A toughie: How do you convert a theist to an atheist?

“That’s not just a toughie, it’s the toughie. If there were a reliable method of genuinely dispelling people’s theism, there wouldn’t be many theists left.”

Question from Rohit:
I think atheism is just a consequence of being rational. Logic, good judgement and common sensical thinking will lead one to atheism in my opinion. And I think that theism is an infantile habit that one clings on to – out of a sense of nostalgia, insecurity/fear , doubt or even just plain superstition.
Obviously a lot of people do not like this about me – they call it being ‘opinionated’, ‘not listening to the other side’ etc.
As far as religion and spirituality are concerned I’m sort of a been there, done that, found nothing type. I’ve read the bible, the bhagvatgita, qoran, granth sahib etc etc – I admire pieces of them as works of art (or philosophy). But no more than that. There are verses in each of these that are poetic, sublime. But I cannot for the life of me believe them to be fact. My brain just does not allow it (the curse of being trained as an engineer perhaps).

Someone very very close to me is a theist. I believe she is a borderline theist (bordering on agnosticism) but she is extremely particular about rituals, about me not cussing whenever the god word is raised etc.
She won’t listen to reason, or logic or anything. She’s fine in all other senses, much more practical than me in worldly matters, infact.

How does one push a borderline agnostic into the light of atheism?
What worries me most, the reason I want her to ‘convert’, is that the amount of time one wastes in superstitions and the amount of damage bad beliefs can do is tremendous – I’ve seen it happen in my own life.

Since she just won’t talk to me on this matter, I’ve been thinking of buying some good books on atheism and leaving them around casually – but I don’t know if that will work. Its pretty childish and frustrating – she has a pretty ok IQ (125) … but she just clings on. Maybe I should enroll her into an engineering/ physical science course 🙂

Answer by SmartLX:
That’s not just a toughie, it’s the toughie. If there were a reliable method of genuinely dispelling people’s theism, there wouldn’t be many theists left.

The main problem from your point of view is that losing one’s religion is largely an internal process. You can inspire it or set it off, but you can’t do it all for your friend. She has to realise things for herself.

The question I try to ask believers is why they believe. This bit of information above all will help you with your friend, whether she tells you outright or you find out another way. Once you know what’s supporting her belief, you’ll know what you actually need to address in order to bring her around. Keep in mind that the reason she believes will almost certainly be a combination of intellectual and emotional factors, so you probably won’t come up with an instant pill.

Educating the religious can sometimes have the opposite effect of what you’re expecting and entrench their beliefs further. Many champions of the intelligent design movement are engineers or computer programmers, and they claim to know design when they see it. Generally speaking, if one’s beliefs survive one’s education, one’s education then serves one’s beliefs.

I do agree with your reason for wanting to deconvert your friend. Religion tends to benefit itself far more than its hosts.

5 thoughts on “A toughie: How do you convert a theist to an atheist?”

  1. Antiqued values have little meaning in the modern world. Christians sadly take their lessons, from a book written almost 2000 years ago. Some christians see that book, the bible, as the literal word of god. Their god is nothing more than a fairy tale creature, like a character out of a childrens story or book of fables. Their god is no more real than Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. Parts of the bible were written thousands of years before christianity even existed. An ancient book of fairy tales, written by men whose motivations were less than dignified.

    Modern society cannot stand with or allow people who believe in fairy tales to lead. A modern civilized society cannot allow people who think magically to govern. The time for debate is long past, christianity is wrong. Christianity is immoral. Children who are forced to believe god, in fairy tales, such children are being criminally abused. Christianity is abhorrent, as is all theism.

    Racism, sexism, homophobia amongst many other horrible prejudices are fueled by christianity and theism. Our world is almost always at war because of differing religious beliefs! Tens upon millions have died in the name of one theistic fairy tale or another.

    When will the atheists, the agnostics, the nontheists realize that they must step to the front? That they must help those who waver, the “occasional” theists, they must help them to see the truth. The occasional theist must be shown and helped to understand their place in a modern society? The occasional theist must be shown the dangers, the tragedy and criminality of christianity and theism. Confronting the hardcore theist only serves to confuse the occasional theist and in turn harden the hearts and minds of the true believers. So we must concentrate on the occasional theist, as they far out number the true believers. If the majority of the occasional theists can be helped to see reality, to see the value in a society based on rational thinking, science and truth maybe christianity and theism will disappear once and for all!

    First we must stand up and unite against christianity and theism or all hope will be lost, humanity will go the way of the dinosaur much sooner rather than later. Humanity cannot survive itself if it keeps bringing god along for the ride!

  2. Hoping that I am not “too late” (July 2011 vs November 2010), I would like to post this comment.
    As an a-theist, you are clearly against theism. Generally speaking, I agree with your arguments, however I think you [not meant personally of course] often highlight science, evolution, evidence in a way that seems ALMOST as religious as Christendom and the Islam do with creation.

    Could it be a matter of genes that I have always rejected religious assuredness and that, even now, nearing my 80th birthday, I feel most comfortable living with life’s uncertainties? They give me plenty of space to enjoy the unlimited marvels of life.

    I would therefore appreciate to learn your opinion on agnosticism.



  3. It’s never too late, Federico. New comments come straight to me no matter how old the initial piece is. Hear that, folks? You can re-ignite discussion anywhere on the site, just say something new.

    What I have in evolution and science in general is confidence based on evidence. The attitude might well look a lot like the unsupported faith of another person, but it can be much more straightforwardly defended. As for valuing evidence itself, how else can you go about supporting your confidence in a claim when it’s challenged?

    I know a lot of religious people think they have evidence to support the supernatural claims of their churches. I’ve dealt with a lot of that here, so have a look around. One thing most would-be apologists have in common is that those presenting the “evidence” weren’t actually convinced by it themselves. They were brought up in their religion, or they had a highly questionable “religious experience”, and they’ve only gone looking for evidence after the fact. They do this for two purposes: to sway unbelievers (seldom considering that they themselves weren’t swayed by apologists) and to reassure themselves that their beliefs are supported by something besides hearsay.

    You may not believe this but I consider myself an agnostic as well as an atheist, or an “agnostic atheist”. Many atheists do. Atheism is not a position of certainty. I just say there’s no available evidence for gods; it could well be out there, it’s just not where anyone can currently demonstrate it. To speak more generally, I am an atheist and I accept that there could be a god. I simply see no reason to positively believe in one at present.

  4. …You may not believe this but I consider myself an agnostic as well as an atheist, or an “agnostic atheist”…
    As I am not sure of my position, I try not to describe it. So I do believe your statement, but I do not accept that there could be a god, because then I would receive an “explanation” of life. Getting answers on our existence would silence my awe, so I would stop admiring the universe.
    Good to see that we can also comment on previous issues. Have a nice day!-

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