Atheism and Evangelism

Even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights: the right to harbor and indulge his imbecilities, provided only that he does not try to inflict them upon others by force; he has the right to argue for them as eloquently as he can. But he has no right to be protected from the criticism of those who do not hold them. He has no right to demand that they be treated as sacred. He has no right to preach them without challenge.
H.L. Mencken

Given that religious persons feel motivated to save our souls by their own beliefs, and thus evangelize us, are they morally wrong, in following what they truly believe, an in trying to "help" us?

By the same line of reasoning, those of us who feel that some religious systems promote and induce unethical behavior, intolerance, ignorance, anti-scientific and anti-intellectual attitudes, theocratic tendencies, etc., may be ethically motivated to try to argue against these systems, or at least to reasonably present our alternatives to those willing to listen. Are we, therefore, evangelical atheists? Are we wrong, in following what we see as the truth?

Brian Flemming, of The God Who Wasn't There, is now behind a campaign to plant his DVDs, and generally anti-Christian materials, in churches for their Easter services. The aim appears to be to "hide" these things within churches so that worshippers on Easter Sunday will discover them, and hopefully watch/read them. This appraoch, in my opinion, crosses the line of ethical behavior and decency. I do not claim that my ethical framework is universal and absolute, but I think that when people want to gather together around a common focus, we ought to allow them to do so without antagonism. How would we handle unsolicited evangelists at a skeptics conference, standing up and preaching? Now, that said, I think that standing out in the parking lot [of the church, or wherever], holding a sign like this one, is completely innocuous.

What are your thoughts on the balance between promoting a worldview [or one aspect thereof, like atheism within the broader context of Materialism] and "going too far" in "evangelizing"?

Read this interesting take on positive atheism, and comment away.

12 comments:

David Poehlein said...

Strangely enough, Christianity hasn't yet been debunked. Sorry folks. Putting this in as diplomatic way as I possibly can, you're fighting on the wrong side in this battle. You're spending much of your God-given time discussing something you DON'T believe in. Please, lead fruitful lives and move on. If you felt you were led astray from Christianity, I am truly sorry for that, but what use is it to continue tilting against the windmill? Christianity isn't going anywhere. Debunking it isn't a possibility, not even a teeny remote one.

I understand that a comment like this one isn't welcome here, but I cannot understand why this blog exists. Putting down religion isn't a new concept. Attempting to sway others not to believe is rather cold-hearted though. If you believe that there is no god, fine. Why try to influence others though who might be perfectly happy with their beliefs? The worst that could happen to them is that they believed in a god and then died happy. Is there some reason that they MUST KNOW that you think they're misled?

Folks.....please listen. Debunking Christianity is a mission many have tried and failed miserably at. Thousands of years of toil and effort have gone into the cause and failed.

I won't try to convert you or offer you any other advice other than look at the hatred and malice shown towards Christianity here. God offers peace to those who follow him. Maybe this peace won't be seen here on Earth, but it WILL in Heaven. You all know this well, but have rejected it.

Peace be with all of you and I hope maybe there is one person here who still has a flame burning dimly in their soul, wondering if God still has a place for them in Heaven. I'm not a pastor, just a person who believes and hopes you'll join me.

exbeliever said...

DP,

What makes you think that Christianity hasn't been "debunked" long before this site was started?

In your mind, has Islam been "debunked"? What about Buddhism? Judaism? Tribal religions?

Do you think that just because people still believe something, that makes that belief true?

Have you ever read Thomas Kuhn? He might have an explanation for why people hold onto beliefs that have already been debunked.

You know, we have always said here that we are willing for any Christian to bring forth proof of Christianity's veracity. Perhaps you would like to offer some reasons for us to believe yourself? I mean reasons other than asserting that Heaven exists without telling us why you believe Heaven exists.

Daniel said...

David:
This is quite off-topic, but we can talk about it here. What are your thoughts on the equality of rights of apostates to argue their worldview? It seems you don't agree that we even really believe this (fallacy of presumption) but nonetheless --

Maybe this peace won't be seen here on Earth, but it WILL in Heaven. You all know this well, but have rejected it.

