January 29, 2009

Overcoming Obstacles to Atheist-Theist Dialogue

keep religion out of schools & governmentImage by clemente via FlickrI think that it would be as much of a mistake for atheists to refuse to interact with religious believers as it would for believers to do the same with regard to atheists. Walling ourselves off from those who believe differently tends to be counterproductive, fostering ignorance and hostility. There is much to be gained from atheist-theist dialogue. One useful approach for encouraging such dialogue involves helping both sides approach each other more effectively, avoiding mistakes which are likely to be especially aversive to one another.

Proud Atheists has a great post on this topic in which he provides Christians with a list of what they should know when interacting with atheists. I believe that this is a productive exercise because many of the items on the list are precisely those things that will lead many atheists to end a conversation and decide that it is pointless.

I will leave it to Christians to compose a similar list of things that we atheists should know when interacting with them, but I will take the liberty to offer a few suggestions for their list:
  • Not all Christians are fundamentalists, evangelicals, Republicans, biblical literalists, creationists, or extremists.
  • Many Christians value science, reason, and critical thinking.
  • Not all Christians despise atheists. Some are genuinely curious, and others consider others' religion none of their business.
  • Some Christians are fierce advocates of church-state separation, reality-based science education, and the like.
  • Many Christians are perfectly content to live their own lives as they see fit and not attempt to legislate their beliefs or push their particular view of morality on others.
I'm sure there are others. The point is that there is misunderstanding and obstacles to be overcome on both sides. I suspect that atheists would find useful allies among some religious believers if we tried.