Conversations, discussions, and debates. The best way to formulate your opinions, think of new arguments, and advance your knowledge is by having a conversation, whether it's a friendly discussion or a heated debate.
Some theists preach and run; they do a preach-by, in which they drop one comment telling others that "Jesus is king" (which doesn't sound brainwashed at all) and that people should "turn to God" or something like that, and then they go away and don't respond any further. They don't really do their "duty" to spread the faith, as they don't give any reason why people should accept their worldview or explain the difference between them and others who do the same thing for conflicting beliefs.
If theists just do this, they will of course not actually convert anyone. But that's a good thing; we don't need more people believing in crazy mythology. More importantly, if theists preach and run, they will never be intellectually stimulated and won't ever hear the other side of the argument (that God doesn't exist). Open, honest discussion must be advocated.
Some theists are willing to discuss, but their brainwashed propaganda is laughable and their dogmatic mindset won't allow them to actually listen to arguments. I'd like to think rational and logical arguments get through to some people (many atheists were theists before, after all), but deconversion is a lengthy process and it is impossible to tell if one specific discussion had an impact.
Nonetheless, discussing with dogmatic people helps get the brain working, further develop one's arguments, and come up with new ideas for arguments (that can later be developed with some peaceful time to think). Here's one conversation I had, earlier today (it could've been prior to midnight in America, though).
This Christian, responding to other people criticizing religion on a comment thread on my Facebook page, wrote, "I think everyone who is bashing Christianity has not actually read the bible and I don't think y'all know the real information. You know only what has been fed to you."
This is the classic kind of dogmatic thinking many theists display. They think only they have read the Bible and everyone else just gets it wrong all the time, which I think is beside the point, since the prior discussion was about the bigotry that exists within Christianity. I told her many atheists were Christians before deconverting (and deconverting doesn't entail dereading the Bible); I said many lifelong atheists like myself have read the Bible, as well.
She said, "They read the bible with the mind set of already deciding that the bible is unntrue," which is an ignorant response in two ways. First, it's the classic argument that "you only understand it if you agree with me." Any criticisms means the critic is either biased or "didn't get it." Second, I said many atheists used to be Christians. So, people who were Christians for many years before deconverting read the Bible with the mindset that it's untrue?
She then said that she was an atheist, agnostic, and has gone back to the Bible because "there is no way whatsoever that what is in the Bible is false." But many things in the Bible are verifiably false: God creating the world and life in their current state within the last ten thousand years, the flood, the Tower of Babel, and the flat Earth, to name a few. The stories that cannot truly be proved one way or another, like virgin birth or resurrection, have absolutely no substantiation except they are depicted in myths.
There are also many odd things. Why would God be male if there are no goddesses for him with whom to mate? Why did everything important occur in the Middle East? Why would God create man and woman differently? Why did God not understand the simple mechanics of genetics (like inbreeding generally being a bad idea)? Why did God need an elaborate plot to forgive us for the terrible crime of having ancestors who ate some of his fruit? Why doesn't God just destroy the devil? Why did God create a world with finite resources? How can the future be predetermined with free will supposedly still existing? This is just scratching the surface of the rich source of insanity that is religion.
The Christian had a problem with this, of course, and tried her best to argue for her sake. The following paragraphs are her response split into separate arguments.
She wrote that "God doesn't need a ‘goddess’ to mate with for he is God, and sex is an earthly thing and is simply needed only to mate and repopulate the earth." She missed the point of what I was saying, of course. Why does God need to be male if there's no reason for him to be male? Is he the product of a patriarchal society, perchance?
She continued, "Inbreeding would've happened even if there was a big bang and organisms formed and all of that because there needed to be a start to the earth." Once again, she missed the point. It is irrelevant that life had to begin somewhere. God is an intelligent being, who should've been able to foresee the problems with inbreeding and create more than one human right away. Also, we started with single-celled organisms that could more easily mutate, for better and worse; bacteria still just divide themselves and they thrive, whereas if a human mates with a relative, it can have dire consequences.
"God created man and woman differently because you need a man and a woman to make babies. Why did God make it like that? Well I don't know, Im not God. But I do know that Adam was made from the dust of the earth and that Eve was made from Adams rib. God made genetics, he knows way more than any of us small humans could ever contemplate," she pressed on. And oh, how she missed the point, time and time again.
When I wondered why God would create man and woman differently, I didn't mean why he'd make us different. Why did God use different methods for creating man and woman? Why didn't this all-knowing god know from the beginning that he needed both a man and a woman for sexual reproduction? Why didn't he create more than two people right away, to avoid inbreeding and the problem with genetics about which this theist thought he knows so much?
