Atheism and me: Talking about religion

Note: This is a post about a thing that I’m still thinking about, and that’s definitely not a fully formed, concrete point of view. It’s a work in progress. And it’s very much based on my pwn experiences and inclinations – I don’t expect others to be the same on this one!

As an atheist, talking about religion can feel like a minefield. Talking about atheism, too. Finding an approach that is both respectful of the people with whom I interact, without compromising my own position, can be difficult. And with good reason. There’s a lot going on. First, though, a little background on my own perspective. Because perspectives are important here. I’m writing from Dublin in Ireland- which makes a big difference, in the mostly-American internet. Religion(s) and atheism have a bit of a different relationship here than they do elsewhere. On a personal level, being an atheist- especially as an adult without any kids- is simply not a big deal. It’s not a thing that people talk about. When it is talked about, I’ve found a lot of understanding for a person’s choice to steer clear of the church. See, the thing about Ireland is that we are very, very aware of the damage that giving religious institutions too much power can do to a society. And the damage that identifying really, really strongly with religious groups can do to a society. I’m not sure if it’s a conscious thing, but talking a lot about god or about our own beliefs is definitely something that would be considered.. odd. People don’t do it, at least in the circles I live in. I’ve heard that this isn’t always the case, particularly in more rural areas, but I can’t speak from experience.

At the same time, the Catholic Church still has a ton of institutional power here, with control over the majority of our schools and hospitals. So we have this strange sitution where religion doesn’t come into every day life, isn’t really discussed, but does have an awful lot of institutional power. Well, one religion does, at least. Because of these factors, it’s not at all uncommon for people to criticise the instutions of the RCC. People are less likely to talk about actual beliefs, though.

So for me, talking about why I believe what I do (or, well, don’t!) needs to get past a level of discomfort with the topic itself, before even starting to tackle any other issues. Tis an odd one.

Background aside, let’s talk about talking about religion. For me, there’s a few issues at stake. The first thing is, of course, being honest about my worldview. As an atheist, I do genuinely believe that there is no real evidence for the existence of gods. And I’m as sure as I am about anything that I’m correct about that. I’m not going to deny that.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t religious viewpoints that I have respect for, though. And it doesn’t mean that I can get into conversations with religious people and ignore the massively important meanings other than the existence of gods that religion can have. Religion is about the supernatural, but it’s also about a hell of a lot more. It’s about where you come from. It’s about family, identity, class, and a host of other factors. I’ve spoken to enough secular Jews and cafeteria Catholics to know that, although a lot of sceptics would like to pretend otherwise.

When I talk about my views with religious people, I’m not trying to convert anyone. It annoys the hell out of me when anyone tries to convert me to their beliefs. I have no interest in being annoying. What I do try to do is to simply explain my own perspective- why I have come to the conclusions that I have, what those conclusions are, and how that informs my perspective. And I listen. As Jadey said in a comment to a previous post in this series, I prefer to practice “genuinely setting aside my own expectations and trying on something new”. I want to understand where people are coming from- us humans have a really terrible tendency to lump in all the members of other groups together and rely on stereotyped views.

Some people really like debating. I’m not one of them. While I love watching a good debate, I have about as much interest in participating as any sofa-bound sports spectator. Seriously. Not my thing. When I talk about religion and atheism with people, my interest is in increased understanding of our perspectives. That’s all.

Unless someone’s using their religion as an excuse to ignore reality or behave horribly to other people of course. Then the gloves are off. But that’s a different conversation, for another post.

8 thoughts on “Atheism and me: Talking about religion

  1. It’s funny, I’m talking about a similar topic on my blog today.

    You’re right. Talking about beliefs just isn’t done in Ireland, at least not outside of the “I’m right, you’re wrong” camp. I think an awful lot of people are afraid to try and understand someone who has different views to them. They forget that you can understand someone’s point of view without having to agree with it.

    I am curious as to what you mean by ignoring reality, because that could be interpreted in a lot of ways.

    • By ‘ignoring reality’ I mean continuing to believe things that are really obviously contrary to, well, reality. Things which directly contradict what we know about the world and about people- like denying evolution or claiming that their god says that one group of people are better than the other, or like the Church’s position on AIDS prevention and whatnot. Things which we know the answers to, and where denying the answers that we already know is harmful.

    • I have another post in the works, actually, about this! I want to get into scepticism and what it means to me and how there are questions that are far more important to me than the existence-of-god thing. Which I think is far more meaty and interesting.

  2. I’m talking about scepticism on my blog too. It must be the weather, or something. I have a few other ideas in mind that I might talk about if I get the chance.

    I’m the same – I tend to be more fascinated by the phenomenon of strange beliefs than I am about trying to convert the world to my point of view. My own transition from religion to atheism was a long journey, so I normally see little point in antagonising people for the sake of it. I also realised a short time ago, that despite being a fully fledged atheist these days, my moral outlook hasn’t changed all that much from the time I was religious. It’s developed, sure, but it might have done so anyway, even if I had not left religion behind. Being kind, compassionate and appreciative of other people has nothing much to do with religion at all, when I think about it.

  3. I love this series of yours! As I mentioned in that last post, I have had some very bad experiences before with people in “mainstream” atheism who have managed to become pretty irritatingly dogmatic about their lack of dogma, so it is a blessed relief (pun so very intended) to find a more welcoming crowd.

    in the mostly-American internet.

    Say it ain’t so! Mostly Western, for sure, at least in my circles, but I like to think we’re getting away from being too darn US-centric. 😀

    It was very good to hear one Irish perspective on this – thanks.

  4. Pingback: Atheism and religion: it’s all in the axioms | Consider the Tea Cosy

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