Wednesday, February 15, 2012

We Exist and They Don't Like It

In order to raise awareness for ReasonFest this year, we had a table in the Union on campus every afternoon during the week before the event. I had wonderful discussions with students, raised awareness for SOMA and found many students interested in attending ReasonFest 2012.

Aside from students being curious about SOMA, we got the usual students who think that every atheist wants to defend their belief (or lack thereof) system. To be quite honest, I hate debating. I hate arguing. I'm really awful at it. I can never recall the right facts, and I can never think of the right words on the spot. I'll stumble through arguments and just hope that I don't sound completely uninformed or unintelligent. Being open about my atheism though, I've had to better develop these skills due to constantly being asked about my views and constantly having people try to randomly prove the existence of a god or at least the existence of a super natural force.

This is interesting to me for several reasons. For starters, when someone tells you they are Christian, the automatic response is not to ask them to defend their beliefs or ask them for proof of a god. Why then, when I tell someone I'm an atheist, do they feel compelled to invite me to coffee to "discuss SOMA" or "discuss atheism" which really entails them trying to convince me that I'm wrong. I've stopped accepting such invitations because the conversation goes nowhere. If anyone invites me to lunch or coffee to discuss SOMA and I don't know them well, I make sure they are truly interested in joining SOMA before accepting.

While we table for SOMA or ReasonFest, we get the same kind of response. We'll get random people that walk up to our table and start spouting off various arguments for the existence of a god. Of course I or someone else at the table will explain our viewpoints and why we think their logic is unreasonable; we don't just ignore them, and we're generally polite to a fault so that SOMA won't be seen as rude or insulting because that's not our purpose.

I suppose I should be happy that people with opposing views are approaching us. Maybe they'll start to see things from our point of view or at least understand where we're coming from. I don't think that arguing is pointless; I just don't enjoy it.

I have to wonder, does this happen to all the other religious groups on campus? Do people walk up to them and just start telling them why they're wrong? Sure, I go talk to the religious groups on campus, but I don't start by telling them why I think they're wrong. I usually go up to them, ask about their group or event, and then if they ask what I think about it, I'll tell them. Usually I'll tell them about SOMA and to contact me if they'd like to organize an event such as a debate or panel with us.

Here's why I hate starting arguments with believers: When atheists start arguments with believers, they're seen as assholes. When believers start arguments with atheists they're seen as good people trying to save our souls. This should change.

We're seen as the assholes because religion isn't supposed to be questioned. It's something you accept on faith, but that's not good enough for the skeptic community. Our mere existence is offensive to the vast majority of believers because their religion is a part of their identity. This all comes back to religion being an untouchable subject because it is so personal to so many people. To question it is to insult them. Well, it shouldn't be insulting. A religion to me is an idea. It's not a person. It doesn't deserve to be protected or placed on a shelf where it can't be touched by doubt. I question religion like I question a political view or a scientific claim. Atheism is what makes the most sense to me, and I'm not sorry for it. It isn't shameful, and we shouldn't be made to feel guilty when we come to this conclusion.

Aside from that, those that are religious should question their own worldviews. If you have a belief system that you live by, you should be able to defend it and  you should know why you chose that belief over others. If your life revolves around a belief that you can't defend, then you're not asking yourself the right questions. If your religion is so personal to you and such an imperative part of your identity, don't you want to be able to justify your claims? To be quite honest, not asking important questions such as, "Why do I believe this but not something else?" is just lazy.

I may be terrible at arguing on the spot with confrontational theists, but I at least can defend my worldview with evidence to back it up.


  1. Very nice.
    "Here's why I hate starting arguments with believers: When atheists start arguments with believers, they're seen as assholes. When believers start arguments with atheists they're seen as good people trying to save our souls. This should change"


    1. Thank you! That really means a lot coming from you. :]

  2. Michaelyn!!

    I thoroughly enjoy your posts. I too hate arguing, I don't think its the best medium for a true discussion or exchange of ideas. Its too much influenced by the skill of debate, and is "won" by the one who ends up being the most confident or loudest.

