I recently missed a Jehovah’s Witness coming to my door. It’s not the first time, and each time leaves me more disappointed than the last. They never catch me at home. I would really love to talk to them. I think I could have a really fascinating conversation with someone so certain in their religious beliefs that they would go door to door imploring people to agree with them.
From time to time I attend a Bible study group that one of my Christian friends introduced me to. It’s not the first Bible study I’ve attended, either, and I’ve been an atheist for as long as I can remember having well-formed opinions on the matter. I’m open about my lack of belief if it’s relevant to the discussion or if I’m directly asked, but I don’t go to try to deconvert people. I just like learning about the thought processes of religious people — it’s like anthropology field work. I also like asking difficult questions about religion that I don’t think have good answers, because I think that religious people should at least grapple with those questions if they are going to be religious. I am intrigued by the answers I get. I haven’t heard any good answers to these questions yet, but I have had some enthralling conversations about theology.
I follow a number of religious blogs, mostly evangelical Christian, and I leave comments on the ones that allow me to do so. Mainly I just ask questions — how do you reconcile this belief with this other part of scripture? What is your grounds for asserting such-and-such? Why do you describe this situation as “glorious” when it sounds honestly pretty horrific to me? And so on. More than a couple times I’ve been answered as though I was a Christian experiencing some doubts, or perhaps a Christian confronting the unsavory aspects of their religion for the first time. If it’s necessary in the conversation, though, I’m up front about being an atheist.
And I listen to religious radio in the car. And I take pamphlets from street preachers, and actually read them. And, and, and.
I enjoy this kind of thing — I wouldn’t have an atheist blog if I didn’t — but I wonder if it’s really the best idea. I think it’s really important for intellectual integrity that I seek out disagreement, rather than spend all my time in an echo chamber being told by my friends that I’m right. I think I’m right, but maybe it’s just that I haven’t yet heard the best argument for some alternative view. I feel like I am obligated to keep checking. At the same time, it can be incredibly frustrating. I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for good pro-religion arguments for years, and I haven’t heard any yet — but here are all these religious people, everywhere, all the time, just the same. Meanwhile, although many religious people are fine with and even welcome my questioning, I offend some people deeply just by saying I disagree with them and explaining why.
What do you think? Am I just being a disrespectful troll, or is it a mark of integrity to try to expose myself to opinions different from my own? Is this worth my time, or am I bound to make myself miserable? Do you seek out disagreement with your views, or do you try to ignore the disagreements when you talk to other people and focus instead only on common ground?