It could be called the Great Debate, a neverending cycle of posts and chat room logs filled with atheists and theists defending their views. It's been going on for decades, and it's only gotten worse as times have changed and atheists have started coming out of the closet. It's a noble practice, but it's not exactly adult-like. Mostly it's a random series of digital middle fingers, people standing up on their soap boxes, attacking one another, and declaring their falsehoods for the world to see. Someone will make an argument--something that makes sense to them--and everyone will come up with a sarcastic remark, dismiss them, or needlessly pick apart their words. Nobody learns anything. Mostly it just devolves into personal attacks or a juvenile back and forth--fifteen or twenty comment threads that look like school children sticking their tongues out at one another. All it does is reinforce preexisting beliefs.
So why do we do it if everyone is so convinced? Maybe it's because atheists feel marginalized. Many of us come from heavy religious backgrounds. We deconvert later in life. We do some thinking, and we realized the truth. So we move forward with our lives. But the world doesn't move forward with us. Our spouses will leave us. Our families will cut us off. Even in the professional world, where these things are considered taboo, people will treat us differently. So we find ourselves defending our newfound mindset. We also do this for the sake of the truth. We've seen how ridiculous and horrifying religion can be, and we know how insidious it is, how it drags people down, causing them to believe in absurd myths. It twists logic. It turns love into hate, and it holds society back. So naturally, we decide to spread the word, grab a proverbial sword, and cut through all of the strange ideas that keep us from progressing. It's our way of trying to change things.
It's hard not to take up that mantle once you can see clearly. The problem is that we're not prepared to convince anyone. We think we are. We learn about logical fallacies, debate team tactics, and all of the various arguments that have been used time and time again. We know what to expect from our opponents in the ring, and we usually have a great comeback ready when they start spitting nonsense. But we don't understand them. We don't know how they think, or why they believe the things that they do, and we don't know how to relate to them. Instead, we confuse them and infuriate them, or we try to blow them apart, which only serves to isolate them and drive them further into their beliefs. If we want to make any impact whatsoever, we need to get into the minds of theists, learn to speak their language, and change the way we do things. If we don't, we'll continue to type to brick walls, and nobody is going to listen to a single word we say.
Blast Your Message
It usually starts with a definition. Someone will declare that they are an atheist and try to set themselves apart from monotheists and polytheists. Then everyone will rush to prove their inability to recognize basic Latin prefixes, and eventually, they'll all forget what they were talking about in the first place. It's a conversation stopper, and there are quite a few of them.
Then there's the cycle. One person will announce that their opponent has the burden of proof. Their opponent will deny it, and then they'll pass that burden back and forth like a game of ping pong until someone raises their middle finger and walks away--without ever proving anything to anyone.
Sometimes we'll overcomplicate things and talk about the existence of God and evolution, using science and reasoning to prove our train of thought. But nobody ever follows that logic. They're already biased. They're not going to try to wrap their heads around your ideas. You have to take believers by the scruff, show them the truth, and rub their noses in it, and you have to do it fast because attention spans tend to be short. Your message should be shocking and clear, and it should hold weight. Try to make it stand out. Use large lettering, a dark background with white letters on a funny meme. Something that can't be missed, because you're going to be working against human nature.
The human mind will go to extraordinary lengths to protect false beliefs, especially if those beliefs are reinforced by emotion. When physically faced with the truth, people will get confused. They might feel tired. They could have trouble understanding what they are seeing, and they might get defensive or angry, causing them to either fight or walk away. They will deny clear evidence until the end of time, and they rarely stop doing so. Believers live their entire lives completely blinded by their chosen absurdities, and they rarely give them up. For the most part, the only time they do is when they've faced a serious life issue. Their parents will die or they'll divorce. Even when they do come to the correct conclusion about life, they'll have a problem fully separating themselves from what they believed. Ex-cult members and atheists will often devote their attention to their former religion after they stop supporting it. They might reject it, but it's still right there beside them, affecting their life in some way.
The best way to cut through the haze is to shock people, and there's nothing more shocking than scripture. It's vile, disgusting, and violent. Ancient men got creative with their human rights atrocities. They didn't think things through, and when they did they made Jeffrey Dahmer look like a model citizen. This article will focus on Christianity, but nobody is exempt. Jews, Hindus, Muslims, even Buddhists--they all wove hellish tales and commanded unspeakable crimes, and nobody ever reads them. By the time we get to the part where Moses comes down from the mountain or Buddha is killing himself to teach people the merits of suicide, half of the audience is asleep. But they won't be if you quote these choice words.
