Why I Go To Church, And Why Other Atheists Should, Too.
Despite atheism’s substantial growth the past few years, misconceptions and myths abound about what atheists actually think and believe. Are you a militant atheist? If so, here are a few examples of what Christians think of you.
I’m sure most of you realize that you often can’t trust what atheists say. After all, if there is no absolute authority, there is no basis for right or wrong (just one’s own opinion). Thus, atheists can say whatever they want—even if it is not the truth.
— Ken Ham
“Radical atheists like the British Humanist Association should apologize for Hitler. But they should not stop there. They also need to issue an apology for the 67 million innocent men, women and children murdered under Stalin, and the 77 million innocent Chinese killed by Mao. Hitler, Stalin and Mao were all driven by a radical atheism, a militant and fundamentally dogmatic brand of secular extremism. It was this anti-religious impulse that allowed them to become mass murderers.”
“When natural man embraces atheism, you often end up with a ticking time bomb. The seething anger lies just beneath the surface for many atheists. Even for those “sophisticated atheists” who are able to put up a good front for the public, their “inner workings” are usually filled with rage against God and Christians.
In that sense, atheists unwittingly help to prove the truth of Christianity by their hatred for it.”
“I assert that suicide is the only consistent action for an atheist to commit once he realizes the ultimate meaninglessness of his life in a world without a God.”
A local pastor, Ronnie Floyd, tweeted the following last week:
If you are going to influence people toward a common goal, you must have a relationship with them.
I’m sure Ronnie didn’t have atheism in mind when he said this, but I think it is right on. Arguing with people online can be quite cathartic, but what if there’s another way?
Ever notice how, whenever someone who’s vehemently opposed to homosexuality changes their mind about it, it’s always because they befriended someone who’s gay? They find they can’t reconcile the fucked up views they had with the wonderful person they’ve gotten to know. Is it possible this could work for atheists?
To explore this, I’ve started taking some of my fellow atheists to church with me on Sundays. I have tried to outline below my reasons for doing so.
Build An Open Dialogue
Ever notice how, when an atheist talks to a Christian online, the conversation turns violent and argumentative after about 10 minutes in? And 15 minutes in, the Christian resolves to stop listening and never speak to the atheist again?
When you’re in their church, it’s different. Just by being there, you show that you’re open and willing to listen to new experiences. You’re bound to be more respectful, too. Most people want respect given to them before they’re willing to give it back. This axiom holds true in this case as well. When you show believers respect, they’ll be much more likely to listen to what you have to say.
An open dialogue benefits both parties. When our two sides don’t talk to each other, or just talk past each other, the misconceptions about each other spreads and the divide between us grows. That’s how the demonization on both sides starts.
Shatter Myths and Preconceptions
This strategy does not work well online because it’s too easy to turn us off. Being challenged? Just close the page. Block the user. Delete the comment.
Pastors can’t delete you from their church audience. They may ask you to leave if you’re disruptive, but chances are they’ll be happy for the opportunity to explain to you what it is about their experience that’s so special.
I go in and listen to people. I get to know them. I build relationships with them. In this way, just by being there, I disprove the misconceptions at the beginning of this article. It becomes much harder for them to demonize me when they know me personally. I don’t even have to give any arguments to do this. I just have to be myself and be honest.
Learn what people believe
This one is probably unique to me, but I was never a Christian. Despite being interested in religion, I’m ignorant of quite a lot of the inner workings. I have not read most of the bible. So, I honestly do have quite a bit I can learn from the experience. I can learn by reading on my own, but it’s not the same. I, too, probably have misconceptions about Christians. How will I know what those are without first getting to know the people I disagree with?
Rather than reading about their beliefs in books and laughing about it at atheist meetings, I think it’s a much more honest experience to learn about it in the churches themselves. For some who’ve already experienced Christianity, this is not a relevant point. But to me, it is.
Planting Seeds of Doubt
Now, I’m not saying to compromise your beliefs. I love Hitchens’ confrontationalist attitude, and I endorse it. I think people who are offended just at having their beliefs questioned at all need to get over it. I love reading vicious takedowns of ignorant religious drivel.
I’m not for going in and pretending to be a believer. When I go to church, I tell them I’m an atheist. I also point out why I think they’re wrong, and I ask them questions I know they don’t have good answers to. No Christian ever loses their faith overnight, however. It’s a process that takes years. You can’t argue someone out of their religion. The best you can do is make them think. So, then it just becomes a question of, “How do we make them think?”
Many Christians are in an environment where they will never be challenged, and these types of people are not reading your atheist propaganda on the Internet. You may only get the opportunity to plant that seed of doubt if you also open yourself up to their experiences as well.
I spoke with Jerry DeWitt yesterday about this, and he mentioned that there are also a couple groups in Kansas City going to churches and engaging people in dialogue: The Midwest Skeptics Society and Provocateurs and Peacemakers. Interesting. Perhaps this could become a trend?