A Week With Christians

I’m not exactly quiet about my atheism. I’m pretty open with my antitheism as well. I feel that having a view that you can’t defend or vocalise shows a weakness in that view, and that you have not truly thought about the topic at hand.

It is also why I hold some views that many do not. Not usually from some sort of grand intellectualism that I suggest I hold over others, but because of the nature of debating you have to defend rather unusual views. It gets you some weird looks when suggest inherent issues with monogamy, or discuss the problems of intensive farming waste management. But I have digressed from my original topic.

For the last week the Christian Union at our society has been holding a ‘DISCUSS’ week which has involved free lunches and dinner, with a talk or topic being discussed at each one. I’m always a fan of free lunches, and I am not ignorant of the topics being discussed so could always offer a dissenting opinion if required. On the first day the topic was about hell, and while I don’t remember all the details, I certainly caught the attention of the pastor with quite a relentless attack on the premise he set up. I didn’t accept eternity as a good thing, I didn’t accept a day of judgement as worthwhile, and I didn’t believe hell was a worthy punishment for anyone. I also contested whether my eighty years were enough to make a suitable decision on my ethics and morals (I also reject the whole philosophy but you attack the relevant parts).

The second talk was on suffering. That was a slightly more heated as I was pushing a natural solution to prevent suffering, and how empathy was an evolutionary advantage. His responses glossed a lot of what I was saying. I hung around afterwards to grab some more food and talk to a few of the other patrons. The pastor came over to me and asked if I wanted to grab a coffee, or something, and discuss the topics more. As he wasn’t really answering my questions I thought it would be good to talk through. It’s also a relatively rare opportunity for me as I don’t know many active Christians, and I know even less pastors and their ilk.

Discussing with the pastor, Lewis, himself was an interesting discussion. We talked about the fine tuning argument, origin of societal behaviour and so on. It all ended with a small discussion of the resurrection, where he viewed everything hinged around.

While the discussion was interesting obviously, but as I explained to Jo later in the day, it highlighted how differently you talk to people depending on where they stand. With the one on one with the pastor it was a mixture of defending my position, deconstructing his, and explaining how I view the world, and it was all done with a soft, polite and patient tone. I was never on the attack, just chatting it through, and bringing my ideas in to a long, cogent stream of consciousness. It is the most effective way to present your thoughts in a discussion like that, you don’t aim on winning or losing, but merely in following the logical argument and dissecting the crux on which it stands.

When I was speaking aloud, asking questions at the meeting, what I was saying was all that little bit more aggressive. I was aiming to quickly attack the point I disagreed with, but it was never intentionally offensive. A lot of people attack the prominent atheists as being dogmatic or aggressive, but I often don’t see them as aggressive. Most often, religion is presented as not having to answer for the burden of proof it holds, and instead throws it to non-believers.  You have to be aggressive to push the goal posts back to where they belong.

But with debates, the one on one in a public form one of the only successful tactics is to be the aggressive, angry type. Opinions are thrown around as if they can be equal just because of the fact that there are two sides to the discussion. No, there are opinions that are valid, and backed up be evidence, and those that aren’t. With a debate you have to keep the footing solid, without people being able to wonder down paths that drag you into 20 minutes of rebuttal.

The final way you present this information is a relatively angered and passionate speech, usually given when presenting to those align with you already. You are not trying to teach them something they don’t know but instead trying to inspire them to your cause. Whether talking about fighting creationism, peerages for bishops, cruel punishments inflicted by religion, or the institutional subservience of women in societies. You are trying inspire action so you talk with a style filled with vitriol and emotion.

But back to the pastor. Even after almost entirely disagreeing with him over three days of discussion I quite liked the guy. He was engaging, friendly and often quite genuine. I really did think that he believed what he was saying. But on the last day of the free talks they had a different pastor, a gentleman called Alan, who was there to talk vaguely on ‘Has Science Killed God’.

The ‘vaguely’ is important as he didn’t really address that topic at all, and instead spouted some fine-tuning argumentation crap and how human kindness was clear evidence of a higher being. His argumentation was both crap and unconvincing, and also rather insulting. He also massively misrepresented the atheist perspective as an utterly nihilistic view that would not care and show compassion. He argued that there is a moral standard that is the universal standard for right and wrong, and how I must concede that because we have a soul that tells us so. This is obviously easily counterable, but it troubled me that that view is still being espoused by those in the religious community because it is so riddled with holes, and doesn’t even attempt to engage with the non-religious.

The highlight of that lunch was the arrival of one of my lecturers, Carlos, who joined in the discussion and sided very strongly with our view, and began to pull apart the speakers arguments for the ludicrous nature of what they suggested. Having never really spoke to Carlos, or many of my other lecturers, outside of an academic point of view it was certainly amusing to say the least, and quite insightful.

After a week of these discussions, speeches and lunches my view hasn’t shifted from where it stood seven days ago. I have learnt a lot more, and I am aware of far more views and ideas passed among the Christian organisations. I think my time there was also of use in that I was able to provide some sort of contrarian view that was at least moderately informed. There were others who posed questions but they were generally very soft, or articulated in a way which allowed skirting of the issue presented.

I also enjoy a good argument, which I think everyone who knows me is aware of.