If you know me in the real world or even here on TA you'd know I'm pretty passionate about the image of atheism, deconversion and evangelical atheism. A christian friend pointed me to a video (which you can watch here) by Greta Christina today that made me realize that there is a bit of a gap, a chasm, between what I believe and what most atheists believe that could probably be easily filled by a little clarification. Then, I realized, this might in fact be the key to addressing the larger, over-arching issue of anger amongst atheists and whether or not this is a good approach for evangelical atheists.
It just never occurred to me that this point of distinction even needed to be made, but listening to Great and the crowd watching I realized I had made a bad assumption. No, this distinction does in fact need to be made clear. Great gets it, so I'll try to recast her point here in the context of deconversion.
Adherents and their apologists who are angry about atheist anger are just trying to take away the one ingredient responsible for all social change. I took this as a given, but many don't realize that almost every major social movement, from women's rights, to the queer movement, to civil rights; have all been built on "righteous" anger. "Righteous" anger is a special breed of anger that, unlike unhealthy anger, is clearly justifiable. It is the expression of anger, imo, by an emotionally healthy, mature adult.
But what has concerned me is that I get the impression that all too many atheists are not applying this anger constructively. Rather, there is an almost immature, temper tantrum manner in which this gets expressed publicly.
My argument is that to be effective we must learn to channel that anger into something constructive, which means having the maturity and emotional stamina to refrain from public outbursts of anger and rather channel that anger into a social movement of change; of evangelical atheism which includes that unpopular topic of deconversion.
Atheists must learn that anger is a transformative force that can be used for constructive change. But this means being mature and learning how to express anger appropriately in public. There is a difference between anger expressed privately and anger expressed in public. Expressing anger in public is ill-advised if the only thing being expressed is anger. On the other hand, expressing how and why the things that anger you are reason for change is what we should be doing.
So, to be clear, my concern about the manner and tone of the "new atheists" movement comes about as a result of this realization, the same thing that Greta explains in her video much better than I can. And she also points out that when people demand that we "tone it down" they are really trying to take away from us the one thing that fuels social change. They are really just trying to "shut us up" and are doing what every reactionary element has done in the face of social change that begins to truly challenge status quo. For any role I've played in that I regret it and hope I don't do that anymore.
For my part I am so accustomed to refraining from expressing this anger publicly that I have to catch myself sometimes even in private conversations, especially with adherents, when I say, "oh, I'm not really angry about that". Well, I am, but I choose to refrain from expressing naked anger in public as it is counter-productive. When expressed publicly anger should, imo, be channeled as a constructive conversation used to persuade, not defame us and alienate adherents. So, the litany of things that anger us are valid things to talk about, I just think we should be careful in public how we frame it.
I'd like to thank my Christian friend for pointing me to this video and I'd like to know what others think about this. In particular, do you express your anger with religion differently in public and private?
Kir - there's no need for any kind of fanaticism. What these are is fully-fledged religious ideas, without a creator God. I'm fully into it, and I don't think I'm a fanatic. Being a fanatic would seem to be anti-life, and this is anti-anti-life. If anyone is interested in seeing what I've got so far, the working notes are being kept at this link:
Some parts are more developed than others.
Don't expect it to make sense right away. I suggest reflecting on the ideas and then putting them into practice for a few months, before you make your mind up about them.
Yea!!!! Yes, I'm practicing .... slowly - kk
kk - it takes time, and it could well get you in trouble. I for one don't care, I see it as a mark of honour.
I think you are exercising free thought in a wonderfully objective way and not letting the messengers drown out the message. I commend you for that. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King talked about righteous indignation and how to channel that. So did Mahatma Ghandi, and their movements enjoyed considerable success that continues developing to this day. I think their model is key.
If someone "unfriends" you either it is a misunderstanding or it is of no loss to you because you have done the due diligence to learn and understand, approaching atheists almost submissively and meekly to learn and keep an open mind. My own two cents is that you should keep doing what you're doing and yes, we should all have this conversation.
And I think this is a tricky line in the sand. As Greta said it so well, we have to find ways to bring these very good arguments about why religion is a bad thing into a conversation in which respect for the feelings of others, and for where they are coming from, is also apparent. In particular, it might help to thinkn of adherents as much like ourselves at a different place in the journey. I hate to say it this way, but adherents truly do need our help, not our condemnation. From everything I have seen, it is very, very hard to make this transition and adherents that do it are some of the most courageous people I know.
I think it is possible to calmly and rationally argue why religion is not really good for humanity without condemning or insulting the person. and to do so while respecting the difficult position the adherent is in. The effect of religious persuasion and compulsion is powerful and it obviously tears at the heart of human beings. I think if we keep that in mind managing our anger with adherents it becomes much easier and we find that we can make good, reasoned and calm arguments for deconversion.
So, I do agree with your point about understanding where "deseekers" (not a word, I know) are coming from and we need to appreciate that they are victims of religion just as atheists are, though on different sides of the cauldron.
I've used phrases like, "Religion must go" or "religion must be extirpated" but the statements are qualified and I agree that religion will never go away completely. And I agree that progress can be made in our ability to coexist. Having said that, Greta pointed out that religion is unique and I agree with her. For example, I've noticed in discussions online, especially those that mirror deconversion conversations, that those who are entrenched in their religious convictions do in fact tend to obfuscate the obvious whenever it serves to question their beliefs. In this sense, religion is unique and I fear that the tension between adherents and atheists would still exist even if every atheist in the world were as respectful and polite as possible. And the reason is that the views of adherents simply do not admit well of rational challenge, and that creates greater tension when a large majority of the population holds these views. And that majority mentality emoldens the mistreatment of atheists. Majority status kind of guarantees that every conversation with an adherent, unless they are open to the possibility of deconversion, will result in two different conversations with both sides talking past each other.
