Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Challenge to Just 30 of the 130 Million

I’m going to begin my little sermon today with a disclaimer. But even before that, I’m going to beg pardon.

Begging Evo’s Pardon

Well, this is a first. But, seriously, I’ve jumped off from a thread at John’s place (see the link below), and, to set the stage, I’ve quoted from a few of the comments. I didn’t feel as if the debate had been properly framed over there, since it was sort of a digression from the main post; I think, though, that we should focus on the ideas and toss them around. Since the coming challenge emerges out of my viewpoint, with which, I believe, John disagrees, I thought it was only fair to issue it here, in a full-fledged post for which I take sole responsibility. So I ... umm ... stole selections from a few comments to toss them out below.

The Disclaimer

In the course of writing this post, I’ll be referring to the ideas of some of my fellow bloggers. If I’ve misinterpreted what you’ve been saying, do jump on me in the comments and correct whatever opinions I’ve wrongly attributed to you.

OK, now that we all know I’m fallible ...

The Background to the Challenge

John Evo wrote a nice, post-Thanksgiving, warm-‘n’fuzzy post that essentially reminds all of us “veteran” atheists to reach out to recent de-cons. He urges us to actively seek out their blogs, and to invite them into our sometimes rowdy community. I couldn’t agree more. There are probably dozens of new atheists out there who may not be fully comfortable mouthing off in some of the aggessive, confrontational comment threads spawned by our essays. Some of these people may not be used to the kind of raucous give-and-take — complete with jokes, friendly insults, and weird digressions — that occur daily in the Atheosphere. As has been said many times, we freethinkers are most definitely not in lockstep wth one another. We disagree often. That’s one of the pleasures of being an atheist; you can argue about details, sometimes heatedly; nobody has ever been thrown out of the loose community of skeptics because of heresy.

In the course of the comment thread over at Evo’s place, infidel753 pointed out that a recent poll reveals this fact: about 130 million Americans are "adults who describe themselves as Christians, but who are Christian in name only." Infidel goes on to say:

Many of the latter are clinging weakly to the tattered remnants of a religion which they hardly really believe in any more, but which they have never heard seriously or intelligently challenged. These people are reachable.

I disagreed.

If they've never heard their religion seriously or intelligently challenged, where the fuck have they been lately? There are atheistic spokespeople being interviewed on TV and on the radio. There are dozens of skeptical books available in the chain bookstores. There are newspaper and magazine articles about the "new" atheism. There's an entire Atheosphere engaging in dialogue every single day. Quite a few atheist bloggers seek out fundies to debate. And there are even some moderate Christian bloggers who speak of atheism with tolerance and write about it. So you have to be brain-dead not to have heard that there are a few people out here in the world challenging religion.

I'm dubious that those people are reachable. Those people are not seeking answers, as most de-converts begin by doing. No, they remain Christians because it's easy to do so; they don't have to think. I see no indication that they'd like to start.

Evo weighed in.

Even if Infidel's numbers are too optimistic, it seems likely to me that there are millions of people out there who could potentially change their positions on religion. Let's look at the 130 million number he tossed out there. I fully agree with you that the vast majority of those are not on a "quest for knowledge". But say 5% of them are.

A Response to Evo ... and the Rationale Behind the Challenge

So John urges me to “say 5% of them are.” But why should I say 5% of them are? Why not say 55% of them are? Or 95%? These are all made-up numbers, anyway. Does he present any data?

My strong suspicion is that de-converts come from the ranks of the active practitioners of religion, not from the mentally numb 130 million. Three recent de-cons we’ve been thrilled to welcome into our nay-borhood are chaplain, Lifeguard, and JP. I believe that all of them came from among the serious church-going population. As I've been learning from them, the process of de-conversion takes a lot of time and some deep thought about philosophy; a person must be willing to wrestle with his or her "cherished" beliefs. I think the people most likely to want to expend that kind of energy are the ones who already channel their efforts into thinking about "life, the universe, and everything."

In the past, I’ve argued adamantly against both Philly and SI about the value of engaging fundies in blog debate. Philly recently pointed out to me, however, that while he may appear to be debating with one or two stubborn religionists, he’s actually hoping that the lurkers — those who don’t take an active part in the smackdown — will benefit from hearing a rational viewpoint. I’d like to solicit our recent de-cons’ take on that point; it makes sense to me. So maybe Philly and SI are right. Unlike Christians, I’m happy to switch opinions when a preponderance of the evidence shows that I’ve been wrong.

