Last month I got into a Facebook debate with a fundamentalist Christian relative about whether belief is a choice. Of course it branched into many related topics, and she didn’t say anything I hadn’t already heard. But I decided to end it after she said, “I am so sorry for your inner turmoil.” That sentence made me so angry, I blocked her. But why? Because I thought she had won the debate? Hardly. I blocked her because I realized she hadn’t listened to a word I’d said.
When the debate began, I knew I wouldn’t be able to change her mind, but I thought I could at least help her see my point of view. I told her how I used to be a devout Christian, how I read dozens of books on Christian theology and apologetics, how I earnestly sought God with all my heart, how my love of truth is why I stopped believing, how I’m willing to change my mind if presented with new evidence, how atheism is a lack of belief in god (not a belief system), and how I couldn’t make myself believe again even if I tried.
I was opening up to her, but she wasn’t even trying to understand my perspective. There are so many reasons why I don’t believe in god, but none of them matter to her because she thinks deep down I know God exists. This is the fallback position most Christians take when they’re losing a debate. What they’re saying is, “I’m right and you know it. You just won’t admit it (not even to yourself).”
Ken Ham once said, “Why does it matter to them [atheists] what anyone believes? It’s because they have the knowledge of God stamped on their hearts but are living in rebellion against their Creator.” Well, you can’t argue with that. I could just as easily say Christians have the knowledge of the flying spaghetti monster stamped on their hearts but are living in rebellion against his noodly appendage. It’s impossible to have a rational discussion with people who think this way.
Her refusal to even try to understand my point of view isn’t the only reason I blocked her. When she said, “I am so sorry for your inner turmoil,” she insulted my intelligence. Never mind that for most of my adult life I’ve been an avid reader of books on philosophy, psychology, politics, and religion. And never mind that I’ve been thinking about these issues and trying to discern reality from delusion for years.
She also insulted my emotions. According to her, the only reason I feel so strongly about atheism is because God is convicting me and I am resisting him (thus, the “inner turmoil”). Never mind the many, many reasons religion angers me. Never mind that Christianity affected my life in a very negative way. And never mind that I was deeply hurt and disappointed when I realized it isn’t true. Losing my faith was a painful process that she can’t even begin to understand.
But no, none of my thoughts or feelings matter because I’m just living in rebellion. Granted, she was not fully aware of all my reasons for rejecting Christianity. But then again, that’s why it was so insulting! She has no idea what I’ve learned and what I’ve been through, yet she thinks she understands me better than I do. Only religion can make people so arrogant and condescending.
Think about this: AA sponsors are recovering alcoholics who help and encourage other alcoholics. Many of them are eager to speak and write about the dangers of alcohol abuse because they are convinced that if fewer people abused alcohol, the world would be a better place. But why alcohol and not some other social problem? Because alcohol affected them personally and in a very negative way, so they want to help others avoid the same mistake. And since they have experience with alcohol abuse, they are in a great position to do that.
In the same way, I am a former Christian who would like to help and encourage other former believers. I am also eager to speak and write about the dangers of religion because I am convinced that if fewer people believed in god, the world would be a better place. But why religion and not some other social problem? Because religion affected me personally and in very a negative way, so I want to help others avoid the same mistake. And since I have experience with religion, I am in a great position to do that.
Now imagine walking up to an AA sponsor and saying, “If you don’t drink anymore, why do you care if other people drink? After all, it makes them happy. Deep down you know drinking is a good thing. You just won’t admit it, not even to yourself. I am so sorry for your inner turmoil.” I think the AA sponsor would be right to say, “Fuck you!” I, myself, came close to saying the same thing.