Author’s Note: There’s some strong language in this post.
I see this question get asked in different forms on mostly skeptics’ blogs, but occasionally it gets asked (often rhetorically) on Christian blogs too. Often it seems kind of weird, like people discussing how to get laid. This analogy is especially relevant when people ask what it’ll take to do this to a specific person. One might as well ask, “What will it take to fuck him/her/them?” The person who can answer sometimes even frequents the comment thread, which I can only imagine makes things more awkward.
Every time I got presented with it as a Christian, I never entertained it.
Discussions about this always made me nervous when I believed. The closest it ever came to getting me to think about leaving my faith was when I wondered if Christians sound just as sleazy when they talk about winning souls (hint: it does). Just like everything else that kept me in the faith, directly questioning it never magically persuaded me to question in reality.
At the end of my faith, I was the only person responsible for leaving it. This makes sense, after all, because I’m the only person that cultivated it in the first place. Imaginary walls belong to the imagination. I cannot stress this fact enough. Even when people are cajoled into looking at biblical errors (for example), the people actually have to go and do the looking. Nobody could look for me, and I couldn’t look for anyone else.
What did it take for me to start looking?
Thinking about an answer is complicated. I was afraid to look, and I spent a good time ignoring that. Summoning up the courage to finally accept that I didn’t believe took months after going through a severe period of psychological trauma. The trauma still affects me years later. So I can say that I didn’t just up and decide to quit Christianity cold turkey.
No, I had to actually deal with a threshold question in all of its vulgar glory: why the fuck does it matter?
In too many discussions between skeptics and Christians, this question gets hinted at without ever getting approached. I mean, the answer’s a bit embarrassing when talking about something like Pascal’s wager. Pascal is dead, the wager is stupid, and it’s been hashed and rehashed into the ground. Nobody really benefits from talking about the wager. At best, it’s boring as hell. Most apologetics fall into the same category.
This is because it doesn’t fucking matter if these issues get settled. For a lot of people, they can function kind of believing something is out there watching over them. They don’t give two shits about justifying it under rigorous philosophical scrutiny. To them and their friends, it’s an occasional topic of interest at three in the morning after downing a case of beer. Only on the rarest of occasions do they think heavily about this, and most often they can’t get past not really caring.
For someone like me, I was only slightly different. I was personally invested in my faith enough to keep it, including avoiding church atmospheres that would have killed it. But I also cultivated an aura of indifference to skepticism about it. Live and let live wasn’t just a personal philosophy, it’s what kept me from strangling my faith and leaving it in the gutter where it belonged. Thus, I became blind to the things that hurt myself (like doctrines of sin), and I played up qualities I believed were admirable (like treating other people with dignity and courtesy).
But really, does it matter that people change their beliefs about deities?
The answer to that question will be different depending upon the person answering it. People who equate civility with respect will probably say that it doesn’t matter at all, that we all just need to hug it out. Some people who think that sharing the same belief or lack of belief will probably say that it always matters at all times, because [insert some emotionally evocative thought here, like terrorism or scandalous TV].
As you might be able to guess, I’m not a fan of either end of the spectrum. I left religion to get away from petty and petulant demands that people share my point of view or else. The world didn’t change when I left Christianity, so I can’t really expect it to change when anyone else does.
Instead, I think the answer relies on context. Some people might instinctively feel that something is wrong with their faith, but they’re too afraid to ask about it. They’re not going to say anything, but they will watch and listen. I was once one of those people. As it turned out, I had to keep quiet about my questions because I knew that one skeptic chuckling derisively at my stupidity would have thrust me back into belief. Here’s a scarier thought: I might even have gone off the really deep end before becoming completely undone.
People who are unaware of anything harmful have no reason to change a belief. This is true for any belief. Religion is no exception. Regardless of one’s point of view, one cannot forcibly change the belief of another. Even if you could, it would end up being more of an Orwellian nightmare than anything else. That, and trying to force someone to change a belief can end up causing more harm for no reason whatsoever.
This is why I don’t try to persuade anyone to leave their faith.
If someone is already asking, I’m more than happy to offer any help I can. If someone isn’t asking, I’m not going to force myself on them. Getting to the point of me wanting out of Christianity hurt. Part of that pain was because I didn’t fully want to look at my faith. I would have seized on any excuse to look away.
And yeah, I understand that plenty of people will find excuses to justify doing otherwise. Some people like getting yelled at, I suppose. For people who suffer in silence, yelling and carrying on isn’t going to help.
People are more important than the beliefs they hold. It doesn’t mean we all should hang out together and sing folk songs from the 60’s. But it does mean that maybe people should get cut some slack every once in a while. Even today, the world can be a shitty place. Sometimes people just need some acceptance without any strings attached.