I really am sort of freaked out about this whole thing. You guys have always had my back and given me good guidance on here. So please tell me what you would say...
I've daydreamed about how a conversation with my old southern baptist pastor would go... I would give him plenty of facts, he would have no good arguments in return and revert to his poor excuses for arguments he has used a thousand times before. But I did not think my dad would actually set up a meeting for me with the pastor after I mentioned how I could set the pastor straight the other day. Sigh...
I don't want to turn down this opportunity though. I'm curious of what he will say about some things and I'm wondering how well I can do holding up my end of the argument as well. Who knows... Maybe both of us will get something useful out of our conversation.
So here it is. If you were face-to-face with a southern baptist pastor you didn't really know, what would you say to him about atheism vs christianity?
I predict that this is going to degenerate to the "faith vs. fact" argument; just be sure to have all your facts about the reliability of faith in addition to all of your other facts. Also, be prepared for the " ... you are the one who is deficient if you can't perceive a higher power ..." chastisement.
Above all, please be the respectful one no matter what.
Being an engineer, I find myself constrained to fact, to what has been demonstrated, proven and verified as reliable. Religion has none of this. It has subjective experience, personal revelation and epiphany, but nothing which two or more people can observe and agree upon as being objectively real. The god they speak of has no substance, any more than heaven, hell, soul or spirit have any demonstrable substance. If it were me in that conversation, these facts are at least in part what I would lean on...
... but that's me. I hope this helps.
Keri, I'd tell him that he is doing his part in perpetuating injustice. I would ask him to examine how law and society operate where fundamentalism is strongest. I would obtain an admission that those values are antithetical to the advance of civilization. I'd adduce the historical record of christianity in promoting war, sexism, racism, xenophobia, support of slavery, dictatorships, oppression of the common man, guilt over sex, brain washing, stigma of mental illness.
And after establishing the ineluctable conclusion that christianity in a real sense is an anachronism which mankind must overcome I'd get to the issue of the falsehood of it all. Let him know that the myths of christianity predate its origin. Retelling lies do not enhance the veracity of the lies. Christianity is just another cult which perchance became widespread and powerful. Let him know that we have a natural explanation for the way things are and that it is insane for an adult to rely on supernatural lies. Assert the obvious truth that science and religion are not compatible and that the bible is therefore bullshit. Let him know that the accident of his birth and environment have determined his beliefs-had he been born in Saudi Arabia he would be a muslim with every bit as much conviction as he now holds.
Religions are mind viruses.
First ask him if he cares about what he believes being demonstrably true. Then ask him what he believes and why he believes it. Furthermore, ask him to provide verifiable evidence that what he believes is true. If he says it's true because the bible says so, ask him how he knows the bible is true. Many different sacred texts claim to be the one and only true word of god, and in this plethora of holy books and religious denominations, all which claim to be the true path, how can one definitely determine which one is genuinely true, and which others are false. The only logical and plausible answer is that they are all false.
Also remember that the burden of proof is on those making the claim. As an atheist, you do not have to make the claim that a god doesn't exist... only that there is insufficient evidence to warrant accepting theistic claims. If he wishes to have you accept that there is one divine, eternal, all powerful and all knowing deity that created the universe, and HE has a personal relationship with it, he better have some damn convincing evidence indicative of his position. The bronze age ramblings of semi-literate, bigoted, genocidal, raping, pillaging, sheep-herding Jews is wholly unconvincing.
Try phrasing it more tactfully than that last part though, lol.
Bad news first, you aren't going to change the pastor's mind(Not immediately anyway,and possibly never). The good news is that if this pastor is any good at his job you should have a very enjoyable conversation. Don't go into the discussion with the intent of changing his mind or proving that there is no god. Instead, try to find out what makes him still believe even after attending seminary. And, you can share with him why you don't believe. This is an opportunity to get to know someone better who is different from yourself. Also, don't rush any reply. Make sure that you are saying what you mean to say. Listen closely to what he says and more importantly what he doesn't say. Make an honest effort to learn about him, and you might learn something new about yourself. Have fun.
I sincerely hope we're going to get an update here as to how this meeting went down!
As to what I would say, well, first let me say that I think you are probably going to come out of there pretty frustrated, not with the pastor per se, but mostly with yourself. The arguments on both sides can go pretty deep. As a student of philosophy, I no longer quickly dismiss religious arguments. They can be sneaky because they often touch on things which are true but then explain them in ways we wouldn't accept. My predication is that you will come out of there banging your head, wishing you had thought to say this and that and cursing the trickiness of these theists.
