumstantially surrounded by clinically diagnosed insanity, then it takes a massive and appalling amount of arrogance and lack of humility to assume you are the only sane person in any given group.

Sure. This is why experts consider wikipedia articles in their field of expertise more credible than non-experts do.

Do you ever read World Net Daily? I have an appalling amount of arrogance, apparently, because I consider their writings insane. Lots of people love that site.

Have you watched Glenn Beck? I am arrogant enough to find him insane. Lots of people love him.
posted by Dumsnill at 11:18 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


And I don't mean to sound spiky about it, so apologies if I came off that way at all. It's just that this is one of those recurring issues that seems plural-times-in-a-blue-moon to bring out really crappy public and/or private criticism from someone who feels strongly one way or the other about something on the untested presumption that of course our decision-making on issue x, y or z is driven by ideological bias, to they point where we sometimes get simultaneous accusations from both sides of an issue that we're clearly in the bag for the other side, respectively.

Seeing shades of that, intended or otherwise, in this kind of "yeah well but what if x" pushback can put me on edge sometimes, which I don't really like and regret responding too strongly to that edginess. So, again, I apologize if that's peaking through too much. This is always complicated stuff, and I don't want to be unnecessarily antagonistic amidst everything else.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:20 AM on September 4, 2009


So why would you think that Christians would react any differently to being proselytized by atheists than you have to being proselytized by Christians?

I wouldn't and didn't and haven't think that. I'm just amused by all the whining here about it and wanted to get in my two cents.

I mean, yeah, if you want to race to the bottom, go for it, but so much for the moral high ground.

The what with the who now? I don't proselytize anyone - never have. I don't think I have any moral high ground nor am I planning a race for the bottom.
posted by Squeak Attack at 11:27 AM on September 4, 2009


Do you ever read World Net Daily? I have an appalling amount of arrogance, apparently, because I consider their writings insane. Lots of people love that site.

Have you watched Glenn Beck? I am arrogant enough to find him insane. Lots of people love him.


Then, with all due respect, you're either misusing the word 'insane' or, perhaps more charitably, using its least common definition.

I despise Glenn Beck. I despise World Net Daily. But I'm reserving, personally, the use of the word 'insane' for what it actually means to most people.
posted by kingbenny at 11:29 AM on September 4, 2009


I'm starting to think that the word "insane" above is being used as hyperbolic code for "stupid," and that the additional of "clinically" was not actually meant to mean actual clinical insanity, but just to add a superlative, since "clinically" seems to go with "insane" better than "extremely." "Clinically insane" does sound more over the top than "extremely stupid."
posted by The World Famous at 11:32 AM on September 4, 2009


Squeak Attack, I think that this was sidhedevil's way of responding to your initial "Wow, well. I really wish all the Christians who have tried to convert me over the course of my life had gotten that memo" observation by saying "we're actually not defending it ourselves either".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:35 AM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


cortex and jessamyn: Thanks for the answers. I didn't really have an issue with the original question, but it just struck me at first glance as dicey. I can understand now that you need to take the anticipated response from members into account, so some specific cases will go better than others, and general "fair for everyone" rules can't really be applied. That makes sense. A big part of your job is to stop the noisy derails before they happen. Judging by the thread itself, there do seem to be a few valid responses (verified by the OP marking them as best answers) in there among the "don't do this" stuff.
posted by rocket88 at 11:39 AM on September 4, 2009


Sure, I'm using "insane" as a short for "irrational to the point of not being worthy of serious consideration." If you read it as some kind of clinical diagnosis, I apolo.ize. (I used "retarded" in a similar fashion. I no lon.er do.) (My .-button suddenly stopped workin.)
posted by Dumsnill at 11:50 AM on September 4, 2009


I didn't really have an issue with the original question, but it just struck me at first glance as dicey.

Totally right there with you actually. The big thing that I think that isn't so clear about how these sorts of things work is that generally speaking we try to make decisions quickly and then stick to them unless it looks like we're wrong (i.e. the community overwhelmingly tells us we screwed up, happens rarely). So once a question is okayed, we'll defend it. Same is more or less true for deletions.

So, you can get a deleted question where we're like "here's why we strongly feel that this was deleteworthy" and an okayed question that we're heavily moderating trying to keep it alive [people are still fighting in the thread that is the topic of this MeTa thread, I wish they'd stop]. To a random user, the questions are nearly identical, so there's some dissonance because it seems at a casual glance that one question is TOTALLY okay and one is TOTALLY not okay.

It's rarely that simple, it's just that once we've made a decision, we try to stick to it and move forward with that as a data point and not waver over whether the decision was the right one, again unless people tell us that we're totally full of shit.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:54 AM on September 4, 2009


EmpressCallipygos, that makes a little more sense to me. You're right - I don't see anyone here defending proselytizing.

However, I found the level of outrage in the initial call-out and some of the subsequent posts to be hypocritical and disingenuous consider that, as intelligent and informed Christians, all the posters must be aware that many, many Christian sects practice proselytizing as a major and integral part of their Christianity.

