How To Survive Socially As A Non-Believer
Incredibly, it is still a widely-accepted assumption that everyone adheres to a religious faith of one kind or another. Despite numbers that show “nones” on the rise, believers, especially in America, will take it for granted that a new acquaintance or a stranger on the street who they happen to speak to is religious. This can make for awkward moments—especially if you are not only an atheist but an outspoken atheist.
Just as the religious do much to express their faith, from explicitly evangelizing their superstition to wearing outer garments meant to follow its dictates, so you may find it perfectly natural to say what you think about the nature of reality and speak your mind about belief systems that have a rather distorted view of it. Indeed, the sentence I just wrote could be taken by many as offensive—as a direct insult to their faith.
But you will notice that whenever the faithful use language loaded with dogmas, images, and ideas derived from their holy books these are viewed merely as sincere and heartfelt sentiments. They are seen by most people—even other non-believers—as harmless, inoffensive, legitimate expression of the person’s convictions.
If you are like me, you find this asinine double standard infuriating.
I am offended by someone who believes I am to be sent to a chamber of eternal torment and torture when I die because I do not accept the divinity and resurrection of a rebellious Jew who died over two millennia ago. I am offended by someone who believes I am a lost and immoral soul because I do not accept the monstrous, and mostly plagiarized, scribblings of an Arab merchant as the final revelation of a Bronze Age deity.
I am as offended by believers as they are by me. We can, of course, accept and respect each other’s basic humanity. But our respective worldviews are and will forever be in conflict.
However, it is necessary for you to get on with people. In college, in business, in your career in general it is impossible to turn every discussion with friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, old and potentially new, into a philosophical debate. In some cases, you may be able to hold to the old convention of not discussing politics and religion in polite company. But there may be instances in which this proves impossible. You may have to deal socially with determined theists—that is, persons of religious faith who insist on letting no moment go by without advancing their beliefs.
How to deal with this situation?
My answer is graciousness and wit. You must not allow yourself to be pushed around by such persons. However, you need not respond to every comment and suggestion they make. These may be designed to provoke you, in which case you should take the bait. As long as it doesn’t go on for too long or consist of some especially odious piece of dogma, you should allow your religious friends, or associates, to prattle from time to time. Sometimes it is necessary to keep the peace, to allow a social event to go on without heated argument and debate.
Employing wit may produce the same result. If you believe, or non-believe, in the way that I do, you cannot help seeing the inherent silliness and absurdity of religion. Make something of that. Turn an attempt to convert you into a satirical or comedic rebuttal. But do so in a way that is genuinely lighthearted.
You can choose your friends. But you cannot always select those with whom you socialize. You may, for professional reasons, have to engage in the latter with people whose philosophical ideas you disdain. Keep your head. Charm and disarm and you will be the victor in the encounter.
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About Christopher Reid Chris was born in Washington, D.C. and lives in Britain. He works as a blogger, essayist, and novelist. His first book, Tea with Maureen, has just been published.