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Emotional arguments against religion - Comments

qpmatt's Avatar Comment 1 by qpmatt

A psychologist can only help to change a light bulb if that light bulb wants to change.

Most religious people that I encounter have never really thought about their beliefs. They find any approach threatening and rude. To date, I believe the only way you're going to get through to them is to wait for them to ask you the questions.

Fri, 21 Jan 2011 18:23:13 UTC | #582131

josephor's Avatar Comment 2 by josephor

Comment Removed by Author

Fri, 21 Jan 2011 18:39:13 UTC | #582136

Sample's Avatar Comment 3 by Sample

Letting a cult leader decide that one's own infant should die rather than receive a pint of O negative blood because, well, he said so. Could you forgive yourself if you found out that that leader was wrong and you realized that your abrogated your ultimate responsibility as that child's only voice for safety? Is a pint of volunteered blood worth that risk?

And then cry and rip your shirt dramatically.


Fri, 21 Jan 2011 18:45:28 UTC | #582138

Jay G's Avatar Comment 4 by Jay G

I think you're on thin ice here. Even die hard atheists will generally concede that atheism is a "tough minded" project. People who are swayed by "emotional" arguments are not likely to be convinced by rational appeals.

Fri, 21 Jan 2011 18:49:48 UTC | #582139

MAJORPAIN's Avatar Comment 5 by MAJORPAIN

Maybe try asking them to make reasoned arguments to you to argue about their religion to you. Every argument they make that smacks of emotion remind them to stick to facts. Ask them to convert you. Ask them to make arguments to you, without using emotional pleas to get you to see things their way and watch THEM struggle. Keep pointing out that what they're saying and what they believe is based on how they FEEL about the issue. They'll get frustrated, believe me, and then maybe just maybe, they'll think a little more about their religion later. Maybe. We can only hope.

Fri, 21 Jan 2011 18:53:26 UTC | #582140

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 6 by Neodarwinian

I do not think cognition is the dichotomy of logic and emotion that would allow you to appeal to one or the other.

Fri, 21 Jan 2011 19:07:51 UTC | #582144

mikenlynn's Avatar Comment 7 by mikenlynn

"Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,..."

I'm not sure that what you seek is even possible. Though, if it might be, someone here will come up with a reasonable way to try.

It seems like the most successful methods to sway people who might be on the fence, or to at least get them considering an opposing view, is to take very small steps over a period of time. Often times, people get a little more comfortable talking about it when they don't feel like it is destined to develop into an emotional confrontation. One thing I have found is that an appeal to their reason is almost a non-starter; unless they are already strongly tilting your direction. In my experience, someone who is firmly ensconced on the religious side is not able to wrap their arms around a purely rational, fact based argument.

Faith always trumps evidence. And that often derails the discussion before it really even gets started. You can keep dragging them back to the facts in the discourse, but they expect that their faith should be given equal deference to your facts. The result is almost always a disappointment.

Fri, 21 Jan 2011 19:15:29 UTC | #582148

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 8 by Steve Zara

I think there might be a way to at least show theists the way out, even if they don't take it.

Educate them about the nature of world religions. So often I come across both believers and atheists who see religion as a simple choice between a god and nothing, between heaven and oblivion.

That isn't the only choice. The polytheism of Hinduism may be too strange for Christians and Muslims, but varieties of Buddhism might appeal, or at least may be found interesting. Show believers that not having a creator god at the centre of things need not lead to nihilism, or a lack of morality. Then, some of the Buddhist ideas of scepticism can be introduced. This is not implying that Buddhism is true, but that there are less theistic faiths or belief systems.

The idea of this is not to convert, but to show that not having a belief in their god, or indeed any creator is not a frightening step.

If I may re-use Richard's analogy, there can be a gentle path down "Mount Unbelievable" towards lesser levels of belief, not a sudden plummet into the (supposed) abyss of atheism.

This may lead believers to be more at ease with atheism, even if they don't choose that path.

Fri, 21 Jan 2011 19:18:32 UTC | #582151

the great teapot's Avatar Comment 9 by the great teapot

Pride, is that an emotion. Let them know the sense of pride you feel not being amongst the credulous, like your average theist and Buddhist. It probably doesn't occur to a lot of people you can be proud to not believe. They only see it as a badge of shame. Even in the UK where few people under the age of 60 believe the sense of shaking off this 2000 year old confidence trick still gives me a sense of satisfaction.

