My Approach to Religious Friends and Acquaintances: A Guest Post

This is a guest post by Mike, my friendly neighbor to the north, at the Godless Cranium.  He graciously invited others to post to his blog and we agreed to exchange posts.  I respect his views and confirm that our correspondence online and off makes him a person I would gladly fellowship with.  I’m glad to see him actively blogging again.  

Mike, thank you for adding value to our home here. – – Pascal

First off, thank you for the opportunity to post a piece on your blog. I’m sorry for the delay. Without getting into too much detail, I was dealing with multiple issues that unfortunately took me away from my blog for some time.

However, I’m glad to be back and I hope you and your readers enjoy my take on how I approach religious friends and acquaintances.

Let Us Begin

Most of my family is religious. My mom talks about my dad being in heaven. She also reminisces about how anything that dies is also up there with my dad, and to be honest I just grin and bear it. My mom is aware of my non-religiosity and she agrees with most of my reasoning but she’s religious and that’s not going to change any time soon. She doesn’t attend church and thinks that organized religion is just there to suck money from you, but overall she believes in God and the bible etc.

I grew up around religion. I live in a culture where Christianity is prominent and I’ve grown fairly used to it. Over the years I’ve created a sort of code of ethics when dealing with religion. Here’s a few examples.

Work

I’m a social worker and I work primarily with the deaf/blind. I avoid religious talk at work. I’ve accompanied clients to church and sat through the sermon. I’ve said a prayer for a client just going to bed. If asked about religion, I deflect because I don’t think it belongs in my professional life. When I’m at work, I’m there to serve my clients and if they find comfort in me praying with them, then I’ll be doing just that.

Functions

At social functions I do not bow my head in prayer. I do not pray. I do not sing hymns. I do not profess faith in a deity I do not believe in.

At functions or in public areas where I’m not working, I do not support religion. I do not actively go out of my way to embarrass people etc., but I also don’t partake in what religion is offering.

Personal Life

If you know me at all, you will probably figure out I’m not a believer. If you ask me about religion in a non-professional atmosphere, I will discuss my views with you. I will try to do so in a polite manner unless pushed to the brink with torture threats (like Hell) or other religious inanities. I’ve been told that I’m the anti-Christ on more than one occasion, for example, and that I have ‘weird views’ on religion as a whole.

That’s fine. I make sure that I don’t actively hide my religious views. I’m openly atheist without being in-your-face about it. But if asked or drawn into a conversation about religion, I will speak my thoughts.

I believe being openly atheist is important, since many, many people can’t be. Some atheists fear for their lives, some fear losing their family and friends etc. I’m lucky enough not to fear those things. I live in a part of the world where I’m free to speak my mind about religion. Sure, I may take a few social consequences, but I’m fine with that.

Family

My wife was a Catholic when I met her and she is very much aware of my atheism. As are my step-kids, kids and close friends. We’ve had religious discussions and they are aware of my reasons for not believing. I never told my kids I was an atheist when they were growing up and I supported their right to choose religion or non-belief as they saw fit. My son believes in God and my daughter doesn’t much care about religion one way or the other. I love my family whether they are religious or not. I’ve even offered to attend church with my wife if it was important to her, as long as she didn’t expect me to bow my head (or kneel) and pray or in any other way compromise my own ethics. I would gladly (well…semi-gladly) sit quietly through a sermon if she wanted me too.

Conclusion

Basically, I try to strike a balance. I don’t pretend to be religious but sometimes I must put my religious and non-religious differences aside to help people I work with or care about. I’m proud of my atheism, because it took me a long time to arrive at. It meant many hours of reading and examining. It meant years of self-discovery, and I’m now comfortable with my non-belief in God.

However, that doesn’t mean I don’t challenge that non-belief on a regular basis. I read many religious writings and constantly strive to find good arguments against my position.

I hope you and your readers enjoyed the post and thank you once again for the opportunity to post on your blog. As you probably know, I enjoy your writings very much.

19 comments

  1. Hi Pascal, thanks for publishing this.

    Hi Mike, thanks for sharing your views. I really appreciate your approach. I guess you come from America?

