Debates over faith often leave non-believers holding the bag: look like a jerk or leave the debate unfinished and apparently concede defeat.
In conversations between atheists and believers, is there any way atheists can win?
I’ve been in a lot of discussions and debates with religious believers in the last few years, and I’m beginning to notice a pattern. Believers put atheists in no-win situations, so that no matter what atheists do, we’ll be seen as either acting like jerks or conceding defeat.
Like so many rhetorical gambits aimed at atheists, these “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” tactics aren’t really valid criticisms of atheism. They really only serve to deflect valid questions and criticisms about religion. But they come up often enough that I want to spend a little time pointing them out. I want to spell out the exact ways that these “no-win” situations are both unfair and inaccurate. And I want to point out the general nature of this no-win pattern—in hopes that in future debates with atheists, believers will be more aware of them, and will play a little more fairly.
When atheists focus our critiques on conservative or extremist religions, we get accused of ignoring the tolerant progressive ones and lumping all religions together. But when we do criticize progressive or moderate religions, we’re accused of mean-spirited overkill, of alienating people who could be our allies.
Why this is untrue and unfair: It doesn’t make much sense to assume that the atheist critique of religion you’re reading that moment is the only atheist critique of religion this writer has ever come up with. Most atheist writers who criticize religion do so many times, and from many angles. We critique extremist fundamentalism, and moderate ecumenicalism. We critique specific religious beliefs and practices, and the general belief in the supernatural. It’s not “lumping all religions together” to point out the flaws and hypocrisies and evils committed by one in particular.
[Read more at Alternet]