Lighting the Fuse

At a recent atheist meetup, I was talking with a former Muslim, and asked him what had led to his deconversion. He said that he had come to the United States from Pakistan and was working as a taxi driver while attending college. One night, after his shift ended, he asked a fellow driver to give him a ride home. As they were talking, the other driver, in a passing remark, said:

“You know, all religions are man-made.”

There was no discussion on the topic, just that simple statement, but it stuck with him, nagging at his thinking. Approximately two years later, he rejected religion and became an atheist.

Obviously, what leads to the deconversion of a religious person will vary widely from individual to individual, but what struck me was how a simple skeptical statement set the wheels in motion for this man.

As I pondered this, several points occurred to me:
  1. In many cases, we may not see the fruit of our labors, but that doesn’t mean they are useless. The taxi driver who made the statement never found out the effect his words had, and such is often the case with our effort.
  2. We don’t have to have elaborate arguments every time. Sometimes, a simple thought or statement may awaken the person’s reason and skepticism. Try to plant a thought in their mind which might stay with them after you’re gone.
  3. Our words can be like a medicine which stimulates the person’s skeptical ‘immune system’ to fight back against the God Virus.
  4. We don’t have to ‘win’ in a discussion. Each conversation is a skirmish in the larger war of ideas. Winning is not the point. Provoking thought, and weakening the faith they have in their religious beliefs should be the goal instead.

Clearly, there are many people who are far too entrenched in religion or too lacking in critical thinking skills, to ever be persuaded to question their beliefs, let alone deconvert. But, there are also people who are capable of critical thinking, but for whatever reason, their skepticism is weakened or lying dormant – at least with regard to their own religion.

I suspect that in most cases, deconversion is not the result of any single “intervention” (as Peter Boghossian would call it). Instead, it is the final outcome of the cumulative effect of input from others, combined with the individual’s own skepticism, doubt, and reasoning.

Think of religious belief like a large boulder perched precariously on a hillside. Each debate or discussion, each skeptical statement, even just the awareness that they know someone who is an atheist ( happy and fulfilled without gods) – these things eat away the soil supporting the boulder, and with enough erosion, that boulder may one day dislodge and go rolling away.

To put another way, our words can light a fuse.

It may be a slow-burning one, but if reason is there, somewhere deep inside; if the person is reflective and cares about truth, then one day, the fuse will burn down to the dynamite, and the religious ideas which imprison his or her mind will be blown to Kingdom Come.

In your own unique way, as you are able… strike the match.

Written by J. M. Green