"There is a mean streak in anyone who will destroy another's faith."

The titles quote is taken from an excerpt in Dawkins’ The God Delusion. He argues it is not true at all.

I am an atheist and my girlfriend is a cafeteria/haven’t-really-thought-about-it type of Catholic. When we recently talked about religion, it got pretty heated. Part of the problem is she views her religious beliefs as an integral part of “who she is.” And that I should accept that. After all, she accepts me as an atheist. Part of me wants to argue and point out all the things I think are wrong about about her theism. I’m pretty confident I could shred most of her arguments to pieces. However, the process would undoubtedly cause her emotional distress - and I do not want that.

This thread stuck out to me:

Which ideal is more important to you? (fidelity to truth or consideration for others)

At the time of this post there are about twice as many votes for consideration for others as for fidelity to truth. At what point does the fight against ignorance need to be dialed back? Is religion a special case?

(Mods: I missed the apostrophe in “anothers” in the title…little help? Thanks)

As a former evangelical atheist, I’ve gradually and very reluctantly come to the conclusion that arguing about religion is simply a lost cause. People will continue to believe what they want to believe, no matter how cogent an argument you present to them. I’ve got better things to do with my time than get into arguments about religion.

That may be, but my question is whether it should be attempted in the first place. If you know that attacking the religious beliefs of a person you care about will cause them great distress, should you?

I should clarify - I am more thinking of the wishy-washy type of religious believer. God’s existence might be taken for granted, or they haven’t really considered the issue on an intellectual level. I am not referring to the abortion clinic bombing, funeral protesting crazies.

If it’s just a generic belief in God, and that comforts them, then I don’t see any reason to put up a fight.

But when their belief actually has a negative impact on other people (like making them vote against gay marriage because they believe God disapproves of it) then I’ll go to the mattresses over that issue, even if it’s a long shot.

It’s obviously not always futile to “convert” others to atheism or agnosticism, but it’s probably best to start out by just asking them some (relatively nonthreatening) questions, like “How sure are you of your belief on a scale of 1 to 10?” and “How can you be so sure about your beliefs?” I’d see how defensive they get over it before proceeding any further.

How much proving have you done if you’re shredding the arguments of someone who’s a “cafeteria/haven’t-really-thought-about-it type of Catholic?”

I don’t understand your question.

The only people whose religious beliefs I know about in any detail are very close friends and relatives. I certainly don’t want to start a fight with them.

In most contexts, those two are not in conflict. You can be completely faithful to the truth as you see it while still being completely considerate of her feelings. Just don’t talk about it.

Do you feel compelled to, unsolicited, tell family, friends, co-workers and random passerby about how their beliefs are wrong and yours right? If so, you’re not honest, you’re an asshole. If not, you have already found the formula for domestic peace on this subject.

Until you have kids.

This is the agreement we’ve reached. Though, I don’t find it completely satisfying.

No, absolutely not. I don’t discuss religion with anyone else, really.

Oh, I can’t wait for that discussion… :frowning:

If Christian believers want me to think they really are good people, then all they can do is act like it and not tell me.

I feel the same way. I want to convince someone to atheism? I have to live my life in a way that shows I am a good and kind person, even with my atheism, and that I am not getting struck by lightning bolts because I don’t believe, and above all I am happy and content.

Preaching at people doesn’t work no matter what. The more you preach the more they dig in their heels.

Thankfully I don’t have the kids problem.

My wife is a believer. Her faith gives her personal strength, the knowledge that a greater force is watching over her and protecting her, and the assurance of eternal life in paradise. In exchange, I can offer her an inconsequential role in an uncaring universe, soon to be followed by an eternity of oblivion.

Frankly, in her place I’d think it was a shit deal too.

My take on this is that where your beliefs diverge from each other is really the question of how you arrive at your beliefs.

If you want to have discussions with her that relate to the beliefs without her getting upset, I’d bet that you could make the subject of the conversation that and be OK. You can start with other areas like leprechauns or psychics, and eventually it should be apparent to her that her religious beliefs are next up for justification.

