How to convert an atheist


First the bad news. No one can convert an atheist unless that atheist is poorly schooled in atheism. Otherwise, converting him—to Christianity, for example—would require not just changing his mind about one belief (God=Christ, Jehovah, and the Holy Ghost) but about the scores of assumptions that underlie that one belief. Believers are generally unaware of these assumptions. I know a Christian blogger who claimed to have converted three atheists, yet she confessed that she had never known an atheist who wasn’t thoroughly arrogant and overwhelmingly obnoxiousme more than most. If you think all atheists are alike, please allow me to disabuse you of that notion.

I’ll tell you frankly that atheists tend to be smart, educated, liberal, and mistrustful of authority. After that, they are very different from one another. I don’t even like most of them, but then I don’t like most people. Some atheists don’t view atheism as important in their lives. These tend to be the ones who grew up in households that were either atheistic or nonreligious. For those like myself who took religion seriously or suffered from the oppression that comes with living among religious people, atheism tends to be extremely important. I think about it everyday, and it influences my thoughts in more ways than you can imagine. I would even say that atheism is as important to me as religion is to a devout Christian.

Far from being simply a negation of other people’s beliefs, it is the backbone of my worldview because it makes it necessary for me to create meaning in my life. By contrast, believers have meaning handed to them on a platter, although how most of them behave is so much at odds with what they claim to believe are the two great greatest commandments (Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor—including your enemy—as yourself) that their bad behavior would be facetious if it didn’t cause so much pain. For example, all of America’s recent presidents have been Christians but with the exception of Jimmy Carter, this has never stopped them from slaughtering people by the thousands.

I hold atheism to be a very personal and precious aspect of my life, and I embrace it without regard for anything or anyone other than my desire to know and speak the truth. If I am wrong, then I am wrong, and any God worth is his salt will give me credit for having done the best I could. On the other hand, if many of you are right in holding that everlasting hell awaits me at the hands of a vengeful deity ("…the Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you…”), then I would ask you if you can in good conscience really and truly worship a being that would send an honest man to hell. If you say yes, then I would respond that any God who performs acts that are considered despicable when done by a human being* is better suited to play the demon in The Exorcist than to be worshipped as the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, and I am glad not to have made his acquaintance.

I am sometimes asked why I write about atheism and religion so much. It’s because they’re important to me, and because decades of study and reflection have made me qualified to express an opinion. Atheism lies beneath many of my thoughts in many areas, and religion represents to me a very great evil—possibly the greatest—and I want to warn you about it even if you hate me for it. My question to you would be, given that you think so highly of your God, why don’t you write about religion more? Could it be that, although you think God should be important in your life, he really isn’t?

Now for the good news about converting atheists.... Sad to say, but I lied and led you on just as you might have expected a dirty little atheist** to do. You see, there is no good news about converting atheists. All of your arguments are as old as Methuselah and have already been considered and rejected. The only thing you can do for an atheist is to help him fight the oppression of those who claim to worship the same God you do. Do this one thing for me if for no other reason than that, if religious fanatics come for me today, they will come for you tomorrow if they decide that you too are an enemy of their private deity. Atheists are simply at the head of the line of people who—for the good of society—must be re-educated, locked-up, or eliminated.


*http://www.nobeliefs.com/DarkBible/DarkBibleContents.htm

**Teddy Roosevelt, an American president, referred to Thomas Paine (who is pictured at the top of this post), a guiding philosopher of the American Revolution, as "that dirty little atheist." Roosevelt's view was that all of the good a nonbeliever does is meaningless. A recent president, George H. Bush denied that atheists are citizens, or that atheists who distinguish themselves for valor in combat are patriots. Consistent with such hatred, some American states have laws preventing atheists from holding office or even testifying in court. Believers often claim that religion is a private matter, but this is not the case if you're an atheist in America because you are hated and discriminated against everyday of your life.

35 comments:

Putz said...

i think i will remain a stupid christian><<><>i will not hate you though snow, i will love you because you are very lovable<><>if i didn't have my own prophet to listen to i would follow nobody

Snowbrush said...

