My wife (a Taiwanese, Christian), my four-year-old daughter and I (an American, atheist) live in Taiwan. We were returning home on the subway in Taipei after a very pleasant dinner with my in-laws and began a quiet conversation about how attached my daughter has become to her grandfather. My father-in-law is now in his late seventies and his health is starting fail so I mentioned to my wife how difficult it will be for my daughter when he passes away. To this my wife replied “Yeah, it will be hard for her when Grandpa’s in heaven.”

No sooner had the words left her mouth when an older woman, probably in her sixties, who had been sitting on the seat next to me sprang up and began shouting at my wife “How do you know he will go to heaven? There is no god! It’s common sense! Are you stupid?” This not only brought the eyes and ears of everyone on the train onto us but also frightened my daughter. The lady kept yelling at us in broken English but we said nothing and when the train arrived at the next stop where we hurriedly exited and took the next train home.

What bothers me about this incident is not the rudeness or the verbal assault of the lady, but rather my own inability to argue in favor of religion or at least a respect and tolerance for others religious beliefs from the point of view of an atheist. I would love to hear back from like-minded people who have had similar experiences or have a good approach to the religious tolerance issue from an atheistic point of view.

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I'll be returning home to the US next week to spend Christmas with my ultra-religious family, the first time I've seen them in over three years. I hope religion won't come up while I'm there, but It's a long shot at best. I think I'll probably just shut up and roll with the punches that are sure to come.

I know they really believe that they're trying to save me but if they really cared about my happiness they'd try to make my visit a pleasant one rather than trying to cram god down my throat. If not for my sake then for my daughter's. I would like nothing better than for her to be able to have a good relationship with my side of the family, but that's not going to happen as long as every time I talk to them I'm getting damned and preached to.

I wrote a blog post about what looks like a useful third alternative, to the two unacceptable alternatives of being rude and losing relationships vs being silent. 

The third alternative is the Socratic questioning technique applied to religion.

All of us have made mistakes in how we have presented our views and I'd be shocked to meet someone who didn't wish they had handled a situation or two like this differently. It is especially difficult when dealing with family and close friends because we care more than when we are talking to so-and-so at work or on the bus. The most important thing is that we are able to think critically about how we handled ourselves so we can do better the next time we're put in a similar situation.

Ted, I also had an experience where I may have been an inappropriately belligerent atheist.

A woman at my job had a very serious stroke while at work and remained in a coma for many weeks.  Particularly immediately following this incident there were LOUD prayer gatherings in the break room "claiming the healing of JESUS".. and that sort of thing.  EVERY conversation about this unfortunate woman (who was a casual friend of mine) included references to god.  Their deity was worked into every remark and every discussion. 

 

Finally I could not take it any more and pointed out, in, I suspect, an angry tone of voice, the incongruity and absurdity of their observations.  I won't elaborate on those thoughts that I expressed, but you all know what would have been my logical response.

 

What I SHOULD have done was hold my tongue and do my best to avoid hearing these conversations.  It would have been difficult, but it would have been better than exploding as I did, which accomplished exactly nothing since none of these people seemed capable of rethinking or evaluating their perspective regarding my co-worker's situation. 

 

The only result was that they seemed to conclude that I was a freak and a nasty one at thet, since I don't think any of them had ever before known a real life atheist.

 

I hope to not make that mistake again.

 

I

I have Christian friends and I respect them enough to keep my atheism mostly out of any conversations, because they are friends. I have no problem with religious people of any religion unless they try to force their beliefs on me. I guess what I'm saying is that I'm tolerant as long as they are. If someone cannot tolerate my atheism and tries to force their religion onto me then I become a militant atheist, and I'll shoot down their every argument. It does no good, though, to debate believers. They cannot be talked out of their beliefs most of the time, as they are programmed, you might say, to have no trust in science, logic, or reason. But I do have a Google atheism blog, and it is there, here, and a Facebook page called "Debating Believers" ( or something like that), where I freely post on religious topics and rebut them all. On these sites I deconstruct religious arguments and show the irrationality of them. Any of my Christian friends with a computer could look them up if they knew of them. In person, however, around Christian friends, I usually avoid religious talk. If they want to believe, and as long as they're tolerant, then so be it. I have no problem with religion.

Anthony, you say you respect your Christian friends enough to keep your atheism mostly out of conversations. I wondered, do your Christian friends respect you enough to keep their Christianity mostly out of conversations as well ?

BK:

My friends know that I am an atheist. They also know that I used to be a preacher. They probably entertain hopes that one day I'll see the "error of my ways" and return to the fold, but that is not to be. I know too much about the Bible to ever return to Christianity. But my friends and I don't ever really discuss religion. At first they would bring it up, but not anymore. I guess they figure I know enough about the Bible to decide for myself. Some of my friends are of the "eternal security" persuasion, so they believe I'm going to heaven anyway. I've also had a few friends who've told me I never truly believed in the first place, and they would be right. I never fully bought into it all.

I like to think that I really did believe ONCE until I looked at the bible and saw the flaws.

What's the "eternal security" persuasion?  Is that the thing about once you're "saved", it can't be undone?  Such silly mind games, silly prattling about things that are entirely in their minds.

B. K., "eternal security" is sort of like dying your hair once and it will never have to be done again. Calvinists believed that.

My friends, how would you have handled this odd situation?  I am both vegan and an atheist.  Since childhood I saw human exploitation of the other animals as the most glaring injustice humans perpetrate, and the cause of the most misery, So I have been an abolitionist  animal rights activist.  I have also been an atheist since about the age of 12, when I read the bible.  Though these causes and world views seem totally consistent to me, my religious friends think I'm wrong, and my atheist friends agree ;-).  I just keep working with others for both secular government and justice for the other animals.  

I just got a piece of personal mail with only the return address of my local animal rights group hand printed on the envelope.  Inside was a page long, typed poem.  It begins saying he? she? saw my photo in the N.Y. Times, at the unveiling of an "Atheist Bench" (It was placed right beside a monolithic monument of the Ten Commandments installed in front of a County Courthouse.)   She/he describes me, "Ever ready for a fight, Smug for the cameras, Pride in her eyes......."  And then, "So I asked myself What would God think"  " Followed by a new age christian mix of dogma and woo, from creationist to the "Law of Attraction".  It ends by telling me that any good and useful thing I've done in my life (65 years of it!) is really just God speaking through me, "with my every nod".

It's been hard to sort through my turmoil of emotions to decide what to think, or do.  When it boiled down to the fact that whoever sent it was in the inner circle of my animal group, and seemed to want me to think that the letter was a condemnation from the entire group.  Using its return address and writing anonymously was what made this so different from a normal discourse about beliefs.  I also just hate that my hard work and sacrifices are seen as acts of their god working through me.

Friends, what do you think!

xtians always reason like that; any good you do is their god's work and any bad you do is their devil's work, leaving no space at all for you. They just want to hurt you.

You know yourself. You know what you are and why you behave like you do. Hold on to that, for you'll never get any recognition from xtians. It's shocking that someone in your group wants to hurt you - jealous perhaps? I know how disturbing that can be. But I think the person that tries to hurt you in this way is too weak and cowardly to face you. I cannot say Don't think about it - you already have. But ignore this coward as best as possible.

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