Monday, 4 February 2008

How to talk with theists

For most believers in God, their faith has a very high value in their life. Therefore, atheists and other freethinkers are a threat to them. Just like most barking and biting in dogs is defensive, theist attacks on atheists are fear-driven. We, on the contrary, have nothing to fear from their side. So I think it is up to us to find a way to talk with them. I think I have found one such way, after years of discussions with loud voices, often ended by leaving the table and door-slamming. And such virtual door-slamming can be seen all over the blogosphere. The following talk is a medley of several recent discussions.

Theist: "I know that God helps me in my life, really. And Jesus loves you. I am sorry for you that you reject this."

"Oh, you don't have to be sorry. By the way, we are not as different as you may think. We can talk about these things."

The theist looks at me, puzzled.

"You don't believe me? I guess that we share ninety-nine percent of our beliefs and only differ in one percent."

"Oh no, it is the other way", he says. "The Universe has been created by God, the Almighty. We have lost our dignity and fallen into sin, and Jesus has saved us. For me, this is ninety-nine percent."

When people talk percent I always ask them: percent of what? Here, after some reasoning, he agrees that his ninety-nine percent are of Christian faith which is not the whole world. Now we come closer to my point.

"You believe not in just a god but in the God of Christianity, right?"

"You know me, how can you ask!"

"So when it comes to Baal, you share exactly my view, Baal-wise you are an atheist, right?"

"Not quite. The Bible says, thou shalt not have other gods besides me. This first commandment has been necessary because the Israelites have been deluded by Baal."

"So you believe that Baal exists and that it is a sin to worship him?"

He shakes his head, and very soon we both agree that Baal has been the invention of fraudulent priests trying to keep people under their control.

As an ex-Christian, years ago, I have read some stuff about the history of my religion. The Jewish God Jahwe, which is basically also the Christian God, has been formed in a time when the Israelites have been in Egypt. There, the sun-god Ra has been worshipped. Moses, a high Egyptian and later leader of the Israelites, has taken some ideas of the Ra cult, melting it with the war-god of his own people.

"What about the old Egyptian Ra?", I ask. "I guess you are an araist just like me."

He feels a bit uneasy, having to share another disbelief with an atheist, but of course he agrees. Next stations of our talk are Ishtar, Kybele, and Zeus, the Greek father of gods.

"There is only one goddess where I hesitate", I say. "Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. Love really is a mighty force, and sometimes I am inclined to believe that Aphrodite must exist." With tongue in cheek I wait him falling for my tactic. And he does.

"You can take all these ancient Greek gods and put them into one class", he says, excited. "They are mere symbols of human character traits, nothing more. They were the psychology of the ancient world. "

"So you say that Greek theism is an artifact that can be explained by human psychology?"


I smile, having found another common trait between us. Only that we apply it to different objects. After having named some more world deities, ranging from the Big Snake that has created the Universe of the Aboriginals, Manitoo, to Vishnu and others, we try to estimate the number of gods in the world and come to more than a hundred.

"Let's stop at a hundred", I say. "That's enough to show that we agree to atheism in ninety-nine percent of the cases."

"Quantity is nothing", he says, smiling triumphantly. "One God that exists is more than thousands of gods that do not exist." He thinks he has got me.

"You forgot Thor", I say. "I accept that you believe in God, but I must have the same right as you, to be fair. So you have to accept that I believe in Thor. For me, Thor is more important than all the thousands of Gods that do not exist."

"You are kidding!"

"No." I manage to stay earnest. "This is serious. Gods cannot be proven or disproven. Belief is belief. This is not a case of scientific reasoning but of human rights. I have the same rights as you have."

"How can you believe such a bullshit! There is absolutely nothing on earth to prove the existence of Thor." He gets loud, and obviously he falls into a behaviour that often can be seen in fresh atheists attacking believers. I must use all my diplomatic skills to cool him down and to bring our discussion to a decent conclusion. He finally agrees to a draw in the Thor-God debate. It is hard for him but he has to face the fact that we agree in atheism in ninety-nine percent of all gods.

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Kevin said...

Maybe I'm just too pessimistic but I really cringe at the thought of having these kind of discussions with theists. I realize that I'm not going to convince them of anything and that they aren't going to convince me of anything. Even if I talk them into a corner they pull out the "faith" card and the conversation ends. You are a braver man than I.

The said...

The reason I am loath to discuss this with Christians is that they believe they were created in the image of God, and that he hand picked each of them to serve a higher purpose, in this life and the next. To a dependent personality as theirs, how am I to explain the allure of the truth? To take such a step, they would have to lose the very foundation of their identity and self-worth.