Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Dirty Word

I mentioned in a previous post that it seems like it is taboo for an atheist to admit that they want to convert people.

One of the reasons this word is so taboo is that many atheists are wary of being called a religion.

First of all: Atheism is not a religion. There is no atheist philosophy. Atheism does not tell you where life came from or how it ends, and it does not give you rules to live your life by. All that is necessary for atheism is disbelief in a god.

Perhaps the reason this comparison is so often made is that believers cannot understand how one can live without something that for them is such a big part of their lives. But nevertheless, it is an odd thing that believers attempt to insult atheists by saying this. Odd that they would want to insult somebody by comparing them to themselves.

So what is the deal with converting? To convert is to change someone's opinions or beliefs, usually having to do with things like religion or politics.

A lot of atheists resent the fact that religious people actively seek converts by going door-to-door or handing out tracts. They see this as a negative thing, so it is understandable that they don't want to be accused of doing the same thing.

But what is wrong with wanting to convert someone's opinions?

I have heard from many atheists that they do not want to convert people. All they want is for believers to think critically and to stop being so pushy.

This sounds really tolerant, but I see a big problem with this.

First of all, isn't critical thinking what led most of us to become atheists? Wouldn't most of us agree that if one were to think critically, it would ultimately lead to the rejection of the supernatural?

Saying you just want them to think critically is no different than saying you want them to stop believing in their god. It just sounds better.

Secondly, it is nearly impossible to ask a believer not to be "pushy". I know from being raised Christian that a central theme in this religion is wanting to convert the "lost", and they believe they will be rewarded in heaven for it. The theme of evangelizing is very central to their religion. They need and want to spread their beliefs.

It is also hard to ask believers not to interfere in the laws of the land, because many of them consider the United States to be a Christian nation, and many of them see no problem with taking away individual liberties if it means being a more "Christ-like" country. The Bible teaches that we need rules and punishment because we are sinners and they fear having a secular society because they see it as a threat to their way of life.

So asking Christians not to be so "pushy" is no different than asking them to stop being so Christian.

Basically when an atheist says that all they want are believers to think critically and leave everyone else alone, they are asking for the impossible. We can't have it both ways.

When I hear atheists say this, I view it as a sign that they want to be tolerant and they do not wish to be associated with the word "convert", but to me it seems like they are being dishonest with themselves.

Of course we want people to stop believing in the supernatural! To claim that we don't would be dishonest.

The difference is, we are not attempting to tell people the meaning of life, how they should live it, and where they will go when it is over. Atheism does not attempt to answer these questions.

It is not our goal to disallow belief in the supernatural, it is only our goal to change minds.

It's what we do when we argue, when we debate, when we express our opinions. We are hoping to change other peoples' minds. And there should be nothing embarassing or taboo about admitting that.

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DB said...

I have scrapped my original comment as the more I try and develop my argument against this "converting" the more silly my argument sounds. Even if my issue is those beliefs that are the most extreme, I am still working at getting people to question those irrational beliefs. So, on one level or another, I think everyone's goal in arguing anything is to convert one to their views. Good one! But I maintain "convert" is a bad term with a lot of negative conotations...almost like showing the other people our hand in poker. If they know we are trying to convert, then maybe they would seem a little bit more guarded. But even then it shouldn't matter because nayone engaged in the conversation is doing the same to you.

anton said...

I have been involved in "fighting the good fight" for Atheism for more than 60 years. I have been civil and mindful of community and social responsibilities. Frankly, I have been continually disappointed by most of the Atheists who must be so conditioned to "hiding behind the hedges" and enjoying the benefits of living in a society built around Judeo-Christians practices that essentially, most Atheists can be described as a lazy bunch (although I am reluctant to use the word "bunch" because so many Atheists are in hiding that they only emerge to confront the religious so you can't get them together in "bunches"). And, when it comes to raising a family, Atheists let the "other guys" provide the social necessities. Heck, I can't even get most Atheists I know to even view the blogosphere! Castigating Christians is just like swatting annoying flies, but most Atheists won't get up to shut the door!