How to Talk to Religious People About Atheism

How can I effectively communicate atheism? 

Let's break this up into two different answers.

So, the first is, you know, should you do it at all? Can you do it at all?

And I understand there are a lot of people who are in the closet about their atheism, they don't want to talk about it, they don't want to tell anyone about it, and they have very good reasons for this like they might lose their job or they might lose their family members, or their, you know, partners, or children if they come out as an atheist.

I get that. They don't have much of an option. If you do have the luxury of being able to come out as an atheist, I think there's some sort of obligation you have to do so, especially in the culture we're living today in America, where we're such a minority and we need more people to come out.

If you have the ability to just say on Facebook what's your religious preference: atheist, that's a big deal. If you put, you know, just one word in your Twitter bio, that's a big deal.

If you have the opportunity, and I'm fortunate enough to have it, to write about atheism or talk about it, then do it. But don't hide anything about it, because I think people have this nasty stereotype about atheists that they're immoral, they're untrustworthy.

And the way you fix that stereotype is people have to know other people who are atheists, and you have to say to yourself:

"Oh, I know that person", you know, "he's an atheist", "she's an atheist". "And they're really good people." "So, maybe I was wrong about atheists."

The only way that change happens, is if people come out, and you know they're atheists. So, we need people to come out of the closet.

I love these Facebook and Twitter campaigns where people just, you know, hold signs of them saying "I'm an atheist, then I'm happy".

Or, you know, they just put that scarlet "A" from the Richard Dawkins Foundation up somewhere. I love that.

Anything that lets people know you're an atheist, within, you know, reasonable context, that's awesome.

So, I think if you can be out as an atheist, you should be out as an atheist. Like what are you hiding it for? I'm not saying just randomly, you know, tell people:

"Hi, I'm Hemant. I'm an atheist." But if the opportunity comes up, don't lie about it, you know. If someone asked you what religion do you believe in, just say: "No, I'm not religious, I don't believe in God."

If you can. Now, the other part of that question is: how can you effectively communicate that? Should you be, you know, in-your-face and aggressive about it?

And, you know, "I hate God" and "This is dumb" and "I hate churches." Or should you take a more, you know, genial approach and say, "Alright, religious people have their beliefs, but I'm gonna try to nicely explain why people should become atheists.

And for a long time, that latter one, that was pretty much my approach, which is, you know, "Live and let live over there," but I'm going to try to convince people why I'm an atheist and, you know, and that's part of the reason I created the name of the website Friendly Atheist because most of the atheists I knew were pretty nice.

So, it's not like I'm the only nice friendly atheist out there. Now, in the coming-- In the years since I started the site, many, many years ago, I have a lot more respect for people who are more in-your-face about it, where, you know, if you bring up religion in a conversation, people are going to poke holes in your argument and they're going to be merciless about it.

And they get a lot of-- They get a bad rap in the media. They're called militant atheists, staunch atheists, you know, aggressive, you know, militant... Whatever. It's nothing nice.

You don't hear friendly smiling atheists a lot. But one person put it to me this way: You know, some people you're not going to change their mind unless you really give them this bitter pill to swallow and you really shake them up.

And only when you do that will they will it get through their heads that, "Oh, you're making a good point."

But for some people, they're not going to respond to this, you know, more aggressive behavior. And some people need water to, like, swallow that bitter pill.

And maybe that's a job for me and others who take that nicer approached about it. But I no longer have much of a beef with people who are just really in-your-face about it.

I don't always like what they're doing, but I don't necessarily want to stop it. And I'll give you an example of this. On a college campus, there are some college groups do this event called, like, Fiction for Fiction.

If you give them a holy bible, which is fiction, they will give you back a work of classic literature. You know, it makes a point that this is all fictional and, you know, you give us your religious books, we'll give you this awesome classic literature book.

And I think that's really impressive, I think it's not that aggressive, I think it's making a controversial point, but it does it in a pretty smart way.

Now, on the other hand, there's another group, I think it's in Texas, and I don't know if they still do it, but I know they did it a few years ago, where they did, you know, Smut for Smut.

The Bible has so much sex and violence and all this horrible type of stuff like that. And so, if you give them your Bible, they will give you hardcore pornography.

The idea was, "It's kind of the same thing." And again, I get their point, but I thought-- I used to think: "Oh, that does so much more harm than good," like, "people don't want to be a part of that group."

And in the years since, I'm like, "You know what? They make a point." It's in-your-face, but it does get people talking. And while it's not the approach I would take, I think I'm a lot less likely now to just, you know, rail against that sort of thinking.

I like people who make points, even if it's controversial, even if I think, "I don't know, you might be rubbing a lot of people the wrong way." But it probably does reach a lot of people.

I'm just amazed that, like, Pat Robertson and James Dobson and, you know, Jerry Falwell back then, like they had an audience.

And, you know, you watch them and you're thinking, "Oh, no one's ever gonna listen to them." But a lot of people listen to them.

And I'm not equating, you know, a militant atheist with any of those guys, but I'm saying there is some value to this, you know, in-your-face aggressive approach.

And I think there's a lot of value to take in the Joel Osteen version of atheism, which is just this nice, smiling: "Let me explain to you why I don't believe in God and hopefully you'll join me."

Originally published by Hemant Mehta on the Atheist Voice. Published on Fadewblogs by Dave Martin.

Disclaimer: This article is published on Fadewblogs with the permission of the author.

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