She then said, "He didn't need an elaborate plot? Im not sure what plot it is that you are speaking of? Sometimes the crimes or wrong doins of our parents or ancestors affect us. Like my mother was in jail for 13 years of my life and I am only 17 and I have had to suffer through that time with her because I didn't have her here."
The elaborate plot of which I spoke is of course God's plan to save us, which was to impregnate a woman, be born into the world as himself yet someone else, and then die to forgive us for the crimes of which he accused us. And her sad analogy about her mother is faulty; a better one would be that she, too, would be punished, put in jail, for her mother's crime, which I'd guess she wouldn't support.
She said, "God will destroy the devil. Have you ever read the bible? Do you realize there are things in the bible that actually have happened recently and are happening today?" But why can't an all-powerful god just snap his finger and destroy the devil right away? And can God make a rock so heavy even he can't lift it? It's also very laughable that the Bible makes predictions; if it did, everything would be predetermined, there'd be no free will, and God would punish us for crimes we didn't choose to commit.
"God is allowing us all to live in a world he created and He is giving us all the choice to either love him or reject him," her indoctrinated mind thought made sense. First of all, faith isn't a choice; one cannot choose to believe in something, like two plus two equaling five. Second of all, the choice (if one assumes it is a choice) is between worshipping a totalitarian leader and being punished for not worshipping said totalitarian leader. Instead of "convert or die," it's "convert or be tortured forever."
She argued, "If the bible was simply written by man don't you think that a lot of things would be different? I mean really, what man says sex is bad outside of marriage on their own? What man is really going to make up that rule himself?" I don't think it would be different, though. Religion is meant to control the masses; the people who invented religions didn't care about other men's sexual desires. Also, to regard sex as something bad outside of marriage affects women negatively, too. It's quite the generalization to assume that all men want to sleep around and all women only want sex within the confines of marriage.
Her arguments are tiresome, but let's press forward to the end: "There has to be a God. There is a God. This earth, our bodies, all way too intricate to have happened by accident." Here's the problem many theists have; they say there has to be a god and then assume it must be theirs. They've already decided, even though there's nothing to suggest there actually is a god.
We don't know the origin of the universe. Evolution isn't random, like many theists think; mutations are random, but the natural selection is not. Things happening randomly is very possible, though; there's no reason why things cannot occur randomly. Only people's desire for purpose (even though there is no objective purpose) makes them think nothing can be random. And, of course, if we're too intricate to exist without a creator, said creator must be so much more intricate and in need of an even more intricate designer, as has been pointed out many times before.
Near the end, she said, "I encourage you to test God. Open your heart and your soul and ask God to prove himself to you. And just saying, its not just God who is real, but Jesus Christ his only son out Lord, who WAS born of the virgin Mary, who was hung on a cross and whipped and flogged and beaten for crimes he did not commit. And Im not sure if you know what flogging is, but its horrific and no one would ever take that for the whole world except Jesus, because he knew what would happen if he didn't, and he loves us all so much that he died for us, even for you. And I may not know all the answers, but I know in my heart of hearts, without a shadow of a doubt that God the father, God the son, and God the holy spirit loves us all and that the bible is true."
Many people believe "without a shadow of a doubt" in things that contradict the faith of other people who believe "without a shadow of a doubt", so that's no argument. This theist, like so many others, is biased, inclined to reject criticisms of her religion and the Bible; many things in the Bible are verifiably false, after all.
If Jesus is God, did he really "die" for us, in a mortal sense of the word (not to mention he resurrected, allegedly)? He's still the master of the universe and all that. This is the elaborate plot of which I spoke before. Why didn't God just forgive us (for the terrible crime of eating his fruit and not being enslaved to him)? Because religions are invented to control people and therefore they need an incentive for people to blindly accept them without ever questioning.
Also, to "try God" is a very odd concept, as if one could go to a store and buy some faith. Different religions all make the same claims, all with the same conviction, all knowing they're right and everyone else is wrong, all without any substantiation. This sort of makes one wonder if they're all just full of shit.
She finally concluded, "He hates the sin, not the sinner." This is the classic excuse to justify bigotry (not that she necessarily was a bigot). If God truly loved us, believing in him and worshipping him would be no prerequisite for heaven, only being a good person would. And even bad people wouldn't be punished for all eternity. Most, if not all, religions are too inconsistent for me to even consider them.
This conversation was preceded by a brief objection by her to my blog post "Freedom of religion insults me", after which I responded to her (and another theist) in "Theists miss the point". The last point I want to make in this blog post is this: The way for humankind to progress is through open and honest dialogue, which also requires free speech.