My wife (a Taiwanese, Christian), my four-year-old daughter and I (an American, atheist) live in Taiwan. We were returning home on the subway in Taipei after a very pleasant dinner with my in-laws and began a quiet conversation about how attached my daughter has become to her grandfather. My father-in-law is now in his late seventies and his health is starting fail so I mentioned to my wife how difficult it will be for my daughter when he passes away. To this my wife replied “Yeah, it will be hard for her when Grandpa’s in heaven.”

No sooner had the words left her mouth when an older woman, probably in her sixties, who had been sitting on the seat next to me sprang up and began shouting at my wife “How do you know he will go to heaven? There is no god! It’s common sense! Are you stupid?” This not only brought the eyes and ears of everyone on the train onto us but also frightened my daughter. The lady kept yelling at us in broken English but we said nothing and when the train arrived at the next stop where we hurriedly exited and took the next train home.

What bothers me about this incident is not the rudeness or the verbal assault of the lady, but rather my own inability to argue in favor of religion or at least a respect and tolerance for others religious beliefs from the point of view of an atheist. I would love to hear back from like-minded people who have had similar experiences or have a good approach to the religious tolerance issue from an atheistic point of view.

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I'm almost always silenced when confronted with rude and agressive people, but it doesn't bother me anymore. I have no obligation to answer when someone makes a spectacle of herself. Being silenced doesn't mean that some else has won an argument.

When there is room for me to speak I say to xtians that they need to read 1 Corinthians 13 again - about the qualities of love, and to other people I also point out that kind and respectful behaviour works better.

I agree that it's usually best to shut up and just ignore people who are being rude and combative, and although there is a time and a place for almost everything, a crowded subway car is definitely not the right place for a vigorous debate on religious tolerance.

I am the same way Chris. People like that (rude and aggressive) I just keep silent around them. Anything might cause them to go into more hysterics. Furthermore, you can't reason with people like that.

On a crowded subway car I might mutter something sarcastic under my breath if I heard people talking about Grandpa going to heaven. However, for this lady to interject her opinion audibly and angrily with complete strangers, I agree, something else was going on, something she was projecting inappropriately into a private conversation.

Actually I think that kind of an outburst is fairly unusual for an atheist, and much more likely to come from an evangelical Chtidtisn.

The lady on the train was rude and showed no tolerance. She should have just kept her mouth shut because she doesn't know any of you. At best, her wild reactions here should have produced remarks from you telling her this in a quiet way. Certainly she would look like the fool she was.

But here in America, I tell bizarre stories just to make people think. Singers Buddy Holley and Waylon Jennings were good friends. For a while Jennings was  in Holley's band. Holley died (along with others) in a bad plane crash. Waylon Jennings died much later after a long career of his own. Today I tell people that even now the 2 friends are not together.

Christians ask me; "You mean one is in heaven and the other is in hell?"

My reply is: "No. One is buried in Texas and the other is buried in Tennessee."

That story gets such a stupid look from christians who fell into the trap and suggested their own stupid answer.

Ha, I love that story!

Great anecdote.

I wish I had the time and a quiet place to talk to the lady, firstly to tell her to mind her own business, but more importantly to show her how damaging that kind of attitude and behavior actually is to the the public's already biased and negative view of atheism. It makes us look no better than the nut-job standing on the corner with his sandwich board shouting about the second coming of Jesus.

I guess I should be happy it happened here in Taiwan where most people don't really care about religion rather than in the US where the incident would probably have made its way into some preacher's Sunday sermon about the crimes and horrors of atheism.

This is unfortunately what you get when people are so convinced that they are right that there is NO CHANCE that they would even consider that they MIGHT be wrong.  As for the issue of tolerance, mine extends ONLY as far as that of those who tolerate my atheism.

As it is, I likely would have responded with something to the effect of: "Madam, if you had been invited to participate in this conversation, your input would have been welcome.  You weren't and it isn't - BUTT OUT."

I would have loved to tell her to butt out, but I was afraid that once I opened my mouth I wouldn't be able to close it again and would have ended up being the "bad guy" instead of the other way around. It takes a lot for me to loose my temper, but publicly insulting my wife and frightening my daughter will definitely do it. 

I guess intolerance can come from both sides of the issue, but I had expected more from my fellow atheists. I had supposed if someone had the logical coherence to reject theism that they would be rational enough to accept others beliefs, whether they agree with them or not.

What bothers me most though is now it is just going to be that much harder to ever get my wife to reconsider and think critically about her beliefs.

Fact is, David, sometimes the hardest thing in the world to do is to be able to think on your feet well enough to come up with a effective riposte in the moment and deliver it without coming across as a dick.  I can think of multiple such times myself (and grumble about it), so don't feel bad.

The whole concept of tolerance is problematic, too.  I can be a live-and-let-live, guy, but only so long as the other person is, too.  If they want to get all high-handed, the kid gloves come OFF.  Of course, that is situational, too.  If I'm in Point-A-to-Point-B mode, I'd probably be just as likely to blow it off (with a possible expletive thrown in) and just keep on truckin'.

Fact is, you don't have to be a theist to be an asshole. As to responding to this rude, churlish boor, you probably did the right thing. Especially with your young daughter being present. Although, without your daughter being there, a simple "Shut the f^&k up, bitch" would have been appropriate.

Truth be told, she was probably lucky that my daughter was there because, if she had not been there,I would have let her have it. I'm probably better off just having kept my mouth shut though.




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