What can Christians do for atheists, and themselves?

Question from Lane:
Reading these essays here on ATA has both strengthened my faith in God and given me a better respect for atheists, by giving me a more comprehensive understanding. The color blue does not look the same to everyone (being subjective, “blue” is a label), but everyone should be encouraged to express what and how they believe.

That said, I have two questions:

1. What things can us Christians do that benefit atheists?
2. What are the disruptive or distracting things that Christians should avoid?

Answer by SmartLX:
I’ve written before that examining one’s own beliefs can lead to either strengthening or abandoning them. I came to this site as a reader (among other sites, religious and otherwise) to see if there was anything in the challenges submitted by Christians that might restore my faith in God, and nothing did. If you’re secure in your faith then good for you.

The number one thing Christians can do for atheists is something a lot of Christians already do, which is to support secularism in government and society. This does not mean the absence of religion but merely the separation of church and state or other authorities, so that no one religion gains power over others or over the irreligious. As an atheist in Australia I’ve got it pretty good (I’m a bit worried about how the school chaplaincy program will eventually intersect with my son’s education), but here as elsewhere the problems atheists have are mostly caused by specific religions exerting their political and/or social power to affect non-adherents in all kinds of ways. A minor example is the endlessly repeated fight over monuments to the Ten Commandments in US courthouses. An extreme one is the unchecked victimisation of atheist and secularist writers in Bangladesh.

Other than supporting secularism, Christians can help atheists and other non-Christians just by learning more about other belief systems, which will prevent a lot of assumptions around the idea that everyone will think or behave like a Christian in certain situations. I’ll come back to this point.

Apart from literally attacking non-believers, which doesn’t happen much in most countries, the most disruptive and distracting thing Christians do is proselytise. I don’t actually hold this against them, because after all many of them believe they are commanded to do so, and even if not then they still think accepting Jesus is the single best thing people can do for themselves. Put more simply, if you think people are wrong about something important then you see changing their minds as helping them out, and that’s fine. But there are absolutely wrong ways to go about it.

One very common approach is to not only utilise but monopolise public speaking platforms and other one-way communication. The market street in my old hometown had a speakers’ stone, where you could talk about anything for 30 minutes. An organised squad of evangelists tag-teamed the stone for hours, every high-traffic day for months. (I hope they eventually changed the rules but it’s more likely that they just removed the stone.) A large percentage of public/community access television airtime is pre-booked by the devout. This approach can bleed into private conversation too, when any opportunity to steer the topic to what God would think is seized upon.

I think it stems from the idea that the Word of the Lord is literally magical, that it has the power to claim souls not merely through persuasion but by serving as a conduit for divine influence. Therefore there’s a lot of effort to spread the Word with speeches, tracts and railroaded small talk, but not much effort to make it stick. They think the Word will do the work for them, and good luck to them.

What I would suggest instead, if your fellow Christians want to engage others on the topic, is to truly engage with people. The spray-and-pray approach of declaiming the spiritual facts as you see them, or handing them out on an A4 sheet folded into a pamphlet, does not give any opportunity for reply and does not therefore put your own ideas up for discussion or challenge. People are far more likely to listen to you if they think you are willing to listen to them too, and that means exposing yourself to ideas that might challenge your faith. It’s a risk that I seriously hope Christians are willing to take, because it’s win-win; if their faith turns out to be unsupportable they can rid themselves of it and look at the world anew (perhaps re-finding faith later), or like you they can become more confident for the experience and also better able to co-exist with non-Christians.

The short and flattering version of all this, Lane, is that many Christians could afford to be more like you. We get a lot of questions from Christians, but most are really flat-out challenges that they think will stump us cold. I much prefer when they genuinely expect and want to read an answer. That’s what engaging means.

7 thoughts on “What can Christians do for atheists, and themselves?”