I wouldn't usually post at all in something like the original AskMe or this call-out, but I must admit the hypocrisy I perceived pushed my anger button.
posted by Squeak Attack at 12:27 PM on September 4, 2009


Squeak Attack, many of us "intelligent and informed Christians" get all sorts of grief for NOT "practic(ing) proselytizing as a major and integral part" of our religion. It's just that sort of attitude that makes many of us say "F*ck it! I'll just say whatever I think! I'll catch hell from someone no matter what I say!"
posted by artsygeek at 12:34 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I found the level of outrage in the initial call-out and some of the subsequent posts to be hypocritical and disingenuous consider that, as intelligent and informed Christians, all the posters must be aware that many, many Christian sects practice proselytizing as a major and integral part of their Christianity.

Actually, the level of outrage may be fueled by the fact that many non-Christians have this very misconception. In truth, it's only a comparatively small number of Christian denominations (Christians tend to prefer the word "denominations" to "sects," incidentally, in my experience), and the many, many denominations with members that are not this aggressive may be a little peeved that they're being accused of doing something they're not doing.

In my case, personally, the outrage wasn't so much outrage so much as annoyance at what I perceived as hypocrisy. "Let me get this straight. You probably don't like it when other people do this to you, right? So why do you think that something that other people shouldn't do to you is okay for you to do to them?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:49 PM on September 4, 2009


Whether Christians proselytize is beside the point. They don't do it here, and I believe the callout was suggesting that atheists shouldn't do it here either.
posted by rocket88 at 1:15 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


In truth, it's only a comparatively small number of Christian denominations (Christians tend to prefer the word "denominations" to "sects," incidentally, in my experience), and the many, many denominations with members that are not this aggressive may be a little peeved that they're being accused of doing something they're not doing.

I would love to know where you got this information.
posted by kathrineg at 2:41 PM on September 4, 2009


I'm late to this party. Let's see if I can remember my comment that just got deleted.

"Find an old woman, whose house has just burned down, she watched all her children slaughtered in front of her with knives as they fled the fire. The whole town is gone. She has collapsed into a kneeling position clutching an old family crucifix. Explain your system to her."

That was not meant as any kind of bait, just a standard with which the guy can test his emerging new anti-christian debate logic. If he comes out smelling like a rose, then he's succeeded in his stated quest. Whenever I'm trying to get something off the ground, I welcome solid benchmarks.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:52 PM on September 4, 2009


Does anyone have an issue with the fact that I deleted that comment?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:54 PM on September 4, 2009


I can't say I was really surprised when I clicked on your profile to learn that you're a programmer. What happened to you poor fuckers?

I was this way before I started programming. But programming absolutely changes your brain.

Imagine, for a moment, that you spend much of your time interacting with a device that takes everything you say perfectly literally. There is no metaphor. There is no analogy. There is no subtext. There is no implication. If you can't explicitly state each step of a process, it just won't happen. There is no worrying over what something "means", only what it says. How you feel about a program doesn't change what it does one whit.

For a certain kind of mind, the sort that excels at programming, this is a huge relief from the ambiguity of the rest of life. That relief becomes addictive, and we try to apply it to the rest of life.

I strongly suspect that this is similar to the relief so many of my classmates in art school felt as they learned about post-modernism: holy crap, it means whatever I want it to. We'd have long, long arguments that consisted of me saying, "But the author clearly intended for this to mean XYZ, although she may not have succeeded as fully as she hoped;" and my classmates saying, "It doesn't matter what she meant, this is what I feel about it."

These folks then went on to apply this logic to all manner of non-art discourse. Like my friend who explained that white willow was the "pure" form of aspirin (and not the other way around), because purity, for her, was synonymous with unmodified natural origins. She claimed, in opposition to evidence, that there were fewer impurities, and a higher concentration of the active ingredient, in ground willow tablets than in aspirin. Her final argument was, and I quote, "Well, that's just how I feel about it."

The way I see it is: unless you are in a ward, or in some other way circumstantially surrounded by clinically diagnosed insanity, then it takes a massive and appalling amount of arrogance and lack of humility to assume you are the only sane person in any given group.

I'm sorry. Given the number of times that particular instances of groupthink have been proved objectively incorrect, I find it difficult to lend credence to the idea that just because an idea is held by a minority of people that the majority must be right. I give even less credence to the idea that the minority should, therefore, shut up and "respect" the majority view. Indeed, nearly every revolutionary idea is held first by a minority before being accepted as "common wisdom".

As for my arrogance and lack of humility... well, I'll own that. I've never been accused of humility in my life. But, on the other hand, I'm also about the most religiously aware and sensitive person I know. As I said, lots of my friends and acquaintances are religiously insane, and I don't go about trying to change their minds on the matter--although, admittedly, it's as much out of the futility of such an approach as it is respect. And likewise, I don't really care what answers you choose to believe for questions of the afterlife or universal creation, or even what personal code of behavior you follow.

I only start pushing back when your behavior begins to affect others. Like, for instance, when instead of getting your kid medical care, you pray for his healing. Or when you believe you can engage in immoral behavior because you'll be rewarded in the afterlife [see: suicide bombers and abortion doctor murderers for extreme examples]. Or when you support wars in the middle east so as to immanentize the eschaton.

But I find it arrogant and lacking in humility that so many of the faithful believe the Lord of All Creation, who's invented everything from quarks to humans to botulism, is going to personally intervene in the affairs of a particular mortal and grant his or her wishes.

