There are some common arguments for religion, and some of them are rooted in truth. Here are some cracker arguments against them. Not ‘cracker’ as in white boy, though I am one, but cracker as in bonza.
I’m tired of this highly constrictive political correctness. How dare you attempt to redact my vocabulary you fucking faggot nigger!
Oh, don’t be a sissy.
If you are offended, it is likely you now want to discard what I’m saying because of how I am clashing with your values: “You shouldn’t call fuckers ‘faggot’, nigger!”
Our test-theist, Jobbo, feels the same way when you challenge his values. A large part of his personal and moral identity is attached to being a Mormon or a $cientologist or following iSlam or being a total Childrapistian or whatever. If you endanger his beliefs, he will feel uncomfortable and stop liking you so he can feel better about disregarding what you say.
So, chum, be polite to Jobbo and accept his position is important and valid. He’s devoted a lot of his life to being a theophile, so he wants to continue to believe it’s true. He isn’t going to give it all up for an unlikeable ass.
And he won’t give it up in front of you, that’s for sure. Paradigm shifts like this take days to happen and weeks to accept – even if they’re caused by a single event. Let him stew.
1. Religions have the ethics for us to follow
Jobbo: Without god, we aren’t good.
Why it’s true: This week Jobbo isn’t allowed to eat pig on Tuesday unless you’re wearing a pointy hat and he’s sitting in a paddling pool speaking in Klingon while sacrificing a crab to a small ivory elephant.
I think these traditions developed from the time when punishment was difficult to mete out, and crimes against the tribe often went unpunished. Tribes that failed to combat moral corruption were stamped out by the ones that developed religion. Those ones worked well together well because they trusted one another (up to a number).
But don’t say that!
How to handle it: Agree with Jobbo. Encourage him to say something like ‘but all institutions can become corrupted’ by mentioning that priests fuck little boys – be sure to pick on a religion other than his current delusion of choice.
Sit beside him and face in the same direction (it’ll make you seem less confrontational). Also, use non-religious examples to agree with him and get him on side. Talk about Enron being corrupted by money or the Atheist dictators who smash and maim millions.
Agree: Corruption exists everywhere throughout humanity.
If religion exists to extinguish corruption, and corruption exists in equal parts among religious folk and non-religious folk, then religion is failing to meet the standard. The failure is obviously with human nature, not god.
If you want to convert him: Ask ‘What could be done to encourage moral behaviour?’ and when he says ‘Read the Book of Tarvu’ or whatever – just say: ‘Yeah but aside from that…’ and encourage him to talk about measurable, obvious things that promote moral behaviour like education, law, prosperity and income equality.
Or, to be an unlikeable ass: Religious folk are less moral. Just wait for Jobbo to mention an act that he considers to be immoral (let him choose) and Google the shit out of it.
Whatever he says is bad, google the religions that say it’s the worst and that’s what their followers will be doing. It’s like pubs that have signs that say ‘Use of illicit substances will not be tolerated’ – those signs are only seen in places where lots of people take drugs.
No book bans having sex with a blue whale because it’s very difficult to do, so no-one’s doing it, so it’s not in the book. But you can bet that the moment whale-sex was put in the book, the sea would be a writhing mess of bestial bodies.
2. It gives people hope
Jobbo: Religious folk have something to hope for
Why it’s true: Death is fucking scary. ‘Nothing happens’ is impossible to compute with a mind that just computes what is happening. And death tells us we’ve failed at surviving; and my death might be laughably humiliating or painful. Even worse, it’ might end up on YouTube.
All religions offer some chance of continuing to exist in some way after death, it serves to alleviate the stress caused by fearing death yet knowing that we’re going to die. That self-awareness doesn’t bother many other animals.
How to handle it: Admit that you, being an atheist, are particularly concerned about the idea of decomposing in a smelly wooden box. Ask Jobbo how he feels about it – and he’ll indicate that he’s also pretty keen on being alive. If he doesn’t, euthanize him.
