Got faith? Peter Boghossian says get rid of it.
Boghossian is a philosophy instructor and author has authored a new book, "A Manual for Creating Atheists," that seeks to equip nonbelievers like him with the skills to convince believers to abandon their faith.
And while the book is sure to upset many religious people and even some atheists, it may signal a change in the way atheists want to promote their unbelief. Unlike previous best-selling atheists Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, Boghossian wants his readers to refrain from high-decible attacks against God and, instead, home in on faith.
He compares reasoning people out of it to administering treatment to drug addicts. "Faith," he writes, "is a virus."
To fight that virus, Boghossian's book details techniques for creating "street epistemologists" atheists trained to attempt to get believers to think more critically. He writes that he has used these techniques on friends, students, strangers and prison inmates. They include:
• Avoid facts: Facts seldom persuade, but getting someone to question why they believe can cause them to re-evaluate.
• Avoid showing frustration: "De-conversion" takes longer than conversion, he writes, and requires patience for those who would make nonbelievers.
• Avoid politics: They sidetrack the discussion, which should be about faith.
"A Manual for Creating Atheists" is Boghossian's first book. He is known within atheist circles for a 2012 lecture he gave entitled "Jesus, the Easter Bunny and Other Delusions: Just Say No!" that became popular on YouTube.
And despite the title, Boghossian claims he is not proselytizing a loaded word for atheists because of its association with religion but "educating."
"Proselytizing, by definition, means converting people and having them value being closed off to alternative beliefs and ways of thinking," Boghossian said. "I'm advocating that we help people value belief revision and enable them to develop a mechanism that lets them differentiate reality from make-believeland. This is almost the opposite of proselytizing or converting people."
Kurt Volkan, founder of Pitchstone Publishing, the book's publisher, said atheism's discomfort with proselytizing may be changing.
"I think atheists would like there to be more nonbelievers," said Volkan, also an atheist. "It is a title that invited opinion, discussion and debate, which we like to see as a publisher."
Proselytizing or not, the book quickly struck a nerve. "A Manual for Creating Atheists" sold out its first printing before its Nov. 1 release date and ran through a second printing in just two weeks. It also broke into Amazon's top 100 overall best-seller list a milestone usually reserved for better-known atheist authors from much larger publishers.
Not everyone is a fan. Tom Gilson, the national field director of Ratio Christi, a student apologetics alliance, has followed Boghossian since first viewing his Easter Bunny lecture. He has read the book and criticized it on his blog, ThinkingChristian.net.
Gilson finds particular fault with Boghossian's definition of faith as "belief without evidence" and "pretending to know things you don't," which he calls both "weak" and "erroneous."
"He is very strong on the importance of the Socratic method and the importance of objective truth and the importance of evidence," he said. "As a Christian, I agree with every one of those. Where he is weak is in defining faith and explaining why he disagrees with it."
Even so, he believes Boghossian and his street epistemologists should be taken seriously.
"He is the best tactician the atheists have," Gilson said. "He understands human psychology. He understands persuasion theory. He knows what it will take to confuse and maybe disabuse people of their faith if they don't have a solid foundation of why they believe."
c. 2013 Religion News Service