There are a great many points which can and should be touched on, but seeing as your meeting is today and time doesn't permit it, I will say that the number 1 argument which the atheist should always bring up is that faith is not only unsupportable by reason, but is entirely contradictory of reason. The theist's argument generally goes that there are things which we cannot know, and in those circumstances we are somehow justified in using faith to arrive at the beliefs we want to get to. When we object, they argue that even science, shoot, even reason relies on faith, because we don't have absolute proof of anything. So, what, in the absence of absolute proof to the contrary we are permitted to believe any crazy, unsubstantiated claim we want? If we stick to what is reasonable to believe, we can make out just fine in this world. But the theist has in place all manner of defense mechanisms which prevent him from admitting this to be true.
So again, how did it go??
Keep it cool. don't let him interpret your arguments however he wants. Let him explain his "reasons". Don't be offensive and don't let him offend you. Keep your head together no matter what and take a quick look at the 30 Human Rights.
Don't think you're gonna convince him about how wrong he has been all this time in a discussion like that. Probably he's lost already. However, that doesn't mean you should go easy with your arguments. A lot of his ideas are based on unreal stories from the bible so you can corner him with a couple of basic facts that categorically refuse them. IDK, like creationism. Be ready to fight against the typical "free will" argument. That's one way the use to explain how their benevolent God allows misery in innocent believing people.
I'm back.... XP
I know you guys said I would be exhausted and unhappy with how the pastor would beat around the bush, not answer my questions, or say something fancy instead. So true.... Ugh... One hour and fifteen minutes... ehh... I don't think I left anything out on my side of the argument though. It was a nice conversation. He's a great guy. But.... Ah.... Let me get to what actually happened. I'm sure I'll leave a few things out. We covered a lot. I'm going to go out of order of when we talked about things.
I quoted the founding fathers for him. I asked him what he thought the founding fathers thought of religion. He said that they were for religious freedom but they were generally for Christianity. My quotes from Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson were quite to the contrary. He asked me where I got my morality from without christianity. Eh... Didn't anticipate that, but it doesn't prove things one way or the other. I talked about how the 10 commandments were common sense or not necessary. I talked about how pieces of different religions have good points but a person can decide morality easily enough for themselves. He disagreed with that. I brought up the christian woman that drowned her children. It became very circular.
I brought up how Horus had the exact same story as Jesus in the Egyptian Book of the Dead from 1280 BC. There was also Krishna, Mithra, and others that were extremely similar. I was surprised that this was the first time he had heard of this. (my dad thought the pastor had heard everything before) He talked about how the great writings of antiquity gave him enough proof of the bible. I told him that didn't answer this issue. Then he beat around the subject and it became circular again.
I talked about the percentages of people being christians in foreign countries. I said that if he was born in the middle east, he would be a dedicated Muslim and that your religion is based on where you are born with you having no control over it. He quoted the bible and said that it is all up to the individual (I guess regardless of their culture... anyway...)
I talked about the story of Job. He had a fine response which was about Job knowing God better afterwards. I didn't care to continue arguing on that one and he had a fair point.
I listed all the people the bible says to kill (a long list). I said God also killed children, curious people, and committed general mass murder. He asked me when god killed children. I was stunned. After writing all the information about God specifically saying to kill people, I wrote some minor not detailed info about the others. You know... he never really answered about all the suggested killing. Darn...
I told him all about the astrology behind christianity. I talked about the star to the east followed by the 3 stars that make up arion's belt, also called the three kings. The Winter Solstice being the reason for Dec 25th being the birthday. Easter being at the spring equinox when days become longer than night because the sun god (jesus/Horus) is winning against the evil dark god (satan/set). 12 disciples = 12 star constellations. Virgo = virgin mary. the cross comes from a pagan symbol for the zodiac. I talked about the zodiac ages being symbolized in the bible very specifically. Taurus= golden cow, Aries = moses (I left out moses in other religions but I referenced that other bible stories had been used before), Pisces is now with Jesus, and Aquarius is next with the man with a pitcher of water, which is mentioned in the bible. Eh... (and I forgot the bit about Joseph and Jesus having the same stories). After all that he asked me what my point was. I stared at him for a second. I told him that christianity is entirely based off of astrology and so are many other religions which christianity is also based off of. He talked about the antiquities things again, saying there was proof in other writings. When I asked what they were, he gave me a handout that didn't answer any of my questions immediately because I have to do more research about what it talks about. He's going to email about these other sources though. Sigh.... and I mentioned that Noah came from the epic from Gilgamesh and Moses came from the story or Sargon. I forgot about the bible contradictions I was going to mention...
Then I talked about Noah's ark. Most of the information I used came from this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_BzWUuZN5w I highly suggest the nonstampcollector videos. He is brilliant and funny with anti christianity stick figure videos.
