"I appreciated both Keith [former president of australian atheists] and Phillip's [catholic priest] comments. I really like Keith's idea of holding onto the JWs for as long as possible [when they come round to visit]. But that's set me thinking about what i'd say to them.
You know, i was having a really good discussion with Mum last night - and we got onto character. until the 70s (she reckoned), someone's character was very important. It's less of a concern for people now, but i still think 'character assassinations' perpetrated by atheists upon religious believers are quite common, and are a major limitation for the acceptance of atheism by those of faith. That's why i appreciate both Keith and Phillip's approaches, as Keith thinks properly, and Phillip relates to people properly - he is a 'nice guy' - considerate, most importantly. Although having good character and being someone whose word/commitments can be trusted etc is emphasised less now, i think our focus on it in discussing religion is an obstacle. Imagine me having the JWs come round. I could, and rightly so by the standards of critical thinking, direct at them a tirade of indignation about expecting others to give up their rational view of the world for a faithful one.
I could show them the great website 'god is imaginary' - and, well, probably shouldn't have to go further than the first proof about statistics showing prayer is ineffectual.
Then i could take them to another fantastic project 'god checker' - which is chock full of entertaining biographies of all the gods from all the different mythologies throughout history around the world. As fascinating as all that is (and i love the vital statistix down the bottom - i thought it was a basis for a fantastic computer game), a central message to be gotten from that site is that one's experience of god is subjective. otherwise, if there were one true god, why does godchecker.com, in order to be comprehensive and truthful, need to provide dossiers on over 2000 gods (and counting)?
-the fabulous rainbow snake from the australian aboriginal mythology section of the site.
I could then regale them with Mark Thomas's principles of atheism, as outlined right at the bottom here.
and then we could take a break from all the talking by watching Richard Dawkins' doco 'The Root of All Evil?' - download it down the bottom there. - where, among other things, he describes how atheism allows us to grasp the beauty and complexity of life, where religion is too simplistic and detached from reality (because it is, well, about faith and possibly therefore postmodernism (perhaps i would also summarise our fascinating postmodernism vs science lecture!)). In the last part of the second half of that documentary richard talks about just how fortunate we are to be here, what a tremendously small chance we had of coming into the world by virtue of that specific combination of genes our parents gave us. Out of this is the basis for altruism in atheists, for if we are so lucky to just get this one chance (and also the fact that it is just ONE chance), we would feel motivated to treat ourselves and others with the utmost respect, care, love, nurturance, good will and sincerity. or, conversely, recognising no outlandish process of reincarnation will take place, be fully satisfied in knowing that when we 'dispatch' of an enemy in a fashion involving their mortality, they will be gone for good, and the world will really be a better place ;-)
Then i could top it off with saying well, you know, it's not really us that ever reincarnated anyway. Early religious writers appeared to have an uncanny familiarity with the workings of genes back then, such that if one read the bible from the perspective of a guide to achieving gene replication, it would contain some invaluable advice! as an example, the last thing i would show to them would be Matt Weeks' article called Jacob and Gender Roles. here, he points out that genes advertised themselves using the beauty of the woman they were inside (when inside men they advertise themselves by getting him to show how well he can provide resources), causing a man to not only wed her and cause her to bear children (yay! say the genes) but also wed her ugly sister and cause two servants to become pregnant beforehand, as part of the deal. Really bad explanation, read the column, it's great (and did u know he's only 23 like me! i felt shamefully incompetent! the only thing i've done representing anything like his professional, polished 'oh look at me i can write columns' achievements is my livejournal entry about the emphasis on the goddess in the da vinci code and that angsty critique of that body objectification reading last semester! hehe, i've subsequently felt motivated to put it on my livejournal, just to make myself feel like i can do what he does :-P ). see, character does matter still afterall.
um, yeah, so that would like, rationally speaking, blow them out of the water (not to mention taking up a whole day!). but so what. there's something more important to them than acknowledging they've got a faulty understanding of the world and appropriately updating it. they need to protect their sense of being of good character. i am at risk of seemingly attacking it, objectifying them by their irrational belief, if i took keith's seemingly flippant (which may in other settings be appropriate) style of communicating his convictions as a guide. i would need, therefore, to employ Phillip's niceness in putting across keith's message. the problem is though, that whilst athiests might have moved on and finally realised they can live better without faith in god, they are still as invested in the enterprise of character building. when they see a religionist, they see a great opportunity to destroy their character ratings, and simultaneously increase their own, by showing the religionist to be a poor reasoner.
this, of course, shows up their lack of self confidence, since otherwise they wouldn't take an interest in such easy targets. we can address this issue by asking the atheist if they really think it's sensible to abuse other's self-confidence in the process of gaining some for themselves. i think if they really thought about it they would say no, knowing how much it sucks to have no self confidence. knowing that it can drive you to become destructive toward others, and do things like abuse those whose only fault is an incomplete understanding of reality. with this knowledge, the atheist lacking self-confidence/self esteem would be set. they would still see the faults of religionists, but also be equipped to bring about the extra understanding within the religionist that they see them as lacking in a way that the religionist feels honoured as an otherwise worthy person. this style of relating to someone is a basis for creating friendships and intimate relationships which is really what the unconfident atheist is after. but perhaps the achievement of such closeness would then cause the atheist to abandon their crusade, as they have a more sustainable way of feeling self confidence now and don't care for the labour intensiveness of confronting religionists! i don't know, but i think the latter is better still, as an insincere, disrespectful atheist confronting religionists is bad for everyone, in the end delaying their progress toward seeing the truth and giving atheism a bad name.
for example, i bet many more people think phillip is a really great guy and so nice to be around versus keith, because the former is perhaps very practiced at affirming people's worth, where keith maybe is the opposite. i'm speaking generally here, - but since they're representatives for broader causes i think these comments are still valid. i particularly appreciated phillip's appreciation of the worth of atheists that you wrote about here:
"It's not correct to say people are lacking in belief as this sounds like they are lacking a sense of values, because they are 'also looking for truth and goodness, what is true, to do what is right, to love well, but not in religious terms.'"
this is really good, and the same goes for how atheists think about religionists, even if keith complains that "it [is] strange how atheists are thought to have no morals and are the 'lowest of the low.'"
so yeah i think i covered it, although the idea that religion is a way to find meaning... i dunno, i think that more relates to religion being many things, not just the faith in god. as you said, the bible is made up of songs, poems, stories, history. what is the potential of such writings? to explore. to expound upon the nature of living as a human (which, btw, genes couldn't give a stuff about and if they could think i'm wondering if they'd be kicking themselves for evolving us a brain to realise how we've been a slave to them for so long, and that we just might rebel and use (god save us!) contraception and the like). the bible and religion, because it is so broad, includes elements that are metaphorical, mythical, mysterious, and poetic. those four words are the way in which i break down spirituality. it is through those types of explorations that the meaning of life comes to be tied to religious experience. but correlation does not imply causation (great wikipedia article on it) -and as you well know, great meaning and profundity can be infused into the writings of anyone sufficiently proficient at or absorbed in the process of appreciating the mysterious, metaphorical, mythological and poetic nature of our existence.
i'm sending in my applications for joining the atheist foundation and the secular party of australia tomorrow!