The best part about using scripture is that it's easily compacted and shared. You can find old paintings, funny images, and pictures of hellfire Baptists, add a quick caption and spread it around. It's noticeable. It stands out, and it gets the job done. It won't convince anyone--not initially, but it gets the gears grinding. People will start to think and wonder, and maybe they'll even pull out their phones and look up the verse. Usually, they will come up with a bad comeback. They'll say it doesn't count. They'll try to argue that it's the wrong translation or that it's taken out of context. But they won't be able to prove it, because the truth is that many of the worst verses don't come with strings attached. They're clearcut examples of moral depravity. They can't be contradicted. There's no explanation. They're just freaky and wrong.
Deuteronomy 20:17 (KJV)
But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee:
This is one of the funnest verses of the Bible to use because it's a clearcut commandment to commit genocide. There's no denying it, and when you start to investigate the verse--the context, the translation, and the meaning behind it--it just keeps getting better. Believers will usually default with two separate arguments against this. Some will say that it's OK because there was a lot of war in the Old Testament. Many cultures went to war. If they say that, zoom out a little bit and show them the verses in chapter 20, which lay out a very clear plan for conquest. This includes taking slaves, keeping women for themselves, and even children. Let them know that it's not just a few tribes. This chapter--save for a few exceptions--was one giant commandment to kill anyone that went against them and enslave anyone that agreed to surrender.
Others will say that it's OK because... Jesus came. Usually, that will be their explanation for anything found in the Old Testament--just Jesus. But Deuteronomy is part of a group of law books, which were said to have been given directly to Moses by God. The Bible even says that God revealed himself to Moses face-to-face. Essentially, the Bible says that God came down from heaven and commanded multiple counts of genocide. Jesus doesn't have to be a part of that equation for it to be wrong. They might also use their usual arguments about context, but that's not as common. Simply zoom out and go through chapter 20 if they do. And make sure they see all of the translations. There's no getting out of this one.
Slaves Should Be Obedient
1 Peter 2:18 (NIV)
Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.
In this verse, Peter is asking Christians who live as slaves to submit themselves to their masters. It's New Testament, so you're not likely to come up against the Jesus argument used to counter other verses on slavery, which are mostly found in the Old Testament. But some people will counter with an explanation of Hebrew slavery, which was said to be just and somewhat mild, closer to indentured servitude. In reality, it was basically the same system used by the Confederates in America. This next verse will help clarify that. If that doesn't work, there's an explanation of the rules surrounding race and slavery below. That's the real nail in the coffin. Some of the translations use the word servant, but the idea of a 'servant' didn't exist back then. It was an unpaid piece of lifelong property that you could beat.
It's OK to Beat Your Slave
Exodus 21:20-21 (NIV)
20 Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.
This passage is amazing on so many levels. First, it not only cuts through the idea that the Bible doesn't condone slavery--which it does, of course, cover to cover--it also proves that Hebrew slavery was unspeakably vicious. You could own a person, beat them to the point where it would take them two days to recover, and you wouldn't get punished for it, because slaves are considered property. This might seem completely straightforward, but believers read the scripture with an ingrained confirmation bias. They believe that the Bible is good, and they need that to be confirmed. So when they see this passage they'll often stick with the first verse, which says that someone will be punished for killing their slave. That's good, right? But they'll have trouble understanding the second part. Their minds will literally play tricks on them. You might have to spell it out for them. Often, they'll follow up and say that it's still good, because the word property actually means money in ancient Hebrew. It makes no sense. Never mind the beating. Let's stick with the semantics. You'll come across this a lot. If one word can be disproven, the atheist is wrong. You can counter that by saying the words 'property' and 'money' were synonymous. They were considered the same thing during that time. After that, they'll move on with the Jesus argument and standard tripe about Hebrew slavery.
Slavery and the Wrong Skin Color
Leviticus 25:44-46 (NIV)
44 Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.
So now we've established two things: Biblical slavery is racially biased, and you were allowed to beat your slave. Any time the argument about Biblical slavery comes up or people try to say that it was less cruel than other forms of slavery, pull out this passage and the one above it and have them explain themselves. How was it better? Everything they say can be explained away with what you've already shown them. Again, believers have trouble reading these verses. It's a strange mind trick. They will ignore the rest and stick with the part about how Israelites shouldn't be treated ruthlessly. Somehow in their eyes that will cancel out everything else. It's strange, but this is a consistent phenomenon. Turn that against them and point out that everyone else was kept for life, traded, and beaten. There's no way around it. You might also want to include some basic background information on this portion of the Bible. Leviticus was a basic extension of Mosaic Law. Just like Exodus and the other law books, it came directly from God to Moses in person.
Sell Rape Victims to their Rapists
Deuteronomy 22:28-29 (NIV)
28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels[a] of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.
