Skeptics face a quandary: When we declare that supernatural dogmas are false fairy tales, believers who devote their lives to those dogmas may feel bitterly insulted. This makes it difficult for well-meaning freethinkers and well-meaning churchgoers to hold open, sincere, friendly discussions.
How can we make dialogue possible?
It’s glaringly clear that some believers are outraged when their faith is challenged. Why do believers react so strongly? Bertrand Russell wrote that it’s because they realize, subconsciously, that their supernatural beliefs are senseless, so they cannot tolerate any challenge.
In the face of all this, it’s difficult for sincere doubters to talk with sincere believers without causing bad feelings. How do we handle pious neighbors, friends and family members? Here’s the wrong way:
One day, two flashy-looking evangelists came into my newspaper office. I tried to tweak them lightheartedly, but within minutes, we all were screaming at each other, purple-faced. It was awful.
Is there a better way? I really can’t tell a churchgoer “I respect your right to worship supernatural beings” because I actually don’t respect it.
Here’s the only workable approach I know. Be polite. Stay calm. Be reasonable. Ask questions designed to make the believer see flaws in his or her faith. For example:
Q: Exodus 31:13 decrees: “Whosoever doeth any work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.” What about all the police, firefighters, paramedics, hospital staff and others who work on Sunday? Should the bible be complied with?
Q: Deuteronomy 22 commands that brides who aren’t virgins shall be taken to their fathers’ doorsteps and stoned to death. Should Christians obey this?
Q: Leviticus 20:13 mandates that gay males “shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” Should the bible be submitted to in this instance?
Q: The Holy Book advises how to buy and sell slaves. Leviticus 25:44 says: “Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are around you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids.” Exodus 21:7 gives rules to follow when “a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant.” Should the bible be followed in this regard?
And, of course, the clincher:
Q: Why does a merciful God let children die of horrible diseases, doing nothing while parents pray desperately? And why does He let tsunamis, twisters and the like kill multitudes? And why did He create foxes to rip rabbits apart, cobras to kill children, etc.?
Maybe polite questioning is the best course in dealing with religious believers who surround you. If that doesn’t work, we can just smile to ourselves and avoid debates.
This column has been adapted from a July 8, 2019, piece written for Daylight Atheism.