Same Shit, Different Delusion


A very disappointing can of worms has been opened recently in several places. Interestingly enough, it’s not strictly about mental illness stigma (here is a link to an article I wrote which features links to my support on the subject). Rather, it’s an issue of whether or not people should choose non-stigmatizing terms when trying to confront religious issues. I’ve tried explaining this in the past, to no measurable success.

It’s about time that I accept that I might be asking too much of people.

This isn’t a censorship issue.
The thoughts I express here with regards to talking to mentally ill people are my thoughts. I’m not an Internet police force of one. And really, I’m not talking about stigma or mental illness because I like talking about it. It’s something that I face every day. I try to be respectful of others, and I recognize that nobody has to change their rhetoric because of what I say.

I don’t talk about this to shut people up or shame them into compliance. Christianity held too much of that for me, and it makes me sick thinking about that. Instead, I’ve tried to facilitate a better discussion about careless use of language. Three hundred years ago, the language was prettier, but it also allowed for blatant racism, raging sexism, and discrimination in thoughts both expressed and implied. People have chosen to abandon those thoughts, one by one, in a process that continues today.

This process ostensibly includes the idea that it’s being done by a more informed public. However, it’s important that the choice is voluntary. To cajole others into merely doing or saying a specific thing because someone prefers it that way is no ruler to measure human equality. Rather, it’s the same shit under a different delusion of fairness.

Intent has nothing to do with it, either.
Shaming people by using intrinsic qualities as insults doesn’t do any favors for people who share those intrinsic qualities. It’s why we don’t insult people by calling them epithets relating to mental incompetence. Nobody chooses that, and so others have chosen to recognize that using their plight as an insult is a fruitless endeavor at best. The same principle applies to sexism and racism.

Mental illness right now is one of those few categories of people that can still be marginalized. Fortunately, that finally seems to be changing (albeit very slowly). Part of this might be due to the discovery of people they know that actually have a major mental illness. Still, a lot of people don’t know that they know someone with mental illness. One recent estimate in the U.S. puts 1 out of 17 people as being diagnosed with a major disorder that interferes with daily life. If I didn’t blog about my shame, no one would know that I’m one of those people. Admittedly, stigma helps perpetuate itself.

What does it do to people who have a major disorder and get to experience shaming along with it? The answer is complicated. Here is an older article which goes into some of the problems associated with it. All I can really say is how it affects me. You can search WordPress for other mental illness blogs to find out how stigma affects them – provided they’re brave enough to talk about it.

I don’t talk about how it affects me.
There are many reasons why I don’t do it, and this is despite a meticulous effort to keep my real identity separate from my blogging one. That’s right, I don’t even feel secure behind an anonymous label. It’s not easy to admit that, especially when I’m around people who have shown themselves to use such knowledge of weakness to their advantage.

Even if that wasn’t an issue, I’d still be reluctant to fully disclose what other people can do to trigger me. If I get triggered into anxiety or depressive episodes, I don’t talk about that at all. Why give people who have no compunction against being completely merciless that kind of knowledge? Despite that I’m better at managing them now, I still try to avoid the hassle if I can. And really, my triggers belong to me. They’re also hidden to protect people from feeling bad about tripping over them.

What I do feel safe talking about is how it boils down to trust. My trust in most Internet people is like a Ferrari; I don’t have a Ferrari. And unfortunately that lack of trust gets validated – whether it’s rational or not – when I see people who care more about their right to a favorite belief more than how their expressions affect those around them that they allegedly care about. For me, it’s not about feelings, or even disliking people. It’s about constant disappointment that rarely goes away. The saddest thing of all is that this is true of people of any label. In fact, labels have nothing to do with preventing discrimination. At best, they provide irony that most people don’t get.

To be really super clear: it’s not anyone’s fault. While it would be nice to see a healthy conversation, there clearly needs to be more awareness on other things. One day, it would be nice for everyone to feel included at the table. That day isn’t today.