    I am a christian, but from Australia, which has never been a highly religious country, so christians have generally not learnt to be pushy or nasty. We live in a secular society which is based on a christian culture, but only about 10% go to church. I am well used to working with non-believing colleagues and friends, attending family events with non-believing relatives, etc. We don’t talk about belief or disbelief all that much, and when we do it is generally in a friendly and non-pushy manner. Our last few Prime Ministers have included Protestant, Catholic and atheist and no-one seemed to care all that much.

    I can see it is different for you, and I am sorry it has to be that way. I think a truly secular society (neither christian nor atheist, but tolerant of all views) is a much better place for a christian to live, for I think history shows that when either christianity or atheism becomes the basis of government, things can become coercive and nasty. America isn’t as bad as it can get, but I think the things you mention show that it could be a lot better.

    All the best. Eric

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Hi Mike, thanks for sharing your views.”

      Thank you for reading my views and dropping a comment.

      “I really appreciate your approach. I guess you come from America?”

      Actually, I’m Canadian.

      “I think a truly secular society (neither christian nor atheist, but tolerant of all views) is a much better place for a christian to live”

      I’m all about secularity and think people should be free to choose religion or non-religion. If anyone tried to take religious folks rights away to choose a religion, I would be in the front lines with them.

      However, I will not pretend that I agree with religion – Christian or otherwise, and I’m certainly not adverse to sharing my views and doing my best to convince others to embrace evidence based thinking instead of faith.

      When it comes right down to it, I think we are all humans and have more in common than we do differences.

      Thank you so much for your well-thought out comment, unkleE.

      Like

      1. Hi Mike, sorry about mixing Canada and USA – even from this far away, I do know the difference!

        Just thought I’d comment on one thing you said: “However, I will not pretend that I agree with religion – Christian or otherwise, and I’m certainly not adverse to sharing my views and doing my best to convince others to embrace evidence based thinking instead of faith.”

        Just to make clear …

        (1) I don’t pretend to agree with atheism either, and I’m certainly not adverse to sharing my views and doing my best to convince others too!

        (2) Your blog post about “Dear atheists” rightly sounded off against some of the cliches some christians use against atheists, so perhaps you won’t mind if I pick you up on something similar when you say evidence based thinking instead of faith”. Most thoughtful christians don’t see those two as a dichotomy, but rather see faith as going hand-in-hand with evidence.

        Thanks.

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        1. “Hi Mike, sorry about mixing Canada and USA – even from this far away, I do know the difference!”

          No worries. 🙂

          “I don’t pretend to agree with atheism either, and I’m certainly not adverse to sharing my views and doing my best to convince others too!”

          Awesome! Dialogue is what is needed in my opinion. I think if something is important to people, they should talk about it.

          “Your blog post about “Dear atheists” rightly sounded off against some of the cliches some christians use against atheists”

          I’m flattered you read it. Thank you.

          “evidence based thinking instead of faith”. Most thoughtful christians don’t see those two as a dichotomy, but rather see faith as going hand-in-hand with evidence.”

          Please explain.

          Faith literally means belief not based on proof. In fact, even the bible agrees in Hebrews:

          1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.-Hebrews 11:1

          If belief is not based on proof, then you can not have evidence based thinking. You instead have faith based thinking.

          I’ve also not been made aware of any evidence for a divine being. There are literally thousands of proposed deities.

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          1. Hi Mike, I think the main basis for my disagreement with you here is your statement “Faith literally means belief not based on proof.”

            Faith is a complex word with many meanings. Online dictionaries generally give “confidence and trust” as their first meaning, and generally have something like “belief based on spiritual conviction rather than proof” as a second meaning. Some christians would go more with the first, some with the second. I think the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gets it right:

            Religious faith is of two kinds: evidence-sensitive and evidence-insensitive. The former views faith as closely coordinated with demonstrable truths; the latter more strictly as an act of the will of the religious believer alone.

