Even when we are being respectful, believers often take us as thinking they are stupid or feel that we are being strident when in actuality we’re not ranting nor initiating a personal attack, nor questioning their intellect at all…those are their thoughts, not ours. We don’t think they are stupid at all, as most of us unbelieving scum once believed many of the same faith claims. No-one is stupid when it comes to religious belief, merely misinformed and largely uniformed as there is often a wealth of information Xians have never been exposed to.
The not-so-old adage that says “The best way to become an atheist is to actually read the Bible” rings true here. Most Xians have rarely read their Bible, if ever and certainly haven’t read it analytically, comparing the Gospels stories with another for example, noting the contradictions and absurdities nor have they read Biblical History to know who even wrote the Gospels and epistles or when. Most Xians would do well to read any of Bart Ehrman’s books or Dan Barker’s “Godless” to get educated on what we know about the Bible and the wealth of misinformation we were taught during our religious training: catechism, Bible study, vacation Bible school, sermons in church, or religious media programs.
The mere questioning of religion cuts deep with many believers and any attempt at discussion is often taken as direct confrontation, a disrespectful attack, no matter how soft pedaled, because in point of fact it is a direct attack, but on the ideas, on religion itself.
The disrespect is to the ideas not the person, though it is rarely understood that way. I’ve witnessed too many secular-believer exchanges, panel discussions, impromptu questionings, exchanges even among friends where no matter how gentle the person delivering puts it, no matter how well-phrased the wording, it comes out ” “religion is delusional,” “religion is wrong,” “religion is bullshit,”… because frankly it is. There is no getting around it. And hearing that is difficult for many if not most believers. No matter how nice you are in your demeanor, nor matter how nicely you put it, it is often heard as “you’re stupid” and the thoughts become “you think I’m stupid for believing it.”
It is taken as a personal direct confrontation no matter in what terms you couch it because it is a direct confrontation of absurd, unfounded ideas.
Originally I was going to title this post:
“Why you won’t be perceived as nice no matter how hard you try when you question someone’s religion”…
You can be nice, you should be reasonable and respectful to the person, but it may not work anyway. Even when you strenuously avoid giving the impression you think a believer is stupid, they tend to feel that way regardless. You can point out it is only the belief, the religious claim that is implausible or downright ridiculous and they hear “He’s telling me I must be stupid too, for believing it.” Many cant seem to separate the attack on absurd ideas from a critique of their intellect.
Also, I think the “backfire effect” is overrated. This is a common claim of apologists who want us non-believers to be more respectful of religious ideas and play “nice” by not attacking religion at all since they claim our actions “backfire” in turning the religious off so much that they won’t and don’t listen, learn nothing by our arguments and just dig their faith heels in deeper. I think that is a crock.
The immediate emotional reaction is negative yes, but damn near always a seed is planted that may take years to take hold. Dawkins’ website is full of testimonials of believers changing their minds sooner of later, some many years later before they are able to let go. Dawkins and Hitch and Harris and others couldn’t be more confrontational, yet they appear to be responsible for assisting a good many people to leave their faith behind. The attack on religion is allgood as long as it is not ad hominem, but only against religious thought and claims. You have to let believers catch on you truly do not think they are stupid, only misinformed, which usually began as children. It is not their fault, they are not stupid. They have just been hosed.
And boy are the ideas absurd: