I was on the phone last night with an old friend I hadn't seen in fifteen years. He's an accomplished evolutionary biologist AND he owns a world-beat record label. While he is exposed to, via his business, belief systems from many diverse cultures, he has never believed in god; he was not raised that way. In fact, he admits that, while the notion has always been a curiosity, understanding the details of any given faith has not been much of a focus for him. That is not to say he is oblivious to all the myriad ways other people's faith intersects and, often, interferes with his reality. He just never tried that hard to 'get into the head' of a believer.

We were talking about our atheism and I told him that he was (and he was) one of the people who helped me throw off the shackles of my religious upbringing. I thanked him and told him a bit about my journey to enlightenment. He listened, genuinely interested, for awhile. But it didn't take very long before he got a little irritated - clearly not entirely at me - but at a phenomenon that he was getting tired of. He told me it happened more when he spoke with the 'deprogrammed' and it was akin to talking to a recovering alcoholic. And, before I explain, I want to say - he was pretty right on about this.

He told me that he absolutely understood why atheists should not only be comfortable in their own skin about atheism, but that we should make it clear in all germane contexts that we do not believe in god no matter who is around to hear it (or, more accurately, especially if vocal, pushy believers are present.) He not only blames the herd mentality of religion (lumped with hardcore political ideology) for the pandemic of war and, by extension, famine, much of the world's poverty, etc. but he also adamantly avers that, even where religion doesn't directly cause these mass hardships, it stands in the way of achievable and sustainable solutions. I agree.

However, he continued to make it very clear to me that he was uninterested in hearing anything more I had to say about why I was an atheist, or how atheism made more sense, etc. unless it had to do with a unique argument or way of putting an argument that had any chance of affecting the thinking of someone on the theistic fence. Otherwise, he feels it is an aggravating waste of time to talk to each other about the whys of our atheism, since we get it. Preaching to the choir (so to speak) is a hamster wheel exercise - and doesn't really get you anywhere. It might strengthen your own resolve - but actually going somewhere new is a more interesting way to stay fit.

Yes, I think he's right. It's one thing to commiserate. But think about a recovering alcoholic you know. They can be cut slack - but it can get rather tedious for almost every conversation to come around to the evils of alcohol, or why they stopped, or how shitty alcoholics treat the world, or how dangerous they are, etc. I think there is a point where everyone should remember (in this and other contexts) that if you LIKE to complain, you aren't complaining. And if you keep going back to a topic - you haven't really moved on.

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Comment by Howard S. Dunn on July 2, 2010 at 1:21pm
Believe me - war stories - this website - it's all very tempting to rant on - we deserve it - many are isolated in pockets - have to contend with being 'in the closet' many places they work and frequent - friends and family. But, with other atheists - I'm learning to take advantage of the underlying fact that they are more likely to have a clear headed view on a variety of topics that anyone with religious beliefs are likely to maintain pretty rock solid biases about. So why not talk about those other things most of the time.
Comment by Dejah Thoris on July 2, 2010 at 9:39am
Ah yes, I am familiar with this phenomenon. For a while, I was part of an atheist group which met every month. The vast majority of the time was spent on people talking about why they are atheists and how evil/stupid/wrong/etc. religion is. A little bit of that goes a long way. It is an exercise in futility. I would much rather spend time trying to affect a positive change in the world. As you said--there is so much more to talk about. And if you have the desire to talk about how you became an atheist then try having a non-atheist audience. You might help someone else make the change.

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