What Do You Say to an Atheist?

Come, Eat & Laugh With Us

Come, Eat & Laugh With Us

I read an article a few years ago that stated that perhaps atheism is the new normal for the future. It has been fashionable to ask atheists, “What god do you not believe in?” because you and I probably do not believe in that god either.  You know the gods, the ones who strike people down with cancer or send a tornado through their house because they said a bad word or killed them and their friends because they’re gay.

I don’t believe in those gods.  And, I don’t believe in the god who keeps a naughty and nice list and heaps gold and material possessions on those who send money to TV ministries.

However, that question: “What god do you not believe in” has lost its power in repetition. I would no longer ask it.

I am considering just how to speak and talk to those who profess no belief in God. And, I’m considering how to be welcoming and loving to those who hold to that belief. What many non-believing people seem to not realize is that a belief in no god is as much a belief as a belief in God. And, furthermore, this belief will inform the actions of those who hold it, just as our belief in a God of love, peace, and justice will inform ours.

One of the characteristics of a Christian community since the beginning is love and the care that we take of each other. It was out of the Christian communities that hospitals, hospices, and hotels were formed. Because of our belief that God will provide for us even after death, we can care for those with illnesses that might cause our own death or disfigurement. Because of our understanding that God loves and redeems, we work for restitution for those who have been harmed by others and also for rehabilitation of criminals. We collectively do all these things even though I do not personally do them.

Perhaps we might invite them to join us in service. Have a hammer? Want to help build a wheelchair ramp? Want to mentor in the schools? How about helping these ladies bring in the clothes bags and sort them for the clothes closet?  Or, invite them to a meal.  We all eat.

How do we help people who come seeking a sense of the holy when they do not even know they are looking for it? How do we extend love and acceptance to people who do not realize they need it?

Many people are turned off by Christians these days, even repulsed and perhaps, rightly so. Throughout history, people have had varying problems with the church, with the wealth gathered from the poor to build beautiful cathedrals, with the wars fought against Muslims or Jews, or with the fracturing of the church into many denominations. There are so many ways we can become arrogant, so many ways that our actions do not match our faith.

It seems to me that many of the dialogs between prominent atheists and Christians have not been satisfying.  Perhaps talking is not the thing to do after all.  Maybe a project and a meal.

What do you think?

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About Sonja Roberts Dalglish

I love people, math, physics, and theology. I love mysteries which may explain the list above. I am a polio survivor, having had the disease in August 1954. The vaccine was declared safe in April 1955. I am very pro vaccines. They have increased the health and well being of the world. Presently, I am living just west of Corpus Christi, in Kingsville. For naturalists, this seems to be where the coastal plane and the Wild Horse Dessert meet. It is flat which gives us beautiful sunsets. One of our concerns is climate change. We are already hot and dry and getting hotter and dryer. The cattlemen and women are having to graze fewer livestock these days.
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2 Responses to What Do You Say to an Atheist?

  1. Mary Breden says:

    Good questions. I’ve known many people who called themselves atheists. They were, in general, as kind (if not kinder), as generous (if not more so), as caring (though most often more caring!) than the Christians I’ve known.

    I left the church while I was in college and though I never thought of myself as an “atheist” I spent the next 25+ years not wanting to be associated in any way with the word “Christian” – which I had come to associate with all manner of bigotry, hatred and narrow-mindedness.

    So, it seems to me that at least part of reaching out to those who seem to be rejecting God is to somehow help them understand the diversity that makes up the Christian community. I can’t say that the Christians who drove me away “aren’t Christian” – perhaps they have as much claim to the word as I do. But somehow we need to let the world know that not all Christians believe that God hates all the same people they hate… that not all of us are obsessed with pointing out everyone else’s “sins”… that not all of us take the Bible literally… that, in the end, we aren’t really different from everyone else. We’re all human. Jesus died for all of us.

    • Thank you for your thoughts, Mary. Although I’ve never left the church, I’ve had very similar experiences to yours. But, I have found myself so appalled at some statements made by Christian spokesmen that I have said that I cannot recognize them as being Christian – even if they self-identify that way. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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