            So I hold to the evidence-sensitive definition, and most christian apologists would do the same. You quote Hebrews, but it doesn’t say faith is without evidence, but rather without certainty. Elsewhere, the New Testament is quite strong on the place of evidence – Luke stresses how he has used reliable historical sources, John says he is reporting personal experience via three senses (sight, hearing and touch) and Paul reports personal experience and what he received from apostles (who were eye-witnesses.

            “If belief is not based on proof, then you can not have evidence based thinking. You instead have faith based thinking.”

            I think this too is an interesting statement. Are you saying that there are only two possible cases – either proof or faith, and nothing in between? Is “proof” the only way we know something? Is it certainty or nothing?

            I think I’ll hold fire there until I see your answers, for there is little point in discussing evidence until we can agree on what evidence is and how it should be used. Thanks.

            Like

            1. “belief based on spiritual conviction rather than proof”

              Proof is another word for evidence. I’m following you so far. This is exactly what I’m talking about. If you had evidence, you wouldn’t need faith.

              “Religious faith is of two kinds: evidence-sensitive and evidence-insensitive. The former views faith as closely coordinated with demonstrable truths; the latter more strictly as an act of the will of the religious believer alone.”

              Okay. Demonstrable truth meaning what? Revelation? Miracles?

              “Luke stresses how he has used reliable historical sources, John says he is reporting personal experience via three senses (sight, hearing and touch) and Paul reports personal experience and what he received from apostles (who were eye-witnesses.”

              So all anecdotal evidence. The same sort of evidence every other religion uses.

              “Is “proof” the only way we know something? Is it certainty or nothing?”

              If I tell you my dog is out side taking a whiz right now, you’d probably believe me. It doesn’t really effect you.

              If I told you that gravity is really demons holding you in place, you’d ask for evidence.

              If someone tells me Jesus was a divine being with powers, and he died on a cross to save me, I need evidence to believe that. Just like I’d need evidence that Zeus can fling lightening bolts from the heaven.

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  2. Hi GC, Sometimes people use the same words but apply differing concepts with those words. So, my first question is what do you personally, mean when you use the word ‘deity’? Also, from the way you describe you mom, I would call her a spiritual person as opposed to religious and I’m wondering if you make any distinction between the two? To me, a religious person is one who is concerned with being in church every time the doors are open and focuses on religious rules and ritual. A spiritual person is someone who lives according to certain spiritual values, every day. Of course, this applies to other philosophies besides Christianity.

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  3. Hi Pam. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. It’s much appreciated.

    “Hi GC, Sometimes people use the same words but apply differing concepts with those words. So, my first question is what do you personally, mean when you use the word ‘deity’?”

    I usually leave that up to the believer. I sometimes ask them to define their God. Usually if I use the word, I mean God or Goddess.

    “Also, from the way you describe you mom, I would call her a spiritual person as opposed to religious and I’m wondering if you make any distinction between the two?”

    I do make a distinction between the two. However, my mom is definitely Christian. She believes in Jesus and heaven and reads the bible etc. I was raised a Christian and believed in the Christian god growing up. She used to be an elder in her church but after the pastor tried to sleep with her following a major operation, she stopped going. She also thinks that churches serve little purpose since she knows how to read and can read the bible for herself.

    Her words, not mine. LOL.

    “A spiritual person is someone who lives according to certain spiritual values, every day.”

    Can you give me an example?

    Honestly, I find the word ‘spiritualism’ sort of meaningless. It’s too nebulous of a word and it encompasses way too much. Some people might describe eating ice cream as being a spiritual experience, while others believe in karma or think mediation is a spiritual pursuit.

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  4. “Proof is another word for evidence. I’m following you so far. This is exactly what I’m talking about. If you had evidence, you wouldn’t need faith.”

    Hi Mike, I’m sorry but I don’t think we are on the same wavelength over this yet, for two reasons.

    How can proof be another word for evidence? In a court, both sides present counter evidence, no-one “proves” anything, but the verdict is based on being beyond reasonable doubt, not proof. In science, there can be two opposing hypotheses (a classic example used to be the wave theory of light and the particle theory), each with their supporting evidence. In the end, there may be some “proof”, but generally there is a provisional conclusion, based on 95% confidence limits and subject to further amendment as more data comes in. The only places where we have “proof” are maths and logic, and even in logic we depend on the premises which we can’t “prove”.

