Arguing with a Christian? Use the Rational Approach.

The substance of most of the debate – between Religion believers and Atheists – is far too simplistic. Picture the abbreviated argument: The Atheist claims that there is no god; says that the proof is the lack of definitive proof that god has ever existed. The Believer rationally counters that the Atheist’s belief’ is not proof enough. Boom. You’re done.

That’s what a zero sum argument looks like. It’s like debating the description of a color or describing a fleeting glimpse. Nobody wins. Everyone goes away angry.

A better approach – sez I – is to engage Believers on a more rational level; attack points of proof rather than the basis of proof.

Case in point: Christians who lamely use science to prove that the universe is younger than what the data shows (e.g., 15+ billion year). I particularly enjoy so-called Christians who will go so far as to commit heresy by claiming that the bible ‘proves’ that the Earth is about 6,000 years old. I had one Christian (a pastor at a church) tell me that all those fossils and other evidence we use to estimate Earth’s real age was just placed there to fool us.

“Do tell?” I responded. “And what about the star light that’s over 15 billion years old from the furthest reaches of Hubble’s vision, is “he” fooling us about that too?”

“Yes, HE is!”

After a moment, I said, “So… from what you’re saying, your god is a liar? A cheater? A pretender? I mean, in all the vastness of this universe, your god has nothing better to do than to fuck with the evidence just to fool little ol’me into thinking something that isn’t?”

Before Mr Believer could answer, I asked: “Riddle me this, Pastor. What came first, the chicken or the egg?”

He gave it some thought. “The chicken came first because “god” created Adam as fully adult – thus every living creature was created and planted on an uncorrupted and unspoiled Earth.”

“Great answer. How do you know?” Says I.

“Because that’s what the bible says.” Says he.

“I believe the egg came first, because I also believe that from corruption comes life, because that’s how nature works now and how it has worked all over the universe for billions of years.”

I paused. “Do you know how do I know? We can I can see it with my own eyes.”

Sure… okay… it doesn’t bring down the house, but the point is made. An atheist’s “belief” is based on observable fact – a clear distinction is made. When we argue this way, we also strengthen the perception that Atheism is not merely a belief but a choice not to believe in tall tales from an ancient book written by men.

Lesson: use rational comparisons and explanations  to grapple with irrational (emotional) circular logic. I guarantee you’ll feel much better with the result.

Going forward, this debate proves one of the major precepts of the founding fathers: the separation of Church and State. They weren’t atheists. They were not agnostic about god either. But they respected my right NOT to believe.

Barry Goldwater Was Right

I recall my dad’s quips about Barry Goldwater – laced with profanity and superlative, he had some pretty harsh things to say about a man he though betrayed the country. My dad wasn’t what you’d call a hardcore Republican, but he definitely sympathized with “the cause.” Which is weird because my dad was also an atheist. But I digress. Imagine my surprise as I grew into adulthood to find that although Barry wasn’t the more statesmanlike of statesmen, he had some pretty insightful things to say about the Radical Right.

A set of them comes from a speech he gave in 1981, summarized in the New York Times, September 16, 1981. In this first clip, he despairs over the Radical Right’s unwillingness to compromise. Tell me if you think this sounds familiar:

There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom.

In the same speech, he goes on to decry how they control the political dialog:

I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?

This is 1981, mind you; the very apex of the movement that Jerry Falwell dubbed the “Moral Majority” and that Pat Robertson tried to appropriate for his own presidential bid in 1988. Although Falwell and Robertson did not have compatible views on Christianity, they were in lock step where governance was concerned. They envisioned a CHRISTIAN United States of America. That’s probably why Goldwater rankled at the pressure he and other “old school” Republicans had to endure for political and financial support.

I’m sure that as he saw the closing years approach, Goldwater became somewhat bitter about how he was thrown aside by the Radical Right. That bitterness comes out in this well-trod, oft-cited Goldwater gem from John Dean’s book Conservatives Without Conscience (2006):

Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.

Yet, there’s a better, more prophetic view from an interview published in the Washington Post, July 29, 1994.

When you say “radical right” today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party away from the Republican Party, and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.

Given all of the evidence – the vitriol that has surrounded Obama since Day One of his administration, the hateful things that the Radical Right has committed against Hillary Clinton and other Democrats (and even several Republicans) that the soul of the Republican Party is no longer has the best interest of America and for Americans?