I'll bet, though, that most, if not all, of those silent readers are either practicing or ex-religionists, active in their churches either now or in the past. Somehow, I can't see a single one of those uninvolved 130 million bothering to read arguments for or against Christianity. Which brings me back to Evo and Infidel, and leads me to my challenge.

The Challenge

OK. There are 130 million people in this country claiming to be Christian but who are actually indifferent to their religion. John’s 5% of that would be 6.5 million (and not 65,000, as I originally wrote here — Yikes! — before he corrected me). But I’m not gonna ask for 6.5 million. I’m not gonna ask for 65,000. Why, I’m not even gonna ask for 6,500, or a measly 650, or half that amount. (Oops. I've been watching too much TV again.) I’d like to hear from a mere 30 of them who have recently been de-converted by cruising the Atheosphere. The response has to be from the person him- or herself, not via some second-hand anecdote. I trust my regular readers to help me keep count.

There’s no reward for taking the challenge except a warm welcome into the Atheosphere, and a chance to speak out freely about what you stand for.

But isn't that a great prize?

Frequent Updates for Those Keeping Score

Of approximately 130 million adult "casual" Christians in America today,
we've identified 1 de-convert so far.

41 comments:

Larro said...

Sweet challenge.

Alas! I'm not a de-convert. I never went to church except when my wife would drag me along for "special" occasions (as courtesy to the in-laws) when I knew full well the sham it was/is. I've since cut that out of my life (haven't stepped foot in a church in several years now). Still happily married to my atheist wife (who still goes to church as a courtesy).

I'll keep my eyes peeled though, but I think you're right; 30 de-cons? I can't think of any off-hand.

PhillyChief said...

I think the casual, no thought christians aren't worth the effort. As Nietzsche would say, why try to increase your number by lining up zeroes behind you? Those people are meaningless and will go with whichever way the wind blows. If you want to affect change, ride out to Jesusland and have at thee!

Of course this brings up a moral question - should we participate in deconversion? Do we have a moral obligation to help others, or is such action merely proselytizing of a different brand? Hmmm...

John Evo said...

Wow.

I don't think I've ever had as many disagreements with your disagreement before! Usually, when you take me to task (or Philly, SI, Slut, etc) I can usually see your point and buy into to it - at least to some degree. This was totally unpersuasive for me.

First of all, I think you have taken that 130 million number (which I fully acknowledge may be epistemologically incorrect) and slapped your own label on it. I'm expected (as a reader) to take it that these people represent a giant Corp of zombies! I would guess, contrary to your definition of them, that they would represent all kinds of different levels of non-involvement with religion.

Some may just throw up their hands and declare that they can't figure anything out, so they aren't even trying anymore. Others may have been very strong in their religion, and have moved to a much weakened position. Still others may have pretty much rejected religion on an internal level, but have been totally unwilling to articulate it - to the point that when asked their affiliation, simply parrot the response of their childhood. Besides these groups, I feel certain there are many other levels of philosophy that could be found among 130 million people. They aren’t all braindead and I’m only asking for 5%.

Your assumption that it’s the deeply religious, rather than the in-name-only religious who are most likely to become de-conversions is certainly counter-intuitive to me. That doesn’t mean you're wrong. If we learned anything from science in the past 500 years, it's that many truths run contrary to common-sense. That said, you haven't offered any compelling evidence for why this may be true. It seems like your best shot was the highly anecdotal evidence of the people who have come in to contact with us in the Atheosphere. Even there, it's a bit selective. FVThinker, who I interviewed a couple of months ago was a Catholic in name only who finally went "decon". I may be wrong, but I think our buddy the Inquisitor pretty much fits that as well.

Your challenge is an interesting notion, but it is still nothing more than anecdotal material. Even if 100 contacted you, I would not gleefully dance about and claim victory because I know there is no scientific evidence there. You have an interesting hypothesis that could be tested empirically, but this isn’t the way. Here’s one of the obvious big problems with your challenge. You already know that you have a lot of “lurkers”. You have a lot more visits than comments. These people, for whatever reason, don’t care to reveal themselves. You think that just because you are asking them to come forward, they will? Also, you would have to create some type of control, which isn’t present in the challenge. Additionally, you have to factor for what type of individual is most likely to actively declare themselves to be an atheist. For instance, is it possible that the very nature of the evangelical personality will be more outspoken when he or she becomes a decon?

