Is it possible to have a civil discussion of ideas with believers?

“I'll tell you what you did with Atheists for about 1500 years. You outlawed them from the universities or any teaching careers, besmirched their reputations, banned or burned their books or their writings of any kind, drove them into exile, humiliated them, seized their properties, arrested them for blasphemy. You dehumanised them with beatings and exquisite torture, gouged out their eyes, slit their tongues, stretched, crushed, or broke their limbs, tore off their breasts if they were women, crushed their scrotums if they were men, imprisoned them, stabbed them, disembowelled them, hanged them, burnt them alive.

And you have nerve enough to complain to me that I laugh at you.”
― Madalyn Murray O'Hair

“Many religions now come before us with ingratiating smirks and outspread hands, like an unctuous merchant in a bazaar. They offer consolation and solidarity and uplift, competing as they do in a marketplace. But we have a right to remember how barbarically they behaved when they were strong and were making an offer that people could not refuse.”
― Christopher Hitchens

Now if we point out that an idea makes no sense, we are accused of attacking the person by attacking their most cherished beliefs. They can wear their crosses and put those little fish on their cars and express their beliefs in myriad other ways. But when we express our views, we have to tip-toe or they are offended.

I have been told that when I express my beliefs, it is apparent that I think xians are stupid for their beliefs. I don't. I do think they have been indoctrinated with a belief system, and that they have been taught to fear asking questions and to fear those who ask questions. I think that because of those fears they often choose willful ignorance over obvious logical conclusions.

No doubt I harbor quite a bit of anger and resentment about the open and accepted systematic and systemic discrimination against atheists in this country, about being reviled by people who don't even know what the word "atheist" means, and about the fact that I believe my job and livelihood, professional credibility, family relationships, etc. would be in jeopardy if I decided to openly discuss my beliefs.

Feeling the way I do, and reacting the way they do, is it possible to have a civil discussion about those ideas?

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I have had many civilized discussions with believers. The key is to try not to insult them right off the bat. No matter what the subject, if you start a conversation by insulting or belittling someone, you are likely to be insulted in return.

I try to choose carefully the people with whom I engage in religious discussions. Very few of my family or friends are even aware of my atheism. Quite frankly, my atheism is no important to my life than my non-belief in unicorns or leprechauns. I only engage in religious discussions with people that choose to start those discussions with me. It's not because I am afraid to defend my position. The reason is, no matter how convincing my argument, the chances of me changing any believers mind are just as slim as  their chances of turning me into believer again.

The idea of having a debate or chat about the religious matters with a believer in these matters is a waste of time.

Belief is a fundamental construct of how an individual makes sense of the world. To be raised amid institutional religious surroundings (most of us) is to be raised in abuse. All abused have cognitive 'soft spots.'

Certain thoughts actively trigger the amygdala's defense mechanisms. Specifically, 'What if I go to Hell? What if Grandma is not in Heaven?' If you are debating a religious individual, these decades old defense mechanisms are predictably well developed and contain manifold layers of redundancies.

To challenge religious beliefs invokes irrational fears installed at childhood. Most 'believers' are too old to change and will most likely cultivate these irrational fears in themselves and their familiars as situations and conversations demand. 


@ Unseen

Civility (literally) means polite, reasonable and respectful behavior. If that's true, then civility is lost the instant the Christian enters the debate: his position as a theist and a Christian is unreasonable.

Good point!


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