Questions Left Out of Jubilee’s Atheist-Christian Panel Discussion February 27, 2010

Questions Left Out of Jubilee’s Atheist-Christian Panel Discussion

Last weekend, I was at a Christian conference called Jubilee to participate in a panel discussion (not debate) on religion.

Interestingly enough, the (Christian) moderator Steve Lutz put together a list of the questions he wanted to ask us (and did), the audience-submitted questions he did ask us, and the audience-submitted questions he decided were better left unasked…

That last set of questions is the one I’m most curious about 🙂 I had fun with such a list a year ago.

What could Christians possibly want to ask that would be filtered out?

Here’s a sampling from that list:

  • Is it dangerous for uneducated Christians to engage in debate with atheists?
  • Why does an atheist get offended when a Christian is humbly offering eternal happiness?
  • Do you ever feel like you’re missing anything in your life? Or maybe that there is something more…even if it’s not God for you?
  • It seems like atheists in general at one time believed in God, but then turned away because of some type of hurt, lost a loved one, etc. They are angry at God, it seems. Why are you an atheist?

What scares me is that whoever asked those questions were probably serious… Despite the sample, there were a few questions I really liked that weren’t among those asked.

Take a crack at these:

  • How much literature, research, or experience do you think is necessary for a person to have before they establish their beliefs?
  • Can parents and pastors really compete with the amount of influence a secular school system (7-8 hours per day) and a media-saturated culture has upon young minds? Honestly, compared to churches which one has more power to indoctrinate minds, the school system or churches?
  • What do we [Christians] do that offends atheists most?

For what it’s worth, I had a great time at the panel. I love that hundreds of Christians were willing to listen to such a dialogue and I really enjoyed talking to some of them afterwards.

When you get so deeply involved within the atheist community, it’s very hard to find people to have serious (and fun) conversations with who also strongly disagree with you. This was one of those opportunities and I hope it happens again soon.


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  • Alan E.

    How much literature, research, or experience do you think is necessary for a person to have before they establish their beliefs?

    42. Wait…

  • The Other Tom

    Is it dangerous for uneducated Christians to engage in debate with atheists?

    Of course it is. Anyone uneducated engaging in debate with anyone else risks making a fool of themself.

    How much literature, research, or experience do you think is necessary for a person to have before they establish their beliefs?

    About 25 years.

    Can parents and pastors really compete with the amount of influence a secular school system (7-8 hours per day) and a media-saturated culture has upon young minds? Honestly, compared to churches which one has more power to indoctrinate minds, the school system or churches?

    It’s rather the other way around. Parents and churches can – and often do – make a kid’s life into a living hell if the kid isn’t utterly compliant with their religious dictates.

    What do we [Christians] do that offends atheists most?

    They shove their religion down everyone’s throats by writing it into law.

  • JD

    Can parents and pastors really compete with the amount of influence a secular school system (7-8 hours per day) and a media-saturated culture has upon young minds? Honestly, compared to churches which one has more power to indoctrinate minds, the school system or churches?

    What kind of suspicious, conspiracy mongering people are they? I don’t think teacher or adult in my public school pushed _any_ religious belief or non-belief on students. They don’t tell people there isn’t a god, is a god, which one(s), none of that. As opposed to a church, where they push their beliefs in every service and activity. Only a quack can take religion neutrality and turn it around and call it indoctrination and godlessness.

  • <q cite="
    How much literature, research, or experience do you think is necessary for a person to have before they establish their beliefs?
    Infinity. Wouldn’t it be interesting if everyone kept re-evaluating their positions in light of new experiences and new discoveries?

  • 1) No more than it is dangerous for the uneducated to debate literature or nuclear physics. The only hazard is looking foolish.
    2) There’s nothing humble about it. “I am definitely right and if you don’t take the carrot I’m offering, you’re getting the stick of hell.” Not humble.
    3) No. My main regret is that I am too satisfied with life- comfort breeds complacency.
    4) Because my brain doesn’t do faith. I was raised religious, and as a child, I was utterly convinced that Noah’s flood was actually a flood of fallout, and that they weren’t humans, but were intelligent dinosaurs who destroyed their civilization in a nuclear war. I believed that, but was, at no point, sold on the “god” thing.
    5) One shouldn’t have beliefs. One should have conclusions that follow from evidence. I do not believe in gravity, but I accept it because to do otherwise would contradict the world as we know it.
    6) Having participated in the public school system, I would argue that they cannot manage the task of educating, let alone indoctrinating. In the modern world, they do little more than keep the children in a controlled environment for 8 hours a day. The media- it is not some monolithic organization controlled by a shadowy conspiracy. They’re a market driven force: they sell what people buy. They have no interest in indoctrination, they only care about sales. So, when one worries about what “the media” pushes, one should look to ones peers for the explanation.
    7) Not counting idiots trolling on the Internet, nothing leaps to mind. I find Christianity itself offensive- it’s a reality denying death cult with exceedingly questionable morals- but I find nothing offensive about Christians. I tend to view religions as fandoms, and treat Christians like Twilight fans, or some other fandom I dislike.