I don’t have the foggiest clue what to do about it, either.
I need to write, because it’s my only outlet, and the only thing keeping me away from other bad stuff. But I’m finding that no matter what, I keep returning to that disappointment. This definitely means that my head isn’t screwed on as tightly as it needs to be (which isn’t something I like admitting). This probably means that I should avoid controversial topics on the Internet. This might mean that I might have to find different avenues for my writing.

Right now, I just have an urge to delete everything. I know that it’s a drastic measure, and that it’s irrational. What it most likely means is that I’ll have to stay away from really controversial and heavy topics in the short term. As much as I don’t want to do it, I’m thinking it’s necessary. Maybe I’ll just post a bunch of meaningless fiction. I really don’t know.

What I do know is that I have to be more careful about managing myself. This issue is a monster of my own creation. No one can devour it but me.

Image found on Wikipedia.

Image found on Wikipedia.

Self-Publication: Cover Art

I know the artist who is doing the cover art for my book quite well, and the conversation he and I had recently reminded me of the fun of collaborative processes. People do judge books by their covers, and I’m fortunate to know an artist that approaches the process differently than I do. For me, cover art is a monstrous mess that I have few concrete ideas on. It helps to have someone guide and shape the process.

Even if one doesn’t have an artist to call on for assistance, covers are important. They can do anything from telling the story of your story to being a complete mystery as to what’s inside. Sometimes the name of the author is the biggest selling factor, so one will see a giant name plastered along the top of a book with some meaningless cute picture in between author name and title. It’s great to be a nobody, because I won’t have to fight with anyone to put something cool on the front of the book.

I say cool, because the artist was thinking in terms of iconography, which is something I completely neglected. If all goes well, the cover art should have stuff on it that people would want to get tattooed on their skin. That would be a pretty huge compliment, and it’s suitably ambitious that some of the characters in the book would love it. Even if hardly anyone buys it, which is the norm for self-publishing, I still like the idea of having a cover that I’m really proud of.

Getting the cover art handled has been an invigorating part of the creative process for me. This is something I wasn’t fully expecting. A lot of this also is a testament to the good-nature and temperament of the artist doing this. As a writer, I think in terms of words and bringing intangible concepts to print. Being able to trust someone with visual parts is priceless.

Not only that, but he’s also thinking merchandising (of all things). T-shirts are cool, along with other assorted knick-knacks. He asked me about it, and while I joked about T-shirts in the past, I realized that it could very well become a reality. Things are kind of giddy for me right now.

At any rate, the process is still coming along. I expect to have the cover art finished by just after mid-September to late-September. I’m going to like the cover art, and I hope other people will at least get a chuckle out of it along with something to think about. In the meantime, I still have thoughts on brainstorming for my upcoming NaNoWriMo project in November. That should keep me suitably busy for the next month and a half.

#1linerWeds: Really Short Fiction 3

The coroner didn’t like covering up his mistakes like this, but when he put the last cement block in place, he felt a bit of admiration at his handiwork; not even a muffled scream could be heard from the person trapped inside.

This is part of the amazing Linda G. Hill’s One-Liner Wednesday writing prompt. Click the link to find more one-liners, and then consider writing one of your own!

Cat Psychology

The two cats I have don't look anything like this.  I'm just overwhelming people with adorable on this one. Image courtesy of Stockvault.

The two cats I have don’t look anything like this. I’m just overwhelming people with adorable on this one.
Image courtesy of Stockvault.

I’m the chief staff member for two felines living in the house. The family got them last year when they were little kittens, and they’ve since grown up. One of them, P, is about 11 pounds, and she’s slightly overweight. The other is a giant 13 pound tabby named S, and his weight is healthy. While I’m writing this, the big one is doing something he’s been doing a lot of lately: pawing at a picture on the wall and messing with the blinds to get me out of my seat and away from the keyboard.