As for my seemingly imprecise use of "clinically insane", I'd point out that the definitions of both psychosis and delusional disorder revolve around holding incorrect and maladaptive ideas or concepts in the face of evidence to the contrary. The fact that religious thought is specifically excluded from pathology by the DSM is evidence of a cultural acceptance of that particular form of delusion; it reflects the pragmatic avoidance of putting 80% of Americans under psychiatric care and the same organizational prejudice from the APA that lead them to consider homosexuality pathological for so long. Furthermore, the DSM, while authoritative in the United States, is not used universally and is not above reproach.

What's more is that religious thought is excluded as a matter of degree, and not of kind. If you believe that you've been chosen by God to be a prophet, sell all of your worldly possessions, live in a box, and proceed to rant on street corners, you can be diagnosed as delusional. The fact that God is responsible for your maladaptive behaviors is immaterial.

I observe the faithful exhibiting all manner of maladaptive behavior on a daily basis. The fact that nearly everybody exhibits those same behaviors, and that they're socially acceptable, doesn't really change the fact that they're maladaptive from a biological or secular standpoint.
posted by Netzapper at 5:07 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


that so many of the faithful believe the Lord of All Creation, who's invented everything from quarks to humans to botulism, is going to personally intervene in the affairs of a particular mortal and grant his or her wishes.

Is this hyperbole, or do you really think that's what "so many of the faithful believe?" Because I know a lot of very faithful people and I cannot think of any of them who believe that (or who have ever told me that they do). I'm not saying that nobody believes that. But I am no atheist, and I stand right with you in rejecting that belief.

There seems to be a popular practice among atheists of grossly mischaracterizing religious beliefs in the process of mocking them. The "invisible flying giant in the sky" and that sort of thing, or "who invented everything from quarks to humans to botulism" are snappy. But they are mischaracterizations - they are mocking religious belief, rather than accurately characterizing and debunking it. If people's actual religious beliefs are so absurd (and let's assume for the sake of argument that they are) that only an insane person would fall for them, then there should be absolutely no reason to recharacterize them as more obviously stupid. If believing in Jesus is just as dumb as believing in an invisible sky giant, then people trying to mock Christian beliefs should just state the Christian belief instead of using characterizations that make Christians think that the atheists don't even know what it is they're rejecting.

I mean, honestly, is there any advantage of inaccurately saying people believe in an invisible sky giant rather than accurately saying they believe in a disembodied, yet somehow bearded, three-identity mystery man who turns into a cookie on command? (No offense to those who believe that - I'm just trying to make a point that it's stupid to recharacterize religious beliefs when trying to discredit them.)

One thing that makes it hard to take some atheists seriously is that they mock what religious people believe in while demonstrating no understanding at all of what it is the people they are mocking actually believe. (This is true only of some atheists - not all.) When they then backpedal into the idea that any belief in anything religious is irrational, so it doesn't really matter what the beliefs are, it just makes me wonder why they thought they needed to make the gross mischaracterization in the first place.

I observe the faithful exhibiting all manner of maladaptive behavior on a daily basis.

I observe everyone - religious and nonreligious - exhibiting all manner of maladaptive behavior on a daily basis. That does not mean that everyone is insane.

If you believe that you've been chosen by God to be a prophet, sell all of your worldly possessions, live in a box, and proceed to rant on street corners, you can be diagnosed as delusional.

Maybe. That sounds more like a movie version of a diagnosis than a real one, unless there are other factors, though. I have an acquaintance who left a very successful legal practice to become a monk because he believed that he had been called by God to do so. He gave away all of his earthly possessions and lives in conditions about as spartan as a box, in almost complete isolation. He is not clinically insane. Some people become crazy street preachers because they are mentally ill. But the diagnosis is based on factors other than "does he believe he was called by God in spite of a lack of tangible, falsifiable evidence?" There is a qualitative difference, in clinical terms, between the mentally ill guy screaming apocalyptic tales on the street corner and the intellectual who leaves it all behind to seek Truth or whatever. If you think they're both insane, that's fine. But "clinically," there is a difference.
posted by The World Famous at 5:46 PM on September 4, 2009 [5 favorites]

For a certain kind of mind, the sort that excels at programming, this is a huge relief from the ambiguity of the rest of life. That relief becomes addictive, and we try to apply it to the rest of life.
You really need to connect this beginning anecdote to the next anecdote, where you point out how poorly certain professional attitudes/concepts serve people outside the context of that sphere. In fact, towards the end, we're going to see a medical term that describes those sorts of counterproductive attitudes that interfere with your ability to function.
Indeed, nearly every revolutionary idea is held first by a minority before being accepted as "common wisdom".
This is also what every crackpot always says.
lots of my friends and acquaintances are religiously insane, and I don't go about trying to change their minds on the matter... I only start pushing back when your behavior begins to affect others. Like, for instance, when instead of getting your kid medical care, you pray for his healing. Or when you believe you can engage in immoral behavior because you'll be rewarded in the afterlife [see: suicide bombers and abortion doctor murderers for extreme examples].
Wow. You know enough people like this that you have to push back on them on a regular basis and have gotten to the point where "religious tolerance is essentially unpalatable ... on a personal level"? Did you ever consider the possibility that your friends are real jerks, given that they're running around refusing to give their kids medical care, acting as suicide bombers, and murdering abortion doctors? Maybe you should choose different friends.
I observe the faithful exhibiting all manner of maladaptive behavior on a daily basis. The fact that nearly everybody exhibits those same behaviors, and that they're socially acceptable,
You love that word "maladaptive behavior." It's like you picked it up and kept trying to apply it to everything you didn't like. Socially acceptable behaviors shared by nearly everybody is, pretty much, the definition of adaptive behavior. The medical definition of "Maladaptive behavior" is "Undesirable and socially unacceptable behavior that interferes with the acquisition of desired skills or knowledge and with the performance of everyday activities."

