When interacting with religious individuals, I view their beliefs critically, recognizing that these beliefs often stem from indoctrination and compartmentalization, rather than evidence-based reasoning. They may seem ignorant or silly in practice, but understanding that they are often victims of religious indoctrination helps us recognize that they are worthy of our help.
I believe theists have influenced our culture to equate “respect” for religious beliefs with respecting a person. This, I think, is part of the con game theists have successfully instilled in society to insulate themselves from critical thought. My perspective differs; if I help a theist overcome their literal belief in an easily debunked ancient myth, I am showing them my respect, care, kindness, and empathy. Time is my most valuable resource, and allocating it towards anyone or anything shows that I care about that concept or person. If I didn’t care, I would be doing something more enjoyable and self-centered. It’s important to understand that I speak about this in a way many have been trained to avoid. I’m not angry at theists, nor do I hate them. I’m also not saying they are unintelligent. There are many intelligent theists who compartmentalize, as theism itself is completely unintelligent, ignorant, useless, and unnecessary in modern society. There is nothing theism can do that a fact-based view of the world is incapable of doing.
I hope theists get the chance to experience the only life we know we get, free from the veil of religion, for at least some part of their lives.
Some theists express views so outlandish that I can tell they’re too far gone or not in a place where spending my time makes sense. An example is my own mother, who once said that proving her religious beliefs untenable would mean taking away everything she had. I see this disconnect from reality as delusional and in need of professional mental help, which I am not equipped to provide. Unfortunately, theism isn’t treated in psychiatry because the delusion is widely held by a large portion of society, and as such, due to an argument from popularity fallacy, the DSM does not categorize widely held delusions as medically defined mental disorders.
In my engagements with theists, I emphasize the importance of rational thought and the value of questioning religious beliefs. Internally, I approach this with kindness and empathy towards the individual, but it’s often not perceived that way, and that’s fine; I see that as part of their struggle, not mine. I live in a reality-based world; they have a hard time with that, due to the way religion poisons everything. Should I hold a belief that is not founded in reason, I appreciate anyone who helps me see that. You don’t typically see this openness from theists, which helps crystallize the vast difference between wanting to live a fact-based life and clinging to beliefs that crumble under the light of scrutiny.
The key is to engage in open, honest dialogue, challenging beliefs where necessary, while still respecting their right to hold those beliefs and the individuals themselves. One way to do this is to simply ask questions which help anyone willing to answer honestly, see the light of reason. The goal is to encourage a more critical examination of their faith against the backdrop of scientific understanding and humanistic values. It’s not easy, but humanity is worth the effort.
This topic was derived from a question submitted to Atheism United. You can view other responses from our atheist-only community here.