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December 26, 2011

Challenging Beliefs and Respecting People

by juju2112

My atheist group meets Friday nights at a bar. We’re not exclusively atheist, though, since our goal is mostly socialization. We have some members who are spiritual and even claim a liberal Christian among us. The guy who’s a Christian we’ll call “Steve” for the purposes of this story.

One night, another member who does not know Steve walks up next to him, and the following conversation ensues:

“Man, I fucking hate Christians.”

Steve turns to guy and says, “Then you hate me.”

He responds, “Oh… ahh…sorry.” , then turns and starts talking to someone else.

Everyone in our groups laughs every time this story is told, mostly because we all embarrassmentrespect Steve and he knows it. This was an isolated event. I think we all feel a bit humiliated that we were represented this way, though. Along with the laughter, there is always a facepalm or two when this story is told. We, as a group, would like for no conversation between an atheist and a theist to ever transpire this way.

I think belief in God and the supernatural are dangerous ideas. As a former believer myself, though, I understand where people are coming from. They have fallen victim to biases inherent in the brain. Lacking knowledge is not their fault, and I don’t judge them for it.

Many people think if you attack their beliefs, then you are attacking them as a person. They will accuse you of calling them stupid when all you said is that they were wrong. Obviously, this is a defense mechanism to keep deeply-held beliefs from being challenged.

If you actually did call them stupid, though, it undermines your entire argument. Not logically, but emotionally. People respond well to being treated with respect. If we want to make people comfortable with having their beliefs challenged, we need to be very careful to avoid ad-hominem attacks. Mutual respect is the only way to convince people that it’s okay to have their beliefs challenged.

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