Why would we reject knowledge? If you know something and reject it, as exbeliever pointed out, there may be a psychological reason (fear, comfort, hope). Can you give me the reason for rejecting knowledge that you are going to heaven/hell? It surely doesn't comfort me to know I'll never see my loved ones again after death (esp my wife). It surely didn't relieve fears that I had, since I really believed I was going to a blissful eternal paradise. In fact, if you could call it anything, losing faith in heaven is probably the most uncomfortable experience you could imagine.

If you believe that there is no god, fine. Why try to influence others though who might be perfectly happy with their beliefs?

This point was brought up elsewhere, and I liked the response of exbeliever there:
Get people to stop justifying the oppression of homosexuals, the restricted freedom of women wishing to make their own reproductive decisions, the prohibitions against people making their own decisions about how they are to die with dignity, the appointing of justices that side with corporations over people, etc., ad infinitum and I'll "leave Christianity alone." Deal?

Of course, I also pointed out some reasonable motivations in the post above -- believing that this god-belief system leads to ignorance, intolerance, division, attitudes of anti-science and anti-intellectualism, etc.

Please, lead fruitful lives and move on.

How do you know anything about our lives, whether they are fruitful or not? Is it more or less likely to lead to a "fruitful life" if one chooses not to seriously examine and analyze their worldview, and compare/contrast/argue it against others? The unexamined life is not worth living. The unexamined religion is not worth believing.

Ollie said...

I'll blame all religious evangelicals of not using their heads. Even if they honestly feel they have a good case for their belief, they should STILL realize that it is a belief that really only applies to them, and not necessarily anybody else. Sure, others may happen to share them, but that's happenstance. What I won't blame them for is wanting to share their message. (How anybody in the US could not have heard the story of Christ unough to make their ears baffles me.) When confronted with such people, I pass by with a "thanks, I don't care for your opinion."

Many theists, confused and blinded though they are in my opinion, are gracious enough to leave it at that. They tried, I declied, end of story.

Many theists (fundamentalists, especially) are less interested in sharing their story and more interested in hearing themselves talk. Or even worse, spreading a message of hate. Evangelism, thought annoying, is okay as long as it's done politely. Bigotry and hate are certainly not polite, inherently.

As far as atheism goes, I don't think theres any message to evangelize. Atheists generally (in my experince) prefer to say "just look at it without assuming god" instead of "don't believe this or that." Critical thinking is a generally good idea, not a "message" or "sermon."

David Poehlein said...

I was going to answer your questions one by one, and have actually written a rather long point-by-point arguement. However, in writing this, I've noticed that this discussion all comes down to faith. I do not believe that people "lose" faith. I believe they never had it. Maybe they wanted it or convinced themself they had it, but never did. There are a lot of people out there who call themselves "Christians" who act like fools. I am one of them. I can be judgemental and mean-spirited, but I ask for forgiveness as a miserable sinner. Humility is often lacking in Christians. Maybe that's what drives people away, but it shouldn't.

As far as "justifying the oppression of homosexuals, the restricted freedom of women wishing to make their own reproductive decisions, the prohibitions against people making their own decisions about how they are to die with dignity, the appointing of justices that side with corporations over people, etc., ad infinitum and I'll "leave Christianity alone." Deal?" goes, do I really need to answer that? Do we not all have our own beliefs? Is Christianity supposed to be a "touchy-feely" type of experience filled with warm fuzzy-bunnies? Of course not, just ask Job. For that matter, ask Jesus. Is abortion right? Ask the baby. I'm an ICU RN. I give morphine to people when they're made code III status. I'm to keep them comfortable. Do I have a problem with that? Yes, it makes me uncomfortable, but I have to follow my heart which is directly linked to my faith in God. Helping people ease their pain is good. Killing people is bad. There is a difference. People should not take death lightly.

