Quite often in the Atheist Republic’s members’ page, people ask about the best way to respond to theists. So I thought I’d offer up the best one I’ve ever come across that has worked every time for me: Just laugh.
Think about it. Theists generally are very serious about their beliefs, which you as an atheist know are not very rational, logical, or based on anything remotely scientific. They want so very much to be taken seriously. They want you to fear the hellfire to the same extent that they do. They feel that they possess hidden wisdom that all people would benefit from, and they are emboldened and comforted by the fact that their beliefs are constantly being reinforced by others who believe the same as they do. They are convinced that they know both the question and the answer that everyone needs to know.
When discussing the inane, there is no reason to discuss it
The first rule is knowing which arguments to engage in, and which to avoid like a plague ridden tax collector. When the topic is creationism, intelligent design, young earth, flat earth, or rapture nonsense, there is absolutely no reason to take it seriously and justify it with a debate or even a conversation unless the believers are asking you for information on your beliefs. If they are open to new ideas, then great, give them your perception, otherwise just laugh at theirs.
Travesties like the Ken Ham and Bill Nye debate exemplify this. No one is going to be convinced, as no one is really listening to the other side. But these sorts of public spectacles just give the impression that there is an equally valid difference of opinion, worthy of debate.
When these topics come up, theists don’t have a comeback for: “You really believe that? Wow, that’s just hilarious!” And then ask them about the weather, while continuing to chuckle good naturedly.
Let me tell you about…whatever
I actually don’t mind this so much. You can just say, “no thanks.” If you want to engage them, then I recommend the Socratic Method. Don’t defend your own position, just question theirs.
Jesus wants to save me? Then why doesn’t he just do it? Why do I have to do something in return? Exactly why am I supposed to pray five times a day? Is this like recharging Allah’s batteries? God wants me to cut the foreskin off my penis so he knows that I am one of his chosen people? What? He can’t remember my name, so he has to look down my pants? What does baptism do for you, besides get you wet? Why does an almighty god need you to get wet before he accepts that you believe in him? And for the Mormon, exactly how does god travel through space?
Just asking questions, and laughing when the answer is stupid, puts them in the position of trying to explain the inexplicable. You’re not attacking them, just asking questions. Some people will get quite upset when you do this, and that is the crack in their armor, because quite often they have never asked the questions themselves and that is how doubts start. If they get testy, just laugh. “Sorry to make you upset, but it’s just so silly, I had to ask.” End of conversation.
Paradise awaits you
Now unless you’re talking to a Muslim or a Mormon, the believer won’t have any idea what their own paradise is. What do you get to do there for an eternity? I wrote an earlier blog on this. Discussions on heaven are typically very short, because believers don’t really know anything about it. Christians famously can’t even agree on whether dogs go to heaven.
If your spouse died and you remarried, who do you spend eternity with? The first or second or do you qualify for eternal menage à trois? Now that is a heaven I could sign up for, provided we come back at a reasonable age, say 36? Just a bit of thought will give you lots of questions that they most likely have never considered, and can’t answer.
Let’s talk about you, sinner …
Don’t take this sort of crap from anyone. Sin? Where does it come from? Do sinners get cancer more often? Suffer from unexpected teen pregnancy? Have higher divorce rates? Live in poverty? What is sin anyway? Eating pork? Back talking to your parents? Skipping prayers? Eating beef? Farting profusely in the church/mosque/synagogue/temple? Sin is just their opinion. Tell them all the sins you enjoy, applicable to their faith. They should try it. Lots of sins are fun – I particularly enjoy eating lobster and bacon (both are abominations under Hebrew law and the bacon violates the Koran). Me? I believe in crimes, not sins. Some familiarity with Friedrich Nietzsche helps with discussions here, and I would recommend “The Genealogy of Morals” – Nietzsche scares everyone.
Hell fire awaits you
This is their last resort. You don’t agree with them, then you are going to suffer. Some people get mad at this, as it’s sort of like saying “I hope you get an incurable disease” or “I hope you die in agony” only its worse. I had a friend who used to respond with: “and I hope the Wicked Witch of the West comes with her flying monkeys and tickles you for eternity – which is equally likely.”
Disarming with humor
In short, please don’t be the angry atheist, as it doesn’t work. Humor is disarming, and questions help to create doubts. A debate on scripture, even if you know all the nasty bits, is not going to be memorable for most theists, as they will know that you’re quoting it out of context – because that is what they do too. You also have to understand that sometimes the bits that are nasty to you are not nasty for them – I have encountered this more than once with Jews who consider the genocides against non-Jews in the Hebrew Bible to be the really good bits, and the same goes for the slaughter of the Egyptian first born. It can’t be bad if the “Chosen People” are winning. The same also applies to many stories in the Koran. The bad guys get what they deserve in the theists’ mind, just as hell awaits all who disagree with their beliefs. If the concept of hell is ok for them, an eternity of punishment for billions of people whose only sin was being born some place where they didn’t know about some particular god, they are not going to be concerned about a couple of kids being killed by bears, a few genocides, some beheadings, or treating women like chattel. You can never overestimate the lack of compassion in believers towards non-believers.
Getting angry means that you’re taking them seriously, which just reinforces their self-image that they have a serious message that is being rejected by someone evil and deserving of an eternity of torment. But it’s very hard to take yourself seriously if people laugh at you. Trust me, I know this from many years of dating experience….
Photo Credits: Stepan Mazurov