I am an atheist, and am friends with a lot of religious people. How can I convert (or de-convert) them to atheism?
First, atheism is not a religion and we are not in the business of converting anyone. Most of us would rather discuss interesting ideas and challenge beliefs and assumptions in a good dialogue. The great philosopher, Socrates, taught that the most powerful method of inquiry, was simply asking good questions. His approach is known as “the Socratic method.”
While religious people want to convert, I want to explore and discuss. I want to encourage critical thinking skills, and help people learn to evaluate the evidence for themselves, and come to conclusions based on non-supernatural explanations. I have found that focusing on exploration, discussion and asking well thought out questions is far better than “converting” anyone. If someone changes their mind, that is great; I hope I helped them think through and evaluate the evidence. If they decide they want to keep their supernatural ideas, that is their business. It is not my job on this planet to de-convert religionists and supernaturalists. I do see it as my job to ask questions and help people think about their beliefs and assumptions.
Finally, there is a real art to asking the right questions with the right attitude. If you ask in a challenging or aggressive manner, chances are the other person will only get defensive, even angry, and cling more strongly to their beliefs. The paradox of aggressive argument is that people often become more entrenched. Effective use of low key, thoughtful questions allows the other person to think clearly rather than getting caught up on an emotional debate that only drives them deeper into irrational thought.
I have seen several religionists decide to give up their superstitions simply because I was a friend and asked good questions. I did not put them on the defensive, tell them that they are irrational or otherwise insult their intelligence. I just listened to them, and asked good questions.
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