It seems as though most people, and most of the comments, don't have as much to do with Christianity as it does with those who practice it. People are people. We do mean, nasty, stupid things. We disagree, and I can't fix that, but I wish it didn't have to be that way. We could argue all day and none of us would convince the other of ANYTHING. Please, just realize that there are Christians in the world who practice as they preach, or at least try to. I believe that God is your judge, not me. I am as big a sinner as anyone, so I have difficulty in proclaiming myself an arm of the "law".

As far as the "unexamined life" comment, please, don't read quite so much into what others say. I did not mean this to be demeaning, only a plea for peace. Whether you're railing against God or the 4th grade coach who cut you from the track team, it's not worth it. You're right, I don't know anything about any of you except this one belief you share. I never said otherwise. I can only put myself in your shoes from looking back on my life and I come to the conclusion that agressively not believing in something is counter-productive. I have examined my own life from every angle I can think of for years and am contented with it. I continue examining my shortcomings as well as my successes daily, even hourly. I expect every one of us does. I did not intend to state none of you practice this self-inspection.

Intolerance. Christians are intolerant. I will never deny that. I am completely intolerant of killing, robbing, mutilating, general ugly behavior, disrespect, adultry, lying, and greed. Should I be condemmed for this? No. I think if more people did not practice these things, the world would be a better place. When certain "Christians" name-call and demean non-believers, it makes us all look bad and this grieves me. This in not what Jesus taught Christians.

I guess I most associate myself with "Ollie". Being polite, but firm in your beliefs is ok with me. Would the message of Christianity be easier for any of you to swallow if it was delivered differently? Just say the word.

Todd Sayre said...

Folks.....please listen. Debunking Christianity is a mission many have tried and failed miserably at. Thousands of years of toil and effort have gone into the cause and failed.

The guy's right. I can't think of any religion being abandoned en masse just because it has been debunked. I'm no Jared Diamond, but even I now it's not that simple.

I always wondered how Christians explained the persistance of every other religion on the face of the earth. The Jews have been sticking with Judaism for some 2,000 odd years or so now. I would assume that Christians agree with me that their prayers are unanswered, that they don't get into heaven, etc since they don't buy into the whole "Jesus is magic" doctrine. These people have been wasting their time for two millenia and never noticed what a complete waste of effort it all is.

Hinduism? Same thing. I think Chrisitans will again agree with me that they've been wasting their time and energy for in upwards of 3,500 years!

I would really like to hear an explanation of how so many people all over the world have wasted so much time on rituals, prayers and worship in non-Christian religions and never noticed that it didn't work. Are they stupid? Are they like atheists in that they really believe in the Christian god, but are just mad at it? Do they all enjoy sodomy too much? What?

If the believers in every other religion have never realised the (Christian-agreed) pointlessness of it, I hardly think Christians (en masse) suddenly will.

Daniel said...

David,

However, in writing this, I've noticed that this discussion all comes down to faith. I do not believe that people "lose" faith. I believe they never had it.

That is, of course, a faith statement. I do not like to make those anymore, so I suppose you were right that "[this] all comes down to faith". Some of us (via Dan Barker's famous title) lost faith in faith. You have not.

Maybe they wanted it or convinced themself they had it, but never did.

And this avoids the classic fallacy of presumption...how?

Maybe that's what drives people away, but it shouldn't.

Lack of fidelity in a religion's adherents does nothing to determine the truth value of the religion, unless the religion asserts that all of its adherents will be perfectly devoted to it. In my own life, most Christians I know are genuinely good people who are "humble" in the classical Bible-based sense, but fail to see the "pride" inherent within their system of belief, claiming special revelation, a special creation, a special relationship to god, a special and unidirectional path to heaven, and their general anti-science and anti-intellectual attitudes. That's most of the Xians I know, who reject the findings of science, call us [scientists] "educated idiots", with no relevant background themselves, when science determines something in their preferred religious folklore is, well, unscientific.

I did not mean this to be demeaning, only a plea for peace. Whether you're railing against God or the 4th grade coach who cut you from the track team, it's not worth it.
I'm sorry, but I fail to see the "railing" aspect being "peaceful" when it is railing FOR God, but "non peaceful" when railing against?