Hey, Putz, old buddy, so good to have you drop by. I'm not saying that Christians are stupid, and I'm not saying that all Christians are alike. When I write about Christianity, I am nearly always writing about what I perceive to be the dominant face of Christianity in America. It is fundamentalist, evangelical and noted for its intolerance, not just of nonbelievers, but of anyone who doesn't agree with its narrow view of what a Christian should believe.

I am so glad you love me. It's really good for me to connect with people who disagree with my views, but who still want to be friends because I too want to be friends with all manner of people. Goodness isn't determined by belief or nonbelief.

OneOldGoat said...

I respect you for your staunch belief in what you believe (or don't believe). I'd give anything to have a firm belief in anything rather than floundering in a state of knowing that I want to, but can't. Make sense? Thank you for making me think.

Old Goat

Snowbrush said...

" I'd give anything to have a firm belief in anything rather than floundering in a state of knowing that I want to, but can't. Make sense? "

I understand completely. I would love to believe in a caring deity, but I don't grieve about it to the extent that I once did. For some reason, all that seems to be dropping away from me. Remember that belief doesn't create reality. Our job is to make our beliefs congruent with reality, and then to go on and have the best life we can.

All Consuming said...

"I’ll tell you frankly that atheists tend to be smart, educated, liberal, and mistrustful of authority. After that, they are very different from one another. I don’t even like most of them, but then I don’t like most people" As usual, I sound boring here, but I agree with you entirely. I was brought up in a moderately strict Catholic household,and loathe the amount of guilt that was heaped upon us as children from 'men of god'. I don't think about being free of that every day, but I do see the long term effects upon others, now they are grown adults. Excellent post. Thank you. x

lotta joy said...

Like you, I took my religion SERIOUSLY. Much more seriously than the other christians standing around me. I prayed unceasingly, read, studied, witnessed to others and brought several to Christ.

But it was WORK. I didn't, and couldn't, come by it naturally. While others accepted without question (and questions are only answered with bible quotes and no proof to back it up), I asked, but only got lip service and MORE questions began piling up.

It then became obvious to me that in 3,000 years, if those questions still remain and science hasn't come up with anything to substantiate ANY of the superstitions we are told to accept on faith....then why keep asking.

After having an extra hour a day to myself, I then had to allow time to pass before my knee-jerk superstitious habits faded away.

Years have passed and I am still the one people come to for comfort and help in their time of need. Yet I've never expected, or asked, for their assistance in return.

I'm not being spiritual in the aid I give others. Yet others assume I MUST be a very spiritual person to be so giving.

I'm just being ME.

And if they knew I was an athiest, all my good works would be considered tainted, less than nothing, and probably the work of the devil.

Snowbrush said...

"I sound boring here, but I agree with you entirely."

The sweet sound of agreement is never boring, darling.

"While others accepted without question (and questions are only answered with bible quotes and no proof to back it up)"

Using the book I had studied but didn't believe to prove the book I had studied but didn't believe never worked with me either.

"And if they knew I was an athiest, all my good works would be considered tainted, less than nothing, and probably the work of the devil."

You could wear one of those t-shirts that say, "The is what an atheist looks like" (the FFRF sells them). If the people you're helping know you're an atheist, it could make a difference in how they view atheists, if not today, then tomorrow.

Kerry said...

This may be the most concise thing you have written about atheism. Also, the most approachable, and the most human. I really like this post. Thanks for putting your deep study, your thoughts, into words.

middle child said...

I am not religious. I am not spiritual. I am a Christian. As such, I am to love all people. Any "conversion" would come only from those who notice my peace and joy. I know Snow. I am still working on being a good witness despite all my complaining.
Atheists often seem to be people that are angry at God for one reason or another. If not fearful...then why all the commotion?

kylie said...

hi there snowy,

i long ago realised that the religion argument just doesnt work. people choose to believe something they dont understand or they choose not to and arguing only reinforces a view, whether the subject under discussion be politics, religion or what have you.

as a believing Christian i used to write about faith on my blog but it gets some folks annoyed and i'm way too much of a people pleaser for my own good. so i stopped writing about faith except maybe at Christmas and Easter.

i am deeply sorry that a large number of Christians are blind to the oppression that comes in the name of Christ. my boys tell me i dont really fit in the church and while i love the church i take it as a high compliment that i dont embody all the bigotry and nonsense that is usually involved.

i think that Jesus modeled a very different mindset to what we commonly see in religious people.