So, I think the question of coexisting is an important one that is different in certain key respects from the idea of mass deconversion. In the case of coexistence, I agree that I think we can better understand each other's views and get along better. The evidence from Europe, for example, seems to show this. There atheism is not nearly as controversial which I think is largely due to the fact that religiosity overall is not as common. Which takes me back to deconversion. The true goal of mass deconversion, imo, should be to change these proportions at least enough to help faciliate this mutual understanding (and I believe it would).
No surprisingly, research shows that deconverts tend to be people with a particular personality type and, acknowledging that everyone can't be deconverted, which is essentially what you've said, I think, means that one must seek the lowest hanging fruits for deconversion. My mom was right about that. And the research shows that personalities that have the highest affinity for the so-called trait of "openness to new experiences" are the most likely to deconvert. It's uncanny how my mom and her family discovered things that research only supported years later, something her and I have been trying to formalize in updating deconversion methods (the playbook I wrote, which, really, we wrote).
The rest will remain adherents and I think our ability to understand and coexist with them will be improved when more deconversion in this country happens. In purely practical terms, I think the key to better understanding is simply having a greater proportion of those in the conversation who are deconverted.
So, your point is well taken, I guess I would merely add to that the need for more deconversion in order to change the proportions of believers to non-believers, as I see that as a critical component of mutual understanding. The righteous indignation (anger) will be there as it should be, but I believe, the best way to channel that is by deconversion as that has the biggest practical impact. And we can contribute to deconversion in a plethora of ways. Some may do it directly, as I do, or some may contribute to that in other, more subtle but equally powerful ways. Simply participating on this site is one of many ways.
Sarah - I agree, the two approaches are poles apart, and very distinct. Atheists seem to think that science can solve everything, while religious people can seem shy of science, which is, literally, an irrational stance.
What if we can have an atheist God, based on rationality? If we have that, then the two frameworks can merge, coexist, communicate, and thankfully, inform each other fruitfully for both sides.
The racially diverse co-worker had a much different approach. He was a much more mellow guy that just seemed generally content and happy with life. When we had conversations he would use more of a Socratic approach to the claims I was making about god etc.
I agree, I think the patient, longer-term approach of questioning and reflection is more effective. I've never seen anyone deconvert in response to the expression of anger alone. It sounds like your Socratic friend was/is a wise person.
Spot on again. And all of that is about channeling one's anger constructively, imo. Calling the book the "God Delusion", in my opinion, is an immature cheap shot and your suggestion for a title was great. Dawkins could have said the same thing with different words.
But let me defend the Dawkins crowd for a sec (yep, believe it). In Europe this kind of "shock" treatment gets headlines that espouse very different reactions when the proportion of adherents is different. I think Dawkins is a product of his culture. Sam Harris doesn't have much of an excuse, he's just playing the role of sycophant a#$ clown and does not appreciate the common foundation you mention, in my little heterodox opinion. I respect him and I don't mean that personally, its just the role he is, wittingly or not, playing.
Yup, and it is. The difficulty in deconversion is that beliefs of this nature are what social psychologists call "core beliefs", beliefs that are not amenable to change. Some argue they are, for the most part, inherited. So, a deconvert has to rebuild thier identity in such a way that is consistent with their core belief system or tendency. Very hard to do.
The "secret" to deconversion is getting someone to challenge their own core beliefs using the authority of their own core beliefs (creating internal inconsistency); hence the reason for asking an adherent to use their own god to confirm that this identification of the "trueness" of a god is arbitrary and probably false. There's no need to prove it or debate, just illustrate how it looks. The core belief will do the rest of the work.
I can enjoy so much more of life since the doors are now open in my mind. I have found that I really appreciate all human cultures more and really like discovering new music, people etc. now that I have no artificial walls stopping me from my core explorative human nature. :)
Well said. I can't imagine what it would be like to have my mind locked into a rigid set of constraints.
It's interesting to me that this idea of low hanging fruit is used in business, sales, missions, and any environment where persuasion is necessary for success. It is the low hanging fruit or rather those who can be persuaded. One has to be careful. I can argue both sides of an argument or present an idea like a wild card, but only one side is right....or is it? Hmmmm. That's the question to answer. What constitutes RIGHT? What constitutes TRUTH. I remember my "define truth" discussion and I said, "Truth conforms to reality..." didn't get a lot of responses to that, but I think there's a point to be made there that must not be missed. Especially when we are talking about persuasion. I can be persuaded to believe anything but I choose to embrace that which I know from every corner of my own soul to be truthful. Reality can play tricks on your mind, and while science is the foundation of truth to the Atheist, the condition of the heart is the foundation to the believer.
I think you've just hit on the whole point of deconversion and the methods used for it. No one can claim a monopoly on Truth and it is therefore pointless to try to "prove" or "debate" this. All you can do is illustrate and let the cards fall where they may. I think this is the point that was consistently being missed in my thread where I asked questions about The One, True God. It doesn't much matter that I can or cannot prove anything. The point is clarity. Those who are ready to look openly at these questions will likely conclude that a god probably does not exist, in my experience.
This same discussion is occurring over at Atheism Everywhere and can be read here. You can pick up the conversation where it left off by going there or, to start following it from the beginning, just click on the menu titled, "Conversation with a Deconverter".
Wow, kk..for me, this post really zeroes in on things. Since I have been undergoing a change in my core belief system, I am a 'deconvertee' and can expect that some degree of anger will result (just one of many emotions, I would think). However, If I attempt to become a 'deconvertor' during my own transformation well then anger should have no place in that attempt and I agree your method is the only sound method. Bravo to You.