A Redditor posted some tips on “How to talk to theists” and it’s such an interesting mixture of (IMO) good and bad advice that I thought I’d take some time for a point-by-point discussion:
Watch your language! – It’s easy to get heated over this topic. I know the two things that make me angry are religion and stupid people so you just have to control yourself for the good of the conversation.
Agreed. Dealing with monumental stupidity and/or willful ignorance can get you flustered, and with good reason. But getting flustered in an argument tends to make your opponent (and, more importantly, any onlookers) think you’re losing.
Learn the psychology of words – Context is everything, and an intelligent thought could be ignored just by the misuse of a single word. Like the word “believe”, this is a relative term. Instead of saying, “I don’t believe in god” say, “god does not exist and I simply acknowledge that fact.”
Yes, how we use words is important. And yes, talking about whether you “believe in God” implicitly endorses the framework in which “God” exists. But calling atheism a “fact” is asking for trouble, unless you can actually prove a negative. Personally, the way I phrase it is “I think (or “My best guess is”) that there aren’t any deities.” That makes it clear that I’m not an agnostic or weak atheist, but it also widens the scope to make clear that I’m not limiting the discussion to atheism vs. 1 specific religion (the better to avoid Pascal’s fallacy wherein one falsely assumes that Christianity and atheism are the only options).
Do the Research – If you know you’re going to get into an argument with someone you don’t see every day, be prepared. The best weapon we have is the collection of faith debunking material found on reddit and various books. I wish it was as simple as saying that there is no proof, but it’s not. It’s hard to come to terms with atheism if you are a theist, because you have to give up a lot of pleasant ideas in order to be freed from the stupidity.
Agreed, although I’m not as dismissive of the value of pointing out that there’s no proof (or evidence) for theism. I think it’s important to keep the burden of proof where it belongs — on the one who’s making the extraordinary claims, not the one who’s doubting them.
Don’t be overwhelming – If you don’t know someone’s religious background, ease out of the conversation. You don’t want to look like an insensitive jerk. God is the equivalent of an afterlife-santa. If you tell them god doesn’t exist, then they freak out because they won’t get their eternity of bliss wrapped with a fancy bow. If you don’t know the person well but you will be seeing them often, give them ideas to work with and pry at their own beliefs.
True, and interesting given the very next bit of advice:
The Double Tap – Right when they start to agree with what you say, make sure they understand it by giving them some additional material to reflect upon.
Like he said above, don’t be overwhelming. If you can get a theist to start agreeing with you, to start walking up the base of that mountain, don’t discourage them by showing them how much more mountain is left to climb. When people get the sense that they’re a little bit wrong, they can keep functioning. When they get the sense that they’re really, really wrong, they sometimes curl up in a ball and refuse to listen to any more, or they lash out like a cornered animal. Neither is constructive for a debate (although head-exploding meltdowns can be fun to watch).
Don’t Use Religious Terms – “God, that was an awful movie.” I know I have a habit of saying these phrases. I feel like a jerk when I don’t bless someone when they sneeze. Saying these colloquial phrases hinders your credibility with the subject. If you talk about spirits, or keep talking about god even out of context, it will make you look like a walking contradiction. It’s so engraved in our brains, for some of us, that this is probably the hardest rule to follow.
I totally disagree, and don’t see how this would have any effect on an argument with a theist in the first place. If anything, using those terms helps cushion the blow by showing the theist that he doesn’t have to stop saying “oh my God” when something’s freaky, or “bless you” when someone sneezes, and also shows the theist that a lot of “God talk” isn’t really God-oriented at all.
(pic via Fleasnobbery)