Snowbrush said...

"Atheists often seem to be people that are angry at God for one reason or another. If not fearful...then why all the commotion?"

If I say I don't believe in God, and you respond that I seem angry at God, then I can only assume that you're not paying attention to my words, or that you think I'm lying. I am indeed angry at the hatred and oppression that religion inflicts upon the world, hence my "commotion." As for being spiritual but not religious, the main difference I can see in it is that people who admit that they're religious usually go the church and hold a fair number of specific ideas about who God is and what he expects, whereas people who claim to be spiritual only, are less likely to go to church, hold fewer specific ideas, and make an effort to avoid articulating the ones they do hold. Such differences are of little importance to atheists who tend to see the "I'm spiritual but not religious" approach as just one more example (out of thousands) of some theists believing that their way of worshipping God is superior to everyone else's way of worshipping God, this due to the fact that they themselves are more spiritual, sensitive, enlightened, and so forth. The only good I see in their approach is that they are too vague and poorly organized to do as much harm as the more dogmatic believers.

"arguing only reinforces a view"

The people who can be reached are the people who are examining the issue in their own minds. In America, people who grow up in the church, especially in the more religious parts of the country, can literally grow old and die and never hear an argument in opposition to the teachings of their own church. I hold that the articulate and informed expression of dissent can indeed reach those who are open to being reached.

Snowbrush said...

Oops, as I sometimes do, I didn't go far enough up the page, so I missed a comment.

"This may be the most concise thing you have written about atheism. Also, the most approachable, and the most human. I really like this post."

Thank you, Kerry. It was also one of the least edited and the quickest posted. I'm making an effort to talk less about religion and more about my response to religion, that is my atheism.

ellen abbott said...

I am probably one of those 'spiritual' people but I have no desire to convince anyone of anything that I might believe in to be the source. the fact is, it is impossible for incarnate humans to know anything about what's beyond the veil. and by that I mean death or pre-birth for that matter. I rejected the judeo/christian/muslim concept of the big daddy in the sky, the loving vengeful burn in hell if you don't worship me dude, starting at about the age of 12. I abhor religion, think it's the worst thing to happen to people in our 50,000 years of modern existence. I am appalled by the efforts of some Americans to turn this country into more of a theocracy than it already is. And like you, I am not angry at a god I don't believe in. I am angry at all those religious people who want to force their superstitions down my throat and make them the guiding principals of my life. If ever I am in a position that I have to swear to be truthful on a book of myths, I'll be in big trouble. I might just as well choose a copy of The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales.

Charles Gramlich said...

During the time I considered myself an atheist, late 20s, early 30s, I found it mostly a relief simply to have nothing do with religion and give it almost no thought. I thought about it mostly when others, generally believers, brought it up, but never introduced the concept into a conversation. Religion at that point became completely unimportant to me. In fact, when I began to hear more about famous atheists in the last ten years or so, like Dawkins, I was rather astounded that an atheist would actually chose to talk about religion first. I'm actually still rather befuddled by that. I guess, I'm saying that, in differentiation from you, it never became in any way an important aspect of who I thought I was or how I lived my life. I'm rather fascinated that you find it to be so, though. Thought provoking post.

Snowbrush said...

"I am probably one of those 'spiritual' people...it is impossible for incarnate humans to know anything about what's beyond the veil."

I'm having trouble putting the two together. If you think it's impossible to know "what's beyond the veil," how do you know that spirits exist?

"I have no desire to convince anyone of anything that I might believe in to be the source."

People in both the "religious" and the "spiritual" camps are all over the board about this, yet they both, in general, believe that atheists lack sensitivity and perceptiveness and that faith is necessary for morality. All of this is hard to talk about because it is necessary to resort to generalizations in order to say anything at all, yet doing so suggests that the speaker is ignorant of minority viewpoints.

Snowbrush said...

