Re: [asa] Responding to Atheists, Agnostics & Apatheists

From: Christine Smith <>
Date: Tue Oct 28 2008 - 22:49:45 EDT

Hi there,

I like your "first post" -- keep 'em coming :)

A few thoughts from my own limited of my good friends and co-workers is an Atheist (technically, he is a lapsed Christian because he grew up in the church, but I don't view him as such since I don't think he was ever a Christian during his adult life). I discovered this not long after I started my current job because as a quiet form of evangelism, I post the week's Gospel lesson, the Apostles Creed, and a rotating "Food for Thought" (often including Biblical verses) on my bulletin board in my cube. The advantage to doing so of course, is that it is (implicitly) an open invitation to conversation, but it does not force the issue on anyone. After doing this for a time, he asked me a question or two, and after it became clear from his questions that he was not a believer, I simply asked the question to confirm it, which he did. Ever since then, we've touched on issues of faith from time to time as the occasion arose naturally. One thing
 I've learned from this is that the easiest way to open such conservations, is by living actively as a Christian. If he notices that I'm reading a book and asks what it is, and I respond that it is a theology book, this naturally opens a door to the discussion. Likewise, if he asks how my weekend was and I tell him that I had a church council retreat or I volunteered with Lutheran Disaster Relief, it's very natural to begin a conversation about faith from there. I've also tried to reciprocate this by, for example, asking him to lend me a couple of the books on faith & spirituality (or lack thereof) which he has found particularly compelling, just as a way to broaden my own horizons. So I think in terms of approach, what has worked best for me I think, is just to maintain a Christian "presence" that allows the questions/answers to unfold naturally within a friendship already formed. I don't think my approach would differ for those of another faith

Regarding the role of science---we are both scientists by training, though neither of us are researchers. Science does play a role in our discussions at of the first questions he asked me was "how old is the earth?", I think just to test the waters to see what "kind" of Christian I am. Upon finding out that I'm a TE, we've occasionally traded internet articles on the issue of evolution vs. creationism; for my part, I was able to bring ASA into the conversation as an illustration of serious Christians who are doing serious science on this and find no conflict between science & faith. Likewise, the idea of a multi-verse came up at one point, and when I mentioned that this had been discussed on the ASA listserv, he was surprised. Similarly, I once posted a short metaphorical explanation of how I came to understand the relationship of the soul and the brain on my bulletin board--he made a point of saying he liked what I wrote, and I came to find
 out that he finds the brain and the field of neuroscience fascinating. In each of these instances, I think that, more than anything else, it was the fact that I broke stereotypes, or that I could speak intelligently about issues of interest to him (from a different point of view), was what mattered. He may not have come to accept my viewpoint (yet!), but my expressions of faith has overcome barriers that may make him more receptive in the future to reexamining Christianity as a whole.

However, I would say that science is not the whole issue. Some of the other questions or comments he has made definitely relate to other, more theological issues. One of the first questions he asked me was "How do you know that Christianity is the "right" religion when there are so many out there?". Also telling is his belief that their couldn't be a God because God would not design us the way we are--surely, God wouldn't have given us a blind spot in our vision and He wouldn't have given us optical structures that work backwards and upside down!? Though on the surface this latter point is scientifically inclined, it goes to the deeper question of "why didn't God make the universe perfect?" and by extension, boils down to the "Problem of Pain" as C.S. Lewis puts it. My friend clearly also has concerns with the church's traditional stance on homose*xuality, with the concept of evangelism ("please don't try to convert me", he asked me early on), and other
 cultural/social issues. These are things that go beyond science, which presumably would need to be addressed before he could really ever think about adopting any religion again, let alone Christianity.

You ask about AAAs as a group; both their (mis)conceptions about Christianity and Christian ministry to them. Based on my own experience with my friend, I don't see the "militant" type of misconceptions that so cloud those Atheists who argue that religion is the source of all evil, or that all religious people (Christians in particular) are stupid. Rather, I see that perhaps they've never seen a Christian who could engage them in a serious discussion of the really tough questions. They've never met the type of Christian who really is interested in deep theological and/or scientific questions. And they cannot understand how a religion supposedly based on "love" could be so "exclusive" and dogmatic in its doctrines all based on a seemingly very confusing and outdated book. In short, I see that they have a lot of questions that Christians or those of other religious faiths haven't been able to answer in a way that makes sense to them. Most people they've
 met likely haven't cared, or haven't explored these issues in any serious way because they themselves were not challenged by them (this would lead to the idea we need better education of the laity!). And coming to your second question, I think this makes ministering to AAAs as a group, very difficult. Because each one will have their own set of troubling, unanswered questions, each born of their own particular experiences. Perhaps, this is symptomatic that at a deeper level, Atheists all share a common distrust, a common inability to be comfortable with uncertainty and mystery (for lack of a better word). I suppose that science is so often co-opted by Atheists because of this. But now, I am just speculating and babbling, so I will stop here.... :)