He’s only doing this so I’ll go grab his favorite toy – a shoelace tied to a plastic rod that came from a broken set of blinds – and run it around so he can chase it. Every time I walk by where I have the toy stored (because if I didn’t, then he’d get it out and leave it someplace for somebody to trip on), he is right there looking at me. And apparently, me typing on the keyboard is something that cannot be done while he is up and wanting to run around.

Luckily, P isn’t quite as a jerk. She will pick up string and take it to people for them to grab it and whirl it around, so at least she’s accommodating. P, though, is pushy in other ways. If she doesn’t want to be held, then she’ll escape. If she does want to be held, then you better be quiet and still. It’s all or nothing with her.

Both of them prefer to have a human in the room with them (mostly). When I work on the computer during the day, they are in my room napping or trying to get me away from it. When I’m in the living room, they will get up and go with me. The only time they break this pattern is either when they are completely zonked out in my room or they’re zonked out elsewhere. If I’m outside, S has the habit of grabbing a stuffed gingerbread man and moving it to places where I normally sit. I don’t know if it’s a surrogate person or not.

Part of me is happy that these cats are familiar enough with people that they are willing to be so sociable. Regardless, I have to comment that these cats are just as different from other cats in personality as people are. This is one of the things I like about having them as pets (the other, of course, is that they love conducting pest control). Sometimes I wonder if I’m just trying to project human traits onto them. But then S throws a fit and starts pawing at the door, and I wonder if I’m not giving them enough credit.

Why Science?

This is a whole bunch of stars.   Image courtesy of Stockvault.

This is a whole bunch of stars.
Image courtesy of Stockvault.

In a recent comment, I went into the difference between science and religion. Both areas admittedly have explanations of how nature works. Different religions also seek to explain other phenomena like supernatural beings. But it’s where science and religion intersect that causes a lot of friction through competing claims. Some people argue that there is no conflict, but others argue that one side or the other should give way. Sorting through this mess can be complicated for anyone.

Now, I have made a big deal about justifying ideas here. It should be no surprise to anyone that I would favor selecting a scientifically tested explanation over a religious one. Granted, a lot of it doesn’t have to do with me being an Atheist. In other words, I think that science should be given a preference over religious explanation, but it’s not for reasons against faith.

Science is reliable.
Not many people choose faith healing over going to a hospital for a grievous bodily injury. We use doctors to perform medical procedures instead of barbers. In matters of law, we rely on scientific consensus rather than just eyewitness testimony. These are but a few ways in which people have formed a dependence upon principles which not only have been tested, but they also have been refined over the years.

Cell phones, televisions, space exploration, and the Internet we surf all contain artificial components which would boggle the mind of someone from even a century ago. Scientific inquiry has figured out why people get certain illnesses, what the weather will most likely be like in the next few hours, and crafted machines which can produce staggering visual effects for our amusement. Science permeates many things we do nowadays, to the point where it is responsible for how much our food costs and the fabric of the clothes we wear.

Yes, science changes. That is to be expected from a philosophy which mercilessly defeats any hypothesis or theory which cannot have results which are replicated. Incorrect ideas are discarded soon after they are found, and no excuse is tolerated to cling to an errant belief. While people might try to portray that as error-prone or emotionally cold, such objections are conveniently ignored when a life is at stake.

Scientific explanations have been more useful than conflicting religious counterparts.
Take the invention of the lightning rod, for example. Accepting that lightning was a natural atmospheric phenomenon rather than the wrath of an angry God, people and property are relatively more secure than they were before. The same thing goes with psychology and mental illness, preferring to investigate claims rather than simply labeling it as demon possession or spiritual wounding. Knowing how diseases are transmitted allow medical staff to run to an outbreak rather than away from one. Would that we had such knowledge during the Black Plague in the 14th century.

Some crucial objections addressed.
I am not arguing that science should replace all other explanations ever. But I am saying that science has been around long enough, and the fruits of scientific labor tangible enough to show that yes, it’s pretty darn good to have. This knowledge doesn’t take into account the personal beliefs of people involved. One can see it get tested again and again, and it is neutral of anyone’s faith beliefs.

