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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Heard

7 Things Atheists Need To Stop Doing When Debating Theists

It’s become clear to me, after a few months of constant debate with theists and other atheists, that atheists debate believers for two reasons:

1. They genuinely want to help the believer break free of the oppressive shackles of organized religion


2. They just want to prove to everyone how fucking smart they are.

There is nobility and honour in the first. There is danger in the second. You guys are brilliant, don’t get me wrong, but just because you have a 12 inch dong, doesn’t mean you should pull it out and wave it around every chance you get.

I debate theists, personally, because eventually I want to see an end to ancient, barbaric religions. I don’t care if a belief in God carries on. I want to end childhood indoctrination and put a stop to human rights violations in the name of any god. I want to end organized religion. Not spirituality.

It is for this reason, I try to take every debate with a theist seriously. Dan Dennett once said that all we need to do is shake their faith. With the significant growth of atheism since the dawn of the internet, we can deduce that all of this debate and discussion is doing that; it’s shaking their faith.

There are effective ways to go about this and then there are not so affective ways to go about doing this. And I’ve seen enough of you brilliant assholes debate to know, it’s time to lay a little smack down.

When you debate a theist – or anyone for that matter – and your goal is truly to have your opponent see your point of view and have them really mull it over, then you must make sure that every statement you utter in their direction attempts to do two things. 1. It should appeal to them and 2. It should absolutely not make them throw a wall up. The second is very, very difficult as with faith, the walls are generally already up. People are sensitive when it comes to faith. They throw walls up over every little thing. You must understand though, that once they’ve thrown up that wall in front of you, they will no longer hear or think about a word you say and further debate becomes futile. There are so many things atheists do that send that wall upward, and I often wonder if you all even realize that you’ve lost the debate before you’ve even begun.

Here are some things you dazzlingly adept debaters need to quit doing:

1. Pointing out logical fallacies – Good god on a gondola, do you have any idea what you sound like when you do this? You sound like you’re wearing nipple-height pants, held up by Star Wars suspenders, with a bow tie and a pocket protector, 3 inch thick glasses and a hem fit only for Noah during the flood. You sound like a fucking nerd. Now, as a nerd myself, when you sound like one, it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. It makes me want to know more about you. It makes me want to have a cold one with you, Stevie Urkel, and pick your brain all night. However, you’re not debating me. You needn’t appeal to me. You need to appeal to the theist. They operate on feeling and emotion, not rational thought and reason. The only people interested in what is a logical fallacy and what is not, are people who actively study philosophy or engage in competitive debate. In the everyday world, throwing up a “That’s a logical fallacy! Try again Bozo!” is akin to a tea snob walking into Starbucks and, after overhearing someone order peppermint tea, booming, “Peppermint is not actually tea – it’s an herbal infusion! Tea can only come from a tea plant, idiots!”. No one gives a fuck. Except the nerds. You start spouting about logical fallacies and that wall, friends, has gone up and you’ve lost them for good.

Even Urkel can be smooth

Even Urkel can be smooth

2. Calling them names – Really, this should have been part of your pre-school curriculum. Now, I know that sometimes it’s very, very hard not to do this. I’ve done it myself from time to time. I particularly have very little patience for Catholics because, as the mother of a boy, I feel quite strongly you have to be inherently wicked to be able to accept their systematic rearranging of clergy involved in molestation scandals. You just simply cannot be decent in any way, shape or form if you worship in this institution. But I digress. During a debate, there is no need for name-calling, no matter how moronic what they just said was. What you have to try to keep in mind, is that these people have been indoctrinated. That is no fucking joke. That’s like taking an idea and using cement to lodge it permanently in their mind. They had no choice in the matter. It’s not about refusal to see things your way, it’s not about not being smart enough. It is that they simply cannot fathom what you are saying. They are saying the moronic things they do to you, because it’s the only way they know how to defend their beliefs. It sounds like absolute nonsense to us, but to them, it is very real and attached to some serious emotion. Call them an idiot over it, and your debate is over, right there. If they call you names, prove the atheist morals exist by being the bigger person. Walking away from a debate during which your opponent has reduced him or herself to a whiney pile of name-calling, makes your shit smell like roses for weeks… if you don’t retaliate.

3. Assuming – Stop assuming you know what religion someone belongs to. Stop assuming you know what parts of the religion they agree with and don’t agree with. Stop assuming you know anything about the person you’re debating with, other than what you’ve already been told. There are plenty of theists out there who identify as Christians or Jews or Muslims but who’s faith can be whittled down to just a belief in god. Yes, these people are cherry pickers but I challenge you to find me anyone from any of these faiths, who are not. Understand what you’re fighting against. Do you need to shake the faith of someone who merely believes in god and doesn’t buy into the indoctrination or dogma of their religious institution? No, you don’t.

4. Calling their god or prophets names – This is the one that Godless Mom has the most trouble with. I am a word lover, and nothing is more pleasing to me than finding a million ways to verbally take the piss out of something silly. In my lifetime, I have probably called Jesus a good 3000+ different names. I call it my Passion of the Christ. I can’t fucking help it. I know though, that once I say one of those names to a Christian I’m debating, I might as well just stop right there, ’cause they’re not listening anymore. Make fun of their gods in blog posts, or memes, newspapers, billboards or videos. But don’t direct it at one believer in particular, especially if you want them to truly think about what you’re saying. You literally gut them by saying those things to them. There is absolutely no point, whatsoever, in continuing with the debate after that, unless you just want to hear yourself talk.

5. Bringing their family or friends into it – This makes you look desperate and unable to make a sound point. Just don’t go all ad hom on their asses. Seriously. Even if they do it, rise above. Prove we have better morals! As a mother, the moment my son is mentioned, I have no use for you. You could be Christopher Hitchens and I’ll fucking shut you out. The only reason to do this, is again, if you really don’t care if your opponent actually hears or thinks about anything you say and are just using the debate as a spewing ground for your own inner demons.

6. Guessing their education level – Don’t fucking do this for two reasons: 1. It has no fucking relevancy to whether or not someone is religious. 2. You don’t know their situation. Maybe they grew up impoverished and had to drop out to work, or maybe they have a learning disability. Maybe they grew up in the USA where public education is little more than a peanut-shaming club that uses books only to kill mosquitos. There is a good chance you’ve had more education. That gives you more reason to help them learn, and less reason to insult.

7. Ganging up – Almost all the debates I’ve seen or been part of on Twitter have been 4 or 5 atheists vs. 1 believer. Recognize the fucking balls this takes. Don’t kick someone in this situation. The only thing it accomplishes, is that it makes you look like a coward. In this situation, be the voice of reason – that’s what an atheist is, for fuck’s sake: someone who is supposed to use reason. What reason is there in grabbing five of your buddies and cutting a lone jeebot down? There’s no honour in that, there’s nothing to respect in that. Being reasonable means, when the other 4 heathens are raking the believer through the coals, help defend her or him. This makes you moral, this makes you someone people want to listen to (even theists) and it gives you space to say the more important things that might actually get your religious opponent thinking.

So, I guess it all comes down to what you want to get out of the debate. Do you want to sound like the smartest? Do you want to crack the best jokes? Do you want to hurt your opposition the most? Or do you want the theist to walk away from the debate with new questions in their head? For me, it’s the latter and even though I have engaged in everything I’ve listed above, I think it’s time we all agreed to at least try and stop.

We scare them away when we act like this, and we may have had a good chance at deconverting them. That’s a serious loss for our team!


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