And if all that wasn't bad enough, you were completely unable to understand why people were pointing out that LSK's question was simply asked on an untenable premise.
posted by deanc at 5:48 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


There seems to be a popular practice among atheists of grossly mischaracterizing religious beliefs in the process of mocking them.

Straw men don't punch back, is the thing.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:02 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I know a lot of very faithful people and I cannot think of any of them who believe that

I have friends who pray for their friends' and families' safety and healing. Is that different than asking God for personal intervention and wish-granting?
posted by sculpin at 6:19 PM on September 4, 2009


I have friends who pray for their friends' and families' safety and healing. Is that different than asking God for personal intervention and wish-granting?

Usually, yes. For some people, I have no doubt that prayer is simply wishing.
posted by The World Famous at 6:46 PM on September 4, 2009


I used to try to persuade atheists that agnosticism was better but. in the end, I was never completely convinced that it was right either.
posted by prak at 6:48 PM on September 4, 2009


I know I sound obtuse here, The World Famous, but would you explain the difference to me? Because from here, they look much the same -- these friends have certain deeply-held wants, and they ask God (or, in some cases, the Goddess) to fulfill them.
posted by sculpin at 6:55 PM on September 4, 2009


Well, a significant issue for atheists arguing with Christians about Christian beliefs is that they become a moving target, not all Christians believe this so it's not fair to say that, are we talking about theology or religion as it's lived etc. until one practically has to go to seminary in order to be allowed to discuss Christianity at all.
posted by kathrineg at 8:01 PM on September 4, 2009


I have friends who pray for their friends' and families' safety and healing. Is that different than asking God for personal intervention and wish-granting?

Usually, yes. For some people, I have no doubt that prayer is simply wishing.


And they want those wishes to be granted...yes?
posted by kathrineg at 8:03 PM on September 4, 2009


And they want those wishes to be granted...yes?

Who is "they?" Sculpin's friends? Or the people for whom prayer is simply wishing? I don't think we have any disagreement here. The manner in which some people pray is merely making a wish and asking God to grant it. One can recognize the error in this and still not be an atheist.

until one practically has to go to seminary in order to be allowed to discuss Christianity at all.

Yes. If one is going to discuss Christianity, one should understand Christianity well enough to do so intelligently and with accurate information. But if one is discussing atheism, there is no reason ever to discuss Christianity or any other particular religious sect. The crux of atheism is not that some sect is wrong or that some sect has doctrine that does not make sense. It is that the very idea of the existence of a deity is erroneous, regardless of the beliefs of the sect and no matter how good the logic of some theologian. To a true atheist, no shifting of doctrine by Christianity could possibly make Christianity correct.

The atheist does not deny the existence of God because Christians' beliefs are laughable (to do so would be illogical). He or she denies the existence of God no matter what the doctrinal framework is. The laughability of Christian doctrine is just an amusing aside. It is not a solid foundation for atheism and has no logical place in a discussion of whether a God does or does not exist.

But if an atheist decides, in addition to rejecting the existence of God, to attack a sect based on mockery of its beliefs, it is only logical that he or she should at least accurately characterize the beliefs that are being mocked.

Being an atheist because of a conviction that a specific set of religious beliefs is wrong is illogical. I think that Catholicism is clearly erroneous. That doesn't make me an atheist. It just makes me a non-Catholic.
posted by The World Famous at 8:38 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Okay. So, some small percentage of the time it's a form of wish-making. And you don't know any very faithful people who do that. But as for the rest of the time when people are praying for their loved ones' health and safety -- if that isn't asking for something, what is it? That's not a rhetorical question. What's going on there?

I could understand it if people were trying to get themselves into a state in which they could submit to God's will (or, in my own way of thinking, become ready to accept whatever happens) but it sure doesn't sound like it. When someone tells me that they're praying for their aunt's swift recovery from surgery, it sounds to me like they're praying for their aunt's swift recovery from surgery.

(Possibly it's just that my friends aren't "very faithful". It seems a little presumptuous of me to guess at anybody's level of faithfulness. And I'm not about to give a worried, distracted person the gimlet eye and ask them, "So, when you say 'praying for'...")
posted by sculpin at 9:17 PM on September 4, 2009


"Find an old woman, whose house has just burned down, she watched all her children slaughtered in front of her with knives as they fled the fire. The whole town is gone. She has collapsed into a kneeling position clutching an old family crucifix. Explain your system to her."