Also, I am not arguing that science should be placed on some kind of pedestal of thought. It’s not sacrosanct. Some fields of knowledge require that we ask whether we should pursue scientific inquiry. One good example of this is the Manhattan Project and all other atomic weapon research in World War II. Yes, it might have been preferable then to investigate such weapons. But how many oceans of blood have been spilled because of how it’s affected human interaction since then? This is a separate question, though, and not one which detracts from the utility of science itself.

Therefore, scientific explanations should be given primacy over conflicting religious explanations.
Think of every scientific explanation that shows our planet wasn’t created by titans or frost giants. There’s no controversy regarding that. It’s only when people have current religious beliefs that the controversy comes in. This controversy doesn’t have to exist.

So what if a previously held belief is negated by new knowledge? Failing to acknowledge error isn’t the same as being right. Why is it that it’s okay to yield to someone else’s subjective faith belief to change one’s outlook, but a belief that one can evaluate independently is immediately off the table? That’s what I’m really getting at here. Aversion to new knowledge is not a good justification to keep a belief.

Why science, then? We live longer, we communicate more broadly, and we leave a more permanent mark of our existence as a result. Not only that, but the knowledge gained through science is neutral towards all faith beliefs. Water is wet because of its nature as a liquid. We can act on that knowledge without having to convince people that they must also agree to other faith tenets beforehand.

Hearts Over Minds

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

This recent post over at “Godless in Dixie” is a great explanation of how Christian faith relies more on emotional feelings rather than intellectual justification. It’s the apples and oranges of discussion, and I think drawing attention to it might help explain why sometimes repeating cogent argument doesn’t always rebut what some Theists say about their beliefs. For them, it’s about how they feel about the idea of their deities rather than what they can intellectually justify about their deities.

Specifically, Christianity relies on a lot of pathos promoting its ideas. Concepts are placed in the midst of uplifting and emotionally empowering words. Their deity loves people, no matter what. Sin is something that should make people feel awful about themselves. Jesus makes people happy; Satan makes people scared. Anger is okay when it’s used to fight wickedness.

None of these things are going to make intellectual sense.
Ask Christians what justifies their belief, and one can get ready for a different reason almost every time. Sure, the Bible has verses in it, but sometimes the discussion changes to personal experiences or some other kind of anecdote. None of this clarifies what it means to feel loved by a deity. It can’t be measured or otherwise perceived. One either has it, or one doesn’t.

The focus is on what one feels, rather than on what one knows. In ministries everywhere, children to adults are provided with ways to feel something good about their deity without actually knowing why they should feel good. The language itself is designed to trigger certain things. “Salvation,” “praise,” and “temptation” all have their specific connotations. It’s almost like a separate language.

Except the negative language is probably familiar to everyone outside the faith.
By implying incomplete emotional experiences, by stating that truth (and its positive feelings) is only found in the Bible, the goal is to equate “real” emotions with faith and aversion to anything outside of that. I know I’ve harped on this point plenty of times before, but I still think it needs repeating. Christianity – the mainstream and toxic fundagelical – messes with how people feel. The idea is no more complex than Pavlov and his dogs.

As I wrote that last part, I noticed my own conditioning at play. Am I equating Christians with dogs? That’s an absurd non sequitur which really has nothing to do with my argument. I could just as easily refer to any other experiments involving conditioning. My own experience is but one more example of that. Why does challenging Christian rhetoric still prompt such responses from me?

The answer is not mystical or supernatural. Implied messages are difficult to find. Churches, preachers, elders, and congregations all have many different ways of enforcing what goes on. Nothing was helped because my foray out of faith involved trying to avoid the kind of introspection I needed to conduct.

