Surviving a Conversation with an Atheist


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free
Coffee in the morningphoto © 2008 c???a?o ?a?z??a | more info (via: Wylio)

Today I am thrilled to feature a longtime reader and one of my favorite bloggers, Alise Wright, for our Saturday guest post. Alise writes about the ups and downs of the faith experience with such honesty and authenticity, each post reads like a conversation with an old friend.  Check out her blog here, or follow her on Twitter here

If you’re interested in contributing a guest post of your own, see the guidelines. 

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About a year and a half ago my husband revealed to me that he no longer shared my Christian faith. That was a strange moment in our relationship and when he first came out to me as an atheist, I made some horribly wrong assumptions. I would like to take a few minutes of your time to help you not make those or other mistakes if you happen to meet a self-identifying atheist out in the wild.

1.  Please don’t assume that they’re evil. I ate dinner with over 200 atheists a few months ago and despite Hemant Mehta’s numerous posts about eating babies, I didn’t see “human infants” on a special menu. Truly, in the past 18 months, one of the most offensive things I’ve seen was this billboard put up by Answers In Genesis. The idea that because someone doesn’t believe in God means that they will become a murderer is very frustrating, particularly as the wife of one of “those people.” C.S. Lewis suggested that one of the proofs for God is our common morality. To assume that because someone lacks belief in God means that they no longer possess a sense of right and wrong strikes me as a strange way to prove God’s existence.

2. Please don’t assume that it’s just a phase. Most atheists who have “deconverted” from a religious background have studied it and other religions thoroughly before choosing not to believe. Painting it as a “phase” denies the seriousness of both their study and their decision. I would certainly not want to have any encounter with God resulting in a closer devotion to my faith called a phase and neither should we use that terminology for those who have left the faith.

3. Please don’t say “It takes just as much faith to be an atheist as it does to be a Christian.” Most atheists will say that they are empiricists. That being the case, they are just looking for proof. It doesn’t take faith for me to not believe in Big Foot. If there was proof that he existed, I’d be open to it, but it’s come up short so far. Atheists feel the same way about Christian proofs for God. Non-faith is not the same as faith.

4. Please don’t assume that they weren’t really saved before they became an atheist. No one wants to be called a liar and this kind of statement reads that way. Maybe this is more for me than for my husband, but I don’t like to think that I spent 13 years with someone who may have lied to me about such a foundational part of our relationship, particularly because I know that he was very sincere in his Christian faith. Throwing more doubt at someone’s unbelief, particularly if they were a believer before is damaging to them and to those who love them.

5. Please don’t assume that they’re unhappy. As Christians we often say that our joy is found in our faith. As a result, it’s easy to make the assumption that those who have no faith are unhappy. But as generalizations go, this is just not true. There are a number of things in the world that are fascinating and beautiful and most atheists I have met are fully appreciative of those things and find joy in them.

The most common mistake we make with just about any group that is “the other” is that we tend to make assumptions. And the best way to avoid assumptions is to ask questions. And the best way to get to the questions is to just be a friend. Which is really what most of us want anyway. To be known.

One need not share a faith to share that.

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What have you learned from having conversations with those who hold different beliefs than you? How can such conversations remain constructive, with neither participant making unfair assumptions?

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