Does anyone have an issue with the fact that I deleted that comment?

i have a slight issue with it - although it could have been put better, it's a legitimate question to ask an atheist propandandist what he has to offer those who have just suffered horrible losses in their lives, compared to what various theists have to say - it seems to me that if he's going to evangelize that he needs to answer the tough questions, not just coast with the uninvolved view that, "well, you see, it's just not 'rational' that you believe in such things" - in other words, one argument i've heard is that "ok, you just believe that nonsense because you find it comforting"

but what's offered as an alternative? - if he's going to attempt to convert people to atheism, then he's going to have to come up with one - and that's what i think this comment was trying to point out, in a bad and overdramatic fashion - one has to convince people that one's way of not believing and not having faith has a real meaning in real life, with real benefits - otherwise, i'm afraid you're just stuck with a sense of intellectual probity

that's not enough for most people
posted by pyramid termite at 9:22 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is this hyperbole, or do you really think that's what "so many of the faithful believe?" Because I know a lot of very faithful people and I cannot think of any of them who believe that (or who have ever told me that they do). I'm not saying that nobody believes that. But I am no atheist, and I stand right with you in rejecting that belief.

What is a prayer if not a wish? I have friends who pray for my soul. I cannot understand that as anything but a wish for me to see the light so that I can be spared eternal punishment. The concern is appreciated, but it sure looks to me like a wish.

If your prayer is merely gnostic seeking of god experiences or a duty of faith, that's one thing. But most people who tell me about their prayers mention that they prayed for something: world peace, my soul, a better job, the health of their family, enlightenment. Those are all wishes. And praying to a deity seeking those wishes to be fulfilled certainly seems like asking that deity to grant wishes.

Furthermore, over the history of human thought, prayers and rituals have traditionally been for something: rain, victory, children, survival. Indeed, the manipulation of reality is pretty much the basis of religion: burn antelope meat on the right day of the year, you will please the gods of the hunt, and you won't starve the next year. Embalm and wrap the body, and you'll be reborn in an afterlife instead of disappearing from existence. Wish fulfillment.

There seems to be a popular practice among atheists of grossly mischaracterizing religious beliefs in the process of mocking them. The "invisible flying giant in the sky" and that sort of thing, or "who invented everything from quarks to humans to botulism" are snappy. But they are mischaracterizations - they are mocking religious belief, rather than accurately characterizing and debunking it.

It's a rhetorical device I rather like, and use widely. I also call white people "melanin-deficient" and humans in general "domesticated primates". The idea is to recast commonly-accepted beliefs and worldviews into non-standard verbiage so as to provide a slight shock to the cognitive system. You may see it as mischaracterization, but I contend that the words we use, to a great degree, shape the thoughts we think. As a result, using only common terminology for a particular concept is accepting a particular worldview by default.

A (slightly) less contentious example than religion is that of race. If I'm discussing racism with a racist, and I talk about Black people and white people and Hispanic people and Asian people, I'm implicitly ceding the point that race exists as a useful concept. If I say "Black people and white people are the same", I am, by my very language, admitting that two different groupings of people exist. On the other hand, if I talk about "people are basically the same, despite the statistical distribution of wide nostrils, wiry hair, and melanin concentrations", I am specifically refusing to concede the existence of race.

I try my best to accurately describe what I'm discussing. If I've failed in that, I can accept that I made a mistake. But don't mistake my intentional use of non-standard terminology for building a strawman.

Also, are you contending that the Judeo-Islamic-Christian God of the Bible did not invent "everything from quarks to humans to botulism"? For that matter, is there a religion in the world whose Lord of Creation isn't given credit for all of those things? Actually, I do dimly recollect that the Zoarastrians believed that all disease was created by their evil deity, so maybe botulism doesn't belong on the same list universally.

I observe everyone - religious and nonreligious - exhibiting all manner of maladaptive behavior on a daily basis. That does not mean that everyone is insane.

Are you fucking kidding? We're all nuts. See the Alice quote somebody mentioned above. I'm quite mad myself.

That said, the conversation was only about religion, so I only mentioned religious insanity. I can also discuss political insanity and academic insanity, if you'd like.

Well, a significant issue for atheists arguing with Christians about Christian beliefs is that they become a moving target, not all Christians believe this so it's not fair to say that, are we talking about theology or religion as it's lived etc. until one practically has to go to seminary in order to be allowed to discuss Christianity at all.

Please note that I didn't mention Christians at all. And I used "God" only to stand in for any personified deity you might like: anybody from Vishnu to the Raven. My original post said nothing about Christianity, and specifically mentioned Buddhism and Judaism as being equivalent. [Although I would note that there are Buddhist traditions that do not recognize anything supernatural, and so fall under the category of philosophy or morality rather than religion. Similarly, I quite enjoy using qabalah as a metaphor for human experience and cognition.]
posted by Netzapper at 9:24 PM on September 4, 2009


I could understand it if people were trying to get themselves into a state in which they could submit to God's will (or, in my own way of thinking, become ready to accept whatever happens) but it sure doesn't sound like it.

In my opinion, that is part of what it should be. I started writing about what my own personal concept of prayer is, but that's beside the point. Everyone who is religious has their own way of approaching their beliefs. You should ask your friends if, when they pray, their intent is to tell God their wishes so that he can grant them, or whether there is something more profound that they believe is going on.

The characterization of prayer as being basically the same as thinking that God is a leprechaun that the church caught at the end of the rainbow is, in my experience, not the way that most faithful praying religious people see it. Obviously, individual beliefs play a big part in it, so I would not presume to know what your friends believe. I suggest asking them. I suspect that they would be glad to share that information with you. You might preface the question by stating that you're not looking to be preached to or converted, but you just are curious.
posted by The World Famous at 9:30 PM on September 4, 2009


But don't mistake my intentional use of non-standard terminology for building a strawman.

