Eric_PK

My experience is that the average atheist has spent far more time thinking about their religous beliefs than the average theist, so you are facing an uphill battle. Most people really don’t know why they believe, so they will give you reasons that they’ve heard.

Also remember that you use reason to change an opinion that somebody didn’t use reason to get into.

Posted: May 23rd 2008

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SmartLX www

Often with great difficulty.

The usual reason they don’t understand is that they’ve never questioned the family religion themselves, at least not to the extent you have. This means that some really poor arguments have a lot of power over them.

Take the classic threat (the basis for Pascal’s Wager, but even simpler) that those who don’t believe in God go to Hell. If one doesn’t believe in gods, one doesn’t believe there’s a Hell either and there’s nothing to fear. It can nevertheless be extremely difficult to coax some believers to put themselves in that position.

It can be most difficult with your parents or other primary caregivers. They may see your loss of faith as a failure on their part in your upbringing, and restoring your faith as a personal duty. They likely can’t use certain methods of coercion their caregivers used on them like simply dragging them to church, or realise it won’t help. They might feel they’re at a loss.

Despite the apparent hopelessness of doing so, the best start is to explain your position, in words, as simply as possible. Even if they don’t grasp a word of it, their reaction will show you how to proceed.

If they are entirely nonplussed, then you need to use simpler terms or perhaps you’re overlooking an assumption they’ve made (e.g. that you’re trying to deconvert them too).

If they respond with completely misguided accusations, like that you hate God or you’re going to become a communist, then you know they have a warped idea of what atheism really is and your immediate task is to set them straight on this simple point.

If they give you external propaganda, say a Chick tract or the story of a miracle, address it directly and explain why you do not accept it. Make it clear that you are not rejecting it only for emotional reasons.

If they clearly don’t want to listen to you and will not even consider your perspective, let them know gently but firmly that you have genuine reasons not to believe, and nothing will change if they are not addressed. If they’re stonewalling, you have no choice but to respond in kind.

They’re your family and you know best how to broach a difficult subject with them. Just start somewhere, listen carefully and maintain manners and respect. Whatever you do, don’t fall into any cliches of the “militant”, “arrogant”, “dogmatic” or “angry” atheist. Those are some images we can do without.

Posted: May 22nd 2008

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