late night religion adventures

Haven’t had a contentious conversation with an atheist like this in… a while.  Probably because I tend to just get casually ostracized first, which usually preempts this sort of thing.

The scene: a local diner, in a booth in the corner, where the four of us went to eat at 11:00 at night, having migrated there because the nearby store hosting the board game meetup had closed for the night.

I sat in one corner.  Beside me sat Cute Trans Friend (who you may remember from this story and this story).  I’ll call her the Engineer, because she was the only engineer.  Across from me sat another Cute Trans Friend of more recent befriending status, who is endearingly awkward and very tall.  I’ll call her the Catholic, because she was the only Catholic.  Then, beside the Catholic, diagonal to my position, sat a large talkative guy that I don’t know as well.  I’ll call him Big Guy, because he was the biggest and also the only guy.

Things were fine at first.  We had a very nice time, playing another board game right there on the table, and sometime around after the game ended, the conversation meandered around to the subject of strange occurrences.  So I made mention of a story that involved letting slip that I’m a Christian.

Catholic was very shocked to learn this.  Very shocked.  So shocked that she apologized for making an assumption otherwise.  That was a pretty strange occurrence unto itself.

(I mentioned how strange this was to Engineer, later, as she was driving me home — as I’m used to getting pegged as Good Christian Kid very quickly.  She pointed out that one reason it could be surprising is that “there aren’t a lot of Christians in the LGBT community.”  That comment itself is also strange to me, as I’m not used to being considered part of the LGBT community.  Then again, with my ??? gender stuff that I’ve talked about so liberally with them, I can see how trans people would be inclined to read me as trans.)

Anyway.  So now the cat was out of the bag, and Big Guy was like, “Wait, are all three of you Christian?”  He felt strange about being outnumbered.

I know the feeling.

At this point, in his shoes, I would have just carried on and resumed talking about taxidermy or whatever, because to me, finding out people’s ideological affiliations doesn’t necessarily merit further discussion on the spot.  Apparently that’s not how most other people work.

Seems like, when these things come up, a lot of people want to treat it like an immediate issue that demands immediate resolution — whether by giving some kind of appeasement acknowledgement like “I respect everyone’s right to their own beliefs” (or some bs like that)… or by going the confrontational route.

He chose the confrontational route.

Granted, it wasn’t aggressive confrontation, really, just… proceeding to harp on our differences, remark upon why he believed what he did and didn’t what he didn’t, praise his own choices and mildly discredit ours, that kind of thing.  Personally, I don’t see the point of doing this with people who you barely know and who didn’t ask.  It just comes across like you’re suddenly Going For a Conversion and expecting it to be a snap.  That, or you just feel like irritating people.  I’m not sure what the best case scenario is supposed to be there.

I only remember this conversation in fragments, so apologies in advance for the gaps in the narrative.

The first thing I remember Big Guy saying was that, by being an atheist, he is “playing life on hard mode” in so far as — you live and you die, “and that’s it.”  Apparently believing in the absence of any afterlife is some kind of challenge mode to pat yourself on the back for enduring?

So I told him that, actually, to me that sounds much more preferable, and I’m more comforted by the thought of that being true than the thought of Heaven because Heaven and the concept of eternity actually kind of terrifies me (due, in part, to the fact that I’m mentally ill and existentially exhausted, but I didn’t go into that).

He seemed a little flummoxed by this, and asked something like “Why not come over then and join us?”

Consequently, I actually had to explain, in words, to this atheist, that I’m not going to just start believing something is true just because I think it’d be nice if it was.  Not something I though I’d ever have to tell an atheist, but okay.  This is made especially odd by Big Guy’s tendency to say things like “Welcome to life, get used to it” whenever I say I dislike something.  You’d think he’d already have the “things don’t have to be ideal to be true” concept down pat.

Anyway.  Somewhere around that point, I forget how the transition actually happened, but he started talking next about how, in his take on atheism, apparently, there’s “no forgiveness” — that “what’s done is done” and “you take responsibility for your actions,” which ??? lolwut.  I don’t even know where he’s coming or going with that one.  I guess he was maybe implying that the concept of forgiveness, in his mind, discourages moral responsibility.  He didn’t confirm that before jumping topics again, however.  I vaguely remember Engineer trying to gently argue with/make sense of that, in her softspoken way, but that didn’t remain the topic of discussion for long.

Next I remember him saying something about how he can’t believe in [something] because he “sees the fingerprints of humankind in most religions,” or something like that.  It seems uniquely asinine to me to claim that humans influence things that humans are involved in and then treat that like a revealing insight, but rather than try to get that across, I tried to cut him off at the pass by blurting, “I don’t believe in religions.”

That seemed to get his attention again.  Looking bewildered, he said, “But… religions do exist.”

So that afforded me the opportunity to explain that while there are real things that get classed as “religions,” the concept of Religion as a Platonic essential entity is something I don’t believe in — it’s a highly arbitrary category, not a natural one.

He didn’t seem very satisfied with that.  The next fragment I remember after that, which felt like an attempt to circumvent my philosophizing, was something like, “But you do believe in a higher power, right?”

Me being me, I replied, “Define ‘higher power.'”

He switched from that terminology to just using the g-word, and at this point I thought we were still talking about the meaning of what makes something a “religion” or not, so I had to check and make sure that he didn’t believe theism was the deciding factor in what makes something a religion or not (fortunately, no, not the case).  I think around this point I commented on the fact that there’s more diversity to Christian thought than he seemed rhetorically prepared to deal with (although I phrased it more like “when I say I’m Christian it’s technically true but it leads to people making assumptions about what I believe that are often untrue”).  That’s about where my recollections end.