My final point is rather minor, compared to all of the above. You need to run those numbers you gave through a “math-check” program! I said 5% of 130 million. You claim that would represent about 65,000. In fact, it would be 6.5 million people. I point this out, not to criticize a minor math mistake, but simply to say that there are a lot of bodies in play here! I’m just saying that it’s well worth our time and effort to consider this group, even if the vast majority are unreachable.

Sorry for the incredibly verbose response, but I guess you owe it to me since you brought this back from my blog. As a friend, I’m not going to file suit against you for appropriation of intellectual property, so we’re ev

the chaplain said...

Phillychief asked whether atheists should actively assist people in their de-conversions. IMHO, the only thing required is for all of you to go right on being yourselves. If a de-convert leaves a comment on your blog, respond to it. If a de-convert sends you an email, respond to it. Answer, to the best of your ability, any direct questions de-converts may have and leave it at that. You don't need to actively proselytize (the world has enough missionaries, thank you), just go on putting common sense information and opinions on your blogs. And always make room for more in your loosely knit community.

The Exterminator said...

Larro:
You said, I'll keep my eyes peeled though, but I think you're right.

So if I turn out to be wrong, you'll be eating crow, too?

Philly:
You asked, Should we participate in deconversion? Do we have a moral obligation to help others, or is such action merely proselytizing of a different brand?

I think chappy's well-stated answer to you is far more succinct and to the point than anything I could have written.

chappy:
You're right on the money.

Evo:

Well, I've gotten you riled up. Yay! That "group hug" thing, as Philly put it, was starting to get old.

First of all, I've gone into my post and fixed the farcockte math. Sheesh!

OK, now I'll dispute two of your main points.

I would guess, contrary to your definition of them, that they [the 130 million] would represent all kinds of different levels of non-involvement with religion.

And I would guess that the divergence among them is nowhere near as wide as you're implying. These are people who identify themselves in a knee-jerk way as Christian, yet expend little or no effort to demonstrate their self-characterization. They're likely not questioning their religion, or they wouldn't have referred to themselves that way; they're blindly accepting it, with no thought, whatsoever. I'll let SI speak for himself, if he chooses to, but my suspicion is that when he started thinking about whether he was or wasn't a Christian he would not have continued to say that he was in a superficial, who-cares? kind of way.

Even if 100 contacted you, I would not gleefully dance about and claim victory because I know there is no scientific evidence there. You have an interesting hypothesis that could be tested empirically, but this isn’t the way.

Hey, I don't claim any scientific validity for this challenge. I can't even think of a way that either of our hypotheses would be testable. All I'm saying is that I'll yield you the point if we can find 30 recent de-converts, or even 30 of the 130 million who say they're in the process of de-converting. The lack of that evidence will certainly not prove that my view is correct; we atheists know all about how no evidence is just that: no evidence. But I'm willing to take 30 teeny pieces of data to reevaluate what I've said. You're getting a good deal there, my friend.

And here's something else I'd dispute:
Sorry for the incredibly verbose response.

Since when do we say "I'm sorry" to one another for being verbose. How long would those apologies take?

Seriously, though, I don't think you were verbose at all. You wanted to present a long, well-reasoned counter-argument to my post, and did so. I still think you're wrong, but not a word seemed extraneous.

John Evo said...

Ext - man, you are way off your game today. But then, it IS Sunday. Perhaps distracted by spiritual obligations?!

Ext said: Since when do we say "I'm sorry" to one another for being verbose.

10 days ago, in a comment at The Meme Pool, Ext said:

Sorry, A., for going on at such length about this, but I seized the opportunity to proselytize for a worthy cause.

But thanks for the gracious reply.

Back to today:

Ext: I still think you're wrong

No you don't. You know I'm right; stop squirming!

Ext: Well, I've gotten you riled up. Yay! That "group hug" thing, as Philly put it, was starting to get old.

Bullshit. I'll hug you and Philly right now.

PhillyChief said...

I brought up the issue of proselytizing because I've heard theists refer to atheists going to religious or neutral forums debating issues as proselytizing. I don't see it as such, but I'm curious what others think.

I'm inclined to side with Ex on this issue. I think it's flawed thinking to look at those "in name only" christians as just being on the edge of seeing through the shit. I think they're apathetic people. The people most likely to wake up are the people who care passionately about the issue.

Babs said...

I used to debate with Christians on forums, but it was for my own sake, not because I was trying to de-convert them. It was just my way of puking up all the religious crap that had been shoved down my throat. So, when I got my purging over with, the arguing became boring and I quit.

