Abrasive Atheists and Contrary Christians
For whatever reason, I got to thinking this morning about the fact that atheists have a way of accusing Christians of trying to “make converts.” It is common to see a topic on internet forums discussing the fact that Christians (and sometimes other religious groups) only want to convert you and convince you that you’re going to hell if you aren’t a Christian. Christians, apparently, can be a very contrary bunch. We are apparently very unpleasant to be around (for those who aren’t Christian) and constantly impose on other people.
I remain unaware of whether or not atheists realize that they are equally offensive to the spiritual population, regardless of “religion.” I have encountered atheist after atheist who wants to convince me that after death there is nothing. I find it at best irritating and at worst downright disheartening.
Before I continue, please recognize and understand that my purpose in this article is not to tear down any person of a particular belief structure, religion or denomination. Rather, I am writing to hopefully shed some light on the ways in which the behaviors exhibited by both Christians and Atheists alienate ourselves and one another.
The Basis of Belief
Faith is a strange thing. A person can have faith in anything. For example, I have faith that the sun will come up tomorrow morning the same as it has every day for the last twenty-nine years that I have been on earth. I have faith that the warm season follows the cold season. I base these beliefs on observations throughout a lifetime. I make assumptions based on what I have seen, heard and felt.
This is how beliefs are formed. We spent our lives, from the time that we are brand-new babies until our moment of death, learning about the world around us. Even a very young baby is developing a system of belief and trust. When she cries and her mother answers her, she develops the belief and trust that her mother will come when she cries. When he smiles, his grandfather smiles back.
We continue to learn in this way throughout our lives, and learning is nothing more than the development of a very specific set of beliefs.
Belief is also largely based on trust. When we are very young, we trust our parents. We trust that they will do what is right and good for us and that they will not lie to us. We learn this through specific disciplines and cause and effect. When we first reached for something hot, we didn’t understand the word “hot” when our mother used it. We only understood it after we touched that something hot and were burned.
Our parents guide and lead us using our trust. They tell us about Santa Claus and we believe because we trust our parents not to lie to us. As we get older, there are more adults and knowledgeable and trustworthy people in our lives, including first our teachers. While our parents might have taught us about Santa Claus and God (intangible things) our teachers tell us about science, about physics and biology, fact and theory. Later on, our friends teach us about ourselves and often teenagers build their self-image on the esteem of their peers.
Belief is established through a variety of sources, based on personal observations of things that we experience with each of our six senses.
Choosing Your Religion
Many of us grew up not being given a choice. We were either baptized soon after birth or perhaps some of the men were circumcised without being given so much as a choice in which god they would follow and worship. Most children of spiritual parents were dragged to church Sunday after Sunday or made to attend religion classes. Some have been sent to private religious schools. Children who stray from their parents’ own religious convictions are often ostracized by their parents and might be made to feel that they are no longer part of the family.
But at the end of the day, we all have a choice as adults. We all have the opportunity to choose our religious beliefs and there are sufficient resources available for you to make an informed decision about what most resonates with you. You might choose a religion that is far more spirit than “religion” such as Buddhism or Wicca or you might choose something with more structure such as Hinduism or Islam. Or you might even choose science over traditional religions.
Looking back at the previous segment, bear in mind that your decision largely based on the experiences that you have had and the observations you have made of the world around you. Religion is, in large part, the way in which we relate to our world.
Putting the Pressure On
I believe (based on my personal observations and experiences) that most world religions aren’t fanatical. Most practitioners of world religions do not attempt to force their viewpoints onto those who believe differently. I have never met a Hindi who cannot share gracefully her experiences with Hinduism. Most Muslim women I know are the same, though Muslim men can be quite exuberant about their faith in the right environment. Buddhists and Jewish men and women have also been more open minded in my experience. Even pagans, who can harbor a deep and hidden resentment of Christianity, tend to keep their feelings to themselves under most circumstances.
So what is it about Christians and atheists, and why can’t each group see what they are doing to the other?
First of all, let me state that I identify a religious group as being a group of people who are brought together by a particular set of beliefs. This means that atheism is a religion. I know that there are some atheists who will be offended by this statement, but I want to make myself clear.
The fact is that amongst others, these two groups deal in absolutes. Christians believe that if you don’t believe that Christ died for you that you will burn in eternal hell, and atheists (appear to) believe that scientific fact proves that spiritual people are inferior intellectually.
Christians want to save people from Satan and atheists want to save people from themselves. The truth is that both groups have the best of intentions, but often a poor attitude towards people who disagree with them.
