Mis-quoting others, atheists being dicks

One of the joys of the internet is the ability to check out and spread humorous quotes of famous people that backup your philosophical position.

Which probably explains why the following quote, supposedly of Mark Twain, has been doing the rounds for some time.

Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool.

When the above quote appeared on my Facebook feed some weeks ago I decided to check it out. I don’t like to just take pithy quotes on face value and in today’s age of easily assimilated and faked images it is so easy to attribute anything to anyone.

There are many places that repeat the quote, but only a few that show a history of the quote, among them is this one: http://www.zebrafactcheck.com/neer-the-twain-did-speak-it/

As can be seen, the quote is of dubious attribution.

One of the reasons I wanted to check the quote out is that I don’t consider it particularly accurate. The history of religion is very complex and no one who studies it long enough will actually claim the quote as being an accurate representation of that history.

The quote is the sort of thing that I would laugh at with friends over a beer if repeated down the pub, but would never take seriously. However, sticking it on Facebook makes it open to challenge. So having found that it wasn’t a valid attribution I commented to that effect and corrected the poster.

Now this particular individual is rather outspoken and like to say things that shock and will argue them until the other party gives up. Some of his posts and comments are so abrasive that my wife has blocked his comments from showing on her feed. He certainly isn’t the type to admit a mistake easily, so I wasn’t particularly surprised when his response to my correction was to reply that whoever said it, it was effing funny.

It is this kind of atheist that, sadly, gives the rest of us a bad name and it is this kind of mentality that, also sadly, many people of a religious persuasion imagine when they think of atheists. I know that is the sort of person I thought most atheists were because that is what I had been warned about many times growing up.

The truth of course, is that this is not characteristic of most atheists, it is simply that this is the kind of atheist that gets noticed the most.

 

Conversing with atheists and former christians

To follow up on a previous guest post I have had (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/how-does-the-online-ex-christian-community-affect-those-who-have-questions-of-faith-or-doubt/) I asked unkleE of http://www.is-there-a-god.info/blog/ to answer a similar question from a Christian perspective and to touch on what its like to converse with ex-Christians. UnkleE has impressed me on other blogs with his calm and considered responses to questions where others have become defensive and aggressive.

The below is his post for me on the subject of conversing with atheists and former Christians.


 

Human beings are tribal

Most people seem to like to be part of a group and to take sides against other groups. Football fans cheer, argue and sometimes even fight on behalf of their teams.

It seems that atheists and Christians are often tribal too. Each group has its own heroes and gurus, its own predictable arguments, and, too often, a penchant for scorning those they disagree with.

 

Justifying nastiness

Both sides can find ways to justify nasty behaviour towards their opponents. Some Christians argue that atheists are dishonest and rebellious, and need to be forcibly reminded of their perilous position. Some atheists, finding their arguments bouncing off, conclude that Christians are delusional, and since rational argument isn’t working, ridicule just might.

It rarely works of course, but who needs truth to justify tribal behaviour?

 

The web is a different ballgame to real life

Often we use pseudonyms. It is easy to feel anonymous or separated from others, and easy to press the ‘Post Comment’ button too quickly.

When I first ventured onto the web about 7 years back, I found myself in an argumentative and polarising environment. At first I argued back, but I now feel there is a better way.

 

The world doesn’t need any more aggro

I don’t think many of us think the world needs more aggro. Yet somehow, we can convince ourselves that our little nasty comment is OK.

But as a Christian, I believe humans are made by God to have worth, gifts, feelings and logical minds. We are made for relationship and we need some affirmation. People should be treated with sensitivity and respect, something the New Testament emphasises.

So I try very hard now, without always succeeding, to respect each person, and only make comments that add to the discussion, not attack them. I try to ignore barbs that come my way and not respond in kind, even if it means I miss an opportunity to ram a point home.

 

Responses

I find many atheists I talk with appreciate this. But unfortunately many atheists on the web still seem to follow the inhumane model of ridicule a lot of the time. To my chagrin, a fair number of christians are just the same.

Consequently, I avoid some forums and blogs, and I avoid or ignore some who comment. It’s just not worth the aggro. Fortunately, there are plenty of atheists and agnostics who are happy to play by rules of common courtesy, and I gravitate towards them.

 

Talking with ex-Christians

Talking with ex-Christians is a special challenge. I naturally feel sad that they have given up what I believe is the truth. But often they have been hurt by the church, sometimes leading to their change of mind, sometimes as they went through the process of leaving. I think they need special sensitivity and patience from Christians – fierce argument is likely to be specially harmful here.

It is easy to feel they have betrayed the team, and to wonder whether they were ever personally convinced or their ‘faith’ was just cultural. But I cannot know what has happened in their lives, so I should respect what they tell me.

Perhaps the hardest thing is when I feel they have rejected a form of Christianity I would reject too. I want to explain this to them, but sometimes they are not ready for anything except friendship, the wounds are still tender. Sometimes I think they are better off out of there – as long as they come around eventually to a more thoughtful form!

Ex-Christians often assume they have made a permanent and final change in their worldview, but statistics show that people who change once are quite likely to change again. So patience and courtesy are needed.

 

Ways forward

We all need to learn not to take offence easily, to have limited expectations of changing people’s minds and not to take it personally when others don’t agree with our arguments. We should enjoy getting to know and understand people who are different to us, and be willing to be in conversations for the long haul.