Fri, 21 Jan 2011 19:40:21 UTC | #582161

mikenlynn's Avatar Comment 10 by mikenlynn

Comment 8 by Steve Zara

Great suggestions!

Fri, 21 Jan 2011 19:51:58 UTC | #582164

VitruviannMan's Avatar Comment 11 by VitruviannMan

Comment 8 by Steve Zara :

If I may re-use Richard's analogy, there can be a gentle path down "Mount Unbelievable" towards lesser levels of belief, not a sudden plummet into the (supposed) abyss of atheism.

This is definitely the right approach, unless as mikenlynn noted, they're already tilting towards atheism.

One of the arguments that I use actually gets close to getting emotional reactions from religious people. I talk about accomplishments of the human intellect such as abolishing slavery, declaring equality of all people, rights to liberty, life, pursuit of happiness etc.

Everyone -especially in the western world- loves talking about them since the enlightenment era took place in the west. What most people don't know however is that these movements were in conflict with scripture (which condones owning slaves, stoning women etc).

Try it, often times I hear people disbelievingly say, "no way... are you saying it says this stuff is in my Bible?" I have found this as a successful way to make people take the first step towards discussing religion skeptically.

Fri, 21 Jan 2011 20:30:40 UTC | #582178

Matt B's Avatar Comment 12 by Matt B

Comment 8 by Steve Zara

If I may re-use Richard's analogy, there can be a gentle path down "Mount Unbelievable" towards lesser levels of belief, not a sudden plummet into the (supposed) abyss of atheism.

This may lead believers to be more at ease with atheism, even if they don't choose that path.

I personally think this is a great approach - in fact, I submitted a discussion here a few months back that relates to this idea.

Fri, 21 Jan 2011 20:59:53 UTC | #582192

Gareth Rosser's Avatar Comment 13 by Gareth Rosser

I don't think though, that religion does 'feel' right to anyone. Maybe it's just your own life and heart that is always the emotional argument against it, and religion is something that attempts but always ultimately fails, to keep putting a lid over it all? If it does ever 'feel' right, while in full song or prayer - it's always going to be temporary, sooner or later the doubts set back in and 'test' your faith - escape route covered - and it's a perpetual loop.

Maybe emotion is the escape route in itself ... but getting properly in touch with it enough to see the logic in our own beings, is just too tough?

Maybe science and logic seem to laugh in the face of emotion too much too?

I don't think there is a difference between logic and emotion. Maybe there's just good logic and bad logic ... emotion is the needle on the dial? I dunno, i just made that up.

I feel incredibly emotional about my atheism ... it became a really important deal to me, and i started reading Richard Dawkins and more about Evolution after our son was born. He nearly died in hospital, and my driving force to understand life properly has been pure emotion. It cuts me down when people can't see past the 'cold' atheist label, no matter how hard i try to express my emotions about it all.

If we do get emotional about our lives ... i mean, really OUR own lives - it always seems to beg the question from others, "What, so you think YOU are god?" ... i've always felt that an easy way of looking at it, is to ask yourself "Who is the most important person in my life?" ... the answer has to be you yourself, because if you weren't there, you wouldn't be there.

I think when people talk about God, they are usually talking about themselves really ... to actually come out and say that you understand life the universe and everything only through your own life, for yourself as best you can, given the notion of god (even if you don't go along with it) is a huge thing because to keep the emotion, you have to reject 'god' but retain your feelings and emotions - all for yourself ... but yourself then feels drawn in to somehow fill the gap that god left?

My father says he doesn't believe in god, but is spiritual. His thing is that he sees himself as eyes of the universe - what Carl Sagan said i guess - but it's an emotional journey in a lot of ways to learn about how to balance and understand ourselves and how we fit into it all... but it's a logical journey too, and i feel (emotionally) that the answers are in logic... good logic - and it's science that makes that possible.

Fri, 21 Jan 2011 21:22:40 UTC | #582199

katt33's Avatar Comment 14 by katt33

If one has gone through theology training and gone through science studies and still believes in a deity, then there really is nothing you can do. It is their right to believe, as it is your right not to. My only "quandary" with religion is evangelization and that it is forced onto children who really can't critically think for themselves and make a choice.

