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Challenging a Fact-challenged Teen

By Carl S ~

For reasons mentioned in a previous testimony, I used to attend church services with my wife. She still goes there, and meanwhile I have the “benefit” (or curse) of going there to pick her up after the services. The attendees know me already, which places both them and me in awkward positions, because I wear my "Out of the Closet - Atheist" cap in their presence. I challenge, thereby, their tolerance, charity, and faith, at the same time. Whereas I was an outsider amongst them before, I am now overt, and in a position to continue my observations of believers. Needless to say, they confine themselves to small talk with me, which is the last thing you'd expect to hear from people who have spent the last hour and a half hyping themselves into belief.

Last Sunday was different. Teen Challenge was making its annual hitting-up-for-money there. The belief seems to be that if a 'charity' is beseeching in a church, it is God's own, and ergo, deserving of those monies, no questions asked. Well, my wife was still in the building, volunteering to count out the tithes, collections, which were assigned to various causes. So, after talking to a few of the members, I went out and sat on the church steps. The "Teen" members were taking their amps and whatever to their van, and on the way back into the church, each one shook my hand. I continued to sit there, cap on head.

One of the members stopped, alone, next to me, to say that an atheist, "Is one who says there is no God." I replied that in reality, an atheist is one who says he finds no evidence of a god or gods, and asked him just how much he really knew about atheists, which he didn't answer. He next informed me that atheists did nothing to help their fellow humans like believers do. I informed him that I VERY MUCH help others, as I do.

Something about believers: when they're challenged with the facts, they change the subject. This time, he switched to going off on 'intelligent design' against evolution, talking about a certain organ in the human body and its many important functions to sustain the well-being of the whole. (He was, I know, repeating by rote the words he had been taught to believe.)

If you remember from school years, the words, "Tell us in your own words what that means," you know that you are being asked to explain that you have thought about what you have been taught and actually understand it to the point that you can articulate that understanding. This is important, and the opposite of indoctrination, which is repeating like a parrot, by rote, what you are told is true. This rattling-off intelligent design defense was no different than other indoctrinations I keep hearing from the believers on other beliefs they have - not thought out at all; somebody else has done the "thinking" for them. I interrupted his spiel on the example of a bodily organ as an excellent example of intelligent design, to point at my ears and say, "Do you see these hearing aids? What about these dentures, these eyeglasses?" He said, "That's technology. "Yes,” I said, “to make up for deficiencies in the first place."

This time, I changed the subject to mention an article I read, about thousands of children dying in Africa each day while their mothers prayed for them. He said that the men and women over there were promiscuous, that's why the children died. (How did he know that?) This cold indifference to the unnecessary deaths and sufferings of others made me angry. I told him, "Do you know what? You are fu...d up." We talked for a few moments more. He said he would have to join up with the others, but I asked him to wait a moment while I got the "prayer and babies" article out of my car, adding that, in my experiences with believers, discussions ended with them walking off. I went and got the article out of the car. When I returned, he was long gone. I waited the ten or fifteen more minutes till my wife came out. I had challenged the teen and he left. His support group was supporting ignorance, prejudice, and gullibility.

That evening, I related some of the conversation with my wife, about atheists, children in Africa, etc., and asked her, "What are they telling these kids?" Now, the big argument against confrontation of irrational beliefs is to "live and let live,” that people are going to believe what they want to, so don't bother. This I find troublesome. What if the beliefs are harmful, like the beliefs that slavery is mandated by God, black people and gays should "stay in their place," that women must stay endangered in abusive marriages because a wife should be "subject" to her husband?

Should we be silent while teens and small children are taught lies about non-believers and dying children in Africa? In short, should we NOT confront ignorance with facts, urge compassion, and defy prejudice? As has been said so eloquently by George Santayana, "The only way evil can succeed is for good men to do nothing." Religious indoctrination, like political indoctrination, is insidious. We who know this are faced with an obligation we can choose to ignore or embrace, but is there really a choice, if we truly care about others?