May 21, 2008

Sowing the Seeds of Doubt

Kieran Bennett's informative analysis of deconversion stories is a must-read for any atheist wanting to know what we can do to help Christians overcome faith and embrace reality. The results suggest that there are many things we atheists can do. At the same time, Bennett's post raises many more important questions than it answers. Perhaps a change of strategy is in order.

Bennett makes some important points in his conclusion that should prompt considerable discussion among atheists:
  1. The sort of doubt necessary for deconversion comes from within the individual.
  2. Informing people of alternatives to Christianity may be helpful for those already questioning the role of religion in their lives.
  3. Defending science and rationalism, especially in the educational domain, is important.
Bennett's analysis certainly got me thinking. Does the sort of doubt we are talking about really come from within the individual believer, or is it merely perceived that way? Perhaps our attacks on religion are gradually internalized, fueling this doubt in such a way that our criticism is not perceived as causal. If this is the case, we should do even more of what we've been doing. On the other hand, what if our criticism of religion is not only ineffective but makes things worse? Perhaps these efforts do little but strengthen religious faith, shielding believers from doubt. Obviously, this would suggest that a major shift in tactics would be needed.

The post renews my conviction that anyone serious about limiting the influence of Christian extremists and improving the status of atheists in American society must be a defender of science, reason, and secular education. I have been beating this drum for some time now, but I will reluctantly admit that I have not made this enough of a focus at Atheist Revolution. If we are to have a viable atheist movement, I have no question that a core part of our platform must be about promoting a reality-based worldview in which science, reason, and education are valued. We atheists are often criticized for focusing too much on what we disbelieve rather than what we believe. Defending science, reason, and education from fundamentalist attacks must be part of what we do believe.

Lastly, I encourage each and every one of us to view our role in society as being one of sowing the seeds of doubt. It often seems that our efforts are not producing results, but that may well be because the seeds we have planted take time to sprout. It is not about converting believers, winning arguments, or changing minds. Rather, it is about planting what will likely be one of many seeds of doubt.

H/T to The Atheist Blogger

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