Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Know Thine Enemy

I'm sure it doesn't come to any surprise for anybody that knows me or has browsed this blog, but I tend to have a fair amount of discussions about religion, both online and in real life.

In meatspace, I've been having some casual discussions with a couple of Mormons, I have some religious coworkers that occasionally spark a conversation, and my wife has regular weekly visits from Jehovah's Witnesses.

One very common theme that seems to run through these discussions is that most proselytizers don't seem to have much first-hand experience attempting to convert atheists.

The most recent, and I think humourous, example was last week when the Witnesses came by to deliver their latest magazines for my wife. One of the ladies came up to the house, and her husband, waiting at the end of my driveway with a couple of his fellow religionists in his car, beckoned me to come over and talk.

After the typical pleasantries, he told me that he had a scripture that he wanted to share with me that he felt would be applicable to my "situation", since I am an atheist and don't believe in God. I've had lots of scripture thrown at me over the years, and although I was curious to see what valuable pearl of wisdom this gentleman had pulled out of the hot mess that is the Bible, I was a little confused by his selection.

He proceeded to read out James 2:19 (New World Translation), "You believe there is one God, do you? You are doing quite well. And yet the demons believe and shudder." I don't think that my facial reaction to this revelation was quite what he was expecting, so he followed up the scripture reading by commenting, "So this scripture show us that since the demons believe in God, don't you think it's reasonable that you should as well?"

I paused for a short second before I replied, "Well, no. Not really. I mean, I don't believe in the existence of demons." His friend in the back seat looked at me quizzically and commented, "Did you just say you don't believe in demons? What about angels?"

I replied, "Nope. I also don't believe in ghosts, leprechauns, and the tooth fairy."

The discussion then evolved into a short two-minute discussion on the nature of spirits and why I dismissed the existence of the spiritual, before the driver's wife returned and they had to leave to go drop off more magazines. So we said goodbye, and, as the vehicle pulled away, I couldn't help but grin widely as I returned to my deck to relax in the summer sun.

I have to admit, I found it amusing that they were so surprised that an atheist wouldn't believe in demons. Granted, atheism is not a monolithic block of beliefs, and there certainly are atheists that believe in spirits, reincarnation, and lots of other (what most skeptics would consider) ridiculous phenomenon. However, you'd think it would be a good idea to learn something about your target when you're trying to evangelize. I know I certainly wouldn't try to convince a Jehovah's Witness that their religion is incorrect by performing a thorough and blistering critique of transubstantiation.

But then, what do I know? I'm just an atheist.

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