What you are advocating is the absence of philosophical conflict by one side's surrender. I don't plan to abandon my mind or ability to determine truth any time soon, and I don't ask you to either. Perhaps you should respond along my line of reasoning above: if it isn't wrong of you to evangelize me, how am I "railing" when I argue that your system is flawed and hurts us both?

Intolerance. Christians are intolerant. I will never deny that. I am completely intolerant of killing, robbing, mutilating, general ugly behavior, disrespect, adultry, lying, and greed.
So am I, as an atheist. In fact, I can say I do less of all of the above now than I did as a Christian.

My "intolerance" was more directed to people's attitudes towards diversity and freedom of mind/body, called "heresy" and "pride/fornication", respectively. That is, those actions for which the ethical basis is clearly not a question of "consenting adults exercising sexual freedom with no deception or broken commitments" fall under the category of "are they free to do as they wish, or do you have some issue to base your intolerance upon other than your dusty scrolls of uncertain origins?"

Is Christianity supposed to be a "touchy-feely" type of experience filled with warm fuzzy-bunnies? Of course not, just ask Job. For that matter, ask Jesus.
Fine, so I guess that is your way of saying, "we'll keep pushing [politically] for what we believe," and that is fine...the point is, so will we :)

Now, ex-believer's comment, which I quoted, bears more on your next part:
Is abortion right? Ask the baby. I'm an ICU RN.

As I explained at some length on Paul Manata's blog, I am opposed to late-term abortions, after the brain develops to the point that the fetus is conscious of pain. A new group of studies purports that fetuses, until they are actually born, do not develop the subjectivity necessary for awareness of pain, but I suppose I like to err on the side of caution. I am sure I am at odds with a few of the fellows on this forum, who advocate a woman's body is her own, to do with as she wishes, and since her body contains the fetus, and since her body keeps alive the fetus, both decisions are up to her until the moment her body no longer contains and supports the fetus. That is not my own issue, as I understand their argument, but oppose inflicting unnecessary pain on conscious creatures, and don't understand why late-term abortions are necessary, aside from medical, incestual, and rape cases. So...long story short, you're preaching to the choir on this one.

But, maybe you should preach more to your God about killing babies/young children (cf Hosea 13:16, Lev 26:22, Num 31:17-8, Ezk 9:4-6, Deut 20:13-14, Deut 28:53, Jdg 21:10-2, 1 Sam 15:3, etc.)

[name-calling] makes us all look bad and this grieves me. This in not what Jesus taught Christians.

Jesus called some names too, "fool", "blind fools", "foolish" (Lu 11:40, Mat 23:17, Lu 24:25) [compare this to Mat 5:22, where Jesus asserts that those who use that word are in danger of hellfire...and study moros, apron, raca and their transliteration to fool], "brood of vipers", "hypocrites", "blind guides", "adulterous generation", he also called kings "tyrants" (without exception). Now, of course, you can say, "well, he's Jesus, so it's 'do as I say, not as I do'," if you like ;)

Being polite, but firm in your beliefs is ok with me.
Well, thanks! ;) No, but seriously, that was the whole point of the post: what composes polity for "evangelism" on either side -- seeking to change peoples' minds, I mean.

Would the message of Christianity be easier for any of you to swallow if it was delivered differently? Just say the word.
Unfortunately, the message itself is what has been "weighed, weighed, and found wanting", analyzed apart from the delivery of its emissaries. In fact, I still constantly read the Bible, and find it is a more powerful force for atheism than any atheist's arguments I've ever heard. As a Christian, I am amazed that I never opened my eyes to see its major contradictions and absurdities as a Christian. So, David, in closing, we are rejecting and debunking Christianity not because of Christians, but because of the worldview itself, and we used to be Christians, so we by and large sympathize.

Daniel said...

PS: For any interested, here is a news report about the new research into fetal pain response, and here is the primary literature.

David Poehlein said...

Folks, we could do this dance all day if not all year. I've seen what I've written being taken apart in a point-by-point analysis which, more or less, is meaningless. So, when babies feel pain, THAT'S when we shouldn't kill them. We could go back and forth and surely disagree, but that's not why I decided to respond here.

