On Effective Criticisms

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AlphaLogica157's picture
On Effective Criticisms

On Effective Criticisms

"The Son of God was crucified: there is no shame, because it is shameful.
And the Son of God died: it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd.
And, buried, He rose again: it is certain, because impossible."- Tertullian

Often in the art and exercise of disputation, specifically in regards to theism, or theology in general, one finds themselves confronting statements similar to the one above. Now I hope no one will charge me with picking low hanging fruit; Tertullian is in fact one of the Church Fathers and, while not a saint, is still a figure of great influence within Christianity as a whole. The point, as I am sure you can see, is that in discussions with people of the book, it has an all too common tendency to become a one sided buffet of word salads, the taste and substance of which leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of both participants which quickly ends even the most productive discussions.

I believe this is due in large part but not entirely, to inadequacies within the Atheistic community, specifically in regards to criticism of religion and the religious in general in the online platform. My reasoning for this is extensive but for the sake of brevity I will try to keep it simple enough, so as to provide the opportunity for an effective discussion without losing any of the meat of my argument. And since my knowledge is limited to the Abrahamic Religions, I will only address those in this 21st century pamphlet for the masses.

In any exchange language is of the upmost importance, Socrates was a stickler for definitions for a reason, and this applies even more so for the Children of Abraham. If you are not speaking their language then you won’t get very far, certain words, creeds, tenants, doctrines can and often do have different meanings and applications among the diverse faithful, regardless of their claims of unity (Looking at you Islam) the reality, is that what may be a valid objection or criticism for one branch or interpretation may not necessarily apply to another. I’ll now provide some examples, again I am keeping this as simple as possible.

In speaking to Unitarians, objections to the claims of Christ’s divinity will fall on deaf ears, and as such so would any objections even similar to such a distinction. In speaking to Protestants, objections towards the behavior of early Christians under Roman Catholicism will be swept aside without a thought. In speaking to Sunni Muslims objections towards the principle of Taqiya ( lying in defense of Islam) will be dismissed a Shi’a fabrications (Sunni’s totally do it to but they pretend like they do not, for them it is called Kitman or idtirar)

I hope I have at least to a degree demonstrated my point, now I will go on to what can be done about this.

1. Ask for definitions, and assume nothing, no ideology is more structured around paradoxes than those which can never be proven.

2. Keep it simple, if you are talking to a theist then criticize aspects central to Theism and avoid the rabbit hole of religious doctrines and dogma. Make distinctions between Theism and Deism, they are mutually exclusive and should not be lumped together, remember Deists are still Atheists. (Yes they are, look it up)

3. Do not feed the preacher, if you see a sermon starting in a discussion that is the white flag of surrender and it is best to end it there. If you allow them to start they will never stop.

4. Listen to what they are saying, speak with them not against them and you will avoid the "blow back effect."

5. Fact check yourself before you wreck yourself, humans can be childish and look for any reason to dismiss you and your arguments so try to be prepared.

I’ll end it there but I look forward to much discussions with you all.

Thank you for your time.


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Polly73's picture
Thank you - all of these are

Thank you - all of these are good points. I usually fail at #1, something I have to remember from now on. When I talk about religion to people (mostly well-meaning liberals who are hung up on being "tolerant") the most effective way has been to only talk about doctrine, not people. For example, I try to avoid saying the word "Muslim" or "Christian" and instead only talk about the theology itself (Islam, Catholicism etc.). It makes the person you're talking to less defensive..... at least in my experience. After all, that's the central point.... attacking the ideas, not the people.

Travis Hedglin's picture
Good point, but I feel it

Good point, but I feel it should come with a warning. There are religious people who have their ideology so closely tied to their identity that they take any criticism of their ideology as the same as a personal attack, beware these people, conversations with them rarely end amicably.

AlphaLogica157's picture
Fair enough, not even when I

Fair enough Travis, not even when I adhere to all my points does the conversation always go well, so a warning would have been good. It's funny that you say how people get attached to their ideology as I was just saying the same thing to Polly. So I, of course, could not agree with you more lol. Your advice to be wary of those types is, again, appropriate; but I personally feed off confrontation and as such, can get so invested that I start to derail the conversation trying to wade through all the extra bullshit attached to us humans and our ideologies, but when pressed to that level a lot of valuable information gets shared on the part of the Theist, and you get some idea of WHY they believe and can personalize your responses a little.

