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.
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.
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.
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.