Friday, June 15, 2012

Can't Brothas Get Along?

This is post 3 of 6 in our part of the SSA Week Blogathon!
In the midst of all this feel-good secular blogging, it's important to keep something in mind: No matter how much we do to promote the values of logic, reason, and good vibes, we live in a time when almost HALF of America believes in creationism (and four in ten believe in strict, young-earth creationism). That said, I'm dedicating this blog to a topic we could all use a little practice in... discourse. Since turning friends into enemies and dismissing people's beliefs (even when they're ridiculous) only goes so far, let's see how we can get along.

Considering that fundamentalism is also trending upward, it's unlikely that America will be an island of secular values and idyllic happiness anytime in the near future. But in the meantime, how can we better deal with our 5000-year-old brethren? Is there hope for the future, or is our nation beginning its slow slide from pluralism into two radically different sets of religious ideologies? Short of convincing all of our friends to stop attending church immediately (really), let's take comfort from the all-time high number of Americans who see religion as losing influence in America. This does present the dilemma of how a force that's losing ground in popular opinion can still be convincing people of made-up shit poorly-supported biological and historical claims, but that's a story for another time.

But seriously, how can we get along?

Professional Christian-hugger. Don't try this at home.

Let's use the most fundamental tool of secular inquiry, or just inquiry in general: ask them questions. Remember that a lot of creationists probably acquire their beliefs from the same places you and I do -- the news, their friends, and the people they respect. Since in their case at least one person they respect probably tells them about once a week that they're going to Hell, it makes sense that that particular respected person might influence them more strongly than others. But just because a priest is shoving fundamentalism down their throats doesn't mean they enjoy it; remember, church attendance in America is also declining. Astronomer Adam Frank recently wrote a wonderful article on NPR (yes, they do things other than This American Life) about the amazing power of uncertainty. If you make a believer uncertain, you're leading him or her down the first path towards real introspection.
The other major tool I would encourage everyone to use in our ongoing struggle to find common ground with believers is the element of surprise. Surprise them! Surprise them that you have a rigorous and complex set of morals, even if it isn't codified in some nonsense book. Surprise them that you're an atheist, if you feel that's wise. Surprise them that you've been listening to their spiritual hootenanny for years and find it extremely amusing. We don't always have to quarrel with believers, or despise their beliefs. Let's take a while to learn from each other.

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