It’s frustrating because I still don’t have a good enough response to all of it.
What does one say to someone who is obviously putting their happiness in an imaginary construct, and then decrying the evils of how everyone else lives? How does one break the constant cycle of anger at disagreement and faux praise at embracing spiritual doctrine? These are BIG questions, because the answers lead to finally convincing Christians that Atheists, Agnostics, and other non-Christians are not out to get them.

And that is a critical step to getting Christians to realize that uniform pledges to an invisible being isn’t a useful prerequisite to the evolution of the human species. Back when our forebears lived in caves, hunted and gathered, and wore the skins of what they ate, uniform obedience was necessary for survival. People have changed so much since then, and they have adapted beyond such untrustworthy distinctions.

I’m getting way ahead of myself, though. First things must come first. Hearts ruling minds might have worked in the past, but the human mind is capable of so much more now. While the heart still matters, it must belong below the mind in important things.

Why is Agnosticism a Big Deal?

I don't know what this picture has to do with anything.  However, I can say that I found it here at Stockvault.

I don’t know what this picture has to do with anything. However, I can say that I found it here at Stockvault.

This post by Seth over at “Weighing the Evidence” had got me thinking about agnosticism again. An Agnostic with regards to religion is someone who has a belief that knowledge of any deities is ultimately unattainable. Or, to put it a bit more simply, that we can’t know if there are any gods out there or not.

I rejected the idea early.
The reason for that is contained in a post elsewhere on this blog, but I’m too lazy to go find it right now. Well, that, and I get annoyed with myself if I link to my other posts too often in a week. At any rate, the short version is that I felt I had reasonable certainty that I was sure there weren’t any gods out there. I still do, mostly because I can’t seem to get hold of any evidence for deities existing.

Having that reasonable certainty is something that I used to see a lot of hedging on. Reading online interactions, I’d find some Theists who’d try to back Atheists into corners on the question of how they’re 100% certain that certain deities exist. Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of a diatribe like that, and when I started talking about being an Atheist, I eventually got similar treatment. Luckily, I found out a lot of useful stuff in those interactions.

One big lesson is that reasonable certainty is okay. It’s fine to shrug one’s shoulders and leave the discussion when someone insists on unreasonable standards. Sometimes people talk about things with no right answer, and it’s okay to have differing viewpoints on that. If someone else gets angry that their meaningless point is left unaddressed, it’s that person’s problem.

Did I have to reject the idea?
Most of the reason why I blog about this is because of the decompression from being heavily invested in a faith. In the ideal, though, I don’t think that belief in deities really ought to matter. Sincerely held beliefs ultimately are up to the people that hold them. I might not agree with people, but I can’t tell other people what to believe (no matter how much evidence I might have). Each person has to decide for themselves what is best.

Agnosticism can be a sign of apathy about the whole process. Maybe some people just don’t care about finding an answer to a question that is impossible to answer. We have one life, and spending it wasting time on an irrelevant question seems kind of pointless, especially if fewer people care about the answer nowadays.

And really, if faith was treated as a personal thing only, apathy about the subject is perfectly fine. Do you believe that flying pink elephants will come down from the sky and bear us up to the land of cotton candy where we can eat to our heart’s content without worrying about diabetes, cavities, or obesity? Great. Good for you. Do you recognize that you have no evidence for that belief and that other people don’t need to share it to earn your good graces? Even better!

At that point, arguing about faith is like arguing about whether Star Wars or Star Trek is the better science fiction series. Who cares if Tolkien or Martin writes the better version of fantasy? Only people that personally invest themselves in it are going to lose sleep over these questions.

Apathy, then, is a good thing.
It means that religion is more of a personal journey that is completely optional for those who want to take it. There is no social pressure or ostracizing if one doesn’t walk the same faith road. People who choose not to walk it won’t have to sit there and be vilified or lied about. While I’m not envisioning everyone holding hands and singing happy songs, it would be quite nice I think to have one less reason for people to arbitrarily hate each other.