I'm not going to seek out anyone to de-convert them, because I don't want anyone seeking me out trying to re-convert me. I will, however, stand in my corner and shout out the absurdities I find in religion and if anyone happens to meander by and wants to listen to what I have to say then I will be more than happy to engage in a discussion.

Does this make me an apathetic atheist?

The Exterminator said...

Babs:
You said, I will, however, stand in my corner and shout out the absurdities I find in religion ...

And here I thought you shouted out only obscenities.

Lynet said...

Actually, I think the growing numbers of young atheists may well be the children of those apathetic Christians. Insufficiently indoctrinated, many of them find themselves wondering why on Earth anyone believes this stuff...

My mother, incidentally, may well have belonged in the category of 'apathetic Christian' for a while -- either that or she was staying in it so as not to upset her mother, I'm not sure. At any rate, for her the catalyst for change was attending philosophy classes at university. Because she wasn't that attached to Christianity to begin with, being asked to evaluate the existence of God from a purely rational standpoint wasn't so outrageous, I guess, whereupon she came to the obvious conclusion.

But I was only four at the time, and I never actually asked her the details, so I may be getting it completely wrong for all I know.

Tobe38 was deconverted at least partially by the Atheosphere, you know -- that and his friendship with Ellis14, who was going through a much more dramatic deconversion at the time; the story is here if you haven't already read it; tobe, by his own account, wasn't precisely Christian but was certainly apathetic to some extent.

DaVinci said...

Here are three for you. My kids, age 25, 20, and 14, deconverts.
None of them blog here, its just not cool enough.......yet!

The Exterminator said...

Everybody:

I'm gonna take a second here to restate the "rules" of the challenge:

1. The person has to be recently de-converted. By recent, let's say within the last two years.

2. The person has to have been de-converted in whole or in part by cruising the Atheosphere.

3. The person has to be an adult, let's say 18 or over.

4. The person has to be an American.

5. The person has to be someone who previously identified himself or herself as a Christian, but who was not a regular church-goer.

6. The person has to respond him- or herself.

Some of my readers might be saying: Oh, shit so many rules. But we're talking about a population of 130 million! And I'm asking for just 30.

sacred slut said...

I wasn't exactly Christian but I was pretty convinced of my religious beliefs. Not a big churchgoer - maybe a few times a year tops - but I thought that what I had been taught about God and the nature of the universe was correct. Prayed on a daily basis etc. So after living with an atheist for 6 or 7 years (can you believe it?) I thought I'd like to get "closer to God" and started taking religion classes at my church. That led to questioning, which led to many books and the Atheosphere, as you call it. Richard Carrier and Ebonmuse were the biggest factors in my deconversion. The atheist in the house...somewhat, but actually probably a tertiary factor at best. I tended to think he was "missing something" when it came to the god hypothesis. :)

I think you're wrong to characterize most Christians as "braindead" and "apathetic". They simply believe what they've been taught and have been given insufficient evidence to convince them they ought to re-evaluate their position.

Which is why I think speaking out is the most important thing an atheist can do. I consider it a minor mission to try to spread Reason.

PhillyChief said...

If I didn't know better, I'd swear Ex was following the fundie game plan of moving the goalposts. ;)

PhillyChief said...

I think you're wrong to characterize most Christians as "braindead" and "apathetic". They simply believe what they've been taught and have been given insufficient evidence to convince them they ought to re-evaluate their position.

I beg to differ. I think the christians in question here are the type that haven't questioned and don't care too much. As Ex said, you'd have to be deaf dumb and blind and living under a rock to have not heard anything to challenge your faith (ok, I'm paraphrasing). Point is, most don't care. Most might actually think it's probably hooey anyway but don't see any point in doing anything about it. I think apathetic is pretty much where most are.

Another way I think most look at it is like an insurance plan, a will or a cemetery plot. They're all things you might have but you don't ever want to think too hard on and just hope they'll work out right when needed.

Sacred slut, if you were praying every day I wouldn't classify you as one of the moderates that are being talked about here.

The Exterminator said...

slut:
Well, I was inclined to credit you with having met the challenge if your de-conversion happened within the last two years.

I think Philly's right to point out that a person who prays is not a "casual" Christian. But that daily praying didn't disqualify you -- based on the rules the way I wrote them.

So I went to your site to see if you had a deconversion story. And you did! Right there in your second post ever. Great read.

