Challenging Religious Claims (In a Humanist Way)
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Last month, HNN Editor Maggie Ardiente asked readers, “What are some ways you challenge religious fundamental claims?” Many of you had great stories to share! Here’s how you responded:
The idea that atheists are different from believers and deserve to be “marginalized” is an idea I try to debunk every day. I never hide my atheism, and if someone mentions God, Heaven, etc., I kindly let them know that I don’t believe such things. This often sparks a conversation whereby a stranger or friend will learn that I am a regular person, with similar motives and morals, as is any other stranger or friend. I simply choose not to believe in a higher power or supernatural things of any kind. I explain that I do not believe in ghosts whether holy or not as I have no evidence of their existence. My intent is to be as kind as possible and try not to put them in a defensive position, but rather to let them see for themselves, an individual that is comfortable with the acceptance of no after life promise. Life is all the more precious and beautiful, I say.
Yesterday, I responded from a stranger who said, “Oh, how sad and dark!” with, “Oh no. It’s quite the opposite. It’s a glorious feeling to know that I no longer must adhere to dogma and time consuming ritual, but instead can enjoy a precious and beautiful life that is all the more fascinating and unique, as it will only happen once for me and those around me. I cherish it more! Believing in what might seem bright and happy, does not make it real for me; therefore, I do not derive any more happiness from that idea as I do from pretending I won my last triathlon. It doesn’t make it so.”
I think it is important for atheists to proudly speak out. Sometimes this can be done in a very practical and sensible manner. I’ll often say, “No, I do not pray for people, as I think bringing them dinner is much more helpful.”
I took my white cane and my 5-month-old Shih Tzu puppy Laila and went out for a walk. It was a beautiful day and we went and sat outside a coffee shop. I am trying to get Laila ready to be trained as a therapy dog so I can take her into Hospice houses and children’s hospitals. I have a Master’s in social work, and I want to volunteer with Laila in the hopes that people will smile if they are in pain or in the process of dying.
I was chatting with people who had questions about Laila. Someone offered to go inside and get a cup of coffee for me, since the dog is not able to go into a public place. There were people playing music and lots of pedestrian traffic, so I was sort of in a daydream when a young man walked over and started talking to me.
It was an unremarkable start to a conversation as proven by the fact that I hardly remember why we were speaking. I only remember that after a minute or two he asked, "Do you have trouble with your eyes?"
At 58 years old I shouldn't be amazed by the audacity of people any longer, but I confess I flashed through several different ideas in a split second. A part of me wanted to say that I had no problems at all other than his intrusion into my life. I also wanted to tell him that it may have been he who had a problem, as the white cane seemed not to answer his presumptuous question in the first place. Then I thought about asking him an equally private question such as when he may have lost his virginity. In the end I somehow became civilized enough to just say, "No, I am totally blind but it is not a problem to me."
He got a bit closer to me and said that he and his friends were visiting from Atlanta and that they were missionaries. They wanted my permission to talk to God on my behalf. He told me that Jesus could cure anything and they were sure I could get my vision if only they could intervene. I was stunned!
Where was Jesus when this kid needed a brain? Where was Jesus when this kid was learning manners? Where was Jesus when I wanted to be left alone to enjoy the day? Where is the proof that Jesus is giving me vision just because the kid asked for it?
In the end, I told him that I wasn’t interested in being able to see. I didn’t want to see his world and all the imperfections that were to be seen: the lack of care for life and the earth, the homeless, dead animals, lawlessness, or those who are unloved. I told him that in my world everything was clean and the trees were healthy. Vision comes with a lot of responsibilities that I do not want.
Wendy Lee Poth MSW
Kansas City, MO
It is never advantageous to challenge someone who claims to be religious, as most religious people are so personally invested in their beliefs that to attack their belief, is to attack them personally. And what would be the purpose of such an attack, to alter their opinions? Personal attacks tend to cause those attacked to cling even more tightly to their beliefs.
I take a different approach. On my website, in His own image, I begin with the premise that Man created god in His (Man's) own image. Then I explore the Bible, and through extensive research, I explain in a language that I feel is contemporary enough to keep anyone awake, that the majority of the events in the Bible simply either didn't happen, or certainly didn't happen the way the Bible says they did.
Noah's flood, for example, was a direct plagiarism of an actual Mesopotamian flood that occurred when the Euphrates River overflowed its banks to a depth of 22.5 feet, in 2900 BCE - 300 years before Noah supposedly lived. The Bible has Abraham riding camels near 2000 BCE, which wouldn't be domesticated for another thousand years. When the foundation of a house is destroyed, the rest falls on its own.
The religious claims of fundamentalists are easy to dispose of. Rationalists and fundamentalists both readily agree that religious beliefs are based entirely on faith, not on evidence.
I had an interesting conversation with a very conservative relative who justified America's unquestioning support for Israel on the grounds that the Jews are God's chosen people. I explained to him that Jews consider themselves chosen by God because they are the descendants of Isaac, the only legitimate son of Abraham. In the Bible Abraham is called upon by God to sacrifice Isaac as his first-born son, and then God stays his hand. In the Koran, the same story is told, but the first-born son is not named. Muslim scholars concluded that it was Ishmael, Abraham's first-born but illegitimate son, who was almost sacrificed. Ishmael is the ancestor of the Arabs. Therefore, I said, Arabs could consider themselves to be God's chosen people on the same grounds that the Jews do. My conservative relative was stumped!
Anti-science claims are much harder to refute. The same conservative relative stoutly maintained that climate change is a hoax, and he was not impressed when I told him that the scientist chosen by the Koch brothers to review the evidence concluded that it was valid and correctly interpreted. Political beliefs seem to trump evidence, just as faith does.