If it were simply put forward by everyone later on in life as culture and the choice were made later on in life after studying and researching, okay, fine, be religious, so long as it were understood as a cultural choice. I still strongly separate spirituality from man made religion.

Fri, 21 Jan 2011 21:28:42 UTC | #582204

0penM1nded's Avatar Comment 15 by 0penM1nded

I really don't think you should even bother trying to argue against the emotional reasons for religion!

The emotional reasons for believing in religion are really the "safe one's" and should be left alone! Why try and convince someone that Manchester United is a crappy team when their reason for believing so is purely emotional!

I think it is a positive statement when someone recognizes that they believe for emotional rather than factual / evidence reasons! I would only bother arguing with the (incorrect) factual / evidencial reasons for believing in religion.

Our emotional make-up is far more complex than simple reason and logic can address! Lets celerate the irrationality of our emotions and just make sure they don't hurt anyone else!

Religion isn't the problem, only what people do in the name of religion!

I would collect a bunch of arguments against the harmful stuff that religious people do, and be happy with that! Shouldn't we only care about what people do, and to hell with what they believe - as long as they don't try and convince anyone else!

Live and let live!

Fri, 21 Jan 2011 21:32:54 UTC | #582208

the great teapot's Avatar Comment 16 by the great teapot

Zara Stop banging on on about Buddhism. If you keep it up I will almost certainly dismiss it as a barmpot myth with no evidence other than viewer figures to back it up. Buddhism sucks like a tarot card reading and you know it.

Fri, 21 Jan 2011 22:10:00 UTC | #582221

Outrider's Avatar Comment 17 by Outrider

This is one that I try not to fall back on - it feels a little dishonest to claim that reason is the only basis for a decision and then resort to this, but occassionally the situation warrants it.

I have two children, both with conditions that the best scientific evidence suggests are genetically influenced, even if they aren't directly inherited. This brings them - and my wife and I, in different ways - a degree of suffering and hardship.

My wife and I, I will concede, have not lived lives that would strictly comply with absolutely every moral code in every religion.

My children, though, were born with these conditions before they were ever able to start to conceive of something sinful, and the nature of their conditions is that my daughter, almost certainly, will never be aware of the concept of sin to 'earn' anything from her behaviour in life.

What is the point of God creating these children to suffer to no good end?


Fri, 21 Jan 2011 23:31:48 UTC | #582252

locutus7's Avatar Comment 18 by locutus7

There was a panel at the CARM bookfair a year or two ago (it is on Youtube but I forgot the specific name) where Hitchens was on the panel with 4 Christians: Lee Strobel, William Lee Craig, and some other apologists.

And the moderator was a Christian preacher/apologist who had a slight neuromuscular impairment. Oh, and this was before Hitch got cancer.

Anyway, the panelists were each giving their arguments for or against god, and then the moderator, behind his podium, said something to the effect that Atheism was fine for the strong, the smart, the successful, but what about the weak, the less intelligent? He obviously was speaking sincerely as he was impaired.

If you could find this video clip and play it for your interlocutor, it would show that even christians think atheism is for the intelligent.

Sat, 22 Jan 2011 00:04:01 UTC | #582263

Gareth Rosser's Avatar Comment 19 by Gareth Rosser

Woah, i bet that's a conversation stopper Outrider - but emotionally, i imagine it would make a religious person just fall silent and pray for you? it might even give them even more reason and proof that there is a real need for their prayers, don't you think? Especially ending with a question like that ... might they even take heart that you are still looking for answers - from God even?

When my son was in hospital, people told me they were praying for us - it's all ups and downs, like an emotional soap opera to them i think ... all part of God's plan, with a ready answer come good or bad?

One religious person upset me once by dismissing my argument by saying something like "One day Gareth's faith will be tested, and then he will look for and find God." ... something like that anyway ... and in the context of the conversation and my mood and thoughts, i thought about what might drive me to that dark place - and it would be something happening to my son.

This made me feel like this person was quite bluntly wishing and hoping for something truly tragic to happen in my life so that i would then have the good fortune to find God. I think they actually love this stuff.

Can i just get this out somewhere here too, cos it's been burning a hole in my mind for too long ... this same person also once said that,

"Blaming religion for all the world's woes is like saying that Hitler killed all the Jews with his own hands."

