Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Let's Talk About It

I have been debating religious folks for more than 35 years now. In 1981, as a newly minted atheist, I stood on the statehouse steps in Boise as Jerry Falwell held a "Moral Majority" rally.

At one point, he was about three feet from me and shouted, "I'd rather dig a ditch then take a handout!"1

I glared at him and shouted back, "You do nothing but take handouts. How many hard working people send you money for nothing in return?"

His people stepped between us and made it clear.

Kid, you'd better back off.

Since that time, I've had debates in person and online. Some of them were a bit more structured while some of them were just free-for-all.

People ask me why I bother debating religion at all.

I have a few basic reasons.

There is an outside chance that I may expose my colleague2 to an idea or evidence that he or she has never encountered or considered before. I know the possibility is remote but you never know.

There is an outside change that I may be exposed to an idea or evidence that I've never encountered or considered before. If it's compelling, I might change my mind. Again, it's a remote possibility but it has been known to happen (although not anything that has changed my mind or gods or religion).

Sometimes, these debates have onlookers. If any of them are on the fence, I'm obligated to present my best arguments with reason, logic and evidence. There's a less remote possibility that I might convince them that my position is the more tenable and I might get them on my side of the fence.

But probably most important is to let my colleague know that his/her ideas won't go unchallenged. This is especially important in a world where religion and nationalism go hand in glove. Many would use religious justifications to rob people of basic liberties and, in some places, their lives. Even in our own country, we have people like Alex Jones calling for civil war because he and his kind aren't being allowed to turn the US into a theocracy overseen by middle-aged white men who have twisted their god and messiah into some bizarre wrathful monsters.

I have to be the person who stands up to these people and says, "No, that's not right!"

It's my obligation to my country.

It's my obligation to my world.

It's my obligation to myself.

No, sir. I won't back off.

1Even then, being in poverty and needing assistance was seen as some kind of character flaw.
2I don't see them as opponents. The moment I do, it's not a debate; it's a combat.

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