I think you do need to address the issue at some point if you think that your relationship may get more serious. If her religion is a central part of who she is, that doesn’t bode well for your relationship when kids come along.

On the one hand, I think that any beliefs that can’t stand up to scrutiny or challenge aren’t very strong in the first place. If your beliefs, whatever they are, never get challenged, you’re probably being over-sheltered.

On the other hand, nobody likes having their beliefs attacked or derided, especially by those they care about. And not everybody is equally intelligent or sophisticated; there’s not necessarily anything wrong with simple faith, and to those who set out to destroy it with sophisticated rational arguments, I’m tempted to say, “Pick on someone your own size.”

Here, I think, is the key: It would be a bad idea to argue, to shred, to point out all the things that are wrong—to take an adversarial stance. Unless the person (in this case, your girlfriend) likes that sort of challenge, you shouldn’t take on the role of the attacker; and you shouldn’t come at her as a superior (“Here, let me show you why you’re wrong and why I know so much better than you!”).

But you might want to, gently and amicably, question her about what she believes, and why; and respond with things like “But what about…” or “I have trouble believing that because…” Who knows—you both might learn something.

Proving of what?

I agree that it is pointless to start a discussion, but if someone pitches God-woo at me, either assuming I’m a believer or coming to my door, I reserve the right to state firmly that I don’t believe, and not pretend I’m with them to not hurt their feelings. If they go beyond this, I’ll let them have it with both logical barrels. I live in a place with few evangelicals and lots of diversity, so it is rarely an issue.

When I was first dating my wife, we had pretty much exactly the same situation described in the OP, and had some spirited debates about it. While it was pretty easy for me to “win” virtually every point, it started to feel kind of pointless because she wasn’t mean or intolerant and wasn’t trying to convert me. We agreed to just basically leave each other alone about it, and 20 years later we rarely even discuss it (though we had some tension when she wanted to baptize the kids and put them in a Catholic school. I lost). When I was much younger, I was a far more vociferous anti-theist, but now I don’t bother unless the other person either wants to convert me, assert something factually false (e.g. creationist beliefs), codify their beliefs into law or in some way indicates a willingness to debate the topic (like here). Basically, they have to start it.

I will say that I don’t think it’s true that theists can’t be argued out oftheir beliefs, though. An awful lot of atheists (maybe most) used to be theists, and tons of them have been fundies. I think a lot of the most vehement atheists are the ones who were formerly the most hardcore fundies.
They aren’t likely to roll over and admit it while you’re arguing with them, but I’ve spoken to many (especially on the atheist board I moderate) who say that the arguments do rock them and get them to start thinking and questioning. It doesn’t happen instantly, but it does happen. I’ve gotten emails and PM’s on this very board from people telling me I’ve convinced them that Christianity isn’t true or that God doesn’t exist (one or two names which really surprised me).

So what do you “win” if you win the argument? Really, think about it…it’s possible you’ve successfully taken something dear away from someone. The likely result is that they wouldn’t want to be around you any more.

There is a danger that you would rather be “right” than happy. This would probably continue into other areas of your relationship, is that the kind of relationship you want?

By that same token, what do so many evangelicals win if they can convert somebody to their own religious beliefs? They outnumber the evangelical atheists 100 to 1, which is what makes a lot atheists so testy in the first place. Christians sharing their beliefs is supposed to be politely accepted, but atheists doing it is always seen as rude.

I find Dawkins to be extremely hypocritical. He says that people do not need faith to be happy, but what he means is HE doesn’t need faith to be happy.

He’s a very successful person who is rich even by the standards of the rich country that he lives in. Who is he to tell (for example) a subsistance farmer living in grinding poverty in Africa that they don’t need their faith to be happy?

People are vastly different situations and even those living in very simlair situations are not the same people. What’s good for the goose is not always good for the gander.

IMO faith or lack of it should be treated like an opinion. It is not necessarily wrong to share your opinions with others, but it is wrong to aggressively force your opinions on others especially if those opinions are not welcome. If someone wants to have faith and that faith is, within reason, unobstrusive on others than that’s fine with me. Dawkins is not fine with me because his faith is obstrusive.