There are two main approaches that Atheists take when trying to open a religious mind, and release the seed of reason trapped inside. One group, such as Dawkins, Harris, Dennet, use mainly their own reason as a pry bar to try and accomplish this, while another group, people such as Hitchens, Bill Mahr, or any number of other comics like Doug Stanhope, prefer to use the hammer of ridicule to bust the piggy bank wide open. Which method is best?

Most Atheists, I think can appreciate both paths, if for no other reason than the entertainment value, but there seems to be a significant number of Atheists that are uncomfortable with the brute force approach, since they think it doesn't convey the best image of Atheists, but I just think this is a huge mistake.

Reasonable people have been attacking Christianity with the pry bar of reason for at least the last 250 years but what has been it's fruits? Certainly much of Europe is free from this disease, but the US and much of the world are still being burdened under it's crushing weight.

I don't think many would argue that a lot of progress has been made in the last few years since the publication of Dawkin's book "The God Delusion". It set off a parade of such books and debates, and prompted many more people to get involved, but what is really the source of it's success. Is it the well reasoned arguments contained in it's pages, or might it be something much simpler. What if Dawkin's had called his book something like "A Rational Refutation of Religion" instead? Is there any question it would have had less of an impact.

It was the ridicule explicit in the title that did the trick. He tapped into a simmering emotions of millions of people who felt the same way but had been afraid to speak up themselves. Same with Hitchen's "God is Not Great - Religion poisons everything". The ridicule and directness of the title, probably selling more books than all the pages inside. Another example is Bill Mahr's Movie Religulous, Just the trailer alone playing on public television, perhaps affecting more people than all the reasonable arguments in a dozen of the most popular philosophy books.

The problem is that most Atheists are very rational people, and many can appreciate the well reasoned arguments of a Dan Dennet or a Sam Harris (my personal fav.) but the fact is we don't have to convince ourselves, we have to get through to people that are more adept than beavers at building dams to our rivers of reason, and in such cases, maybe a battering ram is the better option.

For myself, I am convinced that it is the ridicule and humor explicit in all the works I've mentioned so far, that has done more for the Atheist movement in 4 years than all of the rational argument in the previous 200, and I do so grudgingly, since I am much better at debate than i will ever be at humor, but as Atheist groups grow, I just think we need to be wary of ever becoming too concerned with our "image", as this may quiet the very voices that are doing the most to free us.

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Tags: Atheism, Bill, Mahr, dawkins, dennet, harris, hitchens, ridicule

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Comment by Kozz on January 27, 2009 at 1:44pm
Another point implicit in the post, is that the opinions of all parties may not be that reliable. Atheists may tend to think reason is the best approach because it provides the "image" they prefer. Recent Atheists would say reason was the cause, because who would admit to being shamed into it. The best judges would actually be the currently religious, since they know very well what causes their thoughts to bang most loudly against their iron clad enclosures, but as unreasonable as they are about God, they still do have enough sense to not give an honest answer to the question.
Comment by Fr33think3r on January 27, 2009 at 9:23am
There are an infinite number of ways to get the seed of reason to germinate.

My preference is to have a conversation/debate where the believer does most of the talking. Mostly, I am politely asking the other person to define what they mean. Typically, they will talk themselves into a corner because they have not taken the time to think about why they believe. Then I let them out of the corner and move to the next topic. I know the seed is growing when future conversations become more about my de-conversion.

I would suggest that the believer needs the hammer and pry bar. If they just pound you enough you will come around. Daniels chemistry teacher’s approach worked without a hammer or pry bar. The passive approach worked. You are not going to convince me to change my mind using ridicule. At most, you will convince me that people like you are interested in deriding my long held beliefs.

I would suggest that Dennett, Dawkins, & Hitchens have not converted anyone that wasn’t already on their way to reason. How could they? If one believed that they where fundamentally wrong reading their books could only support the belief that they are wrong. The real conversion starts with us. We need to give the seed of reason TLC.
Comment by Phillip Law on January 26, 2009 at 10:56pm
I use different ways for different people.

I use the harsh one for those fundamentals who teach christianity, but I only do it when I am in front of their flock of sheep. The purpose of this is to show to the sheep how ignorant and ridiculous the shepard is, and get them to question what they're been taught.

I use the soft way for other believers who are moderates.
Comment by Daniel W on January 26, 2009 at 10:43pm
You make an excellent, valid, point.

I can only add, that there are other approaches, and they have a place as well. Being a role model, while open about atheism, is one way. I think of my high school chemistry teacher, openly atheist in a town of christian conformity. He was a beacon of reason without debating or ridicule. Just by being himself, as an openly atheist, respectable and intelligent man, he was a part of my deconversion process.

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