  • Richard Wade

    First, fun with the silly questions:

    Is it dangerous for uneducated Christians to engage in debate with atheists?

    Yes. It’s dangerous for the atheists. It’s dangerous for their sanity and for their physical safety.

    Why does an atheist get offended when a Christian is humbly offering eternal happiness?

    Because it’s not free. It costs having to give up thinking clearly, and having to go back to being emotionally childish. Too high.

    Do you ever feel like you’re missing anything in your life? Or maybe that there is something more…even if it’s not God for you?

    The only thing missing in my life is the next breath, and I’m working on that one right now. Seriously. I mean it. I’m living my life that immediately, and it’s wonderful. I doubt that there are many people who understand what I’m talking about.

    It seems like atheists in general at one time believed in God, but then turned away because of some type of hurt, lost a loved one, etc. They are angry at God, it seems. Why are you an atheist?

    It seems that way because you don’t actually know any atheists. Stop pretending that you know people whom you are observing from ten miles away. I’m an atheist because you have utterly failed to make your case for thousands of years. My question to you is why are you afraid to get close to people who are just a little different from you?

    Now fun with the more sensible questions:

    How much literature, research, or experience do you think is necessary for a person to have before they establish their beliefs?

    An infinite amount. That way you’ll never get around to establishing your beliefs. Beliefs are mind petrification. They are to be avoided.

    Can parents and pastors really compete with the amount of influence a secular school system (7-8 hours per day) and a media-saturated culture has upon young minds? Honestly, compared to churches which one has more power to indoctrinate minds, the school system or churches?

    Your question assumes that there must be indoctrination one way or the other. Education, when done properly, is anti-indoctrination, is de-indoctrination, because it not only teaches knowledge, it also teaches how to think freely, clearly and critically. Churches remain the supreme masters of indoctrination, don’t worry.

    What do we [Christians] do that offends atheists most?

    Nothing. That’s what you do that offends me, infuriates me the most. You do nothing when demagogues pretending to be in your ranks appeal to the ignorance and fear of people to further their personal ambitions. You do nothing when your brethren practice their bigotry directly against the best teachings of Jesus. You do nothing when your leaders twist theology to justify injustice, to excuse the inexcusable, to rationalize the irrational, and to villainize the victims. You sit around on your privileged little asses and do nothing except sheepishly say that “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” The most unforgivable stuff is in the long list of what you haven’t done.

  • Miko

    Having participated in the public school system, I would argue that they cannot manage the task of educating, let alone indoctrinating.

    While I agree more or less on the education component, I would argue that public schools are instruments of indoctrination (but not religious indoctrination), and indeed were created primarily for that purpose. My favorite example is an elementary school assignment I saw at a conference a few years back: students are instructed to read the entire assignment before beginning, then given several steps in which they’re asked to do silly and/or impossible things, followed by a final step (call it N) instructing them to ignore all previous steps. The smarmy moral, apparently, is that if only they had followed the instruction to read everything first, they could have skipped all of the difficulties of steps 1 through N-1. (The fact that they are eventually supposed to do the steps out of order is tacitly omitted.) What point does this assignment have, other than teaching impressionable children that they should blindly follow arbitrary orders from authority figures?

    The history of the “schooling” of Native Americans in this country is especially appalling. It consisted primarily of men with guns taking children away from their parents each morning so that the children could hear their parents’ culture being belittled all day long. It was explicitly intended to assimilate the children and turn them against their parents values, hence the need for men with guns to make it work. While things are subtler these days, truancy officers perform essentially the same function now.

    Honestly, compared to churches which one has more power to indoctrinate minds, the school system or churches?

    I’m going with churches. Schools mold children into mindless idiots through carrot-and-stick grading systems, public shaming, and a curriculum based on rote memorization. Churches mold children into mindless idiots through carrot-and-stick promises of salvation/damnation, public shaming, and through forced recitation of meaningless prayers learned by rote.