I don't think it's a strawman. I think it's an ineffective caricature. An effective "use of non-standard terminology" would be one that actually addresses the erroneous nature of religion. But even then, it doesn't really go to the heart of the existence of God to simply mock a caricature.

Also, are you contending that the Judeo-Islamic-Christian God of the Bible did not invent "everything from quarks to humans to botulism"?

That's right.

For that matter, is there a religion in the world whose Lord of Creation isn't given credit for all of those things?

Yes. Mine, for example. But, of course, mine is even more insane than the other ones, so it doesn't really matter what I believe.

Please note that I didn't mention Christians at all. And I used "God" only to stand in for any personified deity you might like: anybody from Vishnu to the Raven.

I noticed that. Sorry if it seemed otherwise. Nevertheless, picking off specific doctrines or beliefs about the nature or characteristics of God is ancillary (and not all that helpful) to the advancement of atheism. Logically, even if every single belief that I have about the nature and characteristics of God is erroneous, that does not lead to the logical conclusion that there is no deity. The atheist question boils down to the question of whether or not a person is personally convinced through firsthand experience that deity exists. Those who deny the existence of God based on the absence of evidence or falsifiable proof are perfectly rational and, in my opinion, justified. Those who deny the existence of God based solely on the illogic of religious dogma are missing the point.
posted by The World Famous at 9:43 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


The characterization of prayer as being basically the same as thinking that God is a leprechaun that the church caught at the end of the rainbow is, in my experience, not the way that most faithful praying religious people see it.

One problem that I can attest from my own experience is that I've had family who basically see God as Santa Claus giving a Red Rider BB gun to the good little boys and girls and giving switches and coal dust to the bad little boys and girls. In fact, before an auto accident that nearly killed me, a family member tried to tell me that I wasn't a "good Christian" and that "God was trying to tell" me that by causing some very serious problems I had at the time. I basically told the family member to shut up.

I spoke a similar point in response to "1." on this comment, but that comment was deleted and I didn't feel like speaking up about that at the time.

Another point I raised in the same comment was in response to "2." on that post. I essentially called bullshit on that point's validity of an argument in some people's minds. Around the same time in my life that a family member was telling me that my health and financial problems were a sign of God's disapproval, I was also having very ugly conflict with a person in my faith community...and people were starting to take sides with me or him. I was getting thwacked from both sides and yet I stayed in that faith community until I moved out of the area. One thing that comforted me was a saying that I came up with following an earlier situation of locking horns with someone: "The Body of Christ has many parts; if someone ain't the asshole, it's gonna be full of shit!"
posted by artsygeek at 10:02 PM on September 4, 2009


I noticed that. Sorry if it seemed otherwise. Nevertheless, picking off specific doctrines or beliefs about the nature or characteristics of God is ancillary (and not all that helpful) to the advancement of atheism. Logically, even if every single belief that I have about the nature and characteristics of God is erroneous, that does not lead to the logical conclusion that there is no deity. The atheist question boils down to the question of whether or not a person is personally convinced through firsthand experience that deity exists. Those who deny the existence of God based on the absence of evidence or falsifiable proof are perfectly rational and, in my opinion, justified. Those who deny the existence of God based solely on the illogic of religious dogma are missing the point.

Ah. I see. Now we've gotten down to something interesting.

But what I've said is that I couldn't care less whether or not a person believes in the existence of God, but would prefer that it have zero bearing on one's behaviors and actions in consensual reality. As I said, I don't care which interpretation of untestable hypotheses one prefers... what I do care is that one never says, "I really wanna fuck this dude, but it's against my religion" or "my religion requires that I not work tomorrow" or "I wonder what wine [or coffee; or pork; or beef; or meat] tastes like, but I can't try it."

I am only interested in the objective results of faith. Which is why I kept talking about "maladaptive behaviors"*, and not focusing on the central question of supernatural existence. Indeed, I don't believe in god only about 90% of the time, while I'm a Deist the other 10% of the time.

If all religion were free of behavior codes and dogmatic requirements, I wouldn't care at all. This isn't about which of us is right about the afterlife, it's about what I perceive to be a threat to my quality of life in this one.

*I'll accept that I used both "clinically insane" and "maladaptive behaviors" in imprecise ways: what I meant was something more like "insane, but not as a byword for stupid or silly" and "behaviors that result in harm to self and others", respectively.
posted by Netzapper at 10:03 PM on September 4, 2009


Yes. If one is going to discuss Christianity, one should understand Christianity well enough to do so intelligently and with accurate information. But if one is discussing atheism, there is no reason ever to discuss Christianity or any other particular religious sect.

No reason? Really? Hmm.
posted by kathrineg at 10:31 PM on September 4, 2009


No reason? Really? Hmm.

Well, unless you consider comedy, muddying the waters, obscuring the dialogue, and inflaming the discussion rather than making progress to be reasons.
posted by The World Famous at 10:52 PM on September 4, 2009


No reason? Really? Hmm.
Yes, really!