The Problem with Christian Evangelism
I spent many years spiritually in the dark. I had religion, but I didn’t have spirit. I was much the same as many atheists except that I believed in a goddess. Throughout this period of time I was often accosted by Christians. They would scream at me, telling me that I was evil and that I was going to go straight to hell when I died. They were loud, they were rude, and they were often just incredibly inconsiderate of the feelings of someone who didn’t believe as they do.
For those who don’t know: Christians are called to evangelism. We are called to use the Gospel to bring others to salvation through Jesus Christ we (yes, we) believe that those who have not been washed in the blood of the Lamb are destined to hell. Some Christians become desperate to save others. Some believe that their salvation is based on the number of souls they save. These are the screamers and the yellers. They are also often the liars, the Christians who will tell you that your life will suddenly be different (better) once you have accepted Christ as your personal savior (it won’t).
Ladies and gentlemen, this behavior is just incredibly offensive. I’m a Christian and I’m offended by it! Don’t grab me and don’t shout at me. I have a history of dealing with verbal abuse and I do not want someone in my face and shouting about how I am going to go to hell. If you don’t know someone and don’t know their past, don’t make assumptions.
And therein is the primary problem with Christian evangelism: it is often based purely on assumptions. “I have not met you, therefore you don’t go to my church and therefore you are not saved.” I live in a city with literally thousands of (Christian) churches in every denomination. The fact that you don’t know me doesn’t make me an unbeliever or non-Christian!
Doing it the Christian Way
I don’t believe that the aforementioned “scare tactics” are Christian behavior. I accept that in the Gospels one can see that Jesus himself had quite a temper. He was quite rough on the Pharisees. But one must carefully observe the way He spoke to the woman at the well and how he handled Mary of Bethany as she sat at His feet while her sister worked around the house. Remember how He spoke to Nicodemus, and his kindness to the adulteress.
Jesus didn’t have to make assumptions, but I don’t believe that he would have. He judged people based on their actions and on His observations of them.
Remember that these people are no more evil than you are. They simply have different life experiences that have led them to form beliefs that are different from your own. It isn’t your job to “set them straight.” It isn’t your job to inform them of the risks of their current path in life. Your job is to reach out to them and to show them the love of Christ. Your job is to put your reasons before them and to give them your testimony (in a calm and rational way). Your job is to live as a testament to Jesus Christ every day. If you do, they will come to you as they have come to me just in the past one year as a Christian.
Atheists are Zealous Too!
Often enough, atheists are also zealous. I have had many occasions when I have been browsing a debate forum and have stumbled upon the atheist segment (usually larger than the spiritual segment) posting argument after argument for why science proves that Christians (it is almost always specifically Christians, and I will confess: I can’t blame the atheists with all the screaming going on!) are mentally ill in order to retain their belief in something that is spiritual.
I often read complaints about prayer requests on a public (non-religious) forum and atheists often get up in arms when someone offers to pray for them (a truly innocuous statement!). These statements are annoying, at worst, and I believe often give Christians and other spiritual segments a reason to consider the feelings of others before making the usual assumptions (in this case, that someone is a spiritual person!).
However, some atheists are truly abrasive, seemingly wishing to convert everyone to their way of thinking. These individuals feel that they are free to complain about Christian evangelism but their continued mockery and the pressure they place on the spiritual population to continually justify their beliefs is simply a different kind of evangelism.
Some Interesting Links
- How to Persuade an Atheist to Become Christian - wikiHow
While doing my research for this article, I came across this page on wikiHow. I was surprised, to say the least, to find something of this nature and believe it to be a very good, if misleading, read!
- Answers in Genesis - Creation, Evolution, Christian Apologetics
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics site aimed at better arming Christians to argue their case for God and for creationism. A truly wonderful resource with never-ending material to enjoy!
- The Science of Religion
I read a similar article some time back when it was posted on a religious debate forum of which I was a member. I thought this article proved to be quite interesting and I recommend that readers on both sides of the aisle read this!
My Hubs on Religion and Spirituality (mostly Christian)
- Are you living for Jesus or just for yourself?
What an interesting question! Recently this question came up on a forum of which I am a member, and it illicited a particularly thoughtful response from me. I have lived what I feel is an especially selfish...
- What Has God Done for You Today?
DISCLAIMER: This hub is written by a Christian for Christians. The attitudes in this article are very spiritual and may be offensive to some with differing points of view. Please respect the nature of the...
- Why I Believe in God: A Personal Journey
Having engaged in an enlightening and entertaining discussion of wandererh's hub Why Do Unbelievers Always Want Proof? I thought that it would be beneficial to those involved if I made a statement of faith...
- The Power of Forgiveness
When I was a younger woman, I was often encouraged to harbor ill-will towards my husband and others around me. This, to the minds of the older women who shared this particular piece of advice, was a way of...