    A more interesting question is which form of indoctrination is more dangerous. Schools indoctrinate mainly as a way of creating drones to fill the need for low-skilled and unskilled labor, who will accept exploitation without asking questions. Depending on the religious sect, church indoctrination can serve purposes ranging from generating a stream of tithe income for the priestly class to generating a stream of suicide bombers.

  • How much literature, research, or experience do you think is necessary for a person to have before they establish their beliefs?

    I believe that beliefs happen mainly unconsciously without needing any conscious reading of literature or engaging in any research. I suppose that a person needs to be at least 4 or 5 years old to be able to have enough cognitive ability to form beliefs. In being presented with patterns in life (like a child being subjected to regular evangelism) the mind will often form a belief to better organize the information presented. If the information itself is the belief system, then that just re-enforces the establishment of the belief system. Thus the perpetuation of religious belief.

    IMO, most of the religious arguments are really only articulated after the establishment of the belief.

  • @ Richard Wade,
    My thanks to you for expanding my horizons today. Gifts like these are priceless…

  • Korny

    @ Miko: I have heard of that assingment before. The point of that exercise is NOT to teach to blindly follow orders. The point of the exericse is teaching people to read the instructions!

    @ Richards last answer: *steals* To which I would only add “and THEN you say atheists have no morals.”

  • Angie

    Hemant, you have far more patience and grace than I would in that situation . . .

  • cathy

    71. Yes, if we win an argument, we feed you to a bear.
    2. There’s nothing humble about it. Also, it’s just rude to go around bothering people after they’ve made it clear they aren’t interested in what you’re selling.
    3. Nothing spiritual or wooey. I’m single…so there’s that.
    4. You can’t be angry at something that you don’t believe exists. Being an atheists and being angry at God are mutually exclusive. Many theist mistake being angry with a deity and being angry with religion.
    5. I’ll take your word that you believe it, though proving the content of your beliefs is based on quality of proof, not an arbitrary quantitiy.
    6. The education system is overwhelmingly pro-religious and unfriendly to atheist kids. But don’t let reality interfere with your paranoia.
    7. Trying to enforce your beliefs on others. Using your relgious teachings/holy book as an excuse for bigotry and expecting that it should give you a pass for your bigotry (for example, anti-gays that try to pretend that their views aren’t bigotry by appealing to the bible). If you think that women are inferior, gays are evil, etc., I don’t care if your holy book supports it, it’s still YOUR belief and you are still a bigot. I also find it annoying when Christians assume that atheists who grew up in a highly religious culture have no exposure to religious beliefs and no knowledge of religious teachings.

  • RPJ

    A kid goes, for 7-8 hours a weekday, to a place where he probably doesn’t want to be, sits around doing boring crap that he probably doesn’t want to do, and has his activities directed by a person or persons who he only sees for that time period and has limited personal involvement in that kid.

    Then he spends the rest of his time around family, doing family things centered around whatever the family believes, which are directed by a personally-involved community of which this family is a unit.

    Yes, I wonder if they will be able to compete.

  • Why does an atheist get offended when a Christian is humbly offering eternal happiness?
    Maybe because every Christian thinks 1. that I have not looked into this myself, and 2. they are the first person to ever have this conversation with me.

    Do you ever feel like you’re missing anything in your life? Or maybe that there is something more….even if it’s not God for you?
    Sometimes, but that that does not mean your religion has any validity.

    It seems like atheists in general at one time believed in God, but then turned away because of some type of hurt, lost a loved one, etc. They are angry at God, it seems. Why are you an atheist?
    A lot of atheists became atheists by reading the Bible. If they become atheists due to a loss, it is because religion does not have the answers its followers insist it has. And if you had to keep repeating all of this to a bunch of people who know nothing about you but think they do, you might get a bit angry sometimes too.

  • Why does an atheist get offended when a Christian is humbly offering eternal happiness?

    it’s all a matter of perspective: This is related to a discussion I recently had with a longtime (Catholic) Christian friend. She asked me why it should bother me that fundamentalist Christians say I’m going to Hell, when I don’t even believe in Hell. She pointed out that many of those fundies think that she is going to Hell too, since even though she is a Christian from her perspective, she is the wrong kind of Christian from the fundagelical perspective. I did not have an answer at the time, but later I figured out that the issue is not that the fundies think I am going to Hell, it’s that they think *they* are going to heaven. From their perspective, their time on earth is short and temporary (especially as compared to eternity in heaven or hell). From my perspective, my time on earth is all I have (and (so far) the earth is the only home humans have access to). Someone with an eternal perspective who may not care so much about physical and material things has the potential to influence public policies in directions that could be detrimental to the materilaist perspective

  • cathy

    Theo, it bothers me because they use this as a form of judgment on people doing things they disapprove of while trying to avoid having to take responsibilities for their opinions. There’s a great post over at bilerico on the topic: http://www.bilerico.com/2010/02/its_not_god_saying_gays_should_be_put_to_death_its.php

    Telling someone that you think they are evil and deserve eternal punishment is f-ing rude, regardless of whether or not you invoke a magic place in the bargain.