I am new here and I really appreciate your feedback, I was surprised that no one called me a douche and blew off my essay, I guess I have spent to much time on facebook and reddit lol

Travis Hedglin's picture
"I personally feed off

"I personally feed off confrontation..."

No harm in that. Many people, regardless of position, actually thrive off of a certain level of antagonism. The thrill of a good debate, to a rational intellectual, can hardly be matched. I would hazard to say that mutual antagonism can often elevate debated, and even inspire new and unique arguments, and does so much better than sitting at home in the dark.

"...as such, can get so invested that I start to derail the conversation trying to wade through all the extra bullshit attached to us humans and our ideologies..."

Be careful about that, many an apologist will give you the ole' Gish Gallop, which is simply inundating the conversation with so much bullshit you can't possibly address it all, and then pretending they won. It is a rather nasty bit of strategy, that appeals their faith that you can't know anything unless you know everything, meanwhile they can know everything because they don't know anything. The mere use of this tactic makes me both seethe and chuckle.

"...but when pressed to that level a lot of valuable information gets shared on the part of the Theist, and you get some idea of WHY they believe and can personalize your responses a little."

True, if their is a reason beyond their personal history and desire to do so, but if it gets too intimate; consider it a red flag. I wouldn't say that you shouldn't ever debate such people, just that you should be aware of what you are getting yourself on the hook for, and prepare for the fantastic and explosive reaction that you are likely to receive.

"I am new here and I really appreciate your feedback, I was surprised that no one called me a douche and blew off my essay, I guess I have spent to much time on facebook and reddit lol"

Well, no matter where you go you are likely to find some of those people, but we run a lot of them off after a few days. We are perfectly fine playing the antagonist when needed, and because of that such people get a less than warm reception. I would be lying if I claimed I was never an asshole, but I do try to make good points while I am being an asshole, so at least my surliness serves a purpose.

AlphaLogica157's picture
Thank you Polly, You raise

Thank you Polly, You raise some goods points that I want to address. When it comes to " well-meaning liberals who are hung up on being "tolerant"" you face a whole different beast lol. Here you have apologists who are speaking in defense of a religion that they know nothing about. So it's difficult to know exactly what to say in response, but what I find funny with 'tolerance' is the same as Christopher Hitchens, in that to be tolerant of someone is to imply granting them permission to continue a belief or practice that one personally does not approve of, like how Christians tolerated Jews, so in practice you are setting oneself above someone else by tolerating them, as if that is not condescending.

I agree that attacking the doctrine is effective, but only if the doctrine is equally understood by both participants, but as you have already stated, you recognize that definitions are important so I wont go any farther on this point.

I do not see the issue of saying Muslim or Christian in a discussion, although I can see how not everyone understands Christian or Muslim in the same way, but I also see this applying to the Theology itself, so if you could go into greater detail then maybe my confusion will be cleared up.

On your statement about " attacking the ideas, not the people." I could not agree more, but it is difficult when most, but not all, Theists see the 'Idea' and the 'person' as one in the same. In my experience when criticizing Christianity some have taken it as my criticizing their family (most often their grandparents...odd I know) I think it is that we as humans associate more than what is do to our beliefs and ideas so it gets hard to separate the 'self' from the ideas or beliefs the self generates.

again thank you for your response, I really enjoyed your feedback and look forward to more.

Polly73's picture
The tolerant liberal is awful

The tolerant liberal is awful. Well meaning but awful because he's so certain of his/her own righteousness. I know because I used to be one myself lol - what I find so awful (and I'm still ashamed of myself for thinking this way once) is exactly what you're saying - that unintentional condescending mentality...... he doesn't hold others to the same moral standards as him- or herself. One could sometimes even go so far as calling it the ultimate bigotry? Cultural relativism is hard to deal with because it's so ingrained in our western mentality.

About the whole ideas vs. people thing..... yeah, it's just something I've observed and try to do if possible. I haven't been exposed to many fundamentalist religious people in my life (except online of course), those who actually ARE their religion or have their religion so closely knitted together with their identity. Saying "Muslims adhere to [whatever the point is]" vs. "Islamic doctrine dictates that [whatever]" just makes it less personal somehow. I realize that it's not always possible to speak like this. But if I at least try to do it this way I'm less prone to generalizations. Personally labelling people as "muslim" or "christian" with so many shades of grey is at best difficult because it depends so much on what culture they're brought up in. The doctrine is just that - a doctrine and is basically the same across cultures. Sure, there are several editions of the bible.... maybe not so with the koran, but there are a few different versions of the hadith. There is one unique version of every person even though that person has a religious label attached. So that's what I mean when I talk about attacking ideas, not people. I'm no Hitch - he was a master of language so he could definitely get away with saying "christian" at the right moments in his speeches and debates. So I have to be careful about how I speak (especially because English isn't my first language).