    So, do you accept that there can be evidence on both sides of a question and most questions can’t be resolved to the level of “proof”?

    You have also ignored the primary dictionary definition of faith as trust and confidence, and the Stanford recognition that some faith is “evidence-sensitive” and so the two cannot be totally opposed. Can you accept those definitions as being reasonable uses of the word “faith”?
    You didn’t really answer my question about there being situations between the extremes of “proof” and your definition of faith. Can you please clarify? Do you accept there are some situation where there is some evidence but not “proof”, and that may be the best we can do?

    I’m sorry to be pedantic, but I have been involved in too many discussion where the two parties have quite different views of evidence, and the discussions become frustrating and inconclusive. But if you can answer these three questions which I have bolded please, I can then move on to talking about the evidence I see for christianity with an understanding of how you are using words. Thanks for your patience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi UncLe,

      Evidence: “The available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid”

      Faith: “Strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof”

      The other definition of faith is rarely used in conjunction with religious faith. As given in the example from the dictionary: “this restores one’s faith in politicians”

      The other example sentences as given are:

      “He said the general public had lost faith in politics and politicians and the forming of deals that exclude a section of the public from the political process.”

      “Many people have given way to despondency and helplessness, having lost faith in leaders and politicians.”

      “Since the public has lost faith in ideology, politicians must now use fear in order to maintain their hold over the masses.”

      All definitions from the Oxford dictionary.

      No, I do not go by the philosophical definition. You have also yet to explain what ‘evidence-sensitive’ even means. I do not know what it means to have a ‘demonstrable truth’. Does that mean a revelation? Does that mean a miracle? Does that mean empirical evidence?

      However, I do not want to take too much of Russel and Pascal’s blog up with definition comments. They were kind enough to publish this piece on their blog and I feel as if we are derailing our own discussion, since this piece really had nothing to do with the evidence or lack of evidence for God and more to do with how I approach friends and family (or acquaintances) who are religious, since I am not.

      But if you think you have a convincing piece of evidence for your God and one that is more convincing than the evidences given for other gods, I’m all ears.

      I hope you had a wonderful day. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Mike and Eric,

    I think that you’ve both modelled a respectful approach to theists and atheists without compromising the integrity of your own intellects. Thank you for that. I’d like to walk down the trailhead of faith and evidence. It has come up in many of my discussions with Russell and not even the OED has resolved it.

    You both are a welcome voice here – – in duet or individually. This is exactly what Russell and I hoped for. Agreement or disagreement with respectful dialogue.

    Tomorrow morning – – On Evidence and Faith

    Like

    1. Hi Pascal, thanks for your encouragement and welcome. I have been following this blog for a while because I like its ethos. I will continue to read, comment when I think I have something to add, and respond to those who reply to me. Whether we continue any further with this particular discussion depends on Mike, but I think he may feel like it is time to stop. Thanks.

      Like

  6. Hi Mike.

    “The other definition of faith is rarely used in conjunction with religious faith.”
    In my experience, it is the one that thoughtful christians most use. It is one of the ways I would use the word, and I’d never use it in the way you do.

    “No, I do not go by the philosophical definition. You have also yet to explain what ‘evidence-sensitive’ even means.”
    I think it is a pity that you aren’t willing to accept an authority like the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (I’m sorry, I think I named the wrong reference before) because it provides a neutral definition. It goes on to explain that evident sensitive faith “views faith as closely coordinated with demonstrable truths [and] includes evidence garnered from the testimony and works of other believers.” I would add includes historical and scientific evidence also.

    It is really quite similar to getting married. I have been married more than 48 years. When I asked her to marry me, I had good reason to believe I was making a good choice, but I certainly didn’t have any “proof” or certainty. But I placed my trust and confidence in her anyway. Likewise I believe I have good reason to believe in God so I place my trust and confidence in him.

