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We are a worldwide social network of freethinkers, atheists, agnostics and secular humanists.

Rational, logical arguments against belief in god are seldom fruitful; unless the individual is already considering giving up their faith. In my experience, it is more valuable to focus discussion on alternative explanations about how our world works, (science), and build self assurance in the individual by expressing my confidence in their abilities and judgement. Instead of criticizing and/or contradicting their beliefs, help them to believe in themselves and open their minds to other possibilities. This approach provides them with more tools to depend upon when they get to the point where they question their theism. I think of this as planting an atheist seed.

I have found this to work particularly well with children. Educated, self-confident children are less likely to need to cling to religion, and less likely to fear eternal punishment from a god who is less loving than the average parent. I like to ask children about their favorite thing to do, turn that into a compliment and eventually an area of expertise. (Most of us like to do things we do well.) When my son was growing up I often encouraged him to find what he loved to do, then figure out how to make money doing that.

I also like playing a game with children by asking them what they are good at. If they can't come up with anything, I tell them something I know they are good at or ask others in the room to help. This can provide increased feelings of self worth and inspire some very positive relationship dynamics for folks of all ages.

Find ways to expose the child to things that peek their interest in the areas of music, science, nature, history or mathematics. Give gifts that encourage exploration of these areas.

Examples:

A story book that tells how a seed is planted, watered and produces a flower that blooms, dies and then produces the seeds that can be dried and planted the next year. The complete life cycle in the plant world. No mention of divine intervention. My first experience of this was with marigolds. Cheap science project.

 

A book of fascinating facts; the tallest building, longest bridge, biggest mammal, longest word, tallest mountain, who invented what, when, etc.

 

An age appropriate book that explains how weather works.

 

Look up age appropriate science projects on the Internet and arrange to involve the child in it.


If a child demonstrates an affinity for art, dance, sports or music, provide a way for them to develop their potential.

I also look for opportunities, small as they may be, to let children know that not everyone believes the same things; religious or otherwise.

Example:

My 12 year old niece tells me that you have to be born again to get to heaven. My response is simply, many people believe that. I'm not agreeing or disagreeing; just letting her know different folks believe different things. If she is ready to hear different beliefs, she will ask. (No, she has not so far). A small seed.

When speaking with adults who are shocked to find out that I am atheist, I ask them to think for a few minutes about the Christmas story and ask if they had not grown up being told this same story year after year, wouldn't it sound as crazy as suicide bombers getting 72 virgins in the after life?

If they are parents themselves, I explain that I cannot believe in a "perfect" god who is less forgiving than many parents I know. Who of us would not give our child another chance? Who of us would damn them to eternal torture?

I have found many casual Christians who take their kids to church and Sunday school just because they think that's what good parents do. Some have just not given it much thought. Many pick and choose the attributes their god has based on their own idea of a perfect person. It doesn't seem to matter that these attributes are not all supported by the religion they choose to practice. To them I ask, "If you disagree with portions of what your church preaches, why believe any of it?" Another seed is planted.

My brother gives credit to "a higher power" for his many outstanding professional accomplishments. I tell him I do not believe in any power higher than his. He ignores the remark, but I have planted a seed.

This type of discussion is not as passionate as some I have read on this site, but I am happy to plant seeds, one at a time, in the microcosm of an Atheist Universe, one planet at a time.

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You have a lot of good ideas and concepts here.  We often forget that most people DON'T go to Church, Temple or Mosque and if they do they don't pay attention to the words or read the Bible.  Most Catholics don't even understand they are symbolically eating Jesus every Sunday.  Attacking them or ridiculing them is not going to be very effective. 

 

Of course, it is a different matter for Theists who comment on a Atheistic website - they are fair game.

Yeah, talking about people that have no clue... I've asked my sister if she had a Bible I could borrow just a couple of days ago. Of course she had, but just the new testament. She was really happy, I think she figured I'll suddenly start going to church and all that crap, that she offered me some other books of prayers, but I declined. I asked her if she'd read it, and she said no. I was pretty sure about the answer even before I asked the question, but I wanted her to say it. I didn't push it any further because I didn't want to speak about something I had no idea about myself, but I really wanted to ask her why she goes to church every goddamn sunday if she doesn't know what it all means. I didn't, but I will, after I return her her book - of course, aftear reading the damn thing. At that point I'll try this approach with planting a seed of doubt and really make her think about what she is doing and why.

 

I remember going to a regular orthodox church as a kid, and to some gatherings of some, I'm inclined to say, baptists - I don't really remember what they were and what they believe(d), but they had meetings, these ones in the evening - I was going with my neighbours from across the street. I remember this because, obviously, I couldn't be in church and in the other side of the village at the same time. Anyway, at both things I wasn't paying attention to what some would pay attention at those particular activities, but I liked that there were other kids, and that was the only thing that attracted me. I remembered all this while laughing at Carlin's joke about breaking wind in church on those wooden benches. That's basically what kids do in church - having fun with other kids, running around, making the priest and the old-timers (basically the only ones that at least pretended to pay attention) mad - and that's why not too many try and figure out what is going on. Most kids have fun at church, especially at special occasions when there's a little food and some drinks, not to mention the occasional wine. Of course, some are unlucky and tortured day after day even at home with this religious shit. I think that only by chance you actually start to question god, the church and their followers.