At the very least, we may help remove some misunderstandings, and who knows, we may even be part of a process of someone changing their mind. I still hope and pray for the people I talk with, for I do indeed want what is best for them.

Deliverance Follow-up

Another long posts here; before reading, it would be a good idea to make sure you have read this post first: https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/03/28/the-dramatic-deliverance/

Following my deliverance experience much changed in my life. My focus changed from being reading about creationism to reading about the Christian approach to deliverance and, more generally, healing. As time went on I would return to soaking up all sort of creationist literature, but for the following couple of years at least that would take a back seat.

A few days after the deliverance experience I was in a room with about 20 other young adults from the church for our regular 18+ meet up. During group prayer time I had a reoccurrence of the recent events. I was sitting cross-legged and as someone started praying, I think it was the first prayer of the evening; I started making incoherent noises and my rear started lifting up and dropping in a very rapid bouncing movement. To say it freaked out those who were there was a bit of an understatement.

Most of those there knew of the events previously, but not all and they were certainly not all comfortable with the concept of demons. One girl in particular was extremely distraught by what she saw and immediately fled the room.

It wasn’t long before control was regained, but it was blindingly obvious that everyone in the room was out of their depth. A phone call was made and I was immediately taken to the vicars house (the same vicar who had accompanied me during the deliverance) to spend the night.

That was to be the last time anything like that would happen to me.

God, save me!

Some evenings later (it may have been as much as a couple of weeks later) I had the most scary event of that period, and possibly the most scary moment of my entire life. I was woken from sleep in the early hours by what can best be described as feeling like someone was sitting on my chest. It was very disturbing. I tried to remove the mystery weight, only to discover that I could not move at all. None of my limbs responded to my attempts at movement. What made matters worse was that the compression on my chest was so heavy that for long moments I could not draw a breath.

When I tried to call out, I found I had no voice, a combination of not enough air in my lungs and no muscle control.

With my breath running low and feeling like I was being physically held down by an unseen force, its not at all surprising that I was utterly terrified. As panic rose up through me, in a last ditch effort I managed to call out “God, help me”. Its was more of a hoarse whisper than a shout, despite thinking that I was screaming it. In that instant I was sitting upright in bed, I was able to breath again and all muscle control was back.

On recounting the story it was diagnosed as a demonic attack.

Years later I would discover that what I actually experienced was very likely sleep paralysis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_paralysis), a known phenomena that can be triggered by stressful events. This discovery was a key moment for me. It meant that is such a vivid and pivotal experience that was automatically assumed to be of supernatural origin was actually far more mundane and explainable. If this experience could be explained so easily; then what of all the others? It was no longer acceptable to just accept the experiences of the past in the religious context I had always judged them. It was now essential to me to doubt them all. If its possible to psychologically explain something that is assumed to be supernatural, then for something to be truly supernatural it must defy any other explanation. I could not in full honesty say that anything I had experienced met that criteria and so it should all be doubted.

Back to the story

A week later, on a far less dramatic social night out a friend commented to me that I looked so much better. He specifically pointed out that it showed in my eyes. Those around all agreed with his diagnosis.

Inside I had changed too, specifically my feelings towards my father were very different. The hate and bitterness that I felt towards him were gone and I just wanted to love him as a father. Our relationship wasn’t fixed, far from it, there would be much pain and hurt yet to experience there; but the way I felt towards him was very different.

My girlfriend noticed it too. It was a couple of weeks later when she said that she found I had changed to such an extent it was like she was having to get to know me all over again. I was still the same person but my attitude and outlook were different. I can’t remember the exact words she used to describe the change, only that it was mostly positive but that scale of the change in character was unnerving to her.

A prophesy

It was probably a couple of months later when the church had an outing to another church to attend a weekend of healing lectures and workshops. By now I had become involved in the church’s prayer for healing group.

During one of the sessions at this church a gentleman was introduced to us all and we were told he had a gift of prophesy or discernment (something like that, I can’t remember exactly). Anyway, this chap would wander round the hall while we were singing the next song and see what came to him.

The song started and I was vaguely aware of him passing through and stopping and saying something to one or two people. I was in the back row, next to my girlfriend and he eventually passed behind us and carried on. No reaction.

At the end of the song, the gentleman was brought to the front and there was a bit of chat about what was discerned, nothing special. Then he pointed me out and said ‘this man is going to have an apostolic ministry’.

I whispered to my girlfriend, “is he pointing at me?”. “No” came the reply. I shot him a questioning glance. The speaker running the session sought clarification. The man in front of me pointed at himself and asked “do you mean me?” “No” was the reply.

I point at myself, “Me?”. “Yes, you”. My legs buckled under me and I had to sit down quick before I hit the floor. I only just made it. My mind was blur and I struggled to comprehend what was being implied and how it could possibly fit with what had been happening to me. The couple of months leading up to this moment had been a whirlwind, both emotionally and spiritually.

Given the number of people from my church who witnessed the prophesy, including the aforementioned vicar and his lovely wife, I became a bit of a minor celebrity. I was wisely cautioned against trying to self fulfil the prophesy and advised to consider all the things that had happened to me carefully. Over the years, as I moved location (and therefore church) or had ministers come and go I’ve told very few people of these events, mainly just the ministers and vicars.

There is probably more I could tell but this post is long enough already, and not the key facts are here so I’ll leave it here. As always questions are welcome.