Got a new boyfriend, an atheist.

I was quite triumphant as after explaining an evolutionary process on a message board, a former theist was reconsidering their position.


"because it's clear that evolution has happened, and, as Richard describes, is happening to this day, and it seems to happen by itself, which means that God seems not to be necessary in this process ---> deism ---> atheism."


I had a hand in getting someone to think about what they believe. 

Anyway, boyfriend suddenly got all serious and wanted to know why I thought this was a good thing.


In particular he didn't see it as my responsibility or that I was entitled to take people faith away from them. "why should they listen to you., you are just one man."

I said I wasn't I was trying to take their faith away from them I was trying to get them to think for themselves and then they can see for themselves what foolishness it is and maybe faith will go away on it's own then.


But he says he has religious friends and he would never dare to question their beliefs.

I'll summarise the conversation that followed. 


Me: "People can believe whatever they like, but I am not required to take their beliefs seriously if they cannot coherently explain why they hold them"


Him: "It's not for you or me to question anything about what they think just as it's not their right to question what you or I think.

M: "Yeah but I wouldn't mind i they asked me why I think what I think because I can back up what I think."


H: "so you would challenge them."


M: "I would, well I would if it came up. I'd play nice of course I'm not in it for ruining their day but if it came up and they voiced an opinion  I would ask them why they believe." 


H: "Not your business" he said.


M: "I mean I've had jehovva's wittnesses come to the door - we had a lively discussion about evolution."

H: "Even then."

M: "They knocked on my door!"


H: "For instance, I have friends who are Christians and gay."

M: "How do they reconcile the two?"


H: "I haven't asked them."

M: "I would."

H: "Why is it important what other people think?"


M: "I think beliefs are import, they inform our actions, I want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible.


H: So would you tell a child Santa Claus isn't real?

M: "Maybe. it would depend why they were asking."





And so on.

I later made an appeal to human solidarity and it's okay to care about things that don't directly affect you (eg the Papal stance on contraception in sub-Saharan Africa) but this didn't get much traction.

So it just got me thinking.

Obviously some people live in very religious societies district schoolboards attempting to debase the educational curriculum in the local high-school, say.

But I just wanted to throw it out to an open discussion, should we as atheist care that other people believe in gods if we are not directly affected by their beliefs?

What do you think?

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I have recently had a similar encounter myself.

I had reason to spend time with someone I've known for years, professionally, yet feel a great fondness for, which I believe/hope is mutual! 

I always knew she was Catholic and she vaguely knew I was atheist but we've never talked about it.

Since we hadn't met up in a while we exchanged pleasantries and asked what each other was up to. I'm short of work right now so began talking about the fact I was drawing up plans for an atheist blog with a twist, and one or two other things. There was an immediate, bristling reaction. Can't remember exactly what now. Our friendship has always been genial and affectionate and I found myself getting anxious. She wasn't angry, but simply didn't want to hear about my 'project' and said I shouldn't criticise or attack other people's beliefs and take away something that gives them great comfort etc., etc.

I hadn't said anything critical at that point (although I can when riled!), and tried to say I wasn't trying to take anything away from anyone. I was free to express my views too. When religious people have collared me over the years I haven't accused them of 'attacking' me. Her response was that she hadn't tried to convert me, so I shouldn't. 

I assured her I would lay down my life to defend her right to think what she wanted and in private, her and her co-thinkers can do whatever they like, but my opinion was that I want religion to be kept well out of any public realm, whether law-making or in symbolic representation. Her response : "religion isn't part of our laws", me -"well it influences them quite often if only to keep in with their religious constituents and the Queen is head of the church", - "she's not head of my church", "True". But, but...", I couldn't get to the end of my sentences, just got a load of, "you shouldn't attack, you shouldn't this", that, and so on until I was forced to keep saying I'd said nothing about taking anything away from her, I wasn't going to take any thing away from her... but...if I could explain,...

She was with someone else I knew and the other person was interested in what I was trying to say so as she started asking, my friend kept finding excuses to leave the room and everytime she came in would say "oh fuck, you're still talking about religion", and off out again.

What struck me was what appeared to be the incredible fragility of her beliefs, that she couldn't remain in the room where a mild discourse on atheism was carrying on,  and that tell-tale remark about "comfort". I couldn't take up a belief because it gave me comfort, I could only believe it because it is true.

I even tried to to say that if she wanted, I would sit and happily listen to her explain what her faith meant to her, so, please, feel free. I wouldn't interrupt. No go.

I suppose I was being disingenious. I wanted to demonstrate how secure I was with my opinions compared to her and also, to play fair, she'd have to listen to me.

But, actually, I don't know about you Richard, I was hurt. I had to SHUT UP completely because it worried and hurt her feeling to hear my views. Consequently, she had given no pause to the fact that my views were very central to me. Mattered to me. Were meant to be about how to make the world a better place, not go around mugging people philosophically. (I would love to do that, in the right context, like Hitchens in a debate, but ordinarily, I prefer it to simply be part of our conversation, as this was).

I wanted to explain a passion of mine, but was denied it, on the grounds it was 'cruel' to others to hear it. What about me?!

And I wanted to explain it was my contribution to trying to make the world a better place, given religion's record. I tried saying religion had caused great suffering and still was doing. I can't remember her reply, but it was glib and dismissive and when I tried to say more, I was cut off, "but..but..". 

Most people don't get that angle, and I feel your friend, like many people, hasn't really got that people are dying RIGHT NOW, directly because of religion. Right now. And all of that isn't extremists, it's catholic dogma, it's misinformation, Somalian Islamic brotherhoods preventing aids workers through to help the drought sufferers, the events unfolding on my TV right now in Norway of all places, of the killing spree of what looks like a Xtian fundie protesting against Islam, the failure after decades of understanding the theory, to make any serious headway with stem cell treatments because some religious people believe with NO evidence that a metaphysical entity resides in a blastocyst in a petri dish and much, much more.

That's why you and I choose to politely, within context (i.e. not knocking on people's doors on a Sunday afternoon), try and winkle out of these people something that would show US that this suffering really does have a purpose that trumps the pain it causes. And some evidence for that. And an answer to why, so far, there isn't any. 

In answer to your last question. Their beliefs have affected all of us, the entire course of history, and caused profound and ongoing suffering and misery. My answer is YES.

My father was a very devoted christian.  He and I spoke about religion and my lack of belief often.  It didn't "ruin" his faith, because he was rock solid in his belief.  You cannot take the religion from a true believer.  You cannot even shake the faith of a strong believer, because their faith is built upon their experiences and deeply held beliefs.  You can only influence those whose faith is weak.  To go around knocking on doors being constantly challenged by both believers and non believers takes very strong faith. I don't imagine you could shake a Jehovah's Witness away from their faith. 


As for Cheryl's Catholic friend, obviously, she has many questions about her faith and even the suggestion or hearing about someone else's lack of faith is a threat to her.  Her reaction was extreme.  She must be really questioning (probably a lot of things) in her life and did not want this thinking challenge.  However, refusing to think about things seldom works - at least not for me.  I hope you can repair your friendship (if it was damaged) and your friend finds the answers she is seeking.  However, attacking you will not help her find them. 


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