How introducing 'doubt' might be a better strategy for Atheism than any billboard that says there is no god.

After looking back on my own deconversion from Christianity, I've realized that if someone approached me during the days that I still believed in the Christian faith and told me that there was no god, I would have balked at them and politely told them to go to hell. Now that I'm a devout Atheist, I often asked myself how did I go from being a Southern Baptist Christian to a rational, scientifically-minded Atheist.

It wasn't a billboard that converted me. It definitely wasn't a bunch of Atheists knocking at my door every Sunday morning to preach "The Good News" of Science and Reason. In fact, I can trace my deconversion down to one and only one thing: a glimmer of doubt.

Now, for most Atheists, this isn't groundbreaking or shocking news at all. I think we've all had our moments where we realized that something wasn't right about the religions that we used to believe in our younger years. The problems only start to appear when we try to "deconvert" theists head on by directly telling them that everything they believe in is a lie, regardless of whether or not what we're actually telling them is 100% true (and it is indeed true, and backed by science). You can't tell someone that all their beliefs are lies without expecting some sort of backlash. You can't tell a theist that their invisible sky monkey is a fabrication written by a bunch of 5000-year old desert nomads and expect to get a decent deconversion rate--it's just not going to happen.

In my opinion, the only reasonable way to "deconvert" someone is to start making them question various beliefs in their faith. For example, I asked one of my Catholic friends who visited me over the weekend about going to Catholic Mass every Sunday. I asked her if she were to commit a crime and confess it to a priest, would it be considered ethical? Why would any institution ever tell you that as long as you confessed the evils that you have done (no matter how terrible the act) every Sunday, you would be forgiven and then you can do the same thing again the next week, and be forgiven again? What if I were a mass murderer? Does that mean I get to kill a fresh batch of people every week and be forgiven again and again every Sunday? What about all the people that I supposedly killed as a mass murderer? Would it be fair for them if I got to go to 'heaven' just because I confessed the Sunday right after I killed them? Needless to say, I didn't make an instant "deconvert" out of her--but what I will say is that sometimes it only takes a little bit of doubt to get others to seek the truth for themselves. In her case, that little bit of doubt that I introduced was enough for her to question everything else about her faith.

Of course, this approach doesn't work with everyone--there are some people who are just way too religious to accept any form of (il)logical reasoning outside of their respective religions. What this approach does show is that the best way to get people to rethink their perspective about whatever religion they believe in is to have them question their beliefs from a very rational, non-judgmental perspective. The worst way to convince people that you're correct is to get into an argument and then rub it in their faces about how wrong they are. I can't quite put my finger on it, but there's something missing about the current crop of anti-theists and the whole "Atheist" billboard campaign. Telling them that there isn't a god isn't enough; there has to be some sort of message that shows them that they really never needed a god in the first place.

TL;DR; Charm is a far effective means for deconverting theists into Atheists; Telling them they're wrong just makes you look like an asshole.

Views: 45

Comment by Jon Heim on December 3, 2010 at 3:45am
well, i think the billboards are more about drawing attention for closeted atheists, because if you are a christian, and we are trying to make you realize the truth, a simple statement like that isn't going to do a thing.
Comment by Martha Everett on December 3, 2010 at 6:05am
I couldn't agree more. I was recently enlightened by watching a set of videos by LovingDoubt on YouTube who used to attend a Pentecostal church. Coming from a rather wishy-washy 'spiritual' background myself I was surprised to learn that her deconversion started with realising that the bible doesn't actually command women not to wear trousers as her church preached. Also, realising that she couldn't necessarily tell the difference between a message from God, a message from the Devil & her own mind.

I know of very few Atheists who had a blinding flash of inspiration, & anyway being an Atheist is about entering a state of mind of questioning, not blindly placing your faith in another set of beliefs.
Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on December 3, 2010 at 7:22am
Comment by Martha Everett on December 3, 2010 at 7:32am
I think it's also important to remember that you can come to Atheism by trying to disprove these doubts as well as by going against your faith. Anything that starts a search for truth has got to be a good thing.
Comment by ian on December 3, 2010 at 10:19am
Yep, this is how I first realized... when I found out that there were secret requirements that weren't clearly documented anywhere in the written scripture, that's when I called bullshit and wondered why they saw fit to drag me through all of the requirements of the church for 17 years. I felt deceived and it was a slow re-invention of myself to reach of point of actually feeling free & empowered by my post-theistic outlook. I've taken to post-theistic thought which never really states there is no god, because it acknowledges that agnostic component of recognizing we're dealing with unknowables, and simply states the fact that religious ideals conflict with good evolutionary morality. This is the point I use for discussion with any theist that wants to engage me. I think it's effective at creating that doubt they would need to deconstruct the pattern of fallacies and circular thinking that religion requires.
Comment by justin gold on December 3, 2010 at 1:10pm
I myself just think i'm a normal rational human being,we shouldn't have to doubt people into not believing.I really think atheists though i'm not fond of the word are just people who are ahead of our times but we shouldn't be if you know what i mean,in this day and age believing in any supernatural god is a delusion and shame on you if you do.if i had a time machine the first thing i'd want to know is how long did it take before all the main religions died out on this planet,and i really do think there will be an answer to that question,religion will die out its just a matter of when not if.


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