What The Hell
Does That Mean??
Larry

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "K1zw"
Subject: Re: De-conversion story
Date: Tuesday, June 20, 2000 4:45 PM

I not only had this experience as a young child, I cultivate this mentality today when I feel the need to protect myself against the onslaught of Christian or New Age evangelism or policymaking. In an adversarial situation, the most effective response (the most quieting response, that is), is to openly refuse to assume that I know what they are talking about. I love to gesture by passing my hand over my head, from forward to back. Without even opening my mouth they all know what I'm saying: "That just went right over my head!"

At minimum, I will often point out that the phenomenon they describe (such as the good in mankind) can be explained without resorting to the supernatural. The follow-up to that one is to remind them that the supernatural explanation is more complex, and thus more unlikely than any natural explanation.

There's even a joke that carries this to its logical absurdity, called something like the "top ten responses to door-to-door missionaries." One of them says to wear Groucho Marx glasses and pretend never to have heard even the basics: make them explain their position from the ground up. I've done this (without the glasses) and it's a real hoot: "Wait a minute -- God? What's a God? Life -- after death? Wait -- where did that idea come from? -- and how would it possibly work? Explain the mechanics of this to me!" I've done variations of this many times in our Letters section. The most basic ground rule for discussing god-claims with a theist is to make them define, for the conversation, the word "God" as they use it. You cannot go up against meaningless sounds such as "God" and "spiritual," but you can carefully examine a definition as long as they express it in everyday language.

I've been able to get missionaries, Twelve Steppers, and even casual friends off my back by reminding them that I don't even pretend to know what the word "spiritual" means, and thus I never use the word. It forces them to use regular language to say their peace, and many have never thought their position out well enough to be able to describe these concepts without resorting to specialized terminology. Sometimes they can even see that their very point depends entirely upon their use of meaningless buzz-words such as "spiritual." They soon realize that they do well to drop the subject around me, because I will ask questions.

Much of the problem is that they have become so accustomed to this specialized language that they use it without suspecting that some of us might have no idea what they are talking about. They've heard this language since childhood and never questioned it -- until you or I question it for them and force them to examine their own words.

I am very careful, though, because I don't want to treat friends and important associates this way. That's what I love about Positive Atheism: here it is my job to counter these and similar claims! This is a proper forum for such discussions, whereas a bar or Christmas Dinner may not be an appropriate setting for discussing these topics.

When I am trying to get along in the real world (where associates and friends and family and lovers and even one's life-companion may make entirely unfathomable statements), I go ahead and realize that all believers have what they feel are valid reasons for believing. In these cases, I tend to just let them make their statements and then I wait for the earliest opportunity to politely change the subject. This is how it is most of the time with me.

At times I will even go along with such talk. Recently, while flirting at a bar, I caught myself adding to a woman's list of ways one should never treat a Sagittarius boyfriend -- I'm "Sagittarius" so I simply listed several more things that I don't like people to do to me! She kept saying, "Yup! That's true, too! You're a Sagittarius, all right!" Years ago, I had a friend who would read the Tarot cards. What he was doing was using the Tarot as an opportunity to say things that one could never get away with telling people in polite conversation or on the job!

The only times I feel the need to defend myself are when they have cornered me into the role of captive audience or when they are using their foggy thinking to defend or encourage dangerous public policy. When I cannot simply change the channel, I will respond in ways similar to what you described. As even a casual perusal our Letters section will show, I have quite an arsenal of such techniques.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "K1zw"
Subject: Re: De-conversion story
Date: Tuesday, June 20, 2000 8:49 PM

Although you are absolutely correct on this, watch out: I've had many an adversary accuse me of playing games with semantics when all I wish is to know precisely what is being said.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

Graphic Rule

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