I'm sorry, but emotionally i couldn't cope with that statement and failed in my fight with him - even tho it is a complete and abominable logical failure. The worst thing was that people tolerated him and still do, but not me as an outspoken atheist. I think they actually love this stuff ... can so flippantly and happily soak up and take advantage of real pain and suffering.

Gahhh, i'm sorry ... this is emotion, i feel - but it is interpreted as aggression, isn't it ... it does start feeling that way actually.

Sat, 22 Jan 2011 00:18:30 UTC | #582273

JHJEFFERY's Avatar Comment 20 by JHJEFFERY

Maybe a little off topic, but a Xn friend of mine sent me this. It is hauntingly beautiful and one of the most emotional renditions I have ever heard. It brought tears to this atheist's eyes. Perhaps it may help us understand how religion is a truly (and exclusively) emotional experience. Turn your speakers up high.



Sat, 22 Jan 2011 00:26:49 UTC | #582277

Misfire's Avatar Comment 21 by Misfire

Hell. Does that feel right? Consider that depending on the faith, it's not just for the worst people, but for all unrepentant sinners. In Catholicism, doubting the Holy Ghost used to be a mortal sin; I don't know if that's changed. That doesn't feel right. And if the rules change, then their god has changed him mind. That doesn't feel godly either.

Focusing on the Catholics again, they only just removed the idea that unbaptized children go to limbo forever.

One more emotional idea that struck me as a child was just being outside with the wind blowing, and noticing the unimaginable complexity around me in both form and movement. It didn't seem likely to me that any god would be watching every detail all over the world. And if he wasn't, then he wasn't really in control of everything. On the other hand, some people have similar thoughts but take it as evidence that their god is overwhelmingly powerful.

Hell's a pretty good bet, I think.

Sat, 22 Jan 2011 03:02:23 UTC | #582303

JuJu's Avatar Comment 22 by JuJu


Personally, when I'm debating religious people, I find it very difficult to convince them even though I have a rational rebuttal for all their religious arguments.

I'm sure this is true for just about everyone on this site. Unfortunately its not just religious people who are immune to rational response.

Try dealing with an anti-vaxxer, an alt/med proponent, a homeopath etc...

All their arguments are based on pseudoscience and misinformation. Its very similar to debating a religious person. Unfortunately for me my brother runs a holistic wellness center, so we get into it all the time over that crap.

Plus I live in Humboldt county, Ca. and its riddled with woo. There are a lot of people up here that are into that kind of stuff. It drives me crazy sometimes.

PS, When you start hitting them with facts they stare at you like a deer in headlights.

Sat, 22 Jan 2011 03:28:18 UTC | #582305

zengardener's Avatar Comment 23 by zengardener

The immorality displayed by God, Jesus and his disciples. I can't say that it works, but so far, anyone I've spoken to who calls themselves Christian will admit that Evil in the bible is, a "tough question."

Insist on an answer.

"Ok. Well think about it, ask your minister, and get back with me next week."

People like to forget about problems that they can't solve, but Evil in the bible won't go away. Don't let them forget it.

Even if they avoid you, that will tell you that they are thinking about it.

Sat, 22 Jan 2011 05:13:09 UTC | #582323

MMAtheist's Avatar Comment 24 by MMAtheist

Well, I prefer the rational arguments as well, but one emotional argument comes in handy when Christians try to "save me".

I tell them that even if I believed in their God, there's no way I could respect/worship/love Him, because he's an immoral monster in my eyes. How could I enjoy Heaven whilst knowing that most of my family and friends, indeed most of humanity, was receiving their eternal punishment at the same time?

I find that's a fun way of implying that these Christians are spineless cowards who accept anything from their "Daddy". "You can have your God, I'd prefer Hell with my loved ones anyway..."

Sat, 22 Jan 2011 05:24:47 UTC | #582325

Bernard Hurley's Avatar Comment 25 by Bernard Hurley

Comment 24 by MMAtheist :

Well, I prefer the rational arguments as well, but one emotional argument comes in handy when Christians try to "save me".

For the most part I'm content to leave religionists alone in their little dreamworld, but I'm afraid I'm allergic to being "saved". Once they try to do that the gloves are off - I don't take kindly to their condescension.