Anyway, it was a very strange mess of a conversation, and I got the sense he was more invested in delivering a predetermined spiel than engaging with what was actually in front of him.

Rating: 2/5, needs more logic and better argumentation structure.

 

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9 responses to “late night religion adventures

  • Alex Black

    “At this point, in his shoes, I would have just carried on and resumed talking about taxidermy or whatever, because to me, finding out people’s ideological affiliations doesn’t necessarily merit further discussion on the spot. Apparently that’s not how most other people work.”

    That’s how I work. I don’t generally initiate debates about religion unless the other person has indicated in some way that they would be open to that. Like, if it’s one of the people proselytizing on my campus, I consider that an invitation to debate religion. If it’s a Christian blogger writing about atheists, I consider that an invitation for atheists to comment, and possibly to debate religion if that is on topic. But if it’s some person I’m just getting coffee with or something, then I might ask them a few questions out of curiosity about what they believe, and I might tell them about what I believe (I’m a religious atheist), but I’m not going to press it further or turn it into a debate without some indication that they’re okay with or interested in that. There’s a reason religion is generally considered a subject to avoid when in mixed company.

    “Seems like, when these things come up, a lot of people want to treat it like an immediate issue that demands immediate resolution — whether by giving some kind of appeasement acknowledgement like ‘I respect everyone’s right to their own beliefs’ (or some bs like that)… or by going the confrontational route.”

    I’m really not a fan of all those fluffy, cuddly, look-at-me-I’m-nice-and-accepting statements. If you respect everyone regardless of their beliefs/politcal views/sexual orientation/favorite sports team/etc., then it’s better to show that than to state it. Personally, statements like that come off to me more as self-reassurance than anything. It communicates to me that the person is more concerned about looking and feeling respectful than actually being respectful. It’s kind of like how adding “…not that there’s anything wrong with X” to the end of a statement about X actually implies that there is, in fact, something wrong with X (even if that person doesn’t have a problem with X, it brings attention to the fact that other people do have a problem with X). The statement just does not have its apparent intended effect.

    “Consequently, I actually had to explain, in words, to this atheist, that I’m not going to just start believing something is true just because I think it’d be nice if it was.”

    lmao!

    • Coyote

      “There’s a reason religion is generally considered a subject to avoid when in mixed company.”

      Heh, yeah. I don’t think it’s morally bad or anything, but it’s only wise to expect a conversation like that to quickly become, er, labor intensive.

      “It’s kind of like how adding ‘…not that there’s anything wrong with X’ to the end of a statement about X actually implies that there is, in fact, something wrong with X (even if that person doesn’t have a problem with X, it brings attention to the fact that other people do have a problem with X).”

      lol, good comparison.

  • Siggy

    Sometimes the atheist student group here organizes lunch with some Christian student group, and there were a few atheists who just spent the whole time going on some spiel. Arguably it was an appropriate setting for that sort of thing, but sometimes I wonder how some of them interact with Christians in their daily life.

    Personally I was less interested in rehashing the same old arguments, and more interested in learning about the politics and organization of these particular Christians. Maybe that’s selfish of me–just because I’m jaded and feel like I’ve heard everything before doesn’t mean that everyone else is the same way. I’m guessing the atheists who go on spiels don’t have many outlets to talk about all the arguments going through their heads. I know, they should all start blogs!

  • Siggy

    The line about forgiveness is a standard one, mostly applied to Catholicism. There’s an image of Catholics sinning with abandon because they know they can just confess before they die. This image doesn’t just come from atheists, and has a long track record in protestantism. In fact, wasn’t that in Martin Luther’s 95 theses? And hey, indulgences were a real thing.

    In my Catholic upbringing, I just never took confession seriously. But I’ve certainly heard people say that they took confession seriously, like they had to make sure they didn’t die between sinning and confessing. Which is certainly a strange outlook on life.

  • Kara

    It sounds like he was feeling defensive, and felt like he needed to justify his beliefs. You weren’t trying to put him on the defensive, but he misread the situation, and was probably expecting you to be like previous Christians he’s met who were more intrusive or disrespectful about atheism. Then he was flummoxed, as you put it, when you didn’t fit the preconceived model of “Christian” he had.

    Admittedly, I may be projecting here, because that’s what I was like for my first few years as an atheist. It took a long time for me to work through my feelings about my former religion, and to become secure enough not to feel threatened when talking about it. So…perhaps this guy is still in the process of getting to that point? His words may be a reflection of his private struggles, rather than an issue he has with you personally.

    Still, it sounds like that conversation was unwanted and pretty exhausting for you. I’m sorry you had to deal with that. I’m not trying to justify his behavior, just trying to make sense of it. On the upside, you gave him a perspective he hadn’t considered before, and perhaps he’ll spend some time thinking about it.

    (Also, hi! I don’t usually have much to say, but I always appreciate your posts.)

    • Coyote

      Hi! Yeah, that’s… as possible as anything, I suppose. I also got the impression that he’s just the kind of guy who likes to explain/lecture on things — which was useful when I was playing a new board game I didn’t know how to play, but not anytime else.

  • worse late night adventures | The Ace Theist

    […] So remember Big Atheist Guy?  The one from that other post? […]

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