Have you ever had someone say something to you and you came up with the perfect response to that person...a day later? It has happened to me seemingly thousands of times, whether in argument or being insulted or trying to flirt with a pretty girl, I always seem to find the scathing remark or witty retort that will achieve instant victory and secure my place as a silver tongued devil well after the fact.
I had such a moment when confronted by a theistic-leaning friend regarding my unbelief in God. Did I say a moment? I apologize. I meant to say several of these moment in rapid succession that left me angry and disappointed in myself. Not only did I not think of perfect responses to his questions, but I managed to make such a bad case of my position that I was actually embarrassed for myself.
My friend is a bit of a paradox; a God-fearing womanizer, a party animal son of a pastor, a righteous sinner. He has struggled to reconcile his lifestyle with his beliefs but he managed to hold to his beliefs if not live by them. I had been letting my atheist hair down of late and this must have caught his attention. We rarely talked of such important metaphysical matters to my recollection and I didn't expect to given is own dichotomy. He caught me by surprise by asking me why I didn't believe in God. Off guard, I feebly explained that it would be hard to explain. How do you condense a lifetime truth seeking into a pithy argument? I then abdicated my responsibilty of the matter by suggesting he read a book that I read that helped me come to many realizations (The God Delusion).
Unimpressed, he replied "Books can say a lot of things. It doesn't mean anything".
I sat in impotent silence for a moment before pleading my case. "There are a lot of good arguments in not just this book, but many others. You should read them."
He dismissed this with a wave of his hand. "Books can say anything, it doesn't make it true", he reiterated, dangling such juicy bait that I would be blind to until the next day.
"Well then," I said, looking for a new line of attack. "Look at all the evil in the Bible committed by God. Why would you want to believe in that?"
"What evil? Show me."
Crap. He called me out. I didn't really know the Bible all that well and hadn't bothered to write down any of the chapters and verses that contained these divinely ordered atrocities. I did not have full knowledge of good resources that could point me there in a timely fashion, either. I used Google to find an example, confidently exclaiming that I could find one in mere seconds, impishly implying that they were just that numerous. I found some website and followed it to the first evil verse listed. It was a bonus because Jesus was involved. It backfired miserably. I forget now which verse it was, but it seemed that this site quote mined at least on this verse which proffered as proof of the despicablness of the Bible. He read the passage and explained that Jesus was not saying what he said. "No, no, I explained. "The red letters are Jesus, right?" He nodded. "Well, then he said it!"
My friend patiently read the remainder of the passage which made it clear that Jesus was actually telling a story and therefore debunked my claim. Defeated and deflated I pretty much let it go after that. How had I lost this debate so miserably? Over the next few days it occupied my every other thought. I'd replay the conversation in my head, but would replace myself with a quicker thinking and more clever version of me. Books can say anything? You mean like the Bible? I'd think immediately followed by a vocal "Why didn't I say that?" And so it went as I replayed that conversation over and over, realizing what I should have said and loathing myself for what I did say.
I have since forgiven myself. It was the first time I had been asked to defend my atheism and I didn't quite know how to do it. At present I appreciate a more refined tactic in dealing with questions about my unbelief. I refuse to defend it. I see it as a trap to be forced to defend it and instead I attack their beleifs. But I don't attack with facts, figures, bible quotes, vitriol, arrogance, or science. I attack them by making them think about why they believe in a god. I ask them questions, polite and earnest as if I am truly curious to learn about their God. However my curiosity is piqued by how they rationalize away all the nagging questions that kept me from believing in religion all my life. And so I began to ask them these questions, innocently, and they eagerly explain the reasons they believe. What they don't know is that I am attacking their faith by forcing them to think about it. Maybe a day later they will think to themselves on why they didn't have better answers. And when they fail to have that tardy moment of realizing the perfect response, perhaps they will think on it even more.