But ...

I think you were a regular church-goer at the time of your de-conversion.

So after a few years of living together, I felt like I wanted to be closer to god and make a deeper commitment to religion. I signed up, accordingly, at my church, to study the religion. This was a 3 or 4 year course, and I really intended to go all the way through when I began, with the goal of becoming an ordained minister.

Oops, sorry. There's the buzzer.

Even though you get no credit for fulfilling the challenge, it's still fucking great to have you blogging away.

By the way, I can't imagine what kinds of illustrations you would have used if you'd chosen to be A Whore in the Temple of Christianity.

PhillyChief said...

"By the way, I can't imagine what kinds of illustrations you would have used if you'd chosen to be A Whore in the Temple of Christianity."

Yikes, maybe stuff like this

Ute said...

I'm not sure those Christians don't care. Much more I think they are uncomfortable, because they would have to step out of their comfort zone of what is to them a good thing. It's comfortable to believe and not question. It's not apathetic either. I think it's fear. And when you look at some de-converts and their long and painful journeys this is hardly surprising.

The Exterminator said...

Philly:
Now that's a dirty picture.

Ute:
Well, I agree that the de-conversion process is probably long, painful, and scary. But I think that most of those 130 million are just apathetic. I must be getting old, because I'm going to quote myself, but as I said today in a comment on your blog:

I think the reason why so many Americans are quiet is that they have nothing to say. Unfortunately, we live in a huge, apathetic nation, where the very act of thinking is considered elitist.

Ute said...

Mmmh, the number on my blog however refers to those who don't subscribe to any religious identification rather than those who claim to be Christian. Are atheists just apathetic too? Or fearful? Or just don't care?

The Exterminator said...

Ute:
Yes, I know that your post is about a different group than I'm addressing here. I just thought my quote was apropos.

And while I wouldn't call atheists apathetic or fearful, I might use one of those terms to describe the "silent" portion of the 30 million Americans who don't identify themselves religiously. If they'd step right up and say they don't believe, we'd have a sizeable voting bloc -- and maybe the candidates would stop talking about their faith all the time.

Spanish Inquisitor said...

I just attempted to digest two posts, yours and Evo's, along with all the comments. Frankly, I'm still not sure what the issue is. But I'll hazard a guess.

It seems to be this: that 130 million self identified Christians are ripe for deconversion which we here in the Atheosphere can help along.

But I need to digress, first, because I see my name has been invoked.

Evo said:

FVThinker, who I interviewed a couple of months ago was a Catholic in name only who finally went "decon". I may be wrong, but I think our buddy the Inquisitor pretty much fits that as well.

Well, no not exactly. I stopped being Catholic, even in name only, when I turned 18 and went to college. I stopped attending church at that time (on penalty of hell, but what the hell?). I think at best I would have called myself a deist, if I really thought about it, from age 18 through about age 48, because I believed that there was some guiding force behind the universe, but since it didn't really affect me, I didn't care about it. I was apatheistic, at best. I certainly did not self identify as Catholic, except to say I was raised Catholic.

Exterminator said:

I'll let SI speak for himself, if he chooses to, but my suspicion is that when he started thinking about whether he was or wasn't a Christian he would not have continued to say that he was in a superficial, who-cares? kind of way.

I'm not sure of this either. When I stopped being a Catholic, I think I also stopped being Christian, almost by definition, though the Catholicism I rejected was the dogmatic, ritualistic one, not the one supposedly founded by Christ. It's only recently, with reading, that I stopped believing that Christ was not only god, but that he even existed.

Not sure any of that helps with your point, though.

But I really don't think your challenge will be met, Ex., because of the nature of the forum on which you place it. You're just not going to get that many people here at this blog that will meet your exacting criteria. Maybe a few, but not 30. You're assuming that of those 130 million potential readers, you'll tap into a sizable number of them, but I really think most of our readers are part of the choir.

You'd be better off going down Mojoey's Blogroll, and if you did, I'll bet you'd find at least 30 who meet your criteria. But that's just a guess.

Those 130 million the Barna group refers to are on a spectrum that run from one side (the fundy side) to the other (the atheistic). I agree with Evo that some portion of them have to, by definition, fit into a group of people just ripe for deconversion. However, I don't think they are a homogeneous group. Some may come from the close to fundy side, being actively engaged in their religious beliefs that are no longer making sense to them, all the way through people leaning towards atheism, agnosticism or deism who know in their guts that religion offers nothing for them, but really haven't taken the time to figure out why (I was in that last group).

