Monday, 4 March 2013

Letters to the faithful: Some Etiquette

I’m afraid it has become necessary to compose a simple guide for Christians wanting to undertake dialogue with atheists.  This has been spurred by the social lapses I’ve encountered recently.
1. Don’t pretend you want dialogue when you want to preach instead.  Dialogue does not mean you get to preach at me without responding to my objections to your claims.  Dialogue does not mean witnessing to me. Dialogue actually requires a two way system of open communication.

2. Don’t finish a conversation by saying ‘God bless’ or the like. It doesn’t make you a good person. It really means that you have so little respect for your opponent’s values that you are still willing to dump your religious values on them. Unsolicited and undesired impositions of your values are just rude.

3. Don’t assume atheists are angry. It is easy to attribute emotional content to web-exchanges that has no real basis in fact. This becomes aggravating because then the exchange breaks down. I’ll make some objection and you dismiss that because you think I’m just being angry. If you can’t honestly deal with objections, why pretend you’re indulging in dialogue?  It seems to be a common religious fiction that atheists are inherently angry people. That’s not true. The cause is more likely to be closer to home. You’re wasting time on this nonsense I’m angry- which eventually is going to piss me off.

4. Don’t employ the superiority gambit. There is few things more aggravating than assuring me I don’t know true happiness or love because I don’t share your religious beliefs. That is deeply patronising and likely to offend. Expect your claim to be treated with contempt.

5. Don’t threaten me with hell. If I threatened to arrange your torture if you didn’t agree with me, you’d neither think highly of me nor find this a persuasive argument. It works the other way too. I’m not going to suddenly believe god exists because you have this unproven claim I’ll be tortured if I don’t. It just makes you appear to be a coward (motivated by fear) and a bully.  You know, neither of those are laudable traits.

6. Don’t play the apologist-website dodge. Let’s face it. My time is limited. If you can only respond to my objections by recommending I visit some apologist website, you’re wasting my time. Give a proper answer a go. I’ll think more highly of you. Sending me to a website that generates palpable falsehoods about evolution (hey, I can tell) or merely objections religious people imagine atheists have, don’t deal with my objections. Atheists don’t follow the same script so the scripted answers on apologist websites are pretty pointless.

7. Passages from the bible aren’t answers. You know the bit in bible class when they say the word of god has power. They lied.

8. Don’t play the martyr card. Look, you might be a nice person. But being a Xtian isn’t to an atheist, a synonym for being a nice or trustworthy person. And if you don’t want me telling you honestly what parts of your religion I find abhorrent or ludicrous, then why are you talking to me? Christians often seem very keen to play the matryr card (I’m persecuting you) to end a dialogue rather than grapple with issues like human suffering. You have to remember, atheists aren’t going to have all these patsy-questions you can research by looking up a website. They’re going to have really tricky ones. And I’m not going to bother with a charade that we’re destined to best buddies.

9. Don’t lecture me on what I must believe. Asking your pastor for what atheists believe is like asking a cat how birds fly. I’ve identified as an atheist for decades. I don’t need anyone telling me what I must or must not believe in. I’m the atheist right? I think I’ve got a good handle on that already. If I correct you on what atheism is, why would you disagree with me? If I said Xtians have to believe the earth is the centre of the solar system and that witchcraft is not only real, anyone suspected of being a witch should be killed, I imagine you might object to that definition. It’s the same thing for atheists. Don’t make up stuff about what we believe. Just accept the corrections and move on.


  1. Great post! Loved it so much I had to reblog this, I wish more of the theists we debate with would take a look at this.

  2. No problem, I'm glad you found it useful

  3. This one's my least favorite: "Oh, you're just mad at God". How the heck can I be mad at something I don't believe in? Are you angry at Santa Claus?

  4. This is really good advice that I can steer theists towards when they are getting annoying. I guess there are more you could add but these are the most common. Thanks for the link.