When I was younger, in the late 60's and 70's I used to verbally lay into them, but I'm afraid I've got a bit more cuddly as I've grown older. I would ask such questions as "Saved from what?", "Why do you think I need saving?" in order to establish whether they think their God will torture for ever non-believers in their particular brand of supernatural idiocy. Of course they always do but I want to hear it from their own mouths. it's then possible to compare their God's morality with that of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot, and to ask them why I should trust them more than a member of the Waffen-SS. I once reduced a young lady to tears while waiting for a train at Green Park underground station. I felt a but guilty about it afterwards, but, on the whole, I think she deserved it.

I find that's a fun way of implying that these Christians are spineless cowards who accept anything from their "Daddy". "You can have your God, I'd prefer Hell with my loved ones anyway..."

Why not tell them straight out that they are spineless cowards?

Sat, 22 Jan 2011 06:46:43 UTC | #582345

Orkimond's Avatar Comment 26 by Orkimond

Well the best emotional arguments are the Carl Sagan type arguments. Tell them to watch cosmos

Sat, 22 Jan 2011 06:54:54 UTC | #582347

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 27 by Schrodinger's Cat

Comment 8 by Steve Zara

The idea of this is not to convert, but to show that not having a belief in their god, or indeed any creator is not a frightening step.

If I may re-use Richard's analogy, there can be a gentle path down "Mount Unbelievable" towards lesser levels of belief, not a sudden plummet into the (supposed) abyss of atheism.

This may lead believers to be more at ease with atheism, even if they don't choose that path.

That is to underestimate the power of the human mind to create a 'Half way down the Mountain' God.

Sat, 22 Jan 2011 09:03:40 UTC | #582376

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 28 by Schrodinger's Cat

I don't think 'emotional' arguments work at all, especially as it's quite clear some atheists have an every bit as emotional attachment to logic and reason. I doubt a creature that had no emotions at all would bother to argue rationality and it would have no emotional 'need' to. The best you'd get would be 'It does not compute'.

Sat, 22 Jan 2011 09:15:38 UTC | #582384

Pete H's Avatar Comment 29 by Pete H

It would work - but you're dealing with manipulation and there's a lot of effort and skill involved. As Robert Cialdini said: these non-rational influence techniques are coercive, like nuclear weapons. And the other side has them also. Religious leaders are normally far more adept at employing these techniques. Not so much in the mainstream churches, more in heavy duty cults like megachurches, scientology etc. But you can expect more sophisticated psychology from the mainstream churches as they get more desperate to compete with the likes of the emerging cults.

Therefore they wouldn’t be arguments against religion, in the sense of a reasoned train of consistent logic. The target wouldn't necessarily be aware they were subject to various tools of influence - ranging from dress to mannerisms and complements etc.

In a more open and honest confrontational approach you could generate some emotionally negative association with religious situations – ridicule, disgust, humiliation. But people have natural defenses against such a frontal attack. It would probably more effective to effect positive emotions towards an alternative affiliation.

Ideally what you want are highly trained and indoctrinated, sexually attractive people who can go door to door recruiting and evangelising for an atheist cult of science. (Perhaps they could sell vacuum cleaners, pyramid schemes, and time share property investments on the side to cover expenses.)

Reasoned argument could still be relevant, but only where there is an emotional link associated with the concept of reasoned argument. Perhaps to someone who represents reasonable argument to which someone has an emotional connection and admiration. Reasoned argument might then be something that is undertaken because it is emotionally driven.(Which sounds contradictory but you can get a sense of this along the lines of "What would Michael Faraday do in a situation like this?")

You would also have to provide your conversion target with more of what they are getting from their religious affiliation. Not many people would have that much time and energy. If you were to follow that path you’d want to identify people whose emotional affiliation needs are already substantially not being met via their religious beliefs and affiliation.

Sat, 22 Jan 2011 11:09:18 UTC | #582427

TheRationalizer's Avatar Comment 30 by TheRationalizer

Well I submitted a discussion on this matter. It covered an emotional argument against Islam by showing that it explicitly claims sex with slaves is objectively moral. For some reason though someone has decided not to approve the post.

I find this vetting process without feedback to be very frustrating!

Sat, 22 Jan 2011 11:13:14 UTC | #582432