  1. Christ said that “they’ll know that you are Christians by your love” so I think this is the single most important thing Christians can do for Atheists. Atheists can not explain God anymore than they, if you think about it, can explain the concept of love. Love should have no place in the theory of evolution. It is illogical at best and useless at most. Yet the average Atheists finds love so rewarding especially when they get that warm fuzzy feeling, which I bet they try not to dwell upon, else they start asking “why should I feel so go” and start thinking and asking is there a God.
    I’m sorry Smart LX has declared that he has found nothing in this site to give him a reason to change his mind about God. This leads me to believe that he just didn’t take any of the things and questions seriously enough to even intertwined them. He seems to be more interested in embracing his false sense of insecurity not wanting there to be God, then honestly seeking Him. He can not so much far up on the IQ scale then many of the used to be Atheists who have done an about face declaring that either there is God or at least someone godlike with the intelligence to have created all.
    Smart LX why not look into a few of these previous used to be champions of Atheism but changed their minds, sitING their different reasons that caused them to recant Atheism and embrace the God concept. Just show how they are in error with the reasons they put forth. I for one would love to see your massive intellect at work.

    1. Gerald, I think I’ll skip over the inherent assertion that there is something there to explain, and the rather insulting rationalisation of my position, and pick up on the last point. Which “previous used to be champions of Atheism” would those be specifically? Is Antony Flew among them, perchance? Kirk Cameron maybe?

      1. For much of his career Flew was known as a strong advocate of atheism, arguing that one should presuppose atheism until empirical evidence of a God surfaces. He also criticised the idea of life after death,[4] the free will defence to the problem of evil, and the meaningfulness of the concept of God.[5] In 2003 he was one of the signatories of the Humanist Manifesto III.[6] However, in 2004 he stated an allegiance to deism, more specifically a belief in the Aristotelian God. He stated that in keeping his lifelong commitment to go where the evidence leads, he now believed in the existence of a God.[7]

        1. Yes he did, and I do not think that his reasons for doing so are sound as they boil down to the argument from design. His intellectual acuity in his old age has been brought up as a factor, especially since he admitted that his book There Is A God was written almost entirely by apologist Roy Abraham Varghese, but even if Flew fully agreed with what was written while of sound mind his rationale is not convincing to others. I just think he went from right to wrong, which does happen to people.

          Anyone else?

          1. Flew’s only apparent reason for becoming a deist: “My one and only piece of relevant evidence [for an Aristotelian God] is the apparent impossibility of providing a naturalistic theory of the origin from DNA of the first reproducing species… [In fact] the only reason which I have for beginning to think of believing in a First Cause god is the impossibility of providing a naturalistic account of the origin of the first reproducing organisms.” (Quote taken from Anthony Carrier’s 2014 article about Flew).

            Which, given the continued research into abiogenesis, does not appear to be an impossible task.

            Not to mention that the very concept is a logical fallacy, one that has been pointed out on this website before. To claim that it is impossible for life to have started on it’s own, and therefore conclude that some OTHER life had to be responsible for its existence, makes no sense. It begs the question of how the OTHER (in this case god) came to be, since the god is also a life and by the stated premise must have had a creator. It’s a endless merry go round of endless causes…

  2. Thanks Smarty, that is very helpful; secularism, understanding of others, and engaging others. When some few loud Christians try to make *everyone* a disciple (the proselytizing you described), it turns very sensitive subjects into hot button issues, when the bible only says to “make disciples” which is a rather open-ended command that Christians are supposed to carry out in set with other higher commands (which in today’s world I interpret as carrying out discipleship within the church, welcoming all who are interested and responding to the inquiry of those who are curious, and being good neighbors to other Christians and Non-Christians alike, committed to collective good works). What those other Christians do is similar to the endeavor to create Artificial Intelligence when it already exists everywhere, in rivers for example. (The self-organizing bottom sediments sense and record from the waves and flowing of surface water, like our minds do to the world as we know it; the water carving information into patterns of the sand is a type of communication and consciousness.)

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