This is a good discussion, I'm enjoying the feedback too :)

ThePragmatic's picture
I've also found that as soon

I've also found that as soon as it gets a little personal, often because of some insulting remarks, people tend to invest personal pride or prestige in their comments. This quickly poisons most debates, both by evoking emotional responses instead of thoughtful argumentation, and also by making it harder for people to admit to being wrong or conceding to the counterpart's argument.

The tricky part is to manage to stay away from getting personal, while feeding of confrontation.

AlphaLogica157's picture
Polly. "The tolerant liberal

Polly. "The tolerant liberal is awful. Well meaning but awful because he's so certain of his/her own righteousness. "

Oh my god yes...that sums them up perfectly and trying to convince them that they do not have the moral high ground is damn near an exercise in futility. Also I share your shame as I was one of them types and can totally say that it was a product of my ignorance...like whenever I see a coexist bumber sticker, yeah it a cozy thought but the very religions on the sticker DO NOT want to coexist, souls and eternal damnation or the wrath of God are on the line here people. This is serious, Moses would not have commanded mass suicide on the Israelites for worshiping the golden cafe if God's law was meant to be taken liberally.

I will take your advice into consideration on the "idea v.s the People" I am starting to see your point although I am not totally convinced yet. And as I am not by any measure close to the understanding of Christopher Hitichens I know what you mean. When I read his works I have to have a dictionary on hand, there are a lot of words in the english language that I do not know lol.

Not to flatter you or anything but for english being your second language it would not be readily apparent from your writing, english is my native language and yet I still fail at it, there are more exceptions to the 'rules' in english than there are rules lol

ThePragmatic's picture
Nice to see some constructive

Nice constructive and useful tips.

AlphaLogica157's picture
Thank you, I take that as a

Thank you, I take that as a compliment. =)

Jeff Vella Leone's picture
Great post, I am looking

Great post, I am looking forward to see some of your arguments.

"remember Deists are still Atheists. (Yes they are, look it up)"

Finally someone who says it publicly like I did.

A-theism means NOT-Theism

A Deist is also Not a Theist, thus he/she is an atheist.

AlphaLogica157's picture
Thank you. I know your

Thank you. I know your frustration lol. I often have break down the major distinctions between Atheism, Theism and Deism to other Atheists and yet they still want to sweep Deism and Theism under the same rug. I always say that a Deist is an Atheist in practice, you said it best "A-theism means NOT-Theism" lol that is the very definition of Atheism...I mean it derives from the greek word Atheos meaning "without gods" so it naturally follows that A-Theism means "without Theism"

Jeff Vella Leone's picture
Yes it is frustrating, I had

Yes it is frustrating, I had people also claiming that I defined Atheism in this way. (palm face)

Though just for your info:
"A-" means NOT in ancient Greek language.

Most words that come from Greek and have an A- in front ,they mean Not-something.


Apolitical comes from a Greek root and it means NOT-Political.

Atheism comes from a Greek root("theos") and it means NOT-Theism.

AlphaLogica157's picture
"A-" means NOT in ancient

"A-" means NOT in ancient Greek language."

I'm sorry Jeff but I must disagree:


From Ancient Greek ἄθεος (átheos, “godless, without a god”).

The term "atheism" originated from the Greek ἄθεος (atheos), meaning "without god(s)", used as a pejorative term applied to those thought to reject the gods worshiped by the larger society

Drachmann, A. B. (1977) [1922]. Atheism in Pagan Antiquity. Chicago: Ares Publishers. ISBN 0-89005-201-8.

ThePragmatic's picture
Yes, this is what I found too

Yes, this is what I found too.
The word derives from the Greek "atheos" which means "without god" or "godless".

Question: When it comes to Adeism, since that is a broader term and I do not believe in a deistic god either, I should identify as an Adeist? But perhaps Areligious is a better term?
But at the same time, I also very much an anti-theist...

EDIT: I just noticed the thread you started: "Theism, Atheism and Deism in context"
You can disregard my question here... :)

Jeff Vella Leone's picture
I still do not understand

I still do not understand what are you disagreeing with?

I was discussing the origin of atheos, how it came to be, what created the word.

You seem to be focused on what it came to mean later.

