Chatting with an atheist

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I took a vow for Lent that I would not get into political arguments. I didn’t, however, promise not to aggravate people in religious discussions.

A few days ago, I ran across an article—written by an atheist—that said “we must offend religion more.” Naturally, I clicked on an article with that phrase in the title. The idea is that atheists should get more confrontational to combat a society dominated by religion.

The writer made some interesting points, and some hypocritical ones too. It was more about world events, but it still lumped all people of faith into an undesirable group. The author said that people should not shy away from offending others because it weakens their own voices. People should not be politically correct for fear of upsetting muslims, for example. Apparently, the author suffered from the delusion that atheists have been tolerant. Interestingly, the writer correctly pointed out “no Western constitution or legal code guarantees citizens the right to go about life free from offense.”

Remember that the next time an anti-religious bigot is whining about being offended.

Theology is a belief about the nature of God. Believing there is no God is also a theology. I wrote about atheist churches last year and mentioned them to an atheist this week. He got offended that I lumped him into a group with Christians because Christians go to churches. The atheist church is a real thing, even if you hate the word church. They call it Sunday Assembly, but an assembly by any other name…

It made me think.

I’ve talked, and written, many times about people who have been hurt by religion. It happens a lot. I struck up a conversation with an atheist young man who was, apparently, angry at some Christians he knew growing up. I didn’t get a lot of detail from him other than he had attended a fundamentalist school as a kid.

That would burn a lot of people out, it’s safe to say.

There are many reasons why people become a nonbeliever. I have met a lot of people who have been hurt by religion. For many, they were never exposed to faith as a child. For some, they offer shallow pseudo-intellectual explanations like “because, science.” Granted, thinking people understand that science and religion are not enemies but many people look for conflict to justify their choices. For too many, religion is a bunch of rules (it is) that they can’t tolerate.

UCLA did a survey of incoming college freshmen that revealed an interesting statistic. 27.5% of incoming students claim “none” as their religious affiliation. It’s time we, as Christians, stopped sheltering ourselves behind walls and stained glass—hiding from the world. We have to be visible in the world even if it offends people. As the writer says, being silent out of fear of being offensive only weakens your message.

In another story, the atheist comedian Penn Jillette says “How much do you have to HATE somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”

Most people are not offended by the message of Christianity. A lot of people are offended by Christians. We can share our faith without condemnation and judgment. Tell people about grace, forgiveness and eternal life. Calling people sinners and telling them they are going to hell has never saved a soul.

If you want to reach people, you have to bear fruit—not hate—and show people the difference between a life of faith and religion. If you meet someone like the angry young man I encountered, show them love and respect. Chances are good they have not experienced a lot of that from Christians in the past. They will probably think they are smarter than you “because, science.” The hipster at the coffee shop brooding over life’s burdens doesn’t actually understand science either, but it makes him feel superior. That’s ok. Be kind.

If you pray for them, pray for their well being. God doesn’t need a laundry list of everything you think is wrong with someone else. Pray for good in their lives. Pray for God to bless them.

Everyone is looking for something. Everyone has a theology.

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