It’s a restless hungry feeling
That don’t mean no one no good,
When ev’rything I’m a-sayin’
You can say it just as good.
You’re right from your side,
I’m right from mine.
We’re both just one too many mornings
An’ a thousand miles behind.
Bob Dylan, “One Too Many Mornings.”
At Tangled Up in Blue Guy, I introduced the Symbolic Interactionist (SI) perspective of social psychology in response to a question posed at The Friendly Atheist. I examined the ways in which people respond to logical propositions based on their own personal social and psychological background and experiences. The SI perspective is not settled science among sociologists, and I certainly don’t pretend to be an expert on it. I passed one course with an A, twenty-seven years ago. It did, however, make an impression on me.
One of the interesting concepts of SI is the “looking-glass self.” There are three main components:
- 1. We imagine how we must appear to others.
2. We imagine the judgment of that appearance.
3. We develop our self through the judgments of others.
Mentally and socially, we begin our lives as tabula rasa, empty vessels waiting to be filled and develop our sense of selves based on the totality of interactions we have while developing. This then affects the way that we approach questions. As people we decide what to accept and what to discount based on how the information we receive incorporates into our accumulated experiences and understandings and the sorts of feedback that we have gotten on the way that we process information.
Hemant asked the question I started this post with: “Who is better at converting Christians to atheism?“ So called accommodationists or so called New Atheists. I question the question: I am not settled that it is or should be a goal to convert Christians to atheism. However, if we accept that this is fact a goal of atheists, I can proceed with the rest
of the post. I will then, under protest, stipulate that this is a goal.
Is there a singular approach that would be useful to have the maximum effect of converting swathes of Christians to atheism?
The variability in Christian beliefs is the first factor to consider when asking such a question. Without listing all of the different denominations, it is obvious that there are a great many forms of Christianity. There are evangelical, fundamentalist, liturgical, esoteric, exoteric, lukewarm, on fire, etc. People within these variations also diverge further on how they interpret the relationship of their religious beliefs with skepticism.
The looking-glass self is helpful in this regard, because it is a reminder that with all of these variations on the approach to religion, there are going to be different types of reactions to attempts to “convert them.” One approach regularly offered is to explain how logic and reason and science work, then induce them to apply reason to their own religion. Eventually, according to this plan, they will shed their religion and become freethinkers.
That may work for some, but as has often been pointed out, there are countless examples of scientists who do solid work in their fields and yet remain religious. There is no simple explanation for why this is, and it bears repeating that their perspective on the issue is not the same as yours. For the atheist, an insistence that we are the only state of belief/non-belief based on reason is faulty. It ain’t so, because when we approach logic in any situation, we carry a broad base of preconceptions which bear on how we actually process the data sets.
I see a hazard and a way that this can backfire. If you have a friend or acquaintance that you have targeted for conversion, consider that your friend has a conflicting goal. Their beliefs compel them to share their experience and their salvation with you in hopes of saving your soul for Jesus. Consider that you may have just engaged in a game of strategy and competition. For them, they have found a way to “get to you.”
If logic and skepticism are going to be your approach, your friend has now embarked on a strategy to use those tools to convince you that their beliefs are entirely rational and will mesh finely with your own looking-glass self, but in a way that you may not have anticipated. Don’t assume that because they have this belief in a supernatural being, that all of their intellectual background is based on fantasy.
Christianity has a long philosophical history, and the writings of enlightenment era philosophy were not strictly atheistic. Further, philosophy and logic include difficult concepts such as “epistemology,” which is the question of how we “know” that we know what we know.
Logic and reason are presuppositional. Whatever you perceive to be “base knowledge” is built upon your own looking glass self, and it is very difficult to find a common base in a logical argument with someone who has their own looking glass self. Rene Descartes’ famous statement, “Cogito ergo sum,” was the final conclusion that the only base certainty that he could find is that we exist because we think. All else he had tried in approaching epistemology engendered doubt that he was being deceived.
Pinning your friend down to a common set of stipulations for building a logical case that there is no reason to believe in God gets tricky even for the seasoned student of philosophy, and your friend could indeed be well-trained in logic and epistemology. Further, since your friend has all ready reconciled logic with faith in their own way to come to a religious conclusion, they are going to bring such reconciliation to the discussion. Part of what they are using is rationalization, but it is also rationalization that seems “obvious” to them and it should also be “obvious” to you.
Atheists and theists have been debating each other for years to try to convince each other of the fallacies of their logic. It is, for many, a game to play with words and concepts. You will likely be surprised when approaching a Christian that he or she is all ready familiar with your arguments and prepared to turn them back on you.
It is a mistake to think that only a reasoned approach is going to work, if you intend to reach Christians with the “Message of Atheism.” If reason is what did the trick for you, that’s all fine and dandy, but it’s not the only game in town. If you want to “convert” anyone, be prepared.
As for myself, I am not all that concerned with evangelizing atheism for new converts. I am more concerned with making sure that atheists who think they are on their own know that we are here.
This entry was posted on Monday, July 20th, 2009 at 10:49 am and is filed under Mike Haubrich, Politics, Science. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.