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Still Learning

By WizenedSage (Galen Rose) ~

Two young men recently came to my door carrying Bibles. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses and wanted to know if I’d heard the good news. I said I would be happy to chat with them, but that I felt I should tell them up front that I’m an atheist, so they wouldn’t waste their time, if they thought it would be a waste. They said they don’t usually talk with atheists but they guessed they could this time.

We talked for perhaps a half hour, and I must say that I think I learned more from them than they learned from me. But don’t get the wrong idea; I learned more because I’m still willing to learn. When they left, I tried to give them an article which I had written about the Bible, but as one of them put it, they believe the Bible proves itself. They refused to take my article.

I can only remember bits and pieces of the discussion since we covered a lot of ground in a short time, and I was feeling considerable frustration in failing to get them to concede anything.

When asked what I thought of the Bible, I said I thought it was an amusing collection of absurd, unbelievable stories much like fairy tales. I pointed out (one of my favorite arguments) that I didn’t think it made much sense to take as history a book which talks about witches, wizards, demons, ghosts, giants, dragons, unicorns, and 900 year-old men.

A bit later, one of them suggested that the Bible meant that one who pretends to be a witch should be killed, not that there were actually witches with supernatural powers. (Although they both said they believed in demons that were in service to Satan!) They didn’t recollect the Bible mentioning unicorns, but thought that if I studied the context it would show the Bible’s authors knew they were mythical creatures. (I’ve done this, and they are wrong.)

At one point I asked how they could worship a god who thought homosexuals should be killed. They argued that that was Old Testament law that was no longer valid. Then why did a “perfect” god change his mind? He didn’t; God was changing his message to fit the people and times. But how could it ever have been morally right to kill homosexuals? Because they were warned and still chose to disobey. You think homosexuals choose to be homosexuals? Yes. Even with the shunning and harassment they face as homosexuals, you think they choose it? Yes.

And besides, they argued, I shouldn’t take one passage from the Bible and judge the whole thing. I said okay, how about killing people who work on Sundays, there’s another passage. They answered that Sunday was supposed to be set aside for worship and people were supposed to plan ahead so they wouldn’t have to be picking up sticks on Sunday. But what if the wood the man had stored was too dry, burned up faster than he expected, and his family was cold? Did I think, they asked, that god would punish people if they had a reasonable excuse? Well those details aren’t in the Bible, I answered. It merely says the man was gathering wood and he was killed for it, so the Bible leads one to believe there are no exceptions.

Instead of challenging them to explain away my objections, I think I should keep the pressure on them more gently by asking them to defend their own beliefs - with evidence that a thinking man should accept.Again I was told I shouldn’t take one passage from the Bible and judge the whole thing. I’m not, I’ve given you two immoral passages now, and if you want more, how about killing disobedient sons and adulterers? At this point I handed one of them my article. He read a sentence or two and pushed it back at me.

I don’t think I made much of an impression on them. I rather doubt that they will spend much time thinking about anything I said. So, I have analyzed what I could remember of the conversation in my mind, trying to learn what I did wrong and what I might do differently next time.

I’m thinking that next time I’ll let them state their case and just interject an occasional “How do you know this?” and “How can you be sure of that?” In other words, instead of challenging them to explain away my objections, I think I should keep the pressure on them more gently by asking them to defend their own beliefs - with evidence that a thinking man should accept. Now that I think of it, I believe this is the approach that Peter Boghossian recommended in his recent book, “A Manual for Creating Atheists.” (I wish I’d remembered this when I needed it!)

Of course I will add that if there’s really an all-knowing god, then he knows exactly why I don’t believe. And if he is really all powerful, then he could easily provide a sign which would convince me. I can see no reason why I should accept that there’s a god who gave me intelligence and a critical nature yet wants me to believe stuff on weak evidence.

Of course, in this discussion I didn’t expect anyone to say, “Gee, I didn’t think of that. You’ve changed my mind.” I’m fully aware that de-conversion is generally a long drawn out affair. My hope was that I would give them something that they would think more on later, but I’m pretty sure I failed at this.

I would like to hear what you think about the alternative approach I outlined above (mostly just asking questions), or any points you think I could have brought up that might have caused them to rethink their faith a bit after they left my house.

In they end, I learned from them that I’m probably going about this the wrong way, but I don’t think they would admit to learning a damned thing from me.

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