You did not deny that A- means Not in ancient Greek and neither did you deny that

Atheos is made up of Theos (god) and A-(NOT)

We are simply saying the same meaning but I I'm going back to the root even more.

With time words evolve to represent more all the implications of the word, including the opposite.
This happens every time in practically all the languages.


word: clue
opposite: not a clue.
later adaptation/interpretation clueless, without a clue

word: Theos (god) - a god believer
opposite Not Theos (not god) - not a god believer
later adaptation/interpretation (Atheos) “godless, without a god” - not a god believer

One can understand the confusion because in a much later language(English) NOT has lost most of it's uses with the introduction of new prefixes and words.

Today there are English words that have Greek roots that have A added to them to mean just the opposite.

Moral --- with Morals
Amoral --- without morals,
Immoral --- violating moral accepted principles

That NOT MORAL can be BOTH Amoral and Immoral and Nonmoral

But one can see clearly that
Moral --- with Morals
Amoral --- without morals

Is a directly opposite just by adding an A in front.
In ancient Greek NOT was used more often for these distinctions since Not something is considered still to this day a direct opposite.

Today in English the prefix A- means more "without" then a "not", but in ancient Greek, it originated from a "not".

To this day NOT and WITHOUT are sometimes interchangeable:

If Theism means:

The belief in a theistic god.

WITHOUT the belief in a theistic god,

is the same as saying:

NOT believing(lack of belief) in a theistic god.

So I still do not see where do you disagree with me?

Is it just because of the word "without"(interpretation)?
If so, the meaning is still the same.

Anonymous's picture
alphalogica-I appreciate your

alphalogica-I appreciate your advise. Next time I am talking to a "theist" I will take out your essay and your "points) 1-5 from my pocket or notebook or cell phone to try to help me communicate with Christians better. Some of your ideas makes sense but for me I try to just "wing" it or just let it out or express my ideas about atheism with emotion and passion. That's just me but hope to use your advise to do "it" better in a way works for me.

AlphaLogica157's picture
Hey Fred thank you, seriously

Hey Fred thank you, seriously I am honored that you would use my essay in the future, I of course do not claim to be an expert or anything and if you have a method that works better for you then obviously go with that. I have just studied the Abrahamic religions for about 12 years now and have just noticed common practices among Atheists that are counter productive when engaging with the rabbit hole that is Theistic belief and practice. As I am an Anti-Theist the end goal is what I am concerned with and as long as humanity moves beyond superstitious bullshit from the past I'll be content. =)

Thank you again.

Anonymous's picture
Alphalogica- I think you

Alphalogica- I think you misunderstood me. While your essay was ok I guess and had some good points. it was way too -well like an essay. Everyone has all the same "facts" and knowledge more or less. Persuading Theists the errors of their ways is different for every atheist and different for every theist. As for me I like ridicule. But I like it because it is fun and makes me happy. I certainly don't need an essay or a how to change the mind of a theist book. But that's me.

AlphaLogica157's picture
Fred. LOL yeah I thought

Fred. LOL yeah I thought there was some condescension in your response but I did not want to assume and respond to something you did not say. Like I said if mockery works for you then fine go with that, but it is a simple and childish tactic at best and more often draws out the disdain of the one you are speaking with and typically only serves to reinforce their belief...this is called the blow back effect.

But to say that it is different for every theist is true but is oversimplifying my essay, as I said that criticism should be towards aspects that are central to theism, namely, the necessity of miracles and divine revelation. There is something like 40,000 different denominations within Christianity alone and yet they all share the same central claim, that of a theistic god and simple mockery or ridicule is not sufficient when facing a hydra of this size. You must go for the body, not the head.

AlphaLogica157's picture
Wow, thank you everyone for

Wow, thank you everyone for your support. I appreciate all the feedback i have received so far. Sorry for the delay on my response, my internet was shut off =( but now its back =). I have had a lot of failed discussions with theists and have found that I made a lot of mistakes that derailed the conversation so I try to correct my approach as best I can, although I still fail at this from time to time lol

Anonymous's picture
A;palogica-I wasn't really

A;palogica-I wasn't really ridiculing your essay. It seems you gave it much thought but it does not work for me. Trying to be thoughtful or "intellectual" or passive, or "understanding" in communication with theists seems silly. I say silly because ALL the stories and miracles and other bullshit in the bible is silly. Silly is as silly does. When something is absurd(Jesus) or ridiculous(God) it becomes silly. It is hard to be smart or intellectual or understanding when something(God) is silly. Plus it is so much fun to ridicule stupid theists. So much fun.

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