In Christ,
Christine (ASA member)

--- On Tue, 10/28/08, Schwarzwald <> wrote:

> From: Schwarzwald <>
> Subject: Re: [asa] Responding to Atheists, Agnostics & Apatheists
> To:
> Date: Tuesday, October 28, 2008, 5:41 PM
> Heya Merv,
> Thanks for the response. A few things.
> * I'm not an AAA. I may be a somewhat passive christian
> who needs to get
> more active in my faith, but intellectually I am committed
> to, and place my
> faith in, God and Christianity (Byzantine-rite Catholic
> myself). I wouldn't
> intrude on ASA elsewise, as there's some value in
> having lists and such
> where belief is the common ground, rather than the focal
> debate.
> * The sites I lurk on are pretty various, usually ones more
> philosophically
> or science oriented, on both sides of the spectrum. What I
> generally see
> there (and what I see in my browsing of online christian
> sites in general)
> is part of the reason I'm posting this.
> * Time is short for me at the moment, so this response will
> be briefer than
> I'd like. But what I'm hoping for is that greater
> thought is given to how to
> spread and communicate Christianity among the AAA set, and
> I'm motivated by
> a belief that current practices fall far short of
> what's necessary. Mind
> you, I'm not just talking about personal, one on one
> correspondence (though
> that's important too.) I'm talking about broader
> scopes - internet ministry,
> communicating with groups, and so on. My belief is that
> AAAs tend to
> comprise a certain 'kind' of group, one that is
> alternately written off or
> misunderstood because of the current climate. I don't
> believe they're all,
> or even mostly experienced and once-committed christians
> who fell away from
> the faith and now know it inside and out and reject it all.
> I think many are
> caught up in their cultures and remain so because, frankly,
> no one is
> bothering to approach them. Not in any serious and
> thoughtful way.
> On Tue, Oct 28, 2008 at 6:01 PM,
> <> wrote:
> > It occurred to me after sending the last post, that I
> had taken your last
> > point
> > in the direction you didn't intend --speaking
> about the "militant" ones
> > rather
> > than the "passive" ones. Actually the
> passive ones, if they come from a,
> > say,
> > "militantly apathetic" variety, would be the
> toughest ones to witness to in
> > my
> > opinion. If they don't see the issue as relevant
> or meriting attention,
> > then
> > that is hardly fertile soil for any extended or
> involved conversations. I
> > think
> > God has to get hold of them first --the Spirit will
> convict them when the
> > time
> > is right and then they are ready to give real
> attention to an issue.
> >
> >
> > If they are passive in the sense of just not wanting
> to be argumentative
> > (smiling and nodding while somebody continues saying
> things they totally
> > disagree with), then it may be much easier to have
> genuine exchange. Such
> > a
> > person needs to be engaged by drawing out where they
> are. Overbearing
> > people
> > will shut others down and then leave the exchange
> smugly thinking all were
> > in
> > agreement with them, when actually they never took the
> time to actually
> > find out
> > what the others thought. Head nodding could be a sign
> of somebody who is
> > just
> > too weak or tired to put up an objection at the
> moment, and may not at all
> > agree
> > with the person even though they decline to mount an
> opposing position.
> >
> > Having said all this already, I would put to you, what
> is your experience
> > in all
> > this, and where do you come from in these "blog
> combats"?
> >
> > --Merv
> >
> > Quoting Schwarzwald <>:
> > >
> > > * Have you seen any effective targetting of AAAs
> by any particular
> > person,
> > > ministry, or even faith?
> > >
> > > Mind you, I'm talking less about
> emotionally/politically charged AAAs -
> > more
> > > about passive ones who, for whatever variety of
> reasons, just hold the
> > views
> > > they do. I have my own views on these things, but
> I'm hoping others will
> > > chime in with their thoughts before I add my own.
> > >
> >
> >
> >

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Received on Tue Oct 28 22:50:10 2008

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