Talk about his theistic belief in the afterlife and work at establishing measurable benefits to a good afterlife as opposed to a bad. Get into the logistics of the situation: Do you see all your relatives? Is there a lot of room? Do I still need to eat? How good is the good one and how much does hell suck? Doesn’t it all just normalize, and adjust after a few decades of constant pain and torment?
Ask lots of questions and argue against nothing – follow him down the rabbit hole, repeating what he says and referring each answer back to previous answers. Build a vivid, experiential afterlife, with as many of the five senses as possible. It will be difficult to establish any kind of specificity, but just accept whatever you get. Some people are clear that it’s a beach, while Jobbo and many are of the ‘you can’t comprehend it’ camp. Keep pressing though, asking what is important about it for them. Then drop it and move on to something they enjoy talking about.
They’ll need to think about it and once their mind has been exposed to the question, it won’t go away. Leave them with it.
Or, to be an unlikeable ass: When your theist fails to answer, because heaven is incomprehensible, just point that out. With no need to eat, seduce, sleep or spank, nothing that matters to us now will matter then. We will be a completely different, immortal entity without fingers or genitals to stroke them with. There will be no things to get done on time at any time and hence no meaning to ‘eternity’. Point out how pointless that is and just before he starts to agree with you, he’ll decide he dislikes you and will leave, taking his beliefs with him.
3. Things that are made need makers
Why it’s true: You can’t look around and think that this all just randomly happened for no reason. Everything in the universe seems so purposeful and well designed. The idea of it just banging into existence in such an incredibly ordered and favorable way seems incredibly unlikely.
Scientists still have no idea what it was that caused life to start happening. They have ideas about primordial soups that sprang to life, but they still can’t make it happen in a lab. To go from sludge to protein by accident is like shaking a box of Lego pieces and them constructing themselves into a phallus right as Mum walked into my room and surprised me and I fell down and it got stuck in my bottom.
It’s not very likely, and that is a very good point.
How to handle it: Establish how complex everything is and encourage him to describe how incredible the world is. Get him to describe how it all works, prod his mind to enquire. Accept and temporarily adopt his views on evolution, whether they be creationist or intelligent designer, he’ll be certain that it couldn’t all happen at random. Agree with him, it is very complex.
Then delve into existential stuff: So stuff exists. So something created it. Why?
Why not just leave nothing? Question the ‘purpose’ of extinction events like the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. Are asteroids are brought by God, and why were they created only to be destroyed? Did the dinosaurs sin? Can non-humans sin?
A good technique is to get him to ridicule other religions, and then (gently) refer that incredulity to his own religion. That’s what converted me.
If he says things that are misinformed but central to his beliefs, just accept them and ask more questions. Only challenge the bits around the edges, aiming for the stuff that he can give up without threatening his beliefs. That stuff will erode and undermine his base for faith.
Or, to be an unlikeable ass: Was god’s only purpose to create us so we may worship him? Why did he make gays? If we didn’t evolve, then why do I have an appendix? It does nothing at all until one day it explodes in my stomach a Jihadi organ. That design doesn’t seem intelligent, nor does putting a talking snake and a tree of eternal ‘Oops’ into an otherwise pleasant garden.
We must accept: Being right doesn’t mean that you win. If it did, Richard Dawkins would have converted millions – but he hasn’t, because he’s rather imperious and unlikeable. He challenges people’s emotional beliefs with facts and logic, and that makes him totally ineffective. Jobbo doesn’t believe for logical reasons, so he won’t discard his beliefs for logical arguments.
It’s like offering telling a smack addict that drugs are ruining their life: You might be right, but that doesn’t change anything. If you want them to kick the habit, you’ve got to improve their life. Religiosity, like addiction, is often closely correlated with wealth disparity and low levels of education – if we improve lives (the most important being income equality), we’ll convert people.