We Christians have been wasting our time for thousands of years BELIEVING in something. Again, this is the main point I've been trying to make. Believing in something makes it worthwhile and the time spent is well spent. NOT believing in something, but yet spending so much time on it is what I don't understand. Honestly. I'm not trying to be mean or (fill in the blank). I can only think that if I turned my back on Christianity, I wouldn't continue to devote time to it. I would turn my attention elsewhere to things that interested me in a positive way. What is your purpose to telling people what NOT to believe in? For every person who says The Bible is full of contradictions and fallacies, there is another, just as knowledgable, who believes exactly the opposite about the exact same verses. You believe you're right. I believe I'm right. I never thought I'd sway anyone here. As one who believes in God, though, you can't blame me for trying because I'm commanded to make the attempt. Athiests do not have any such command. Again, this brings me back to the purpose for this blog, and why?

Since I've written my first entry, I noticed my tone, along with others' has been strongly acidic and sarcastic. I apologize for my part in this. I consider myself to be a sincere person and probably come off how I'd like to much better in person than in writing. People generalize Christians as zealots and hypocrites and I do not mean to foster those images through myself. I am not advocating "surrender" by "your" side. just dialogue. Do you all, to some degree, believe that Christianity continues to harm you in some way? Please, just explain why Christianity continues to interest you all, even though it has lost meaning for you. Maybe then, I'll go along back to my Christian blogs and talk trash about you all behind your backs!!!! (kidding, of course).


No, really, just kidding. Thanks for your time.

Kevin Parry said...

Just getting back to the subject of the article: I don't know if placing all the DVD's in churches was a good thing. The only affect that it will have is to strengthen the persecution complex within the Christian church.

Kevin

Memoirs of an ex-Christian

Tommykey said...

Speaking of wasting one's time, why is David Pohlein wasting so much of his own time telling us we are wasting our time?

But back to the topic on thread, one thing to do is anytime you stay in a hotel or motel, slip some literature into the Bible placed in one of the drawers by those Gideon folks. BTW, anyone watch the deleted scenes on the 'Sideways' dvd? There is a brief scene where Miles takes the Bible out of the drawer in his motel room and chucks it in the garbage. It cracked me up, though the movie never provides any context for why Miles threw the Bible in the garbage.

I agree that leaving literature clandestinely in a church is not the right thing to do.

The way I see it, the only way to make a difference is to reach as wide an audience as possible. And that is to have a best selling novel that promotes either an atheist viewpoint or has a main character who is atheist, and then have that book adapted into a movie.

Matthew said...

Let me state that I do not agree with anyone planting DVDs like Brian Fleming wants to do in Churches. That is just wrong. If we complain about Christians trying to force creationism into our public schools, we look like hypocrites if we try and inject anything smacking of skepticism into the Churches. Rather than trying to sneak these DVDs into Churches, what we ought to do is have a conference with Church leaders. What we can do is perhaps have a discussion with Church members and even foster friendly and respectful debates. If we want to cure ignorance, anti-science, pseudo-intellectualism, homophobia, etc, we have to do it on a more diplomatic level. Honestly, I don't go to Churches anymore. I have better, more productive things to do with my time. I figure that if Christians want to know why I don't believe what they do- they can ask. What we can do is try to educate people through debates and through educational workshops and lectures. Personally, I'd love to have a good debate with a Christian because I feel confident enough to hold my own. If I was invited to a Church, I'd love to debate a minister or someone like that, provided we agreed to some negotiated contract for how the debate was to be conducted. But, I am not a trouble-maker and I fear that's how planting DVDs will come across. I cannot approve of this kind of behavior. If we want to be evangelical Skeptics, then we should be doing it on a one-to-one basis. Have some Christians over for a coffee night and discuss the Bible- explain your reasons for disbelieving and allow them to respond (don't let them try to play "spiritual psychiatrist" where they want to diagnose "what went wrong" was a way of trying to cure your skepticism and get you back into Church and into the "loving arms of Jesus"). A mutual understanding and respect of differences is what I think we should try and accomplish.

Matthew