The Irish Atheist has been thinking.
An unfortunate occurrence when one has spent a lot of time on Twitter.
Anyway, through my interactions with theists on Twitter, I’ve come across a number of complaints about atheists that run along similar themes. As hard as it is to properly express arguments in 140 characters or less, there are often accusations (from both sides) of close-mindedness and an unwillingness to listen.
Something I am willing to admit I am often guilty of.
It’s easy to be cold and cynical and heartless to an avatar on a computer screen. It’s much more difficult when the person is sitting right in front of you. Which is why honest theological discussion happens so rarely on a medium like Twitter.
But still, the accusations persist. That atheists are trying to shove their atheism down other people’s throats, that we’re closed minded and unwilling to even consider the possibility of a deity, that we’re only atheists because we hate god and were hurt by religion and we just get a perverse pleasure out of mocking people’s sincerely held religious beliefs.
The irony of this coming from a religion with a church on every corner, who openly and proudly participates in third-world tourism or ‘missionary work,’ and who follow a religion actually teaches that Wiccans, LGBT people, inter-faith couples, people in any other religion, and people who work on Saturdays should be rounded up and executed is usually lost on them.
Now, I’m a generally self-aware person and I’m willing to admit that some of the accusations ring true. Not all of them for me personally, and I think it would be difficult to find an atheist who is all of the above. But go on Twitter, type in ‘atheist’ in the search box, and you’ll run across quite a few atheists who do seem to exist only to ridicule religious beliefs instead of engaging in reasoned discussion. You’ll find some who are completely unwilling to listen to theists of any kind. And you’ll find people of a cold, cruel, and compassionless demeanor even among those who try to speak seriously.
And I confess that I am probably too often among the latter.
I also consider myself a reasonable person, one who is willing to listen to criticism and respond to it. It’s why I’m an atheist, after all. If I’m going to be perceived as someone who is close-minded, unmovable, compassionless, and only interested in trying to ‘convert’ people to atheism, I’m going to respond to those accusations and try to remedy them.
That’s why I’m proposing a deal.
I offer to meet with a member of the clergy. Preferably Protestant Christian, since that’s the greatest religious influence in the nation I now call home, as well as the demographic I interact with most. Ideally, he or she would also be a youth minister. I have worked with youth as an occupation, I have done part-time tutoring work and I know how to interact with young people.
I’ll offer you a few hours of my time to minister to me if you’re willing to do the same and let me speak about atheism to members of your youth group (as well as anyone else who wants to respectfully sit in).
Now, a few points of clarification:
Why target the youth group? It’s not, believe it or not, because I have any interest in all in turning people to atheism. Religious beliefs are a personal choice for young people that I don’t believe I have the right to interfere with. I am not targeting kids because their minds are unmolded or susceptible to my nefarious atheist agenda. Rather, I want to speak with a group of people who are learning primarily about atheism from people who are not atheists. More to the point, they’re learning about atheists from those who are theologically and philosophically opposed to atheism. I want to give a group of young people the opportunity to talk to an atheist, hear his story, his reasons, how he lives his life without god, and then have an opportunity to ask questions. And I’m not trying to get them alone, I’m more than willing to have adults present and participating.
I simply want young people to hear about atheism from an atheist in a safe and respectful environment before they go into the world with a false impression of who we are.
When I did tutoring, I worked mainly with middle school kids, and that’s why I’m aware they’re probably not the proper demographic for something like this. A middle schooler is in the middle of a lot of development, and their level of emotional and intellectual maturity can range anywhere from that of an average eight-year-old to an eighteen-year-old. High schoolers would probably be best. 14 to 18 age range. Particularly because, while I’m a respectful and civil person when I debate, I don’t hold back in my criticisms or my questions and I do not want kids to feel like I am attacking them personally.
In return, as I said, I’ll do the reverse and submit to some ministering. Either one-on-one with a pastor or reverend, or with a group of elders, or with a study group.
I think it’s a fair trade.
It’s a trade I’m willing to do more than once.
It’s not something I have a time issue on. It can happen next week, next month, next year, etc.
If you or someone you know might be interested, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or hit me up at @Irish_Atheist on Twitter.
It’s something to think about.
Just don’t say that we’re never unwilling to listen.