Is there an age-limit that non-theists should respect or abide by when it comes to our efforts to make believers more aware of all the contradictions and problems with their belief? Is it ethically defensible to approach elderly Christians or other believers and engage them in critical discussions, with the goal (or "risk") of shaking their faith so late in life?

I have pondered this a lot, not only in a theoretical way, since my grandmother (who is 84 years old) is a devout but criminally uninformed Christian. She knows I am an atheist and usually respects my feelings--i.e., she only asks me about going to church occasionally! But I occasionally discuss religion and our varying beliefs, because I want to open her mind and make her more informed, both about her own faith and the myriad other faiths and philosophies out there. Plus it is hard not to get fired up given some of her views and reasons for believing (e.g., believing the Bible is true because it says she will go to heaven!).

Part of me would love for her to have an epiphany and give up her Christian belief system, but another part of me also feels a bit creepy about that given her age. Letting go of God is a hard thing for many people regardless of their age, and it could be much harder for someone who has lived her entire life with nothing else and little knowledge of any other options. Knowing how hard this could be, whatever benefits it might bring for her personally and/or on a larger level, I hesitate to say too much...

What do you all think about this? Is there an age limit non-theists should respect when it comes to engaging with theists?

(Disclaimer: My personal feeling is still "No," however awkward I might feel when I fight the good non-believer's fight...)

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I don't make efforts to point out contradictions to the faithful unless they are trying to force their foolishness on me. I feel my time is much better spent with organizations that fight religious attempts to infect secular America with their dogma.
Age ain't nothin but a number. I want to spread the truth, whether it feels good or not. I wouldn't agree with someone that heaven exists even if they were in the process of dying in my arms at that very moment...I'd consider myself a hypocrite if I did!

That being said, I can only speak for myself concerning this type of choice. You should do what you feel would be right, but no, I don't think it is ever "too late" to urge someone else to question the validity of their own beliefs with reason and critical thinking.
Thank you Shamar. I agree with you in principle, and I think the main issue for me is the methods and approaches used in discussing beliefs with someone, rather than the discussion itself. No matter the age, I feel one should never be belligerent or disrespectful (and I would extend that even to believers who are that way themselves).
Considering her age, I wouldn't try to deconvert her. The goal of an atheist life is to appreciate that life to its fullest extent. There's no point in embracing atheism on one's deathbed. At this point, even a false hope is better than the realization that you lived your whole life expecting something that will never come.
That is a good perspective. Just to be clear, I never set out to convert (?) her to non-belief or anything. Usually I just leave the entire subject alone rather than stir up a hornets' nest, and I limit my conversations to more of a "did you know" than "look how stupid/wrong this is" when the topic comes up (usually because she brings up God/church/etc.). Obviously I am uncomfortable with the whole thing!
OK. I wasnt sure, since you wrote --

with the goal (or "risk") of shaking their faith

Anyway, in that case, I know I wouldn't take the slightest risk to shake my grandmother's beliefs. Hypocrite? Maybe, although I don't see it this way. Whatever, her own comfort would be far more important to me than an artificial sense of guilt I can easily overcome. I'd want her departure to be as serene as possible, even at the cost of a lie. Misplaced pride is often a poor counselor.
I usually take into consideration that old people are from a different generation with different norms and we can't just expect them to change everything when they were raised a certain way with certain experiences. I work with old people and sometimes they'll say something about "gays having kids? think how messed up the kids will be" or whatever, and I'll talk a little about how I see it but it's unrealistic to expect people to conform to every norm of later generations.

Deconverting from religion? This makes me think a little bit of (sorry, I can't find the video now) when Ray comfort went around interviewing people. He went up to some guy who was probably about 80 and basically was saying "you don't have long to live, do you think about where you're going?" which was just incredibly insensitive. (The old guy was cool though. He looked like he could take it.) I don't think telling people God doesn't exist is quite as insensitive, but it's the same idea. Age limit? Well, I really don't go around trying to deconvert people anyway, but if I get caught up in a conversation, I'll talk honestly. I wouldn't want to pull the rug out from under people, especially your own grandma, or someone who is going through hardships, but I wouldn't be dishonest about how I feel either.
That demonstrates pretty clearly what Ray Comfort's motivation is. Asking an old man where he thinks he is going is a cowardly tactic which leverages a person's fears and is extremely insensitive and uncaring. Whether the man becomes 'born again' or does not Ray will have accomplished his goal (potentially harming an unbeliever in the latter case).
I think that eventually it is "too late", 99% of the time. The older you get the less likely you are to let go of something, especially if you've believed it your entire life. Does that mean that you shouldn't bother? No. There's simply an extremely small chance that she'll convert.
My 95 year old fundamentalist grandfather is off limits as far as I'm concerned. Nothing good could come from a discussion with him. I have debated with myself hard about the rest of my family and even though I believe my parents are too old to change I do inform them about scientific advances they'd probably rather not hear about and books that I've read.

I suspect that most people are fairly unable to change their way of thinking after a certain age if they are not well educated or have not done much critical thinking during their life. My parents fall into this category unfortunately.
I feel the same way. 1.5 years ago, I was talking to my 79 year old dad and his recently deceased 76 year old 2nd wife about after-life. She had lung cancer at the time but we did not know it. She said she believed in reincarnation and I asked her how she knew reincarnation existed, which led to me telling her I did not believe in anything supernatural. She and my Dad were astonished that I did not believe in an after-life. Later, when we found out she had lung cancer she was able to remain quite cheerful, in no small part to her belief in reincarnation.

So, I think that there is a age point at which no effort to convert should take place. I have been struggling with ex-Christianity for 35 years. I think it takes time to process and adjust to the idea that when we die, it is the end of our life. With only months to live, she would not have had enough time to digest the change, and therefore I am glad I did not try any harder to convert her to atheism.
I can commend your sensitivity and your decision, Rudy. In a situation like that, it would have been downright beastly to try to erode what few sources of support and comfort she had while struggling with a terminal illness. (It also makes me sad to think that someone like Ray Comfort, or another fundamental believer, likely would have done everything in their power to convert her if she had been a non-believer.)



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