  • Hemant–thanks again for coming to Jubilee, and I hope it’s not the last time!

    For the sake of clarity, the reason we didn’t get to most of the questions above was simply lack of time, and that the conversation was going in other directions.

    Though you’re right, I did regard *some* of those you’ve mentioned as not worth asking. 🙂 The reason I took the trouble of typing/publishing all of them was to hopefully elevate the discussion next time around.

    For the perspective of an atheist who was in the audience, check out http://rustophilus.wordpress.com/

  • stinger

    “Why does an atheist get offended when a Christian is humbly offering eternal happiness?”

    Because you’re not “offering” eternal happiness. You’re threatening me — accept eternal happiness or BURN IN HELLFIRE FOREVER. Huh. Nothing offensive there.

    What’s offensive is the willful obtuseness of this question. Not to mention the smug assumption of humility. “I am humble” is a contradiction in terms.

  • Neon Genesis

    “Is it dangerous for uneducated Christians to engage in debate with atheists?”

    It depends on how educated the atheist is about religion. It’s generally dangerous for someone who’s uneducated about their own position to engage in a debate with someone more educated about it than the person who believes it. Think of it as being like in a political debate. You might think you’re right on a political issue and even if you actually are right, it’s still dangerous to engage in a debate with someone else who knows more about the subject than you do if you haven’t educated yourself about your position thoroughly enough.

    “Why does an atheist get offended when a Christian is humbly offering eternal happiness?”

    It depends on the people involved. Sometimes it’s in the manner of how it’s presented. If you present your arguments in a rude and judgmental manner, you’re only going to upset someone. Nobody convinces someone to change their mind after being told how stupid they are for not agreeing with you. If you’re a Christian who believes in the doctrine of hell, some atheists are offended by the mere concept of hell and you’re probably better off not engaging in a debate with them. Other times Christians are mistaking constructive criticism of their beliefs as anger. Don’t be quick to judge an atheist as being offended just because they’re critical of your beliefs and arguments.

    “Do you ever feel like you’re missing anything in your life? Or maybe that there is something more…even if it’s not God for you?”

    I’m not dissatisfied with my life though it could be better. I wish I was out of college and living on my own already, for example. But you don’t have to turn to God or religion to commit yourself to something bigger than yourself. You can get involved in a cause that’s important to you or join political activist organizations or your local secular humanist organization.

    “It seems like atheists in general at one time believed in God, but then turned away because of some type of hurt, lost a loved one, etc. They are angry at God, it seems. Why are you an atheist?”

    To put it simply, because of the lack of evidence. I looked at the claims of religion and I couldn’t understand how a loving god could torture people for all eternity in hell. My conclusion was that either God was evil, God was good and didn’t care if you worshiped it, or God didn’t exist. A god who was evil is not a god I could bring myself to worship on moral principles even if it existed and if God existed but didn’t care if I didn’t worship it, then it didn’t hurt to not believe in it. While I was raised religious, not all atheists were raised religious and not all left the church for angry reasons. Some atheists left for philosophical or logical reasons. You shouldn’t jump to conclusions about why atheists don’t believe in God but instead you should just ask the individual atheists why they don’t.

    “Can parents and pastors really compete with the amount of influence a secular school system (7-8 hours per day) and a media-saturated culture has upon young minds? Honestly, compared to churches which one has more power to indoctrinate minds, the school system or churches?”

    The majority of America is Christian of some sort and you see religion in the media all time. Turn it on to Fox News and it seems like they’re always talking about Jesus or how they’re being “persecuted” for being Christians. Schools in general are not anti-religious, they are neutral to religion. Just because schools are not teaching fundamentalist religion does not mean they are teaching anti-religion.

    “What do we [Christians] do that offends atheists most?”

    What offends me most is when Christians try to force their beliefs on others, especially through government law, and when Christians act like if they aren’t given special privileges, they’re being persecuted for their beliefs.