Then there are people in the middle who have just been mindlessly following the life chosen for them by their upbringing, culture, etc, but have enough intellect, skepticism or inquisitiveness to want to pursue the matter further. These people will pick up a Newsweek or the NY Times and read about Dawkins or Hitchens, and become intrigued.

And there are probably many other types of people who would be ripe for deconversion, but who don't fit those three classifications, which I'll admit are arbitrary anyway.

I guess my point is that we should not be blogging on our theme for them. I personally do this for me, and me alone. If I happen to affect someone else, then that's simply the icing on the cake.

I've mentioned this before, but I started thinking, and then pursuing the knowledge that led me to finally conclude I was an atheist, on the chance remark at a Usenet group devoted to a wholly unrelated subject. We discussed books, mystery and crime fiction specifically, and I found out that there was a highly significant percentage of them that were self declared atheists, and vociferously so. Still are. Maybe something on the order of 50-60%. I thought that was highly statistically improbable, but there you have it. The chance remark was by a published author, who was born and raised atheist. That remark was not intended to proselytize, or convert anyone, but it DID have that effect on me, ultimately.

I think of that whenever some says we shouldn't engage theists online. That's what she was doing, engaging theists with her ideas on atheism, and it didn't change their views, but it changed mine.

And I'm not going to apologize for my long winded remarks. I'm not even out of breath.

PhillyChief said...

See, you never know what affect what you say or do will have. A "chance remark" by an author on a Usenet group and we have an atheist blogger with a cool site.

The Exterminator said...

SI:

I guess my actual point, muddled up through not-so-clear implication in the dialogue both here and at Evo's place, is that we shouldn't bother trying to de-convert any of those 130 million. As I've said over and over: It's a waste of time. Evo put this well on his post, where he said, basically, that they have to come to us.

So you're absolutely right: We should not be blogging on our theme for them. On the other hand, I do think that an atmosphere of conviviality and openness may encourage some timid recent de-con to join in the atheistic fun. So maybe what Evo was saying originally, at least as I've interpreted it, was: Watch for new commenters and go out of your way to welcome them. If you happen to stumble on a blog written by someone whose voice hasn't been heard much, add a comment. I think those are good precepts to follow in general, not only when dealing with recent de-cons, but with everyone. Blogging can be a pretty lonely activity if you don't feel as if you're being read.

I disagree with you about Mojoey's Atheist Blogroll, though. In my experience -- which, granted, is limited -- many, if not most, of the bloggers who are recent de-cons were active Christians at the time of their anti-epiphany.

Ankhkaser khatma said...

Whatever your reasons for blogging,I just want to say thanks.Im 18 and before 4 years ago,I never even heard of atheist because of my mothers tight control over the things i read and watched.Only after an argument over the nature of humans where she called ne an atheist did i activly look for others.Before that i thought my ideas were crazy.After searching the web i not only found other non belivers,i saw my own ideas repeated.

The Exterminator said...

Ankh:

Well, you're welcome. It might be interesting for us to know what that original fight with your mother was about. Has she come to accept the fact that you're an atheist, or is she still arguing with you? Or have you just dropped the topic entirely at home? What about your friends? Do they know how you feel about religion?

John Evo said...

SI said: I think at best I would have called myself a deist, if I really thought about it, from age 18 through about age 48, because I believed that there was some guiding force behind the universe, but since it didn't really affect me, I didn't care about it.

I think that pretty much fits in to the 130 million we are speaking of. The only problem with using you as an example is that it's been 5 years.

Look, I think the whole discussion if off point. I don't think we should be "targeting" the 130 million who are not really religious, but identify themselves as being the member of a religious community. I think Ex is absolutely correct. But I also don't think we should be "targeting" clear cut theists either.

We have a small community that has some interesting commonalities (and differences). We all enjoy writing about these things and commenting on what others write. I think some of it could be helpful to others who have recently, or even in the distant past, become decons and don't have a place to talk to others about a free-thinking lifestyle. I also guess that someone who has not thought about atheism seriously, might find a reason or two to think there is something to it (by reading here).

I'd just like to make anyone from both of those groups to feel welcome - and I don't see why they wouldn't. You're all great people. You're intelligent and a joy to communicate with. Like Ex said, if you want to go a little further and actually invite people to join the discussion, do it! A big Aethosphere "Welcome" to Ankhkaser. Hope to see you around here more often!

