The primary means by which we atheists discuss religion with theists are argumentation and debate. Many of us, if not all of us, have argued and debated theists on all manner of religious topics. There are a lot of resources out there that help the atheist identify logical fallacies, invoke holy text contradiction, or call out passages that support vile practices such as slavery. Even more resources exist to help cite scientific evidence, identify and reject false claims, and so on. Yet even with all these resources at hand, we cannot seem to sift through the sludge of mythical thought. Is there a way to get through?
I think so.
The Bog of Religious Debate
We all know how most debates with theists end. More often than not neither party adjusts their world view nor goes away convinced (at least as far as they will say to each other). Yet this doesn’t stop us from having the conversation because there is always the chance that logic and reason will win out. Rejecting faith is not usually an immediate affair, but we can call it a win when we know our words have led someone to at least question why it is they believe what they believe.
However, most of us end up stuck. The theist will not heed reason, and they will shun fact and evidence in favor of belief and faith. You can argue biblical or koranic verse and the theist will chalk it up to you not taking things in context. You can speak in a clear and simple way and still not get through. You can cite all the scientific evidence you want, but to no avail. There are endless means by which the believer can deny or avoid your points, always citing a god or its holy text, and this leaves you stunned.
Sound familiar? All too often this is how the story plays out. It’s enough to make you never want to do it again, but you probably will. The process inevitably repeats itself in some way regardless of whether or not you’re arguing the same thing from before, something far off in left field, or with a different person belonging to a different religion. However, I think the line of argument I am about to outline can come in handy for those of you whoreally need to make that point.
A Powerful Method
This line of debate requires a bit of knowledge about the theist’s religion. Knowledge about the theist is also necessary, but luckily it is something easily attainable. For the sake of example, I will use terminology related to Christianity as it is what I am most familiar with, so in this case familiarity with the Bible helps. You can, of course, apply it to other religions.
Begin first by conceding. That’s right, concede. Tell the theist that, at least for the sake of argument, that you are entirely wrong, God is beyond-a-doubt real, and the Bible is his literal and infallible divine Word. Doing this is generally fairly shocking, and it can be confusing for your debate partner. That’s not a bad thing.
Second, you’ve got to establish a moral foundation. Ask questions like, “Do you think slavery is a good thing?” or “Do you support genocide of non-believers?” to get a feel for where your opponent sits. I have never met a single person who will say slavery or genocide is good, but you need to establish this for the coming point.
The final thing to do is tell them that in your hypothetical situation, you still wouldn’t worship God. That’s the kick in the pants. They will want to know why, of course, but don’t get to explaining just quite yet. You have one more thing to ask of them. Ask them to provide a reason as to why God is worth your worship. Each time they mention love, sin, salvation, escape from hell, and all the rest, riposte with what knowledge you have. God is love? What about these verses that support hate? God will save me from sin? Why did he make it in the first place? Isn’t he omniscient? Couldn’t he have seen and stopped Eve before it happened? Why should I worship a god that allows the starvation of children, the abuse of women, and religious war to continue?
Having God be real means there is someone/thing to hold accountable. It also means that compared with human morality, God is sorely lacking. That is, if he turns out to be real, that would be a very serious point against him, as he has watched all this time as atrocities were committed in his name and did nothing about it. I find it incredibly ironic that God becomes less attractive to me the more “real” he becomes. Realness implies the ability to have an effect on this world, and his lack of involvement, despite all his supposed power, is glaring. I think a lot of people feel that if God did exist, that would solve the issue for them and everyone could worship happily. Not the case for me. If God came out of the sky and showed himself to be real, I would, of course, acknowledge that. At that point, it isn’t a belief but validated fact. But, his existence alone would not be grounds for worship.
Questions and points like these are not outside the norm; we ask them all the time. But once you frame it in relation to conceding that God is real, they become much more poignant.
Another favored question of mine is to ask whether or not Christians even know what heaven is like. The Bible isn’t too descriptive on heaven, and what it provides is enough to confirm its vapidity. It is surprising just how ignorant Christians are about how the Bible defines heaven.
In addition to asking questions and holding God accountable for his lack of interference to save lives, you are making the theist examine things more closely than they normally would. We focus so much on arguing evidence and scripture that not even a Christian really stops to wonder why he really believes in God, or if God even deserves worship at all. By asking him to tell you why you should worship, he is forced to analyze why he does, too. Once again, it is surprising how little theists seem to perform this kind of self-evaluation.
Words of Parting
These arguments have worked for me. I’ve had success getting Christians to actually think about their religious views. They may still believe, but now they are really focusing on why it is they believe. This method isn’t a 100% guarantee, but I think it is worth a shot to try it out. I’m not claiming that this form of argument is the end-all or be-all of debating with theists, just that it can be effective and that I personally have had some success with it. If anything, it is a new way of approaching the topic and perhaps it will give you other ideas that will work for you.
I hope this works out for those of you who try it. I would love to hear about any experiences you have with it, or if you’ve tried something similar in the past.