A key point in The World Famous's post that "speaks my mind" lies in the part you left out:
The crux of atheism is not that some sect is wrong or that some sect has doctrine that does not make sense. It is that the very idea of the existence of a deity is erroneous, regardless of the beliefs of the sect and no matter how good the logic of some theologian. To a true atheist, no shifting of doctrine by Christianity could possibly make Christianity correct.

To argue against whether Noah literally built an ark to save his family and all of the creatures from the flood is irrelevant to whether or not any God of ANY religion whatsoever exists; that's because it's hard enough to use that story to argue against the validity of Christianity with all of the different interpretations/beliefs Christians alone have of/about it. Otherwise, it's like making that "Second Law of Thermodynamics" argument against evolution.
posted by artsygeek at 11:03 PM on September 4, 2009


A key point in The World Famous's post that "speaks my mind" lies in the part you left out:
"The crux of atheism is not that some sect is wrong or that some sect has doctrine that does not make sense. It is that the very idea of the existence of a deity is erroneous, regardless of the beliefs of the sect and no matter how good the logic of some theologian. To a true atheist, no shifting of doctrine by Christianity could possibly make Christianity correct."


Seconding this. When people say they are atheist and then explain why by critiquing Christianity in the specific, my impression is always, "you're not atheist, you just have a bug up your butt about Christianity."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:51 AM on September 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


But what I've said is that I couldn't care less whether or not a person believes in the existence of God, but would prefer that it have zero bearing on one's behaviors and actions in consensual reality.

in short, you have no objection to religion as long as it's shallow and pointless
posted by pyramid termite at 5:15 AM on September 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


in short, you have no objection to religion as long as it's shallow and pointless

Exactly.
posted by Netzapper at 5:37 AM on September 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, unless you consider comedy, muddying the waters, obscuring the dialogue, and inflaming the discussion rather than making progress to be reasons.

So atheists shouldn't talk ever need to talk about Christianity in a discussion of atheism? What if someone else brings it up?

I feel it is very silly to deem that people making hypothetical arguments against Christianity are not "true atheists" by whatever weird sort of purity standard you've got.
posted by kathrineg at 7:07 AM on September 5, 2009


When people say they are atheist and then explain why by critiquing Christianity in the specific, my impression is always, "you're not atheist, you just have a bug up your butt about Christianity."

Someone could very easily be both. I don't see why one would come to the conclusion that they're mutually exclusive qualities.
posted by kathrineg at 7:09 AM on September 5, 2009


To argue against whether Noah literally built an ark to save his family and all of the creatures from the flood is irrelevant to whether or not any God of ANY religion whatsoever exists;

Atheists don't have to argue against all theoretical gods at all times lest they lose their atheist credentials and the %10 discount at GodlessMart.
posted by kathrineg at 7:34 AM on September 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


By the way, a god that would exterminate an entire planet full of people is a jerk. I'd almost forgotten about that story...
posted by kathrineg at 7:37 AM on September 5, 2009

As I said, I don't care which interpretation of untestable hypotheses one prefers... what I do care is that one never says, "I really wanna fuck this dude, but it's against my religion" or "my religion requires that I not work tomorrow" or "I wonder what wine [or coffee; or pork; or beef; or meat] tastes like, but I can't try it."
Actually, why do you care about all of those things? What people choose to eat, what days they choose to take off, and when they decide to give in to their desires to have sex with someone are really none of your business. Your screed would make slightly more sense if you took issue with people using their religious beliefs to tell you to do something (and even then, it's not the nature of their belief, it's the fact that they're interfering with you, regardless of why).
posted by deanc at 9:25 AM on September 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


you don't think it's a little sad that some people will never experience bacon wrapped scallops
posted by kathrineg at 9:43 AM on September 5, 2009


As Rhett Butler said, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."
posted by artsygeek at 10:31 AM on September 5, 2009


So atheists shouldn't talk ever need to talk about Christianity in a discussion of atheism?

I'm not trying to say what anyone should or should not do.

What if someone else brings it up?

You could always point out to them that what Christians believe is irrelevant to the question of whether a deity exists, and then return to the absence of falsifiable evidence issue. Or, you know, do whatever you want.

I feel it is very silly to deem that people making hypothetical arguments against Christianity are not "true atheists" by whatever weird sort of purity standard you've got.

I, too, think that would be silly. I don't have any purity standards for atheism. I do think it's stupid for someone to be an atheist for illogical reasons, though. If someone decides that Christianity is erroneous and, therefore, God does not exist, they are being illogical. That doesn't make them any less of an atheist than anyone else who doesn't believe in God. But it does indicate that they reached their conclusion without sound reasoning.

There is no logical contradiction in believing that God does not exist and that, in addition to that, Christianity is stupid, erroneous, illogical, self-contradictory, harmful, whatever. But concluding that there is no God based solely on a logical analysis of Christian dogma is illogical. If someone is an atheist solely because they have determined that Christian beliefs are illogical, then it is literally true that all that separates them from believing in God is for someone present them with a religion that does not have Christianity's logical contradictions. And that is weak atheism indeed.

The thing is, it is not even slightly difficult to come up with a sound logical argument for refusing to believe in God. So it is frustrating that so many people repeat the illogical arguments so often.
posted by The World Famous at 1:31 PM on September 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


By the way, a god that would exterminate an entire planet full of people is a jerk.