"I was rather astounded that an atheist would actually chose to talk about religion first. I'm actually still rather befuddled by that."

Are you saying that you are unaware that religious oppression exists in America? If you're not, then by what logic do you suggest that only religious people have an understandable interest in initiating conversations about religion? You live in Louisiana. What do you think your life would have been like down there had your former atheism became public knowledge when a judge denied you custody of your children because, under questioning, you admitted that you didn't believe in God? Or what if your name had appeared in the newspaper because you pointed out that opening school board meetings, city council meetings, board of supervisors' meetings, and so on with Christian-specific prayers violated the Constitution? Or what if you had run for public office and was considered an easy winner until a voter asked you about your religion, and you had to admit that you had none? Or what if you were denied a job promotion because someone told your employer about your atheism. Would you still maintain that only believers have a vested interest in talking about religion?

ellen abbott said...

'People in both the "religious" and the "spiritual" camps are all over the board about this, yet they both, in general, believe that atheists lack sensitivity and perceptiveness and that faith is necessary for morality. '

Well, not me and not any of the non-religious but not athiest people that I know. I don't think morality came from any kind of god or spirit but is innate in human beings whether we choose to accept it or not. I don't need some god or spirit to tell me that murder is wrong, that lying is bad or any of the other 'morals' the religious subscribe to 'god'. and that goes for sensitivity and perceptiveness too. these are human traits and would exist even if no one ever thought up the concept of god or religion.

'I'm having trouble putting the two together. If you think it's impossible to know "what's beyond the veil," how do you know that spirits exist?'

I'm not even going to try and explain this to you because I'm not trying to convince you of anything. and it would take pages and pages and pages of writing about how I have come to believe what I believe over a course of decades. suffice to say that it is a result of reading a lot of material from many different viewpoints and sources, conversations with people about their subjective experiences, intuition, and my own experiencial 'evidence'; and my sister sees ghosts and no she isn't in a mental ward nor is she delusional.

I certainly don't claim to have any hard and fast answers but I have a concept that I am comfortable with and it is about as far opposed to concrete gods and organized religion as it could possibly be. the veil thins sometimes, sometimes we have abilities of perception that our culture, which is immersed in the rational concrete mind, denies and denigrates. if someone denies an ability, then they will never use it and when others do, they will deny that person's experience and knowledge. OK, I get that and there is no way to make someone accept something that they do not believe is real unless they experience it themselves but the active disbelief prevents them from accepting (or perhaps even noticing) the experience. The mind is a very powerful thing.

Granted, when I die I may discover that I am as far from the 'truth' as the most religious father vengeful lake of fire believer out there. And I'm OK with that. regardless of what I believe comes after, I try to live my life as the best person I can be because this is all I know for sure...that love is better than hate, that peace is better than war, that forgiveness is better than grudge holding, that compassion is better than cold heartedness, that generosity is better than stinginess, that we are all human. and I don't need no stinking made up god figure to know that. and if god believers weren't so insistent on making everyone believe and act as they do even to the point of legislating their beliefs, I wouldn't give them or religion another thought. as it is, I stand with you to fight them in the public sphere.

Snowbrush said...

"I'm not even going to try and explain this to you because I'm not trying to convince you of anything."

Ellen, I accept that only a minority of my readers on the subjects of God and religion will ever be swayed by anything that I might say. So, if anyone should ever imagine that I'M hellbent on changing THEIR minds, they can forget it. What I am hellbent on is expressing my feelings and beliefs as accurately, completely, compassionately, and constructively as I know how, to anyone who will listen, and I would say that this constitutes a pretty big job. That aside, if none of you thought I had anything worth saying about God and religion, I would say it anyway because I think it's worth saying. This is what I have in common with idealistic missionaries who go to the far ends of the earth to preach the gospel. The act itself is of merit. Luckily, any good that I can do, I can do best by writing, so this saves me the risk and expense of traveling to northern Greenland or eastern Afghanistan.

I know that few people are up to a steady diet of religion, but I don't plan my subjects, they just come to me. Sometimes, I don't even want to write about religion, but if that's what comes into my head, and I think it's worth saying, I'll say it.

