I hate to admit this, but I have a trophy folder on my laptop. Not game trophy images. Not racks of deer I've hunted. Not the typical photos of my children standing all posed with academic or sport awards. No, it's a folder full of screenshots. Frozen images in time, with winning moments in debates with religious followers who attempted sparring with me about belief.
There was a time when I wasn't feeling confident about my lack of belief. I didn't realize it then, of course, that this was the case. On a daily basis I needed to feel superior, and crushing my opposition in an argument was my go to fix for said lack of confidence. It's not atypical to have doubts about your perceptions on life, death, and the Universe. It's even more common to find affirmation of yourself in the failing of others who have a different view than yourself. In atheism, it's often referred to as the angry atheist phase, and likewise in Christianity, I've heard similar behavior for affirmation being called the "crusading for Christ" phase.
Both sides of the coin are still seeking justification, and I don't think either party realizes it's a lack of self belief. Now, I'm not talking about general discourse here. This isn't friendly debating I'm referring to. No, this is about the condescending "debates" that devolve into semantically driven arguments that lose the focus of understanding, and instead try to gain mental points for each zinger that can't be topped.
You know, an old fashioned pissing contest.
Anyway, I really started looking forward to these text based gladiator events. Entering various forum arenas. Sometimes just a comments section on CNN would provide challenges that would spawn day long battles of words, shared links, and pasted text from one scholar or another. Looking back, I can see how ridiculous I was, but it was a necessary place for me to be at that time.
And for some, it will always be their preferred method of affirmation. And there isn't anything truly wrong with that. Like anything in life, there is more than one way to skin a cat, or in this case, justify your personal belief style. Though, my personal experience has shown me non believers tend to step away from the argumentative proof seeking. I don't know yet about the religious though. Some of my close Christian friends who range in their late 60's to early 80's, while not full of fire and brimstone anymore, still never fail to end a genuinely friendly discussion with,"Well, you'll find out later." A bit of a double edged joke.
Recently I was having a discussion about this meme:
It's fairly innocuous. You could see it as I did. A referencing to the early doctors of dissection who stole cadavers in order to continue their study. A tip of the hat to human determination to understand himself, if you will. One poster interpreted it as a good cop - bad cop reference. Mental inquiry of the third degree. He also made an interesting self statement. He mentioned that while defending his faith, the onslaught of people who didn't share his view often trolled him; they would leave him feeling sick and outnumbered.
I think many of us can relate to that completely. Every counter to my perfectly thought out rationalizations for disbelieving would send my mind into a manic tail spin. Adrenaline would literally start pumping. Heart beat racing. Fingers slipping all over the keys as I would hurriedly to try to pound out a well crafted response to any loose ends I perceived I had left out there.
So what changed? How did I go from an apex atheism debate predator to a quiet circling observer that was happy to just munch up insightful tidbits from the parameters?
I started celebrating my disbelief. I took a page from some theists I know and applied some of their own dogma to my atheism. I began sharing more joy. I began empathizing. I picked my battles more wisely with the perspective I gained form listening and comparing experiences. Add a touch of more humbled attitude and I discovered my personal confidence in my convictions. This eliminated a lot of self inflicted negativity I would experience when in mixed faith groups and discussions. I've become the atheist that religious leaders absolutely despise.
Calm, collected, confident, and convincing. I don't have be an alarmist. I don't give immediate argument when questioned. I'm downright affable and compassionate. I shock the shit out of people all the time with how giving I am. Even more flabbergasting is my genuine desire to understand while politely declining to join. Evangelists don't know what to do with the secularists who embrace the differences while maintaining boundaries. These religious leaders can't compete with real life proof that pulpit propaganda is bullshit. These leaders are totally scrambling because there truly are atheists out there who have no problem with religious believers, and are living examples of what Jesus meant by being forgiving. They can't blind their followers forever unless they lock them up in a cave.
So, how can one celebrate their disbelief without sounding like a door to door missionary? By experiencing everything you can without dogma coloring it. By having those conversations with religious folks and not focus on who is right. By taking advantage of real discussions, and enjoying the fact you don't have anything to prove. Appreciating your own decision making skills on what is right for you.
No where in the scheme of things does it say,"Whatever you personally believe must be proven 100% true." Contrary to what the internet seems to perpetuate about society, we aren't operating on a Reddit forum.
Personal freedom is a simple concept, but with peer pressure and the daily conflicts of self, it isn't an easy thing to practice, even in our minds, the most prized of private personal space. Trust in oneself, along with publicly displaying it, is a difficult road to travel. Nothing is above questioning, but questioning isn't necessarily a judgement, and one must constantly be reminded of that. There are days when I am reading an off the tracks discussion, and I see the same traits of offense being taken by atheists that you can see in a theist whose beliefs have been questioned.
This is why people like the commenter on my meme, get physically queasy. It's rattling to the very core of personal belief when being asked about certain aspects of faith, or lack of in my case. Rushing to defend when really, all they have to do is answer a question. This can cause an individual to to misplace the value in their personal choice of belief, making one look for the value by how many people they can successfully argue down instead. And when you don't win, or feel you could've done better, where's your confidence then since it is founded on the failure of others?
So, Zomberina, are you saying we need to be blindly following whatever we want so long as we feel good about it?
No. If you reached a place where you are committed, I am saying you should personally own it. Not gain your assurances by trampling on the beliefs of others. Simply put, don't allow yourself to be in a defensive position, but that of celebration instead. You'll find a more rewarding confidence outside the fray. This is just my take on it all, of course.
As always, remember this: