Monday, October 7, 2013

Non-Belief, Pt. 15: I Can't Hear You

This series has already gone on longer than I expected, but I keep finding new things to talk about. Still, this might be the last. And if it is, that would be fitting.

I got the idea from a comment by 'Grundy' (my thanks!):
Apologetics is really just the second best strategy believers have come up with to retain their beliefs when met with secular arguments. The first is holding their fingers in their ears.

That's not very kind, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how true it is.

In previous posts, I discussed the arguments of religious apologists (usually Christian, because that's the majority culture around here - and the culture I was raised in). But people aren't Christian because of the arguments of apologists. They like the arguments of apologists because they're already Christian, almost always because that's the religion they were raised to believe.

Frankly, I wonder if anyone is convinced by the arguments of apologists. Christian apologists appeal to Christians, and Muslim apologists appeal to Muslims, but both reject the apologists of the other religion. Theists already believe. They just like those apologists who seem to give them a better excuse for believing it.

But atheists tend to see through the logical fallacies - maybe not immediately, since professional apologists have carefully developed slick arguments and a very slick presentation, but eventually. After all, most of us have been surrounded by Christian thinking our entire lives. If we haven't heard it all, we've certainly heard most of it.

On the other hand, I had a girlfriend once who was just astonished at having encountered an atheist. She seemed to think it was like meeting a werewolf - or maybe a panda, since she knew that atheists existed, just never expected to actually see one. Thankfully, we're more common now - or at least more visible.

(I remember when that young woman talked me into going to church with her one Sunday. I don't know if she expected me to burst into flames when I walked in the door, but she really seemed to be amazed that I remained an atheist afterwards. Did she think I'd never been in a church before? It seemed like it.)

Atheists in America live in an overwhelmingly Christian society. Most of us were raised Christian ourselves, but even those who weren't have likely been surrounded by Christian family, friends, and/or co-workers. (Sure, if you're of Jewish heritage, you were probably immersed in that culture, but I doubt if you could have escaped Christians and Christian ideas entirely.)

The reverse is not true, not at all. When I was a kid, I didn't know anyone who wasn't a Christian, at least as far as I knew (certainly, no one who expressed even the slightest doubts about God). It might be better now - there's the Internet, if nothing else - but I still encounter a lot of people who've apparently never heard the atheist side of things.

And they don't want to. That has always astonished me, but most Christians apparently don't want to even think about their own religion, let alone talk about it. Yeah, it's the most important thing ever, but they'd prefer not to overtax their credulity, I guess.

They may admire Christian apologists, but they don't understand the arguments and don't care to understand them. Usually, they've never even read their own holy book. It's like they deliberately avoid anything which might cause them to question what they've been taught all their life.

That's OK with me, though I'm always surprised by it. I've never really hidden my atheism, but I never advertised it, either - not until the George W. Bush administration pushed me into it, at least. And even now, I don't announce it to everyone I meet. I don't exactly go door-to-door as an 'atheist missionary,' you know. I'm sure that most people I know just assume I'm a Christian like them.

But even the Christians who do know tend to avoid religion like the plague. I may be going to Hell, but they don't want to talk about it, they don't even want to think about it. (Of course, many of them don't believe in Hell, because they're good people, and they don't want to believe in it. So they don't. Faith-based thinking is handy that way.)

But I do get emails and personal messages online sometimes, from Christians I don't know. These people actually care enough about their own religion to try to convert strangers. Normally, they'll see a comment I made on a YouTube video, for example (yeah, it's an addiction), and send me a private message.

That's fine. I'm always interested in what other people think, so I welcome such discussions. Who knows? I might learn something. But a discussion is not usually what they have in mind.

Note that I never initiate these. It's always someone else sending me a message about their religion, about their faith, about their beliefs. I always read them, think about them, and reply. I make a real point of responding to any points they make, saying whether or not I agree with them and why. I answer any questions and often ask questions of my own. I take them seriously.

And the result? Almost always they reply back. But most of the time, it's just to restate what they sent me in their first message. Did they even read the reply I sent them? Clearly, they received it, because they replied to it. But most of the time, there's no indication that they actually read it.

They just ignore my points, ignore my arguments, ignore any questions I ask. It's like they put their fingers in their ears. They can tell that I didn't agree with them, but they seem to be very careful not to hear why.

Sometimes - not as often - their reply will include a new argument to back up their beliefs. Note that they still ignore everything I said to them in my reply, but they apparently glanced at it closely enough to tell that their first argument wasn't working, so they're trying a new one.

They're still sticking their fingers in their ears, though. They don't say anything at all about any points I made in refuting theirs. They don't say whether they agree with my objections, with my argument, or not. They certainly don't answer any of my questions. They just ignore all that, while attempting a different kind of argument.

This isn't a conversation. In a conversation, you listen to what the other guys says and then respond to that. But they just ignore everything I say. It's not even clear that they read any of it, because they act like it didn't happen at all.

Note that this isn't a debate. I really don't want a debate. A debate happens when you play to an audience. A typical example is how politicians reply to questions. Usually, they ignore the question and just reply with a prepared sound bite.

Of course, they have a lot of experience at this, so you've frequently forgotten the question by the time they finish answering. And if a journalist reminds them of that, they just go off on another tangent. (No journalist persists, because otherwise they wouldn't get access at all. And the politician might call them "biased," which seems to be absolutely terrifying to the media.)

Well, these aren't politicians, and they're not playing to an audience. But they're not looking for a conversation, either, because they absolutely refuse to hear anything I say. This is how they avoid having doubts. This is how they avoid even thinking about their own religion: by not hearing what anyone else - anyone who disagrees - says.

Sometimes, one of these people will reply to something I actually said - not every point, not every question, but something. But it rarely goes any further than that. If you're the kind of person who asks questions - and then listens to the answers - you've probably already given up your religion. If you're the kind of person who actually cares about the truth of his beliefs, you're probably already an atheist.

Do you think that's harsh? I can't tell you how many times a theist has told me that he doesn't care if his beliefs are true or not, because he "wouldn't want to live" in my world (i.e. the real world). That usually happens at the end of a face-to-face discussion, where it's not so easy to ignore everything the other person says.

Online, though, it's very easy. I don't know why people send me personal messages if they don't want to hear what I'll say in return, but they do. I enjoy talking with people about this stuff, but Christians only want to talk at me. Or so it seems.

I think they're worried that atheism is catching. And you know? I think they're right. If you don't put your fingers in your ears, who knows what you'll hear.

Note: The rest of this series is here.


Grundy said...

Glad to be your muse. :-)

WCG said...

I can't say I'm especially happy with the results, Grundy,... but I guess I can't blame you for that, huh? Heh, heh.

It's just that, sometimes, I'm completely satisfied when I click on that Publish button. No one else may think so, but I think I've done well.

Other times, I just can't seem to get a post to that point, so I publish it anyway. This was that kind of post. I said everything I wanted to say, but it doesn't hang together as well as it could.

I think my focus was off. Or maybe I just didn't spend enough time on it. Oh, well. I doubt if worrying about it is going to help any, huh? :)

Russ said...

~And the result? Almost always they reply back. But most of the time, it's just to restate what they sent me in their first message. Did they even read the reply I sent them? Clearly, they received it, because they replied to it. But most of the time, there's no indication that they actually read it.

Glad to buck this trend. :)

WCG said...

And I do appreciate that, Russ. Thank-you for the comments!