New Series: The Christian Guide to Atheists

I’m going to start a new series here that I will contribute to on a weekly basis.

The Christian Guide to Atheists

Something that I have discovered in the past three years is that Christians can have of a skewed view of what it means to be an atheist. Until Jason came out, I had almost no interaction with atheists at all, so my perceptions about what it meant to be an atheist were not always accurate. I don’t want you to have those same misunderstandings, so each week, I will be writing a short post for The Christian Guide to Atheists. Because who better to talk to you about atheists and atheism than a Christian, right?

Okay, maybe not. But I do welcome thoughts from both my Christian and atheist readers. Christian readers: what questions do you have for atheists? Atheist readers: what are some weird things that people of faith have said to you or asked you? You can post your comments here, or on my Facebook page, or you can ask me on Twitter.

I love when people of different faith traditions can have an open and respectful dialog and despite the tongue in cheek nature of this series, I really do hope that we can open up a little bit more of that here. The first post will be on Monday. Let’s get ready to do this!

(ETA: Big thanks to my friend Jason Boyett for the new graphic for the series. I so appreciate friends who help out when it comes to design stuff because I am VERY BAD at it.)

  • Warwick

    Not exactly a question, but as a Christian with a couple of atheist friends, I’m kind of stunned at how many Christians don’t “get” that many atheists aren’t ‘denying’ God, so much as they really, actually, don’t see a need for a deity, and the idea of God literally does seem as crazy as believing Santa is real.

    I think that maybe it creates too much cognitive dissonance to hold that thought while simultaneously not losing faith.

    • Monika Jankun-Kelly

      Thank you. Thank you, thank you. It means so much when someone understands. It really helps alleviate the hurt from those who don’t.

  • wholetone

    Most atheists we born into christian families. After having religion forced upon them, seeing the failings of the followers, and realizing that religion is nothing more than another means of control and subversion of the mind simply walk away. Some of us feel a need to persuade others to their views and theologies (I definately did both as a christian and an atheist) but that desire deminishes. Life is better served living ones life rather than trying to persuade others to subscribe to your own belief system.

    • Monika Jankun-Kelly

      Yes! This! If they want it, they’ll come get it. If they don’t, you’re just annoying them and frustrating yourself. People should be free to think and choose for themselves. Without free will, any profession of faith or philosophy is rather meaningless.

  • wholetone

    As far a weird questions from christians, here’s one of my favorites; “how will you raise moral children without religion?” Not only insulting, but……well, I’ll save my response for later.

    • Monika Jankun-Kelly

      I’d love to read your response. :) Curious if it’s anything like mine. Right and wrong are based on empathy and fairness, not religion. Are you ever tempted to be snarky and ask how they’ll raise moral children with religion? That would, of course, be petty and sinking to their level, but I admit I get tempted. ;) Does it even cross the asker’s mind that authoritarian, legalistic, reward / punishment based teaching can really hurt a child’s ethical development? (disclaimer: Yes, I do know many Christians stress empathy and love and fairness, and say God says things because they’re right, not they’re right because God says so.)

  • HopefulLeigh

    Awesome, awesome idea, Alise! Glad you’re starting this and extra glad you’re devoting yourself to your much-needed book.

  • Matt Appling

    Love it, Alise! You fill an important niche in our blog world. :)

  • Christine Organ

    Looking forward to reading more. I would love to collaborate on an Christian’s Guide to other faiths as well (Islam, Buddhism, Unitarian Universalism, Judaism, etc.)

  • Monika Jankun-Kelly

    Happy for you about the agent’s interest in your book! I completely understand you’d want to pursue that project, and wish you the best with it. Don’t worry about us blog readers, you don’t owe us a blog! That said, thanks for writing this series! Maybe less people will use “secular humanist” to mean “bogeyman” if they read it? I can hope. Your comment about Christians writing about atheists made me giggle. XD I say, go for it! For anyone interested in this topic, I recommend Alise’s blog, because it’s Alise, folks, and for an atheist’s perspective on secular thought, try Simon Blackburn’s “Being Good” and “Think”. I promise he’s not a rude ass like Hitchens or Dawkins.

    In response to your question for your atheist readers, here’s what I’ve seen and heard. I don’t recall the exact words, but here’s the gist. This ignorance was really hurtful, especially coming from friends and family.