After the Inquisitor’s comment, I cured from apologizing for extended writing episodes!

Ankhkaser khatma said...

The argument was about saying grace before a meal.I asked why,when we didnt say grace,nothing happened.My mother tried to explain that giving continual thanks ensured our continued prosperity.I told her that i decided to do a experiment a couple of weeks before.I didnt say any thing before meals or i thanked my mother.I asked her why nothing happened.Instead of answering me she started yelling about me turning evil and how the devil was in me.Now its just random comments about how im going to hell.

If we talk and my opinion differs from hers,she say"its because your an atheist".

My friends know but they dont really talk to me about it.My younger sibilings might be following my example because recently my youngest cousin refused to say grace and my mother was ready to put her up for adoption.

The Exterminator said...

Evo:
You said, Look, I think the whole discussion is off point.

Now you tell me.

Ankh:
Your story about saying grace is very cool. I particularly liked: ...when we didn't say grace, nothing happened.

I think if your mother can't come up with anything worse to call you than "an atheist," you must be a pretty impressive teenager.

Spanish Inquisitor said...

There's another reason why we should continue writing for the theists who might be reading.

We all enjoy writing about these things and commenting on what others write.

And I think on the whole, we do it quite well. Even if you don't agree with us, generally, we do say it with style, panache and savoir-faire. Especially, you, Exterminator. And I love the clearly well thought out expositional style of Ebonmuse.

Have you ever read some of these theist blogs? I'm not saying that my writing is perfect, but they could certainly learn a thing or two about written communication skills just from reading us. Sometimes I think they spent too much time in religion and theology classes, and not enough time with their phonics, spelling and grammar books.

John Evo said...

Ex said: I think if your mother can't come up with anything worse to call you than "an atheist," you must be a pretty impressive teenager.

You've been an atheist for so long, you don't realize what a deeply insulting accusation that is in the mind of a theist. Especially one speaking to her own child. She probably feels that every bad thing about him that she COULD mention is more than covered by calling him an atheist. Don't forget that as atheists, we are seen as either the devil's henchmen or blinded by his evil works.

SI said: Have you ever read some of these theist blogs?

Why do you think Ex tells you to stay off of them? It isn't just a waste of your time trying to change them - it's also a waste of your mind.

To be fair, there are some really bad atheist blogs also. I think that's another thing Ex mentioned.

John Evo said...

Ex also said: Now you tell me.

Yeah...

THAT would have stopped you. :)

The Exterminator said...

Thanks for the compliment, SI.

I agree with you that there's a lot of good writing in the Atheosphere. Much of it -- not all, as Evo points out (and rightly remembers me mentioning before) -- is thought-provoking, honest, and funny. A good number of us know how to write sentences that don't trip all over themselves. Even the comment threads are often a joy to read.

I don't want to sound superior and arrogant, but -- oh who the fuck am I kidding? I live to sound superior and arrogant -- I do believe that atheists and other skeptics, in the main, are smarter, more clever, wittier, and far more articulate than "true" believers (again, in the main). Yep, there's my one and only prejudice rearing its ugly head, down a ways in a comment thread. So, sue me.

Spanish Inquisitor said...

I can't sue you, because it would be a loser from the start. The evidence is in your favor.

Ankhkaser khatma said...

I have had debates with theist where their best argument is "god can do anything".I dont think atheist are smarter,theist are just dumb.

JP said...

Very interesting dialogue here. There are many of us out there, some more willing to admit it.

Thanks for the "welcome aboard"

Sincerely,

Your Friendly Former De-Converting Fundamentalist non-theist.

Cragar said...

This is an interesting topic and something I often think about. I have a brother who is basically a passive theist. He and I have had conversations, and he admits that he doesn't really believe that the Noah story happened, or the tower of Babel, and most of the things in the OT. Yet he believes in the resurrection and the teachings of Jesus. I always wonder how can you trust a book that has a lot of fiction in it?

As for the topic at hand, I doubt even a passive theist like my brother is going to be converted by reading atheist blogs. I would think most people looking for our blogs are already having serious doubts or are already de-converted, and are just trying to find people with common opinions since most individuals around them are probably theists.

newbie atheist said...

I was raised catholic but, like any kid gladly stopped attending church when my folks did at age 8. After my dad died and my mom converted to Judaism to remarry, I wasn't pushed by them to make any decision. My wife was raised Lutheran but we've never attended church. For the last 40 years I would have been best described as a "default Christian."