For these reasons, I don’t think agnosticism is a bad thing or really a thing that I’ve had to bother too much with. I don’t have a problem with people who don’t know the answer to the question of the existence of deities and who can’t be bothered to be told to go find out. In their own way, they’re telling vocal Theists that indifference is a valid option with regards to afterlives and blood sacrifices. It’s a sign that religion in general isn’t the witch-drowning, stake-burning, stone-throwing blood sport that it used to be.

One day, I hope that people can look back on stuff like this post and think, “What the heck was going on with these people? Life’s too short for this mess.” Because really, this shouldn’t be a big deal. Life has its own problems. I don’t need to add to them.

Cycles of Guilt

Image found here.  Click for a bigger picture.

Image found here. Click for a bigger picture.

The video I linked yesterday talked about cycles of guilt and how they get people to return to where that guilt originates. That’s a pretty interesting concept, both because it tends to offer an explanation of why people tend to stay close to religions of birth (because that’s who gets them at a young age), and also because it puts the whole sin/cleansing process in a practical light.

People necessarily have to return to the place where they got the guilt from. That place is also where a good deal of financial collection comes from. In that regard, churches care more about turning guilt into cash than the people they shame.

It’s not just about sex.
Every taboo behavior is a new chance for a person to feel guilty. Thinking about having a few cocktails with friends? Guilt. Didn’t give enough money to the church last Sunday? Guilt. Use a bad word in conversation? Guilt. These are real things to feel guilty over, and they’re just the first ones that came to mind. Plenty of other churches have plenty of other sources to generate guilt.

Notice how a lot of the taboos have to deal with morally neutral behavior. Swearing, for fuck’s sake, was began after William of Normandy put French as the state language in his court. Saying things like “shit” was considered vulgar, which referred to its use by the common folk rather than being a bad thing. So really, it’s classism and not morally bankrupt to use such words.

At any rate, the guilt needs to be removed, and that’s what church is for. Lutherans do a blanket job where you get a Bible reading telling you you’re bad, a Bible reading telling you that you need Jesus to fix it, and a Bible reading telling you that Jesus fixed it by dying in an excruciating manner. Other churches require you to talk about it (Roman Catholicism), and some churches just make you pick up snakes.

And if you really notice, money is on the list of taboo things. Tax-free donations must be kept rolling in, and guilt is a great way to ensure a steady income stream. Joel Osteen’s mansion is a perfect example of how lucrative this can be:

Yes, deities will let children starve just to give you this tax free. Image foundhere.

Yes, deities will let children starve just to give you this tax free.
Image foundhere.

To be fair, Christianity also makes murder and other bad acts taboo as well.
But in the context of guilt shaming people, you can see how churches are also trying to profit off of what they condemn. I think that’s an important thought that doesn’t get said enough. Churches are trying to profit off of how they make you feel guilty, and not off of preventing the bad behavior.

Every Christian falters, and in instances where the law will not or cannot prosecute people the church is more than willing to make people feel really super terrible about it. Somehow, it’s just a coincidence that the offering plate gets passed around while there’s talk of forgiveness. And since all guilt is equal, people are compelled to attend church whether they said a dirty word or perpetrated the perfect crime.

Getting out of the cycle.
It can be very difficult to do, and I know that I haven’t completed it myself. Although it would be nice to have a magic answer in the form of a savior, life is more complicated than that. We do things that we regret, and we regret things that we probably shouldn’t. Sometimes I feel robbed because instead of learning about stories of women talking to strange serpents and how that translates into my guilty feelings, I should have been learning how to process that.

I can say that I don’t feel any urge to return to the scene of the crime and try to get absolution from a deity anymore. My bad acts are my own, and wishing away the guilt will not work. In a way, I’ve stopped wasting my time with that part of the guilt cycle. So, it’s a work in progress, but there is progress. Even the tiniest bit is worth more than staying chained to an antiquated belief system.

It makes it easier seeing one way in which the church cared more about my wallet than me as a person.

