So, tonight during dinner, I was sitting with three of my friends, two of them theists and one of them "spiritual". Needless to say, I was a little bit of a black-sheep at the table, being the only atheist. I don't usually discuss religion with the theists at my school: I go to a liberal Lutheran school, so it's common for the majority to assume their worldview is correct by default, but they're rather harmless, not censuring anybody or expecting them to agree with them with threat of punishment. Because of this I don't usually like to rock the boat. They have their beliefs, however naive, and I have mine, and we get along well.
Tonight, however, the topic of religion came up between me and Allison (Not her real name, but I feel confidentiality is important.) I don't remember exactly how it started, but she pointed out that she didn't really know what I thought about religion. I asked her if she really wanted to hear my views on religion. "I'm a minority and I know a lot of people don't want to hear what I have to say. I'd understand." She wanted to hear. I told her that I was an atheist and that I don't tend to accept supernatural claims. She told me that that was sad. I was a little bit put off at that point. "How is it sad?"
"I don't know. It's just sad. It would be really sad to not think there was a God." I told her I didn't understand, and was met with more repetition of the same words. This started a rather heated debate around the entire table where I scarcely got a word in because I only made up a fourth of the group. Most of the debate centered around the concept of evidence and what counted as evidence. At one point, though, Allison let her voice raise above the group and asserted that belief and evidence didn't have anything to do with each other. I was shocked and appalled. What can that even mean? Assuming that evidence is defined as something which suggests that one premise or another is true, what does it mean to believe without evidence? Can that really be called belief?
So, I said to her, "That's one of the most terrifying things I've ever heard."
After this, I debated with other members of the table for a while, but it was becoming obvious that Allison was actually quite upset. I hadn't meant to hurt her feelings, but her feelings were hurt nonetheless. She began to cry right there in front of us, and I felt like a fool. I didn't even really understand what had her so hurt at first. I was used to debating politics or other such things in this manner, and had never provoked a response before.
But it's an unfortunate fact that religion is one of the things that people base their lives around and an assault on such beliefs is taken by a religious person to be an assault on their being.
I apologized for anything I might have said that could have hurt her so badly, and, in defense of myself I pointed out to her that she had told me she wanted to hear about my views.
She said that her faith was one of the only things that got her through a lot of her harder days, which are fairly frequent now with the economic problems she's been having, and because recently a friend of ours committed suicide.
I feel abysmal. I hurt one of my good friends today without even realizing my words would have an effect. I hate that simply expressing my views on a topic to a friend can mortally wound them. They have countless outlets to express their faith to, but when I try to express my own irreligion, people get hurt. If this were some other facet of myself, like my personality, which were hurting people, I'd work hard to change. But I can't change what the evidence points to. There probably isn't a God, and no matter how hard an expression of this hurts my friends, I can't expunge myself of this conviction. It bothers me to not be able to discuss such an important part of my life with my good friends without causing a scene.
So, I have two questions. One: How do I deal with this situation? Do I apologize for the gusto of my assertions? Do I apologize for the effect my arguments had? I can't apologize for having the views or for expressing them - there's definitely nothing wrong with that - but maybe I was too tough on her. I definitely don't want to hurt our friendship.
Two: Have any of you had similar problems? How did you deal with them? What should we do in the long-run to make it so that people are more open to secular ideas?
You are correct in saying that religious people base their entire existence around a belief in God, and when it is attacked, they get defensive and hurt. Imagine how you would feel if someone told you that everything you ever believed to be true was undeniably false. It's a devastating feeling. I feel that this is why theists refuse to see scientific evidence. Their denial of proof is simply a defense mechanism to protect their self image and life foundation.
How I handle it is this: Tell them that you understand that their faith is important to them, but remind them that they can still have faith without investing it in God. Have faith in things and people that actually exist. You're going to hurt them regardless, but remind them that even though you may have different beliefs and invest your faith in something different than they do, you both still have faith in something. That's the important thing.
Your words aren't what hurt her - she was hurt by her own inability to deal with reality. The longer she clings to her fantasy world, the more she cripples herself.
I almost never bring up the fact that I'm an atheist, but I never deny it. If someone asks, I just say I'm atheist and leave it at that. If they need to know more, I answer their questions. If they start telling me about their religion, I tell them they need a psychiatrist.
... although I'm typically a little to nice to suggest that they need a psychiatrist.
Jordan, you have nothing to apologize for. Stick to your guns and remain calm in these situations. Try not let the conversation become emotional. That is best done by saying little. Let them rant; don't let it touch you emotionally. (I know that is hard.) Throw in a few basic observations about the absurdity of having invisible friends or believing that magic is a valid theory of cosmology (not in those words, of course) when the opportunity presents itself. Otherwise, try to change the subject and let it die out by itself if that doesn't work. Always be ready to simply get up and leave should the theists become insulting. The more you let them get away with that sort of thing, the worse they become.
To be perfectly honest, I can't stand people who become emotionally hurt over having their opinions challenged. If your friend is not mature or intelligent enough to have an adult conversation, then there is nothing you can do - you have done nothing wrong in merely stating your opinion.
Of course, if you resorted to ad hom or were factually wrong you should apologize for that, but never for having a different point of view.
The belief is rooted in facts, but how concrete the facts are is what sets everything apart. The bible, quaran, geeta all are old and cannot be proven or rejected cause they were written in time when proof was what one saw or read.
If some people believe on the old ways, like a cultural identity that they hold dear, like a memory of where their thoughts come from, then it should not be contested too much. You should let their beliefs be as they are.
Example: Most of my class mates think I am gay. They believe irrefutably in that. I have told them countless times I am not yet they think I am lying. If I get married and have children tomorrow, still they will keep believing that I will leave my wife immediately for a guy. I cannot change their minds cause they are certain of the things they saw happened and have already made their judgments. The side has already been taken and even if the end comes they will side against me.
Just like in the example, for better or for worse, your friend has taken her side. Until she decides to misuse this side and do something radical in the name of religion you should just sugar coat your words to suit her needs.
Why? She's the one that started the whole thing. If she doesn't want to hear opinions that contradict her beliefs then she shouldn't ask people for their opinions. She had no problem asserting her own opinion about Jordan's atheism (she thinks its sad), so why shouldn't he do the same? Nothing is above criticism, not even religion. Coddling the religious doesn't do anyone any good. I'm not saying that we should be forceful or confrontational when asserting our opinions, but we definately should never have to censor ourselves.
And I'm sorry about your situation. Its never fun when people believe false things about you. Once people believe something, it can be very difficult to make them unbelieve it. But thats exactly why its important not to just "let their beliefs be as they are". When someone believes something that isn't true, like in your situation, or when the logic they use is flawed, why should we not do our best to point this out to them? No one has the right to not have their beliefs criticized.
I would just apologize for any harsh things you said, and say that I didn't intend to hurt her.
I avoid religious discussions with my friends. If the topic comes up, I demand we change the subject because they tend to turn into such heated debates. However, one of my friends refused to change the subject because "she was so worried for my soul." I ended up having to end the conversation, and walk away.
Here's someone who's got a whole planet of humans around her and not one of them is as important than her imaginary friend in the sky. She can be worried for your soul as long as you can also be deeply worried about the state of her mental health.