But what if it was a planet where everyone was Hitler?
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:42 PM on September 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


By the way, a god that would exterminate an entire planet full of people is a jerk.

You would prefer another target, a military target? Then name the system! I grow tired of asking this so it will be the last time: Where is the rebel base?
posted by The World Famous at 1:49 PM on September 5, 2009


*cue Don LaFontaine*

In a world where everyone is Hitler...
posted by found missing at 2:52 PM on September 5, 2009


it's a legitimate question to ask an atheist propandandist what he has to offer those who have just suffered horrible losses in their lives... that's what i think this comment was trying to point out, in a bad and overdramatic fashion.

Bad and overdramatic go with the territory of horrible losses.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:42 PM on September 6, 2009


"Find an old woman, whose house has just burned down, she watched all her children slaughtered in front of her with knives as they fled the fire. The whole town is gone. She has collapsed into a kneeling position clutching an old family crucifix. Explain your system to her."

Any dogmatist would take this opportunity to sell their own religion. Ironically, millions of so-called heathens have been wiped out for resisting their missionary efforts, which marks them for death. It is telling and strange that it would be posed as an atheist problem though, because atheism fails the distraught test, because they don't have a pacifying religion to offer those who were driven insane.

By the way, a god that would exterminate an entire planet full of people is a jerk.

But what if it was a planet where everyone was Hitler?


A returning, absent god would conceivably wipe everyone out who didn't realize he was gone, and not out of jealousy, but indifference, if he was conducting a planetary test for independent thinkers (because it is inconceivable he would be testing for the false honor of loyalty, as frauds do in his absence).
posted by Brian B. at 9:46 AM on September 7, 2009


you don't think it's a little sad that some people will never experience bacon wrapped scallops

People with shellfish allergies already can't have bacon-wrapped scallops, regardless what religion they are. What's your point?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:22 PM on September 7, 2009


Actually, I am allergic to shellfish and find them revolting anyway, so I guess that was an attempt to add levity that failed spectacularly. Nor do I care if people do or don't get laid. In some cases, religious restrictions are a good thing, although I think that religion and religious strictures should be thoughtfully evaluated and consciously chosen, instead of unthinkingly adopted out of laziness. Some religions are really into this sort of thoughtful commitment, some are not.

I do like eating with Jewish people who keep kosher; they're not trying to sneak shellfish and dairy where they don't belong*


*on my plate
posted by kathrineg at 12:45 PM on September 7, 2009


In some cases, religious restrictions are a good thing, although I think that religion and religious strictures should be thoughtfully evaluated and consciously chosen, instead of unthinkingly adopted out of laziness. Some religions are really into this sort of thoughtful commitment, some are not.

With all due respect, precisely how are you determining which are putting thought into it and which aren't?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:58 PM on September 7, 2009


Sometimes it is quite easy to determine that someone has put a lot of thought into their religion, or has not thought about it much at all.

Some religious traditions really put a lot of emphasis on individual questioning and thoughtful uh...can't think of the right word. The Christian example I am thinking of now is Quakerism. Some other religions/sects, not so much, although I'm reluctant to single one out.

I generally like people and don't go around holding them all to my ideals. That wouldn't really be fair (or much fun)

Hope that made sense.
posted by kathrineg at 4:30 PM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I guess I'm not clear what you mean then.

When you say that "religious strictures should be thoughtfully evaluated and consciously chosen, instead of unthinkingly adopted out of laziness", did you mean the religion should be thoughtfully evaluating and consciously choosing its own strictures, or each individual should be thoughtfully evaluating and consciously choosing his or her own path?

If it's the latter, my question still remains -- how are you determining who is and is not lazy about what they have chosen to be doing?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:50 PM on September 7, 2009


how are you determining who is and is not lazy about what they have chosen to be doing?

Well, you have to start by getting over any aversion you may have to being judgmental. And it's all downhill from there. (Really, though, I took kathrineg's earlier comment as a sort of general observation, rather than a judgment about specific people. The more recent comment looks like it's just a bit too much of a dug-in argument. But it does make sense.)
posted by The World Famous at 4:56 PM on September 7, 2009


The religion should encourage the individual to thoughtfully evaluate their ongoing commitment to the strictures of that religion. The individual has a responsibility to choose a religion that is good and leave that religion if their conscience deems it necessary.

I am not determining who is and who is not lazy, I suspect they know themselves. That doesn't keep me from holding an ideal. Unless you're using the general "you".
posted by kathrineg at 5:10 PM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am not determining who is and who is not lazy, I suspect they know themselves.

....Then why suspect ANYONE is being "lazy" about their faith? You may not get why people choose their faith, but why not trust that even if YOU don't get it, that at least THEY'VE put some thought into it rather than suspecting anyone's being "lazy"about it?

Mind you, I'm not saying that there aren't people who are lazy about this, but I prefer to assume that people know what they're doing unless expressly proved wrong otherwise.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:17 PM on September 7, 2009


Oh, and:

>When people say they are atheist and then explain why by critiquing Christianity in the specific, my impression is always, "you're not atheist, you just have a bug up your butt about Christianity."

Someone could very easily be both. I don't see why one would come to the conclusion that they're mutually exclusive qualities.


I'm not saying they're mutually exclusive -- I'm saying that they're often easily confused for each other.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:42 AM on September 8, 2009


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