"my sister sees ghosts and no she isn't in a mental ward nor is she delusional."

I see two things here that I could address, kiddo, but the main one is that I would interpret seeing ghosts as compelling evidence, not just of a delusion, but of an hallucination. Peggy saw a ghost once, and although I considered her sane, I also knew she had just awakened from a daytime nap, so my assumption was that she brought the dream she was having into her waking world. In any event, I have zero doubt but what she was experiencing an hallucination, and I would feel the same regardless of almost anything she might say (I would need to hear a succession of statements, none of which she could possibly have known). After all, seeing a supernatural entity is not in the same league as discovering a new kind of salamander or prairie dog because the existence of supernatural beings would toss pretty much everything we have learned in all these thousands of years about how reality works upon its head. It is for this reason that if I myself saw a ghost, it would take a LOT before I would even consider the possibility of my experience being connected real. In fact, I don't know if I would ever consider it real.

Charles Gramlich said...

I think the issue is that these are two different things. You're not just an athiest, it seems to me, but also an "anti-theist," which is exactly where my wife also sits. To me, an athiest doesn't believe in god and simply doesn't care whether others do or not, although he or she would certainly care about discrimination if it occurred. As would I. An anti-thiest most likely doesn't believe in God but also believes that religion is a danger to society and others. I don't see it as required that one person hold both of these views at the same time. I grew up among religious people and know a huge number of "christians" who are wonderful people. I also know athiests and agnostics who are wonderful people.

In addition, the local environment simply isn't as anti-athiest as you imagine it to be. I teach at a black Catholic University and there are plenty of my colleagues who are athiests. No one ever asks that question when you are interviewed. I've never seen one case in which someone could say that they didn't get a promotion because they were athiest. We also have all kinds of other religions represented among our population, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. We have numerous individuals who are agnostics, such as myself. One of my lunch buddy is a pretty strict religious person. Another is an Athiest, and we have great conversations. There are plenty of assholes who also claim to be Christians and do discriminate, but there's no organized discrimination that I've ever seen in the public arena here.

Snowbrush said...

"To me, an athiest doesn't believe in god and simply doesn't care whether others do or not"

I would stop the definition after the word god. I object somewhat even to that definition because it seems to suggest that there is a god to believe in, but I don't have a good one to offer in its place (I'm not too interested in thinking of one actually). As I see it a person can be a militant atheist, a passive atheist, an unconcerned atheist, an oblivious atheist, and so on and still be an atheist. It's not a complicated thing to be, particularly in comparison to being a theist. Atheophobia is the word for theists who hate atheists, so I suppose theophobia would be the word for atheists who hate theists. I don't hate theists; I hate religion ("Hate the sin but love the sinner," as they say).

"the local environment simply isn't as anti-athiest as you imagine it to be."

I assumed that you were in a university town, so I should have imagined that you would have it a bit better there than would some poor smuck in Morganza (where the Easy Rider restaurant scene was filmed--BTW, the fellow in the yellow CAT cap is still alive, and all those guys were really and truly locals who really and truly hated hippies, including the movie crew, making for a tense shoot).

"An anti-thiest most likely doesn't believe in God but also believes that religion is a danger to society and others."

I should think the dangers of religion are too obvious to NOT see them unless a person is determined to keep his eyes closed in the same way that pre-integration white Americans kept their eyes closed to the oppression that they were engaged in. Do I really think religion might become a big scale danger to life and limb in this country? Yes. I listen to these Republicans, and I think that, gee whiz, if those guys ever amass the power to run this country as they please, atheists, gays, abortionists, war protestors, environmental protestors, as well as many scientists, writers, artists, musicians, and so forth could very well be in grave risk of governmental oppression to the fullest extent possible. I furthermore believe that the masses of Christians would consider it to be for the best. After all, few people like to kill vermin, but it must be done, and to millions upon millions of Christians I am vermin.

julie said...

I love this post...your honesty...your willingness to show us who you are.
you write.. if religious fanatics come for me today, they will come for you tomorrow if they decide that you too are an enemy of their private deity...
I think they are actively looking for anyone who doesn't believe in their punishing God. It's scary.
Thank you Snow...amazing post!!

rhymeswithplague said...

