How NOT to Talk to Atheists

So, there I was this morning going through my Twitter timeline (@persecuted23 for those interested) when I caught part of a conversation between an Atheist and a Christian. (I follow many Atheists, Pagans, non-Christians.) I find the conversations between Christians and Atheists particularly interesting.  I can really see why the Atheists get so damned frustrated. Actually, I remember the same conversations I have had as I was an Atheist most of my life.

The conversations tend to go something like this:

“Oh so you’re an Atheist, are you?”

“Yes, I am an Atheist.”

“But don’t you know what God says? That if you don’t believe in Jesus you are going to Hell.”

“Well, for starters, I do not believe in God, neither do I believe in Hell.”

“But God’s word, the Bible, says….”

What the Christians neglect that the frame of reference that they most often use in these conversations has been rejected prior to the conversation.  They keep going back to it in a never ending spiral of  the logical fallacy of petitio principii. These people can’t seem to understand that the argument that they are trying to make will never be made because the premise is rejected. For Atheists God, and therefore the Bible, have no authority because for them God is non-existent. So, to keep referring to God, to keep repeating the Psychologist’s fallacy becomes nonsensical within the conversation. I have never witnessed a conversation between an Atheist and a Christian where the Atheist hasn’t tried until she was blue in the face to get that point across. Yet, Christians keep pressing the petitio principii and the psychologist’s fallacy. You may well desire that your position, your frame of reference to be universally accepted and think it objective, but it just simply isn’t either.

Not only am I offended by the ridiculousness of the continued repetition of these fallacious arguments I am equally offended by the confrontational and combative nature of them. Instead of approaching people with an attitude of “I’m right, you’re wrong”, why not try to understand where they are coming from. Maybe, just maybe it was conversations like these that pushed someone from agnosticism to atheism. Maybe take a lesson from Paul when he visited Athens. He first explored the city, went to their temples and shrines and learned what they believe. Then used the truths that they possessed as a starting point. He found points of agreement before he engaged in conversation with non-believers. Paul did not look for points of disagreement. Jesus never looked for points of disagreement when He approached people, whoever they were.  Jesus and Paul honored people and their opinions, did not approach them with, “You’re wrong.”

Listen to the Atheists, the Pagans, the Muslims, the Buddhists, to everybody and find where we intersect, where we have common belief, common experience. Then, and only then, can you even begin to even communicate.

  1. So true. I think more often than not Christians fall back to the same points because they don’t understand what they themselves believe. “And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way.” (1 Peter 3.15-16)

  2. Hey friend. I’ve also heard an alternate view, which is that atheism is not a matter of belief / unbelief, but of a broken or troublesome relationship with God. That of course makes the same logical mistake as above & could be offensive to atheists, but it interests me. Sometimes I think the relationship breakdown can be because of dodgy things Christians do in God’s name, or the lack of respect and gentleness demonstrated by the Christian in your scenario.
    Peace. Jen.

    • I am probably going to offend some Atheist friends here, but I think you are right. I think I see in some people’s Atheism a rejection of a certain brand of god, usually the very rigid fundamentalist version. Further, many of these people seem to have been hurt by this god’d people, repeatedly. But, like I tell them, I reject that god too.

      I was a reasoned Atheist, neo-atheist as I was quite the fundamentalist atheist. I know many who are in this camp.

      • I can certainly see that some atheists may have a particular “version” of “God” in their mind and that’s who they reject. This being based on what they were indoctrinated with when younger.

        However, I’d venture to say that a majority of atheists reject *all* versions of “God”. My own particular path down the road of atheism meant researching many different religions and the deity/deities they worship. There are many faces to this god creature – some benevolent and some cruel and capricious.

        Paul, I don’t think it’s offensive at all. I think, however, you need to expand out to see the many varied people there are in the atheism circle 🙂

        • Thank you Renee.

          I remember sitting at scientific conferences with a group of like minded atheistic scientists discussing how much better off the world would be if we could only just get rid of religion, all of them. The more tolerant atheists would wander off after a bit.

          You are right, the types and reasons for atheism is as varied as the people who would claim to be Atheist. I think it worth the time to get to know people.

  3. I’m always confused by the standard argument of using “God” to prove “God”. It’s very circular. But then, to be honest, I’m not sure what opening gambit would prove to be any sort of useful in attempting to convince me of the existence of “God” outside of actual, verifiable proof.

    • I know that for me I appreciated people who would talk with me without an agenda, once I learned to tolerate the existence of their religion. I think I think that good reasoned discussion and conversation helps us understand one another as people. I think I am of the opinion that IF I see you as only a possible conversion then I have violated rule number one of my faith in that I objectify you for my own purposes (veiled as God’s purpose) and that isn’t loving.

  4. Agreed! As far as I’m concerned, no one is right or wrong. We are all walking a path that is suited for the growth we wish to receive. So…whatever you believe is acceptable to me. However, it’s not acceptable when you are too ignorant to realize that not everyone in the world believes as you & you try to cram it down my throat. Lol. 🙂

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