There are a number of ways to shut down a conversation with an atheist quickly. This may be your goal, but if you’re looking to have a thoughtful, productive and interesting conversation with an atheist, you can easily avoid these conversation killers once you’re aware of them
Quote or link something you can’t defend
This happened in a blog comment I had on this site yesterday. When someone asked why Christ had to die for our sins, rather than God just simply forgiving us, someone stopped in and left a link. When they were asked to use their own words or back the link up with their own rationale, they refused and said that if the original questioner wanted to test their understanding, they should have been a professor at their graduate school.
If you’re going to quote someone else or use links, that’s fine. We all do it from time-to-time, but those quotes and links should be used to back up an argument you’re already making and you should be able to defend it if challenged.
And by the way, that conversation lasted a few comments and that’s it. It wasn’t instructive, interesting or productive.
Pretend we believe in your God
This one annoys the heck out of me. If we’re telling you that we don’t believe in your god or any other, please don’t pretend that we do. I honestly don’t care whether your holy book says we believe or whether it says that makes me foolish. If you want to have a conversation with me, then don’t bother telling me what I believe.
Assume that we haven’t read your holy book or that it harms us in some way
Personally, I’ve read the bible several times. I’ve also read the Qur’an. Yet lots of believers pretend they know their holy book and because I’m an atheist, I don’t understand it or I’ve never read it. Even if they do accept that I’ve read their book, they’ll sometimes assert that because I’m not a believer, some sort of ghost woo prevents me from understanding it at the same level as they do.
I can read and comprehend things. I don’t need spirit woo to help me understand what I’m reading.
I’ve also run into believers who assert that the word of God (their holy book) somehow hurts me. As if I were a real life vampire and their book was a silver cross or some sort of potent garlic.
Neither of these things will promote a good conversation. Many atheists will just walk away.
Quote the bible to prove the bible
Quoting the bible to point out a passage we’re talking about is fine. When you quote the bible to prove the bible is valid, that does not make me want to stick around. To me, the bible is a piece of literature that was written by people for people. Since I don’t believe in your God, I certainly don’t believe God had anything to do with the writing of your book. Quoting endless passages at me is not going to facilitate a good conversation.
God bless or I’ll pray for you
Both come off as being passive aggressive. If you want to pray or bless us, telling us you’ll be doing either won’t make your prayers or blessings more effective. Just end the conversation and be on your way. If you need to pray or bless us, simply do so on your own time without informing us.
Threatening an atheist with hell or eternal torment is a sure-fire way to sabotage dialogue. Even worse is when the believer is making threats of eternal torment and then says they don’t understand why the atheist is getting hot under the collar – after all, they don’t believe in hell right?
Yeah, we don’t believe in hell, but we sure believe in you, and no one likes being threatened by real or imagined threats. We also realize you seem to be promoting and upholding a system that would see us being tortured for eternity.
Assume atheism means we believe all sorts of other things
I see this all the time, such as when a theist asserts that if we don’t believe in God, we MUST believe something came from nothing.
If you’re a theist, avoid assuming what we believe as individuals. Ask first.
Atheists can do this when it comes to God as well. For example, instead of assuming what the theist means by ‘God’, simply ask them to define the word so you know exactly what they mean by their God.
There’s my list! Add to it in the comment section or make your own if you’re a theist who would like to make a similar list from your point of view.