Resistance Is Not Futile: Why Arguing About Religion Is Not A Waste of Time
I: Is arguing about religion a waste of time?
* A: No.
II: Commonly held idea: Arguing against religion never works. Religious beliefs are too deeply ingrained, are held for emotional reasons and not rational ones.
* A: Bullshit.
* B: It does so work. Ask any atheist writer/ blogger/ debater/ speaker. People are persuaded by our arguments. Frequently.
* C: Why do people think it never works?
* * 1: It rarely works right away, in the course of a single argument. Leaving religion is usually a process, one that takes time. You won’t persuade someone out of religion in one conversation — but you can plant the seeds of doubt.
* * 2: Many people are conflict-averse. They convince themselves that arguing against religion doesn’t work because they don’t want to do it.
* * * a: So don’t do it. Do whatever kind of atheist activism works for you. But don’t get in the way of other atheists who do want to do it.
III: How to go about it.
* A: Don’t waste your time with private debates. Have your debates in public forums: blogs, Facebook, videotape your conversations and put them on YouTube, etc.
* B: Seriously consider whether you want to debate people you’re very close to — family members, friends, etc.
* C: Don’t look for a magic bullet — there is no one perfect argument that will persuade everyone to become an atheist.
* * 1: Again, leaving religion is usually a long process, an emotional one as well as an intellectual one.
* * 2: Different arguments work with different people.
* * 3: Many people need multiple arguments to convince them.
* D: Be patient. Your ideas are old to you, but they’re new to the folks you’re talking with.
IV: Which goals of the atheist movement are helped by trying to argue people out of religion?
* A: All of them.
* B: Seriously.
* C: If you’re doing alliance or interfaith work with believers, it makes sense to table these arguments temporarily — but coalition work should never come at the cost of atheists shutting up permanently about our objections to religion.
* * 1: Arguing about religion does work to persuade people out of religion. (See above.)
* * 2: Arguing about religion strips religion of its special privileged status as the one idea that can never be questioned. And that helps all the goals we’re working towards — ending anti-atheist bigotry, separation of church and state, special legal exemptions for religious organizations, etc.
* * 3: Arguing about religion helps re-frame religion as an idea rather than an identity — which makes believers more open to listening to our ideas.
* D: So consider engaging in it.
* E: And if you choose not to — don’t get in the way of other people who do.