Those of you who read this blog know that I am a passionate critic of religion. I have however, for some years, wondered upon the best approach to take and I have often been clumsy in how I go about this.
For the most part, trying to dissuade a person from religious belief is a crusade which, much like the real crusades, is doomed to failure. Religion isn't based upon evidence or conventional rules of reason and logic, and what happens is that believers tend to become more entrenched when challenged. So instead I've aimed my guns at those on the periphery, at people with hardly any belief or with weak beliefs. Or to put it bluntly, at those with open minds. In many respects this has been extremely successful and it has insulated a good few people against developing corrosive religious views. More than ever I realise that trying to target the hardcore is like trying the dig a tunnel using a piece of lettuce. Direct confrontation is largely futile; other techniques are far more productive.
Take for instance the way I am with my kids. They know I'm an atheist yet I've never forced my views upon them. All I've done is answer questions about my unbelief when they have asked, whilst at other times I've taught them about other Gods, or evolution, or about how a good mind learns to think about issues. It's a process of fragments, of gentle honesty, and with my oldest I suspect I've had some success. She understands the processes of evolution far better than many adults. She knows that a seven day creation is utterly laughable. I've also allowed her to read chapters from Richard Dawkins wonderful "The Magic Of Reality", which does a sterling job of revealing how wonderful the real world is, and explains in understandable ways how we know what we know. This approach has been devoid of confrontation and appears to be helping her develop a mind that knows "How" to think rather than just "What" to think. I will do just the same with my youngest daughter when the opportunity presents. Contrast this with how an average church sermon works. You have somebody up front who has an unchallenged platform that they use to make claims unsupported by evidence. When you think of it its quite horrible. A lone voice pumping folly and historical falsehoods into the minds of people accustomed to receiving information in this way. Creepier still, when people disclose a crisis of faith it's all dealt with in house, no suggestion made that the struggler should read or watch material that might cause them to think another way. Exactly how is this not coercive control? Why don't the leaders have the courage to let people take time out to imbibe alternative views?
Happily, as I've said before, those with a determined streak have the Internet at their disposal. It's a tool near purpose built for identifying and destroying false claims, which is why so many are now leaving religion in their droves. The Internet is where religion comes to die, and there's nothing church leaders can do about it. Future generations will laugh that we ever held to such ideas as the flood myth, or virgin births, or any number of other unverified and unverifiable claims. This is sweet music as far as I'm concerned, and it will protect young minds from predatory clergy or unthinking parents. Surely this has to be a good thing? Which is why I've realised that I don't need to be as confrontational. I can trust that the information age will slowly but surely deflate the tyres of the vehicle more commonly known as religious belief. And perhaps those same young minds, now free from the old dogma's can set about the task of making this world worth living for.