    “I do not know what it means to have a ‘demonstrable truth’. Does that mean a revelation? Does that mean a miracle? Does that mean empirical evidence?”
    Demonstrable truths are beliefs one considers to be true for reasons one can show to others. Like if I asked you why you believe Julius Caesar invaded England, you could say why you belief that is true even though you cannot “prove” it. So yes, revelation, miracle, empirical evidence, philosophical truth, personal experience, historical analysis, etc.

    “However, I do not want to take too much of Russel and Pascal’s blog”
    No, I am conscious of that too. But you seemed eager to challenge me and I was simply responding to your “challenge”.

    “But if you think you have a convincing piece of evidence for your God and one that is more convincing than the evidences given for other gods, I’m all ears.”
    I do think I have lots of convincing evidence – convincing to me at any rate – but I’m doubtful it would be convincing to you, based on our discussion so far. If I was to present it, it would be mostly stuff you have heard before – the unlikelihood of a universe forming by chance, the even greater unlikelihood of it being so fine-tuned, the difficulty of explaining consciousness, free will, ethics and rationality without God, the historical evidence (from secular scholars) for the life and teachings of Jesus and the difficulty of explaining it apart from him telling the truth, and the experiences of millions of people who have experienced (and in some cases documented) healing miracles, visions, mystical experiences and other communications that don’t have obvious natural explanations.

    None of this is “proof”, but it is demonstrable knowledge (IMO) in the form appropriate to each type of information. I could offer scientific testimony from some of the top secular scientists (cosmologists and neuroscientists), top secular historians, and documented examples, all evidence, but not necessarily proof. I would present arguments that the God explanation is a more probable conclusion than any other explanation, and in fact in some cases there is no other explanation. And I’m guessing you might say that none of this is “proof”, it is insufficient evidence, and we would have difficulty discussing that because we haven’t agreed on what constitutes evidence.

    Perhaps it is best not to clutter up this blog further, but that is how I would respond to your challenge. Thanks for the opportunity to say this much. Best wishes. Eric

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “I would present arguments that the God explanation is a more probable conclusion than any other explanation, and in fact in some cases there is no other explanation.”

      You’re right. I have heard many of those arguments before. I don’t find them particularly convincing.

      However, when faced with a question I don’t know the answer to, I just say I don’t know. I find that theists often stick their God in that gap of knowledge and claim that it’s the best and most probable conclusion.

      Even if someone could demonstrate that a God is likely to exist, they would only be halfway there. Then they would need to demonstrate why their God is the right god and not the literally thousands of other gods.

      I find that many theists argue from the stance of a deist instead of for their own belief system.

      It has been a nice conversation and thank you for that, unklE.

      Like

      1. Hi Mike,

        Thanks for your generous response. I just wanted to respond to one of your comments.

        “However, when faced with a question I don’t know the answer to, I just say I don’t know. I find that theists often stick their God in that gap of knowledge and claim that it’s the best and most probable conclusion.”

        I find this strange. When science has a problem it can’t answer, it proposes hypotheses and then tests them. For example, the mechanism for abiogenesis. Last time I read up on this, no-one had solved this problem. Many hypotheses had been proposed, tested, and all of them (if I understand correctly) have been judged by the scientific community to not be adequate answers. And so the search goes on.

        Now surely we should do the same for God? I have indicated a number of real world issues begging for answers, and proposed God as the hypothesis. In some cases there are other hypotheses, in some cases I would argue there are not. That makes the God hypothesis (in my judgment) the best one going around. How can it be wrong to prefer the best hypothesis over having no idea? At the very least the hypothesis deserves significant testing. Now I daresay you feel you have tested it enough. But maybe there is more to the question than you have experienced and thought of?

        My view is that we only have one life (as far as we know) and a limited opportunity to decide on the best hypothesis. This isn’t a question that I think it is wise to remain agnostic on for too long – the claims on the christian side are too important for that. So I go with the best hypothesis, and just like in science, I adjust my hypothesis as I get new information. I have done that quite a lot over my life, without changing the basics.

        Thanks again for the discussion so far. Maybe we will “see” each other again. Best wishes.

        Like

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