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The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

How to Listen to An Atheist

Post of the Month: January 2005


Subject:    Re: How to talk to an atheist
Date:       26 January 2005

Jayne Kulikauskas wrote:

> I want to see an essay on how to listen to an atheist.

How to listen to an atheist

John S. Wilkins

In Western society, or in Islamic society, or in Eastern society, an atheist is someone who has had to think through the issues of their local religious consensus and others available in order to come to a conclusion about the way the universe is.

This means they have had to work at it. It is not easy to go against the conventions and mores of your community and of all of them religion is perhaps the hardest to question, let alone discard. Religions act like social and political glue. To become an atheist is, at the very best, to become isolated or excluded from the values and ideas of those with whom they must share their life. It can mean that one fails to agree with one's spouse, family or friends.

So you should pay attention to those who do this, just as, in an atheist society, you should pay attention to those who disregard that consensus and become religious. Truth can often be approached by thinking about alternatives and how they reflect back on the easy assumptions which you got from your parents, your school, your society, or your priest.

But dissenters against the core beliefs of a society can become bitter. Discrimination is rife against minorities - real minorities, not the faux minorities of the Christian or Islamic majority, which have to assert that True Believers are really very rare, but the minorities that find they cannot access the same rights or resources that the religious can. That find they have no place in a democratic legislature because they are atheists. Whose children can be bullied with impunity and the tacit complicity of the authorities, all of whom, unsurprisingly, are religious in the West.

So when you discuss ideas with an atheist, assume they have been bitten before by the Noisy Majority. Assume they have reasons to stick by something that gives them so much grief, and to which they assign so much worth they will not take the easy way out.

Perhaps the atheist is onto something; perhaps just talking with one will make you reassess the foundations for your own religious views and discard the silly, contingent or contradictory aspects in favour of a more mature faith. Perhaps they will open your eyes. Perhaps you will open theirs, but only if you listen with respect and care.

John, an apatheist.
John S. Wilkins AA#2207
web: blog:

God cheats

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