Hello fellow atheists,
Sorry, this is going to be a long one…
In the Bible-study I led, my sister was quite silent. One of the things she did reacted to was my remark that: people raised in India are very unlikely to believe in Jesus. She vehemently disagreed: “God would reveal Himself to them too”.
It became clear fast, that she never really peeked outside her protective Christian bubble. This fact compelled me to start with goal three and I have been trying hard to stick to just goal three. The discussions that followed can be summarized in four topics (hours compressed in short sentences):
Reverse “problem of evil”.
Tina stated: “we all need God to be good”. I reacted: “I don’t believe there are supernatural entities pushing for ‘good’, nor for ‘evil’”. End of the first discussion.
Tina asked: “So you don’t believe Satan is out to tempt us to do the wrong things? How do you explain all people wanting to only do what’s good for themselves?”. I have to admit, I messed up here and said: “I think all people want to be the hero in their own story. I think we are all born wanting to be good, to be liked by the people around us. It is our environment, culture and the opportunities we have, that influence how much we are able to stay “good””. I cut a serious corner here and it took me a while to correct myself. She asked: “but how do you explain people always wanting to get better themselves over the backs of others?”. I tried my best, but wasn’t able to give a satisfactory answer. I asked this question in the Atheist Community of Austin-discord (chat) and got a better formulation of my own reaction: “most people get the choice to be good for society and get better as a whole (be givers), or want to further just themselves (be takers). But some people are born sociopaths or psychopaths and they barely get a choice.” This would have been a way more balanced answer, although Tina would have said: “see? We need God”. We didn’t directly revisit this line of discussion.
Secular Humanism versus Christianity.
We came to talk about the Bible. She agreed with me, that the old testament God was an (…). And she had some serious issues with that. She herself concluded that God seemed to break every single one of his own commandments and seemed obsessed with “keeping the bloodline pure”. Later on in this discussion I stated: “the Bible is an old book which has parts we outgrew (slavery) and parts that are scientifically indefensible and hurt people a lot (homosexuality)”. Tina reacted: “we need to read the Bible as in the time it was written (slavery was normal back then) and if God says homosexuality is bad, that’s just what it is”. I was shocked! Both statements showed such ignorance! It took me a lot, not to react indignantly. I needed to stick to my goal. I accepted her reaction as informing me of her believes and focused on the scientifically indefensible part. I explained that there are a lot of animal species with a gay percentage of the population, how we now know sexuality and gender are more like a gradient than a black-and-white. (thank you David Smalley)
A couple of days later, one of my brothers was talking with Tina about these discussions when I walked in. This brother is a non-believer but he is squarely in the ‘coexist-camp’. We’ve had, however, a couple of discussions about my ‘need to do something’ and he believes ‘being true to yourself is always the best way to go’. The following three hours the three of us talked about the mechanism of evolution, some proofs for it and how, us being apes, can account for a lot of the ‘good’ and ‘evil’ we see. Tina stated that we both believe in science, as she believes in God. I tried to explain the scientific method. Her conclusion was: “you can’t possibly check if all scientists are right, so you can’t know and thus: have to believe”. I think, this time Tina decided to just accept the things we said as ‘information given’. The following Sunday however, she brought two apologetics-books she had gotten from her pastor. I was not faced by this and extremely welcomed the fact that she was willing to educate herself!
Pascals wager (miss-used?).
The first discussion about her book was a smack in the face. I thought I knew what apologists do, but I had missed an important part… The first two chapters of Tina’s book had only one goal: stop talking to atheists! In my defense, I was extremely tiered, but I felt sick when she explained to me: the burden of proof lays with the accuser, not the defender. Atheists accuse Christians of having false beliefs, so they have to proof God doesn’t exist before they have the right to claim anything. I know this is technically incorrect, but, me being the instigator of our discussions, had no grounds to fight this statement and give her back the burden of proof. I thought (did not talk) about Russells teapot, but so did the apologist. My sister told me Russells teapot was not analogous, because it wasn’t metaphysical. I told my sister I did not know what to say to that, but continued: “not defending a God believe, but shifting the burden of proof, does at least imply you do not have proof for the existence of God”. She reacted with a part of Pascals wager:
“I don’t care if God exists or not, I just don’t want to risk it. If He does exist I will go to heaven. If he doesn’t exist I have lost nothing”.
I have been afraid of this remark even before I started talking to my brothers! It is the antithesis of intellectual honesty. I couldn’t collect my thoughts anymore and ended the conversation there: “time to go”. I have to say she formulated this believe in reaction to my non-believe, so I doubt she would have formulated it like that without me challenging her. In her mind, the fact that she does believe in God is probably enough. Me asking her to justify that believe, led her to cop out like this.
I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with this if this was just her believe, but she is indoctrinating two children based on this … (whatever you might want to call it).
I needed a week, after this conversation, to re-evaluate what I was doing and where I wanted our dialog to go. This blog is what I decided I needed to do. I formulated my reasons and my goals, and I need people who can help me focus on the right topics and even help me decide when to stop. These discussions are way to complex to do on my own.
Before I started this blog I send Tina an email (so she can carefully formulate an answer) asking her to tell me what her boundaries are and if she feels these discussions have something positive to offer her as well. She hasn’t answered me yet.
Science and philosophy.
Last week we talked for an hour about science itself. Her book showed that: “all scientists are specialists, so they can’t possibly look at the big picture. God is the big picture”. That was a beautiful starting point to explain how the scientific method works. Many specialists publishing their findings to all other specialists, those specialists checking with their findings, making for one body of knowledge. I was still surprised by my sister’s ignorance and her books blatant misrepresentation.
A couple of days ago, Tina told me she was reading chapter four now. It was obvious she wasn’t impressed by the subject. It was about the philosophical discussion about (objective) morality. She told me it seemed quite pointless to her. I kind of hoped as much. Apologetics, at least in my mind, often show, how little the conversation has to do with God or the Bible anymore. I hoped, reading an apologetics-book, might show this to Tina and at least at this point she seems to agree. Never the less, it gave me an opportunity to talk about the veil of ignorance (thanks again to Dogma Debate) and to point out that the Bible, despite all the commandments, doesn’t really provide any objective, moral standard either.
We briefly talked about the pro-choice verses pro-life discussion and we promptly had to conclude we agreed on that subject!
Yesterday Tina greeted me with an enormous hug and seemed energized. I have the feeling her anxiety for the conversation is subsiding and she might even be enjoying herself. I love this fact. I told her (again): I’m not out to start a fight, I’m not out to change her believes, I just want us both to understand each other. And I do mean this! Even if, at the end of it all, she stays with her conviction: “I have to raise my children being sinful and needing God’s grace”, I will respect that! But I hope, by then, this is an informed choice of hers and not just how ‘we’ve always done it’.
I would love to be able to show her what I believe: “we aren’t born sick, we’re born human”!
PS: Sadly, both apologetics-books she got from her pastor are by Dutch writers:
“God bewijzen” (proving God) by Stefan Paas and Rik Peels, with subtitle: arguments for and against believing.
And “Omhoog kijken in platland” (looking up in flatland) by Cees Dekker and some others, with subtitle: about believing in science.
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