Any atheist who’s spent even a short amount of time debating with theists about their beliefs knows how hard it can be. Trying to get through to believers can feel like hitting a brick wall. In some of these cases, it’s best to bite your tongue and save your arguments for someone who might actually try to understand them. But how do we pick our battles, and avoid the pitfalls of conversation that truly is a lost cause?
There’s a Time and a Place for Everything
The most important thing to keep in mind when sparking conversation about religion is that, in many situations, it is simply not welcome. For one, you may want to avoid the subject in a professional atmosphere. The topic is so personal and intrusive to some people, it’s almost like asking them about their wages. Also, keep in mind that many people simply do not like to argue or debate at all. They see it as either a waste of time or hostility.
You don’t have to respect somebody’s beliefs in order to respect them as a person. Sometimes that just means recognising when you make them uncomfortable and not inflicting that upon them. Conversations about God can get heated, or make people question things they don’t wish to think about. You shouldn’t go around shoving that down anyone’s throat – no more than they should have the right to do so with their faith.
Being an atheist means being in the minority. Coming to terms with that will help you guide others towards a more rational perspective. Let them speak about their experiences, their beliefs, the reasons they have for them. Ask them questions, don’t dominate the conversation. Show them that you’re genuinely interested in their way of thinking; and that you don’t dismiss it outright.
We like to say we don’t need a God to know right from wrong. To act respectfully, and to live together as people. If that is true, we have to put our money where our mouths are. Take the high road, go the extra mile, and if all else fails, it’s better to disengage than to act out.
Don’t Be A Preacher
If you find that not a single theist is even remotely capable of having a civil conversation with you, maybe you’re the problem.
Patience is a virtue, and it is when you are most in need of your patience that it grows thinner than ever. Learn to hold back, and ask yourself what your goal is. Do you really expect to change hearts and minds here; or is there a smaller, more concise point you could make that may actually get them thinking?
Because if you don’t reach them, if they don’t actually absorb what you’re saying, you are no more use to them than street preachers with cardboard signs are to you. That’s why it’s so important to pick your battles. Our time, our energy, our tolerance, these things have value. We don’t have to chip away at them with petty arguments that go nowhere.
You cannot teach rational thought through ridicule and mockery. This usually only leads theists to further block out any new forms of thinking. Sparking an interest for skepticism in anybody requires a calm, gentle approach. Your goal should not be to teach, it should be to guide. The leap must be their own.