Friday, January 11, 2008

A letter to Ray Comfort

I've been responding to Ray Comfort's blog for about a week now, and I can see that I've managed to get noticed. Ray is taking pot-shots at my posts, passively, by referring to my posts without identifying me, and my continued prescence has definitely annoyed him, as his anti-atheist rhetoric has become more frequent -- the topic of atheists and atheism seems to be all he can talk about now.

So I wrote this, hoping to make some headway, and see if we can develop an understanding with each other, and talk above the jabs and pot-shots, so that Ray understands atheists more, and is less inclined to just respond to us in annoying jabs. After all, he said he's reaching out to us atheists -- wouldn't it be ironic if I actually helped him accomplish his goal, at least in part?


I thought I'd take this time now to try and explain things as I see them, and possibly see if I understand your issues with atheists accurately. I'd like you to let me know if the first part of this essay accurately describes what you see as problems with trying to reach out to atheists, and the poor reception you feel that you get. If I hit the nail on the head, then that means I at least understand where you're coming from, which means we've built an understanding.

I wrote this letter for him, to see if I can develop an understanding.

Here is the issue as I see it.

Ray comfort and other Christians let the Bible dictate that atheists (or unbelievers in general) are all liars with evil motives, who are secretly out to turn them against their God, and generally do them harm. This idea is always floating in the back of their minds, and is a constant blockage to fully having an open discussion. This belief makes them stay on guard, aloof, and suspicious.
On top of that set of beliefs are the scoffers and ridiculers from the atheist message boards on the internet, who play games with Christians, and insult them, and badger them, which only serves to confirm their preconceived notions about atheists. These people aid the self-fulfilling prophecy that Christians have, that all atheists are evil.

I have to admit that there are a lot of atheists online who just tease Christians mercilessly, and these people are misguided, and I would prefer to see more level-headed and less-insulting comments from them. I sympathize with the Christian on this issue, because a lot of them have honest comments and valid things to say, but they get sniped by these drive-by atheists.
Ray and other Christians can't help but express their supressed true feelings for atheists. All of the badgering, ridicule, and rough treatment has soured them, but they try not to show it in public (and rightly so, because it is evidence of weakness of faith), but they let it slip from time to time (because they are, after all, only human).

Now if the Christians, and Ray, agree that my above assessment accurately describes the situation, here is my atheist perspective for them, so that they know what we see.

(1) First of all, Chrsitians should know that we atheists tend to not believe in the concept of the supernatural. We believe that "the supernatural realm" has never been substantiated with any valid proof, and anything that is explained by "supernatural" explanations is pretty much automatically assumed to be invalid. We also do not consider the Bible, or any other holy book, to have any power or authority. We merely consider it to be an ancient book, written by primitive and superstitious tribalistic people, and that it is only of historical value only (as it gives us a good perspective on the lives and customs of the people who wrote it). We do not believe that it offers the modern world the kind of useful advice that is often claimed by it's believers. Therefore, when you quote from it, we do not consider that it's any different than if you said it yourself. I personally believe that this issue (The validity of the Bible) is a difficult issue to overcome. I recall in Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron's debate on TV that it actually hampered their case, because they actually promised to prove God "without reference to the Bible or faith", then started right away quoting the Bible.

(2) The reason for this is Science, and the scientific method, and the principles of logic and rational thought. It is often said that "science removes the fear of the gods". Once you understand atomic theory, chemistry, biology, astronomy, history, and other disceplines, you sort of look at everything in a different way. I no longer think that birth and death are these mysterious miraculous events that are full of magic -- I still have a profound emotional appreciation of a baby being born, and an old man on his death bed, but gone is the thought that these things have any kind of magic or mysterious nature to them. My appreciation is a form of understanding these things, and empathizing with the people on a human level that transcends religion and science.

(3) Just as there are many hypocritical, badgering, and fowl-tempered atheists who harrass Christians, there likewise are similar people who harrass atheists under the guise of being Christians. These negative posts are just like the ones that Christians are offended by, but directed at us, instead. The results are the same, though -- we are soured against Christians by the people among them who badger us or disrespect us.