Last spring I started looking at Amazon for books on Atheism. I think I was spurred by a review in Skeptical Inquirer of 4 of the big recent atheist authors (Hitchens, Sam Harris, Dennett and Dawkins) I flew through their books nodding my head and murmuring "yes, yes" with each chapter. I'm currently reading Natural Atheism by David Eller and have been spending time at different humanist sites.

My personal Atheist blogroll includes this site, Deep Thoughts, Greta Christina's blog, Spanish Inquisitor, A Whore in the Temple of Reason, Friendly Atheist and about a dozen others I visit occasionally.

I've contemplated blogging as a personal tool to help me refine and clarify my own thoughts, but, at this point I'm still working out the subtleties of exactly how and what I think. With my education background in science, I seem to predominantly be atheist by way of free-thought and a refusal to accept supernatural explanations for things.

Greta Christina asked the other day what religion we'd choose if we weren't atheist and I really couldn't conceive of such a thing. I'm inclined to give it a more thoughtful comment, but the old Dead Kennedys song ("Religious Vomit") seems to say it best, "All Religions Suck."

Being willing to rethink the habits of a lifetime is necessary for someone to become a de-convert. That requires a lack of current personal stress (which makes one grasp old patterns of activity simply because they feel comfortable) Consequently, many apathetic christians may be clinging to their beliefs because they need the comfort of familiarity at this moment in their life. (Note that I think much of the said comfort comes from familiar habits and not specifically from their actual religious beliefs.) Given the current problems in this country, I think only a small number of apathetic christians have what it takes to become de-converts. Specifically:

1. Current lack of personal stresses
2. Willingness to adopt a (generally viewed as) unpopular stance on religion. Particularly as it relates to family interactions.
3. Invest the time and mental energy on the process.

That said, I have found it incredibly empowering and comforting to find all the atheist blogs out there and am still exploring. Without all of you, I'd still be thinking that maybe I'm the only one who thinks this way.

PhillyChief said...

Welcome newbie!

You've hit on a common thing with religion. It's always more popular when things are dire. It's takes a great deal more courage and effort to face things head on and as they are than to just drop to your knees trusting a magic man will makes things alright.

The Exterminator said...

newbie:
Thanks for the insightful comment. I'm with you on Greta Christina's question: I can't answer it.

I'm going to count you as a person who fulfills the criteria I set. You're the first one.

Patience said...

I don't think atheists should be actively trying for deconversion because it reeks to much of fundamentalism for me. I know I have (and I can't be alone in this) been subject to some exceptionally rabid attempts at conversion (and some mild ones) from various brands of Christianity and other religions. I hate that shit. I am an atheist because I have weighed the evidence and logic, and the win falls heavily on the side of atheism, not because someone tried to convince me how great and right he is. That would have put me off, and I'd have clung to deism much longer.

This is not to say that we should stop what we are doing altogether. If someone asks me a question related to religion, I certainly don't hesitate to explain my atheism and how it relates to what I was asked. I visit--often just lurk--on atheist blogs and post about my own atheism sometimes, too. Those of you who can blog in a more journalistic way have my highest regard. But I think that actively seeking out people to try to deconvert them is no better than the fundie Christians trying to convert people into their megachurches: it implies that people are too dumb, to sheep-like to ever evaluate the evidence given to them for themselves, and have to be told what to believe. That may be true for some people, but it seems insulting to assume it's true for all until proven otherwise. I prefer a more positivist outlook: people are smart enough to, if they want to and go find the evidence, see that atheism is the logical and intelligent choice until proven otherwise.

It's frustrating being part of a religious minority when the nation assumes religiosity is the default setting. I agree with the comment up thread that the children of the (superficially) Christians will be the next generation's atheists. My mother was raised Lutheran and went through a gradual deconversion (dabbling in a few religions on the way) and is now comfortably deist. She'd probably answer 'agnostic' to a 'what religion are you?' question, but 20 years ago when I was a baby, she may have said 'lapsed Christian' or something similar. My brother and I are both atheists, raised without real church influence but with some of the symbols (Christmas and Easter, namely).

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that we shouldn't be trying to deconvert people at all. I firmly believe that people who examine their faith deeply will come up empty-handed and deconvert anyway--though I'm happy to change my stance if someone can show me otherwise. The more visible atheists and atheism are in the public sphere, the more the people in the middle are going to feel comfortable questioning their faith and coming out as atheists. Challenging them on it may only back them into the fundie corner defensively.