 

 

 

 

Of course, it is a different matter for Theists who comment on a Atheistic website - they are fair game.

 

Obviously, the word of me asking for a Bible travels fast, because I just found an e-mail from my father (with whom I haven't spoken in almost two years) titled Virgin Mary in Monasteries Around the World (roughly translated from Romanian). It's a slideshow with some religious paintings, obviously with the only pregnant virgin known to man, Mary. It's the gesture that counts, right? Jesus Chr..........

I agree that the head-on approach, demeaning or ridiculing a person's belief is going to make that person even more entrenched in their beliefs. I'm a big fan of not attacking people directly. There is, however, a time and a place for ridicule, for example, with creationism, it does work to show how ignorant and ridiculous their arguments are, because I'm not actually talking to the creationist, I'm talking to the young dude that's listening silently with big wide eyes, so to speak.The same for a religious nut that comes preaching into an atheist web site: I have no issue exposing their lack of logic. Others may be on the fence, and reading the exchange. Or my arguments may be useful for other people to go out there and plant some other seeds. Sometimes to plant a seed one has to hack into the soil a little, especially if the ground is hard :-)

 

I agree with you, education is key, and with that, the first step is showing people (kids especially) that there is a big wide, wonderfully spectacular world out there, and that human beings are very diverse in their worldviews. I remember when I was little the first time I realized there were people who lived in a different way than I did, with a different family structure, different rules, different traditions, wow, it was a revelation. Children especially pick up very quickly on stuff like this, and their brains start churning.

 

I love to talk to little kids, it's so much easier to make them reason than adults!

 

Good post, MJ!

I love to talk to little kids, it's so much easier to make them reason than adults!

 

I feel the same way. Kids are only ignorant, but adults are stupid.

I agree with your basic approach.  It is a much better approach than confrontation or making fun of someone’s beliefs.  However, I think the onslaught of fundamentalist ideology being sold to so many people demands a more focused, broadly based effort that speaks to science, critical thinking and skepticism should be the initial focus – but by no means the only focus.

I’d like to see a manual of samples & examples of age appropriate projects, discussions, books and youtube videos etc that we can use as teachers with our student, as parents with our kids & their friends, as librarians with their members, and as bloggers with our blogees(sp).  Something to show experiments that could be run by students.  Videos that are short 10-20 minutes that expose the frauds being perpetrated on people, how to analyze TV ads as they try to manipulate people, and how some psychic frauds work.  Just because a magician can appear to bend a fork like some fraudsters does not mean that the ‘PSI’ claims are not true.  Show undercover videos identifying the trick.  To many just because a magician can do the same thing does not mean there isn’t the real thing.

Encouragement through volunteers and funding to encourage participation in robotics, and math competitions or science fairs with some funding for advertising these efforts.  Provide the audience members with brochures explaining what the students have done and what is being demonstrated.  Explain the individual efforts that are needed to come together to compete in a robotics competition.

Develop activities, not passive lectures that only bore the audience.  The 10 minute Ted talks are great for piquing someone’s interest – just need to add references, links to related ideas so people can more easily follow-up.  Discussions could follow in classrooms.

Bring discussion of current events into the classroom.  I graduated high school in 1969 and do not remember any substantive talks about war protests, the politics, the race riots or any personal stories from adults or students that might apply to the events.  What an opportunity lost to discuss reasons for the problems and discuss possible solutions, and the impacts on others.  But now being able to talk with other students from other countries about their experiences and beliefs.  Wow, what an opportunity.

News outlets that will respond to the distortion and lies broadcast everyday.

But for me, I do not think individual efforts are enough when the opposition (to me it is religion and in the US the plutocracy that is forming and feeding off one another) is organized and well funded and most of all unreasonable.  The leaders are few in number, the followers need to be the focus to show the deception and lies.  But maybe to really understand the reasons for this anger and meanness and following things that are not in their best interest.

But in the long run it is the children,  That is why the money and efforts are going to efforts to ruin public schools and the fund religious schools and to set-up voucher system.  Not to provide a better education but to provide their kind of education.


Thank you for telling me about this post, because, obviously, I've missed it.

 

You have some really helpful ideas and you can tell that they come from experience. Why aren't you my mother? :)

 

I am actually learning myself to deal with... well, life, basically, and it is hard to try and help others in the process, especially when those others think they know it all, but I'm a sucker and I keep trying. My idea of what is right and when is right changes a lot, because most of the time I am proving myself wrong by coming up with a better solution for random problems I encounter myself, or I hear from others. I haven't been a person that actually thinks of the best, or at least a better, solution for a long time (just close to a year or so) but I am trying to catch up, and luckily I am a fast learner, and the most important thing I've finally learned is that you can never know everything and there is always something to learn. My intention is not to bore you with all this nonsense, but I wanted to say that in the beginning I was really angry and I thought that everyone that still believes a god exists is a bloody idiot, and now I am starting to use this approach that you recommended, but, because I am not one of those bloody idiots anymore, it is harder for me to tolerate them. I am not complaining about having to work on it, but I am afraid it will be for nothing, because, like Einstein said, human stupidity is one of the two things that are infinite.

 

Thank you again for telling me about this post, and if you need help some other time, you can ask me, or a member of the staff, or anyone you want around here. I can only say for myself that I'll do my best to explain to you how it works, but a lot of these folks are friendly and helpful.

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