Yesterday I received in the mail a paperback book which was a proselytizing instrument. Curious I flipped open the book and read a couple of lines. The author was writing about Satan tempting Christ in the wilderness and drawing a conclusion from it regarding our own future as his god’s children. My thought was “… but if Jesus were God, he could have done 40 days in the wilderness and gained weight from the experience and, as for Satan tempting Jesus with dominion over earthly kingdoms, how much sway would that have over the being that created those kingdoms, who already had dominion over everything, and who in fact created Satan? Don’t these people think about what they are saying?”
I am writing, not about the war between theists and atheists because there is none, but about why there is an almost total lack of dialogue between the two groups. Were I to draw a Venn diagram describing the interaction of the two groups, the overlap between the community of atheists and the community of theists (represented as circles) would show the two groups closer to being tangential than overlapping significantly.
And do not get me wrong. I have reveled in my ability as an atheist to be able to share my perspectives with like-minded people (while secretly holding out the feeling that some brilliant argument on my part will help some deluded theists see the light) but it is clear that I and you have been “preaching to the choir” and have not added anything to the discourse that could affect a meeting of the minds of even just a few members of these two groups. We have basically been talking amongst ourselves. And those in the scant overlap of the two groups, the Christian apologists and prominent atheists who debate one another from time to time, have had no effect whatsoever upon the other group.
I have been taught and truly believe that in order for there to be useful communication between two people, let alone two groups, one much expand one’s reality to include the reality of the other. So far, all we have done is to explain why “those people” don’t belong in “our group.”
An exercise in group communication that I was stunned by when I first did it (in a union-management context) was to have each group in isolation characterize the other group, including all of their wants, desires, etc. Then each group viewed the record created by the other group, in silence with no comment allowed. What I was stunned by was how clearly the management representatives saw and understood us union types and later we found out that they were as equally surprised at how well we understood them. Now that is the basis for further discussion! Unfortunately this does not seem to be the case in this situation. Members of the two groups stand far apart and occasionally throw a rock that hits nothing but the ground. This is some war!
Currently as I see it, this is how atheists view theists and vice-versa:
How Atheists View Theists
Religion is an archaic, irrational force, a source of superstition, including beliefs about an invisible world of spirits and ghosts. Religion has been and still is an institution of inquisitors and heresy-hunters, burning people at the stake or lopping off their heads for their beliefs. Religion is an upholder of the status quo, a kind of agency of the ruling class that makes people put up with economic and political injustice in return for a better life in the hereafter. Religion is a relic of the Dark Ages, something that will die away as societies become modernized.
How Theists View Atheists
Theists are in the vast majority and have been for ages and can’t see how all of those people could be wrong about something that is so profound for so long. Something in which people believe so strongly could hardly be based upon nothing but an error in reasoning. Atheists, in denying the even existence of God, are turning their backs upon all believers and on society as a whole. Standing outside of a religious body, they cannot be trusted to act in a benevolent fashion and their sheer existence can lead the children of future generations astray, to their destruction.
Being perfectly scrupulous about the source of these descriptions, I lifted much of them from Sociological Insight by Randall Collins, a classic of sociology. Please note I avoided including any of the scurrilous claims made by each group about the other.
So, in an effort to re-examine my atheism, I have read a great many books and articles about atheism and Christianity written over the last three thousand years or so, I have viewed many hours of debate between members of the two groups and now, I am here. I have but one question: how is the dialogue going so far?
Obviously, and I do not use the word lightly, it is going nowhere.
In future posts, I will address how atheists could change their role in the dialogue to create a different future. I won’t presume to address the other axis of the communication but would hope that some theists somewhere might accept the challenge and see if they can do the same for their group.