Imagine the horror of having someone force themselves on you. Now imagine having to spend the rest of your life with this person. What's even more horrific is how this law could be taken advantage of. If a man had fifty shekels, he could take the nearest virgin, have his way with her, and he'd have a servant for life. She'd never be allowed to leave. He could beat her and even force her to have his children. It's a win-win for the caveman. This passage is very straightforward, and it's one of those verses that just gets worst when you zoom out and look at the context. But you're going to come up against a bit of trouble when it comes to anything about rape. The Bible uses several different phrases when referring to it, either because of the translation or because they're trying to be delicate about the matter. Believers will always point that out and say it's being misinterpreted. You'll see 'violated,' 'seized,' and 'forced himself,' but it's clear what they're trying to say, and there are several passages about rape in this section of the Bible with different wording. Well-read believers will argue that this was a punishment for the man and a reward for the women. It's what they tend to teach in Bible classes. Basically, the idea is that life was hard back then. A woman with a broken hymen didn't have any other chances for marriage. If this happened to her, she'd be taken care of for life, and the man would be forced to expend valuable resources and manpower to take care of her. Obviously, this is barbaric and disgusting. Rules about virginity and marriage are in the BIble. They didn't have to favor virgin brides. That was how the system was setup, and marriage should never be seen as a punishment. It's demeaning to the woman.
Blame the Victim
22 If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel. 23 If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, 24 you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.
The second believers see this verse, they automatically begin blacking it out. They'll get confused, scan a few words, then they'll come to the conclusion that it's mistranslated. How could the Bible possibly say that they should be executed? As mentioned above, the Bible doesn't always directly refer to rape, but many versions do. Either way, they can't argue their way out of this one. If you go to the context, it's all about the same subject. This is just one of several unjust practices forced on victims during that time period.
Slaves Obey Your Master (Yet Again)
Ephesians 6:5 (NIV)
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.
That's right. They didn't drive the point home the first time, so they had to say it a second--using almost the exact same phrasing. If anyone defends the New Testament to you, show them this. If they mention slavery at all, make it very clear what the good book says. We can't act like the Bible is enlightened or that Jesus was somehow a higher being if he refused to address one of the greatest evils of his time. It just doesn't make sense. This is proof that the Bible is not the inspired word of God but a product of ancient men who couldn't see past the evils of their own civilizations.
Obey Your Husband
Ephesians 5:22-24 (NIV)
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
This passage is a huge source of contention among believers. Since they shirk the old law, they tend to focus on passages in the New Testament. So they might actually be familiar with these words. They'll have seen them, and they'll know the history behind them. For years it was used to force women to obey, which was absolutely its original intent. Now Christians teach that it's about 'submitting yourself' and they'll have all sorts of contradictory ideas as to what that means. Usually, it's a dulled-down version of obedience--something like, don't nag too much, go along with him, or take the same attitude in things. This comes up a lot in marriage retreats and women's Bible study. Pastors will quote it and usually use it to match whatever point they want to make about being a good wife. Most versions do use the word 'submit,' but many versions say 'obey.' There's another matching verse in Peter that says the same thing, just like the verses on slavery. When this comes up, talk about the ramifications of obedience and submission. Ask them what that would mean if the husband is cruel, perverted, or abusive, and whether or not it's really just. Everyone knows that there are no exceptions for spousal abuse and child abuse in scripture. That could strike a chord with them. It often does.
We're never going to be able to reach theists with abstract or complex arguments, and they're not going to take the time to listen to what we have to say--not if they're throwing down. They're going to look for anything they can latch onto to tear our arguments apart. When you make an assertion, be sure that there are no logical holes, no traps, nothing they can reason their way out of, and make your statement brief, upfront, and center. Nobody wants to be lectured on something. Eventually, they will tune out. It's the same with a comment or a post. They're not going to read past the first paragraph--and that's being generous. Instead, find something shocking. Know your stuff, and paint them into a corner.
Also know that sometimes, our Great Debate does make a difference. But nobody is ever going to let it show. When you hit the nail on the head, they'll feel vulnerable and vindicated. They'll get embarrassed, back down, or try to play it off to deal with their own embarrassment. Then, when nobody is around, they'll put down their phone, and they'll start to think.
Try to find your own verses, but be careful. Make sure that you know the translation, the context, and the common arguments used to explain them away. Know that Christianity is a culture, not just a group of people following a book, and within that culture, they have a certain way that they've been taught to interpret things. Once you catch on to that, you can poke holes in their fallacies, allowing the light to peek through. Every religion is the same in this respect, and that can work against you. If you start opening the Quran or the Talmud and point at evil passages, you might find yourself completely out of your league. These books come with heavy commentary. Before you use any form of scripture, make sure you understand it.