(4) Many of us have been schooled in science, philosophy, and logic (This is not to say that Christians haven't) -- logic 101 and symbolic logic are subjects that people in the sciences often find themselves forced to take in college as part of their degree program, and well, many of us are well-versed in how logic works. The average person on the street isn't well versed in logic, and people who have never had an education on the subject will make lots of mistakes and use common fallacies when trying to reason their positions, and we have a lot of repetitious and frustrating times trying to explain to people why their statements are illogical. It's equally frustrating to them, too, because they took time to write what they considered a thoughtful post, and here we are telling them that they're wrong and illogical. Unfortunately, many of us atheists are "NERDS" -- science and technical professions tend to do that to people, and as a Nerd myself, it's quite hard to break out of the stereotype.

(5) As a corolary to (4), there are a lot of what we call "Urban Legends" or "Urban myths". These are folktales based on modern themes, and are often repeated and propagated over the internet, verbally, and even in publications and sometimes in official speeches. The stories are patently false, and usually promoted as commonly known facts. Much of creationist literature plays on several famous urban legends, and many people, from all faiths (including some atheists) repeat these stories a lot in the online community. It's very tiring to deal with people who keep dredging these myths up, and when we tell people that the stories are false, and direct them to, they think we're lying. Like I said, dealig with this stuff is frustrating mainly because of the amount of people who pass urban legends around.

(6) We believe that the common attributes of humanity, our emotions, our customs, our common laws, our music, our arts, and our values, are similar from culture to culture, because we all share the same genetics; All human beings have the same basic DNA, and it has been proven that behaviors are encoded into our DNA. All of us have the same basic DNA, therefore all of us have the same basic set of behaviors, therefore, many of our customs and traits are the same. This idea is not at all incompatible with Christianity, because you can easily say "God created us all, therefore we have the same DNA..." (I've actually heard that said by a few Christians).

So I hope this gives you (Both atheists and Christians, especially Ray Comfort) a broader perspective on the problems we may face when talking to each other. My goal in writing this is simply to put a bridge over the existing canyon of common misunderstandings and attitudes on both sides.


Jœl said...


Well said. Nicely sums up the larger theme of the debate. I especially agree with your evaluation of most Christian's opinion of atheists. They think we 'hate' god and are just trying to ruin their lives because we're malicious. Of course, you and I both know that one can't hate what one doesn't believe in, but try convincing a true believer of that :)

I remember having a face-to-face debate with a devout Catholic friend of mine a few years ago and she stopped mid-sentence, looked me straight in the eye with a look of utmost suspicion and asked if the devil had sent me to test her. In a moment of weakness I looked back at here with feigned seriousness and said "yes." She immediately got up, left, and avoided me for the better part of a month (and stuck me with the tab!). Obviously, there are Christians who do believe in the body-snatching power of the devil, and it think it's fair to assume that some of them believe atheists are possessed by demonic power and are testing them just like that snake in the story of Adam and Eve. It's tough to reason with someone who thinks you're actually evil incarnate.

As you may have noticed, I've also been frequently commenting on Ray's blog. So far he's only refused to post a couple of my comments, which, to me, sets him apart as a pretty fair and evenhanded Christian. After all, it is his blog and its raison d'etre is to cater to Christians, not atheists. So I can't really hold it against him if he censors some of what I (or we) say. He's also used some of my comments in his posts, and that's mostly what's kept me coming back as he seems keen to discuss what's going on in the commenter area. Normally, I would have avoided getting into any sort of online debate because they usually degenerate into flamewars. But, I've actually been surprised by the number of thoughtful and honest posts from both sides of the fence.

Anyway, interesting idea to devote a blog to responding to Ray's straw man tactics. I personally think the reason he's concentrating on further defaming atheists is because there seems to be almost even footing in his comment section. He's probably worried we might actually gain the upper hand if he's not careful to remind his loyal readership that we're the enemy and it's our job to spread lies and misinformation :)



David W. Irish said...

Well, people on the google group "Atheism Vs. Christianity" have said that Ray has been caught deleting posts that simply caught him lying or being inconsistant. Most of the Christians I've argued with are like that. That's why Ray's blog is moderated, and mine isn't. I have the confidence to let anyone comment, no matter what.