Christians, including yours truly, have a tendency to complain about the anti-religious state of the culture and the continual, creeping encroachment of secularism into every part of it. But the truth is that we still live in a society that is overwhelmingly positive towards Christians and Christianity. No matter how much I complain, which is a lot, I remain thankful that God has allowed me to live where the gravest consequences facing outspoken Christians are the occasional snide remark or insulting bumper sticker. If you’re a Christian who’s feeling oppressed, talk to some Christians from the Sudan or China, and you’ll start to feel more like me.
But be that as it may, we also live in a society where atheism is a strong and growing influence. Atheism used to be almost taboo. It was something you encountered only rarely in America, and then only from some of our designated atheists like Carl Sagan or Isaac Asimov. No more. There are a raft of anti-religion books in your local bookstore right now, and more coming every day. They aren’t tucked away in the back either; they’re widely-accepted mainstream publications right there on the new releases table with Oprah’s latest anointed. Atheists are comfortable with declaring themselves atheists, and they’re comfortable with expressing their opinions in public. Look around; you’ll see your friendly neighborhood atheist as close as the nearest car adorned with a Darwin-mutated Jesus fish.
How should we, as Christians, handle this? Unfortunately, I don’t think most of us are prepared to cope properly when we encounter atheists. Too often, I see Christians respond to atheist arguments with anger (“How dare you!?!”) or fear (“What if they’re right?!?!”), neither of which gains us much ground.
Of course, that kind of response is understandable. If I was telling someone a story about something nice that my dad did for me, and that person responded by saying coolly, perhaps condescendingly, “You know, your dad doesn’t really exist; he’s just a figment of your imagination,” my first response would probably be something of a flip out.
But flipping out in that situation is not helpful to anybody; it hurts the Christian’s testimony and leaves the atheist firmly entrenched in his atheism. If we’re going to be encountering more atheists (and we are), then we have to be prepared to do it in a way that will at least make them think that there might just be something to this Jesus business.
That’s why I want to spend a few posts addressing atheists and how Christians can reach out to this uniquely hard-to-reach group. And I’m pulling in a friend who can provide perspective from both sides of the debate.
Jennifer F. is a former atheist who converted to Catholicism a little over a year ago. “How in the world did that happen?” you ask. Well, you can read all about her conversion and her continuing journey at her blog, ConversionDiary.com. Jen is very forthcoming about her past life, and surprisingly knowledgeable about Christianity for such a newbie. She’s a prodigy, I tells ya! Anyways, I’m fortunate that she’s agreed to catch some of my questions and throw back some insight.
So, tune in to this blog and Conversion Diary over the next few weeks as we address the topic of approaching atheists, and please join in the conversation in our comments sections.