Feb. 19th, 2012

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A Twitter exchange¹ reminds me of one of the more peculiar rhetorical gambits many proselytising Christians will resort to when faced with unbelief: Just call on God’s name sincerely, or Only pray to Jesus for salvation, or similar.

Now, for a believing Christian I’m sure the gesture seems meaningful: When they call on their god’s name or pray, they believe they are communicating with something. However, it is bafflingly inane to suggest this to a disbeliever. I get their meaning: They feel that if we only tried sincerely, then surely God would show us the light, or something. The reason why it is so inane is that said sincerity is impossible. I cannot sincerely talk to an imaginary being. I am an atheist; I sincerely don’t believe that there exist any gods, and so obviously any act of mine of “speaking” to any such fictional entity would be a sham, and I would be disqualified on the sincerity point. Someone who does offer a sincere prayer must have belief that there is at least some recipient of the prayer. So of course everyone who offers that sincere prayer feels validated, but it’s no victory at all because only those who had already subscribed qualified.

Most likely it’s just another thing not properly thought through, an earnest but inane entreaty to the unbelievers, born perhaps from this peculiar habit of some believers to treat atheists as though they didn’t actually believe that atheism is real, as though atheists were not people who don’t believe in their god but instead people who just don’t like it.² (Many atheists do point out problems with that entity, of course, but the causality is here reversed. We are free to criticise because we don’t presuppose perfection and blind ourselves to flaws.)

If, on the other hand, it is not mere sloppy thinking but an intentional rhetorical trick, it’s cheap and sleazy.

I would urge the next Christian who feels a need to implore me to sincerely beseech Jesus to first set a good example by offering a sincere prayer to Thor, or if they prefer, to Vulcan, Set, Torak, or the Great Green Arkleseizure. I am willing to bet that none of them will actually do so—not sincerely.³


¹ No, I don’t have much to do today.

² In case it’s not already clear, let me state it plainly: We’re not atheists because we dislike your god. Most of us are atheists because we realised that there’s no good evidence that any such things as gods exist; because we take the same standards of reasoning that use when determining truth in other matters, when people fervently attempt to persuade us of things, and apply them to your gods. I don’t personally feel that being an atheist makes me smarter than religious people, but I do think I apply my intelligence more consistently, to areas you choose to shelter from critical thought and need for evidence.

³ My first datum seems to represent the approach of pretending not to hear.

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Petter Häggholm

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