Anyone that likes to discuss religion in public has probably been asked this question. When I left Christianity, I spent quite a bit of time debating various issues with my friends on Facebook, most of whom were still Christians. And I noticed two very interesting things.
First, I was amazed at how quickly I was treated as the enemy. Even when I was still a Christian, just posting questions and discussing issues that troubled me about my faith, many of my Christian friends became hostile. I received quite a few public and private communications saying I was stupid, foolish, ignorant, sinful, and even satanic! I still get this vibe from certain people, but now the main complaint from my Christian friends comes in the form of the “Why bother?” question. I often post links to articles or debates, and am frequently told that there is no point in doing so. Why bother?
While I expected to encounter some kind of hostility, the second thing that happened was more of a surprise. I started receiving messages from people that had also begun to question their faith or were simply having doubts about one issue or another, and from people that had abandoned their faith altogether. Many people are not as firm in their faith as they might appear at church, or in their Christian groups, but feel they do not have anyone they can discuss their doubts with. Because I was outspoken in my rejection of the Christian faith, many of these people saw me as someone they could relate to, and I received some very interesting messages from dozens of people. My public criticism of Christianity also encouraged some people to start to think more critically about their own faith; some have remained religious, but some have not. Obviously I won’t share any names, and will respect the privacy of the many people who have contacted me. But I would like to share (with permission) the message that had the biggest impact on me:
I can’t believe it has taken me over a year to write this – I just wanted to thank you so much for posting that debate between Hitchens and McGrath [link below] on your page last year. As I was writing my comment below the “debate” picture I got thinking about how it all started and realised that it was in fact that link of yours that started it all off for me.
I can’t even begin to describe the way in which that link changed my life. No doubt you know what it’s like to have your faith chipped away at then swept away by reason. For me it was as if everything I thought was true and ‘self-evident’ was shown irrevocably to be false and insubstantial. People don’t generally know this, but I was born into (and grew up in) a new-age cult of which my god-parents were the leaders. I was supposed to ‘take over’ once they were gone and my whole life was geared towards that eventuality.
It was the happiest of coincidences that I happened to look at your facebook page that day and see the link to the debate. I left the cult some months later and have since encouraged and helped quite a few other members (including my parents) to leave as well.
You were instrumental in my ‘unconversion’ and I wanted to thank you sincerely for that. Again, I can’t believe it has taken a whole year to do this, but I thought you should know that you’ve proffered me a great service for which I am deeply in your debt.
Very best wishes,
So, why bother? It hardly needs to be spelt out any further, does it?
But I do want to mention two more things. First, I think the above example should serve to show that it is worthwhile engaging with religious people in public. Sometimes it feels pointless, and sometimes it might be, but it is often the people watching quietly from the sidelines that are most affected. Second, and most important to me on a personal level, it was a relative’s willingness to debate religion that got the ball rolling for me. If it wasn’t for my cousin, I would probably still be a Christian today. I am very grateful to her for that, and I feel I owe it to the next person!
Oh, and for whatever reason, I value the truth, and think it is worth discussing 😉