At other parts of the conversation, he asked me the dumbest question of all... "What if you're wrong?" I can't believe he actually said that, and I told him so. I talked about religion being blackmail because you burn and suffer if you disagree with christians. At another point I almost cried while referring to my grandfather dying in front of me a few months ago. My point was that it was the first death I had experienced since becoming an atheist, but I felt all alone at the time because no one could tell me anything comforting except that he was going to freaking heaven... sigh... Not completely relevant, but good to bring up.
He talked about going through bad things when he was young and being saved by God. I brought up the Law of Attraction (which he also had not heard of), the chaos theory, the power of the human brain, and said any self help program could change him, especially since he had hit rock bottom. You know the saying, there is no where to go but up. We agreed to disagree on that one.
In the end, he believed the same things as before and I believed the same things as before (but had a better understanding of people who refuse proof. Some people really can't be saved FROM christianity). He promised to watch Religulous by Bill Maher. And I promised to read the Case for Christ. But a deals a deal. We are going to keep in contact and discus more. We may have talked all day if he didn't have a conference call scheduled. So that's most of what went down. I'm sure I left a few things out. But geez...
Good job, Keri - BRAVA!
Regarding The Case for Christ, do yourself a favor: A|N member Steve Shives has done a most thorough job of utterly DISMANTLING Strobel's crap, and I heartily recommend his observations to you. You will find Steve's commentary broken down by chapters on YouTube. Interesting to note: Shives is currently working on C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, which fares somewhat better, but not much.
My own commentary on morality is simple: I want to get along with others while at the same time having a healthy regard for my own well being. Add empathy to that mix and you have most of what is necessary for at least a foundation in godless morality. And thinking about morality and Job: sure, Job may have been restored afterward, but his wife and kids were still dead because of a bet god made with the devil. I'm sorry, but that is clearly below the belt!
Hey Keri, thanks for the thorough follow-up. While I think you did an admirable job (I didn't even know half the stuff you brought up!), there were two or three points you definitely could use some help on, imho.
1. "He asked me where I got my morality from without christianity. Eh... Didn't anticipate that, but it doesn't prove things one way or the other"
Ack! That is the number 2 thing you should have been prepared for, right after the whole reason vs. faith thing. Short answer: evolution. But a much better argument here is to ask him whether he would be a raving homicidal maniac if he didn't have the threat of punishment or the promise of reward hanging over his head. We do what is right because of how it makes us feel as people, not because (and often even despite!) of the consequences. If he believes that he is really a good person, then he wouldn't want to be a murderer etc. even if there were no god, which demonstrates conclusively that you do not need god to be moral. Case closed!
2. "I talked about the story of Job. He had a fine response which was about Job knowing God better afterwards. I didn't care to continue arguing on that one and he had a fair point."
No he did not! Well, having just written a paper on the subject (you can find it here if interested: http://www.atheistnexus.org/group/wanderer-s-group/forum/topics/the...), there are some really powerful arguments against the belief in a just god in there, any one of which might have helped derail his argument. God allowed Satan to destroy Job's children on a bet, and all your pastor has to say is he knew god better afterwards? Yeah, knew him for the SOB he really is.
Did you tell him that god created evil? That he created satan? That he created hell? That he made us what we are and then arbitrarily punishes or rewards us for it? The ridiculousness of the claims made by the theist have no end. I like Hitchens' treatment, where humanity has existed for at least 100,000 years but for 95k or so god just sits back and watches as we endure short, brutal lives, strife with disease and utter lack of education, and then all of the sudden decides that's enough, but instead of making himself known in China where people are educated, he appears in a burning bush in the middle of the most inhospitable, barbaric place in the world to an illiterate people, and so on. One of the things that always gets me is the fact that we didn't have flight until 100 years ago (skipping over computers and telephones and tv and electricity and most of modern medicine and so much more), shoot, we didn't even know about the entire western hemisphere until a little over 500 years ago, it is clear we are only just emerging as a species out of a profound ignorance of the way the world is, yet we are supposed to believe that god revealed himself thousands of years ago (but not too many thousands) with absurd "miracles" and "prophets", AND we are supposed to somehow be able to distinguish only those true prophets and miracles belonging to the right religion from all the countless other prophets and miracles and religions and myths and stories? It's like Hitch says, if you can believe all that, you can be made to believe absolutely anything. They are displaying an inordinate amount of credulity which can only be taken for gullibility when they wholly buy into this nonsense.
Hey Jedi! You have some great points! I will definitely use your point on morality in the future. And I really did pull for the Job story... but this pastor was very stubborn. I will try to word it better in the future though. And it didn't really occur to me to compare hell with morality. I just don't think that way anymore. XD I forget Christians view the two together too much. I did later mention the religion lottery and being threatened to suffer in Hell if you don't go for Christianity. I refrained from the argument about people around the world suffering because of God though. I figured he would anticipate that one.
Thanks for your input! :)