YouTube Gems: Shame in Human Sexuality

This is a video suggested to me by the gremlins at YouTube. It’s actual initial title is: Did Jesus Masturbate? For obvious reasons, I probably couldn’t put that in the title. Still, it’s a great video of a talk by Dr. Darrel Ray in 2014. He’s the author of “The God Virus” (which I still haven’t read but would like to). Too bad I can’t thank YouTube’s bots for suggesting a ton of good godless content lately.

The video is about 42 minutes long, but it’s got some great information about how Christianity creates a guilt cycle related to sex. Enjoy!

Encountering Apologetics

If you haven’t read it yet, go check out this post by Godless Cranium about an argument for the existence of the Christian deity and some good points on why the argument isn’t very convincing. I used to feature arguments like it more often on my blog because last year I was encountering them in earnest for the first time. When I had faith, I didn’t need to pay attention to arguments for the existence of the deity I believed in because I was already convinced.

Moreover, I never spent too much time around Christians who wanted to intellectually prove the existence of the deity we all tried to worship. That’s because there’s this idea that trying to intellectually understand the complexities of a deity will not work. Indeed, the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2 argued that unless the Holy Spirit is making a person understand, it will be gobbledygook. Since the Bible’s supposed to trump petty demands like a deity that makes sense, I went with the Bible. Sure, I read the occasional C.S. Lewis, but I did that more for its eloquence than intellectual gratification. I just knew that my personal savior deity existed, and that was good enough for me.

So why apologetics, then?
Even in the manual for belief in Christian deities, it says pretty clearly that it’s not going to make full and complete sense. That doesn’t stop some people from trying to make it look intellectually sound. Apologists also try to field difficult questions that people have about their faith, promoting excuses for why counter-intuitive things should really make sense (like how eating bread at Holy Communion is actually Jesus’s flesh).

Most notably, apologists both paid and amateur try to argue for the existence of a rational deity that conforms to any parameters set forth in the Bible. There are plenty of such arguments being used all over the Internet and in books and other materials, all claiming to be that solid statement proving the existence of a deity called “God.” These statements have persisted long enough to have fairly standard objections and replies to objections (and objections to replies to objections, etc.). Additionally, they take a bunch of informal forms as people paraphrase them and maybe misuse them. How does one respond to them?

Arguments are not evidence.
I can’t stress that enough. The most relevant definition of argument is “an address or composition intended to convince or persuade; persuasive discourse.” It’s also more in line with a list of reasons or the reasoning used by someone to believe in a proposition. Thus, there’s no difference between an argument for the existence of a deity and telling someone why they should go see a film in movie theaters.

Too often, the conclusion of an argument is substituted for actual evidence of the conclusion. Because an argument sounds nice and valid, it must be true. And so the argument becomes a shorthand offering to the skeptic’s demand for evidence (i.e., here is the watchmaker analogy in response to evidence for a deity existing). Like too many other things associated with apologist rhetoric, ideas become switched around until they make sense, ignoring the mental gymnastics and contortions necessary to get there. Insisting on actual evidence, rather than some old, debunked argument, is a good response to this.

You don’t have to argue the color of the unicorn, either.
Naturally, when someone is trying to get away with an absurd statement proving his or her deity really, really exists, there is an urge to try to argue the point. Apologist rhetoric and argument, at best, exercises bad reasoning. It relies on philosophical quackery to work, and really they’re old hats worn shamelessly in public. There’s nothing wrong with refusing to pretend that it’s valid.

If someone wants to utilize bad Latin and Greek, simultaneously excusing a deity’s existence in the process, let that person have at it. We all have free speech. Just because something sounds impressive doesn’t mean that it’s true or accurate. And just because somebody can try to make a gutsy statement unsupported by reason or evidence doesn’t mean everyone has to stop what they’re doing to pay attention. Complexity and muddying the waters of thought are where apologists germinate.

Simplification is a good response for that. So if someone says that the Universe needs a creator being, great. I disagree because the statement has no offered support. Really, it’s not more complicated than that.