    While I would agree, that the basis and true bedrock for religion, namely Christianity, is faith, it should not not be questioned. Questions and doubt produce growth and often oddly enough produce more faith. I personally encourage questions in my bible studies and life in general. I think God is big enough to deal with the mightiest of our questions ha.

    I'd like to apologize if "coffee dates" have felt like an excuse to argue. I really enjoy you, and often brag about you to others. I think you're a fantastic person and I love meeting with you and picking your brain. I think the true heart of these "arguments" though often not seen and often exploited is and should be of genuine love of others. The Christian worldview is that we are separated from a loving God, who willing died on a cross to reunite all to Himself, and those who exist outside of a relationship with Him will suffer for eternity. Christians are not only encouraged but commanded to share that "Good News" with all. The motivation then is out of a love for others to share with them this "Good News" which not only offers eternal security later but also the way of experiencing the fullness of life now. It would be, not only unloving to fail to share this news but an extreme expression of hate. Therefore Christians are compelled out of love to share their faith with other. Unfortunately immaturity and pride often defile the delivery and "being right" becomes more important than showing love. I'm sorry if thats ever happened in the scope of our friendship. The reality is I am new to following Christ, and the immaturity of being a "two year old" in the faith certainly manifested itself early on and occasionally today.

    Well thanks again for your posts. They certainly challenge me to look at the way the Gospel is presented and the way we often show Christ's love to the world.

    May your Mohawk always stand tall!

    Joe Ratterman

    1. Joe! I love talking to you. I've never felt uncomfortable getting coffee and talking with you about life and belief systems, etc. It's people that I don't know well that try to push arguments on me that are annoying.

      I understand the need to spread the "Good News" because I was once that person wanting to share my joy with the world. Sadly, it's often told by people who are automatically defensive and won't listen to what the other side has to say. You're right about how being right becomes more important that showing love.

      And of course, I'm making generalizations here. This is not ALWAYS the case, but it does happen often enough.

  3. Hi there!

    "I suppose I should be happy that people with opposing views are approaching us. Maybe they'll start to see things from our point of view or at least understand where we're coming from. I don't think that arguing is pointless; I just don't enjoy it."

    I differ slightly in that I like arguing, but I don't like the rudeness (or abusiveness) that some people think counts as dissent. It's perfectly possible to disagree wholly with someone, and remain somewhat civil - just incredibly rare :) Somehow our culture seems to have conflated the idea of dissent with that of disrespect (cue my students being afraid to critique a published article for fear of being "rude")

    That being said, I get you on this! There's such a strong parallel to feminism here - the problem of letting the interlocutor define the terms of discourse, and even your own character (eg I disagree with a sexist commercial and I hear "oh, you're ignorant and a screaming harpy" or somesuch instead of dissent)

    I'm sure there's some sort of term for the tactic of shutting down discourse by reacting to the question itself as if it's an hominem, maybe? Asking someone how they got the position they are at (religious or not) isn't an insult in itself. It's disheartening, but morbidly fascinating to see this play out. But props to you and Joe up there for having these talks anyway, and showing another way to engage :)

    You just got a new reader!

  4. Michaelyn I was just skimming through some of your blogs and I caught this one. I just want you to know that you are not alone with religious persecution. Being mormon, I am combated everyday by fellow christians about my religion and how it is too strict. All I have to say is no wonder there are so many people fed up with the hypocrisy relgion brings. Those who claim to be believers and follow the teachings of Jesus Christ don't seem to. I'm not saying I follow perfectly, but atleast I try, unlike some of my other christian counterparts.
    Anyways, I like your blog. You have some interesting views, and I most definitely see where you are coming from. I challenge parts of my religion everyday, and do research on subjects that I don't understand. I do my very best to not be a blind follower.
    -Tyler Newkirk