September 16, 2011

Empathizing With Christians

EmpathyImagine that you are driving to work one morning and pass a billboard that boasts "leeches cure headaches" or some equally absurd bit of quackery. You might initially be surprised or even point and laugh, but with some reflection, you'd probably be at least a bit irritated by the promotion of a blatant lie. Why? You would realize that many others passing this billboard every day are morons who might actually be persuaded by the message. You know better, but they might not.

But how exactly do you know better? For starters, the quackery probably conflicts with everything you've been taught. Your education, common sense, and life experience converge to tell you that this is in fact quackery. And you probably assume that much of what you've learned over the years is at least somewhat accurate. I suspect that we all do this to some degree.

Could thinking about this hypothetical situation help us begin to understand why so many Christians seem so irate when faced with even mild expressions of atheism? Such messages certainly conflict with what they have been taught by their families, churches, and even the larger society they inhabit. To them, our messages seem as false and possibly detrimental as quackery seems to us.

If you are new to Atheist Revolution, you might be tempted at this point to accuse me of some sort of false equivalence. Regular readers will know that I am no fan of quackery and am certainly not equating it with atheism. Atheism is on the side of reality; quackery is not. I am simply suggesting one path through which we might better understand the psychological reaction many Christians experience when faced with our messages.

I do not view Christians as my enemy, although it may be fair to label some that way. For the most part, I see Christians as confused and often frightened victims of a destructive system of indoctrination. Their hold on reality has been damaged by their families, churches, and other influential players. If we are to help undo this damage, empathy is an essential tool.

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