Do Atheists Try To Convert People?

Jul 10, 2011 Comments Off by

The phrasing of this title quite deliberately suggests something that atheists will probably dislike, and it’s the word convert. Convert brings up some rather evil connotations as it is usually used to refer to what are sometimes aggressive tactics used by a few pushy religious people.

It’s often pointed out that atheists seem to want to convert religious people to atheism. In fact, this is often used as a criticism of atheism, in that it tries to convert just as much as religion does.

There is an inevitable amount of desire for success in atheism. Atheism is a topic that normally only comes up in the context of an argument. Atheism is a response to religious statements and, as it presents the opposing view, nearly always causes an argument. When in arguments, human beings like to try and win, even though winning is rarely achieved as it requires the other participant to state that everything they had been saying up until that point was incorrect. So in an argument about atheism and religion, the atheist will be hoping that for once, the religious person will lose and say that the atheist was right all along. Of course, even if the religious person does change their mind, its very rare for someone to admit it. So once again the atheist is disappointed, and has to resort to taking the logical high-ground and being satisfied with that.

It is partly due to this competitive nature in arguments that atheists probably seem like they want to convert people. But then it’s entirely possible to envisage a situation where two religious people are having an argument. They may also want to win the argument, and by the same extension, convert the other person to a different viewpoint. This is the nature of arguments. But atheists probably argue rather more zealously as they tend to like exercising cool and cutting rationale.

This all questions what conversion actually is. Conversion is not just the persuasion of someone from one viewpoint to another. People change their mind all the time and we do not call it conversion. Conversion requires an extra element. To convert is to swap from one group of thinkers to another and to identify oneself with that group. So ultimately, the question of whether changing from theism to atheism is a conversion, depends on whether atheism is regarded as a group like-minded people in the same way that religion is.

Certainly atheism covers the same topics as religious thought, albeit often far fewer of them, stopping at number one. But atheists are a profoundly disorganised bunch. It’s good that atheism has not become an institution, as it gives one more degree of separation from religion. Atheists also have far fewer criteria on what they believe in order to be identified as atheists. Generally there is only one criterion (which you can see under the definitions pages under atheism) and a lot more flexibility is allowed. In atheism, it’s the agility and flexibility of your thought that mostly counts. Nevertheless, atheists are an identifiable group of thinkers.

Thus, it’s not that bad that atheists are claimed to want to convert people. That’s just the goal of any argument. If anyone claims that atheism is bad simply because it tries to convert then they are firstly missing the point of atheism, and secondly missing the point of why religion is often bad.

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About the author

I am the founder of Atheism Network.
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