You aren't vermin to me, Snow, no way. But on some days I would almost pay to send you to northern Greenland or eastern Afghanistan. I mean this in the best possible way.

Your friend,
rhymes

Strayer said...

I think my nephew is about to become a cult preacher, lacking any other job. He's a radical. Hard to be around because of that. I think I've been officially basically shunned by that side of the family due to my own disgust with religion.

So I'm with you and nobody is going to convert me. Not me, who had her neck bashed in by the Adventists up at their hospital.

Myrna R. said...

Well written piece.

You make excellent points and raise my awareness of attitudes and discrimination against atheists.

Helen said...

Whew! Simply ... I love the way you 'put it out there!'

ellen abbott said...

did I offend you Snow, with my last comment?

Snowbrush said...

"did I offend you Snow, with my last comment?"

If I just said no, I would leaving out a lot. You see, I was worried about having offended YOU. Then, I lost a follower, and I thought, shit, I wonder if I blew Ellen out of the water. How I would miss that cute picture of you and the flamingo with the Gulf (I'm guessing) in the background. I'm sure I've told you what a delight it is to me, and has been for years, I guess. So, no, no, no, I was delighted that you wrote as you did. Do it every time. Go, girl, go.

ellen abbott said...

OK, that's good. so, then did you not receive my lengthy reply to your reply to me, because you have not published it, not that I think you must. that would be a drag if it got lost in the ether cause there's no way I'll try to reproduce it.

Snowbrush said...

"did you not receive my lengthy reply to your reply to me, because you have not published it..."

If the lengthy reply you're referring to was not the one that started with the quotation:

"'People in both the "religious" and the "spiritual" camps are all over the board about this...'"

then I did not receive it.

The ONY times I don't allow comments are when they're SPAM, or they're overtly abusive to me or someone else, or they're totally and completely unrelated to the post or, at least, to a previous comment about the post. I won't give an example of SPAM or abuse, but the latter typically involves a lot of name-calling and dirty words because, short of that, I will let almost anything get by. An example of an unrelated comment would be if you wrote to me on my blog to ask me to visit your blog because you had an award for me or because something momentous had happened in your life that you wanted me to know about. I sometimes don't allow such comments because I don't want to load people's mailboxes with things that are unlikely to be related to them or their interests. Your comment just didn't get here, and I'm very sorry that this happened.

Deb said...

I find it amusing how you bat down other people's beliefs, yet once someone disagrees with you or your disbelief in anything, or even questioning it for that matter, you get all riled up and defensive. Interesting.

:)

Just an observation.

God bless!

Snowbrush said...

"I find it amusing how you bat down other people's beliefs, yet once someone disagrees with you...you get all riled up and defensive."

If I can amuse you, Debbie, then my little heart is glad for it. Just so you're not bored, that's all I care about.

"God bless!"

Hey, Debbie, don't be telling no atheist "God bless!" It makes 'em break out in hives, foam at the mouth, and go into fits, sort of like when you hold a cross up in front a vampire.

Deb said...

Haha, that's funny... well then I will say, have a wonderful weekend! :)
And for the record, your writing has always entertained me, in a good way. I always read you.

Peace!!

The Kid In The Front Row said...

This is hilarious!

Joe Todd said...

AMEN

Stafford Ray said...

Snow, it is a relief you are still there and still offering wisdom.
We have an Atheist head of state. Interestingly, she has not moved to remove Christian chaplains from our (secular) public schools that were appointed by her Christian predecessor to grab the Christian vote and are funded from the (secular) public purse!
Having said that, I doubt if a Muslim could become Prime Minister any time soon. There is a current of anti-Muslim sentiment here, partly because of 9/11 and partly because of a politically convenient perception that refugees arriving by fishing boat, (overwhelmingly Muslim) are a security risk.
Of course they are right in a way. Given time, as their numbers grow, Muslims will demand the same rights as Christians in public life, as they should.
But having said that, I expect you will agree with me that religion or lack of it should not be used to determine one's rights to, or fitness for any role in public office.