    * What keeps you from murdering people?
    * You have no sense of right and wrong.
    * Your sense of right and wrong comes from Christianity.
    * You don’t value life.
    * You hate babies.
    * You’re not really capable of love.
    * Your life is meaningless and pointless.
    * You’re just bumbling through life, lost, with no direction, no purpose.
    * You must be a hedonist, since the only two options available are Catholicism and hedonism.
    * You must surely have some huge, gaping spiritual void, some spiritual hunger. You may not think you do, but we know better. You do, and only religion can fill it.
    * Those who really, truly don’t feel a hunger for God are zombies. They are scary freaks. They’re probably not fully human.
    * You must be an atheist because you’re ignorant of Christianity.
    * You must be a “seeker”. I was once a seeker like you, but then I discovered Jesus. You will too, obviously.
    * Secular humanism is like Eastern philosophy, right?
    * Oh, you poor, pagan child!
    * It’s you secular minority people’s fault that Christian business owners commercialize Christmas, and Christian shoppers go nuts and overspend.
    * You’re oppressing me by demanding schools not support a particular religion over others!

    I know how bitter and angry that sounds (because it is), but I’d like to point out that’s not how I feel about all Christians, or even about some who said those things. Many Christians I know are fine folks, I like them, I love some of them, I get along with them, and am happy to live and let live. I’m well aware atheists say some nasty and ignorant things about the religious, so I try not be one of those people, since nobody likes nastiness and ignorance.

    And to close with something lighter, here’s one that’s not insulting, but actually a perfectly reasonable question. :)

    * So why do you celebrate Christmas?

    I don’t. Not the birth of your Christ, anyway. I do celebrate the turning of the seasons, I love getting together with my family, the gift exchange is fun (although it’s not the point of the holiday). I love Christmas carols, the music is beautiful, and they remind me of my Catholic grandma. I love the traditional Polish Christmas Eve feast. It’s part of my culture, and again, a connection to my grandma. For me, the significance of the holiday is family, culture, the marking of another year lived. I try saying I celebrate Winter Solstice, but that seems to just confuse people. And winter! It’s very much about celebrating the beauty of the winter season. Without snow, much of the holiday charm is lost, in my mind. I have no problem wishing Christian folks Merry Christmas. I don’t object to non-compulsory Christmas lunches at work. I attend them!

    • Alise Wright

      Your Christmas story reminds me of Tim Minchin’s White Wine in the Sun. I cry every single time I hear that song, without fail.

      And thanks for the list! I’ll be drawing from that for sure. I look forward to you chiming in!

  • Stephen Dobson

    What I find the hardest about being an atheist is not stripping away faith from christian followers, rather trying to state what FACTS there are and teaching them in a non offensive manner……IMPOSSIBLE…and then you look like an asshole.
    Truth is that A LOT of the Bible is BS and the good things are great….How do you strip something down and still find the glory in it….well I can say it’s nearly impossible for both opinions being respected by one another, and then your demonized as an atheist holding all the facts, it’s quite entertaining in a weird way.

    • wholetone

      Agreed. I have yet to witness a conversation such as this not dissolve into an anger filled rant fest. Perhaps Alise will be the moderator needed to have a productive conversation on the topic. By productive I mean I hope it brings better understanding of others with opposing views not a conversion to another viewpoint.

      • Alise Wright

        I hope that we’ll manage to be respectful of one another! I am FAR more interested in conversation than conversion.

  • loafingcactus

    As an ex-atheist, ex-Mormon Episcopalian I think this is a great idea! I see that a previous commenter noted Simon Blackburn as a source- I am not familiar with his work on atheism but I studied under him in college and can say that he is an absolute gentleman. Another kinder, gentler atheist of whom I am a big fan is Alain de Botton.

    • Monika Jankun-Kelly

      Alain de Botton, you say? I shall add that author to my ever growing reading list, hee hee! Thanks for more stuff to read!

  • The AW

    The weirdest thing for me was not a question but a statement. It was told by my mother, upon finding out I was an athiest. She said that I was no longer in gods good graces and that I should expect all sorts of difficulties, such as financial difficulties and health issues. Especially for my husband who she blames for my deconversion.

    • Alise Wright

      So much of your story makes me sad. I hope that you’ll stick around and weigh in on the posts!

  • janel

    this is going to be a good one I think. look forward to learning.

  • Pingback: The Christian Guide to Atheists | The Barking Atheist

  • Kat Walker

    Not an atheist, but I have heard some really obtuse comments about them from other Christians.

    Here are a few gems:

    - “You need to make sure you marry a Christian because atheist guys abuse their wives. Well okay, maybe some don’t but they’re the exception, not the rule.”
    That quote came from a Christian friend who had a very loose definition of what makes someone an “atheist”… to her, it was a catch-all term for anyone who is not a deeply devout churchgoer (and ergo, immoral) regardless of their actual beliefs. She was criticizing my THEIST boyfriend at the time with whom I was having relationship problems. Misusing the word “atheist” and assuming it is interchangeable with “immoral” is a common problem. In this context it is particularly egregious, because that lady’s denomination (Seventh-day Adventist) has done research on its own constituents that uncovered staggeringly high rates of domestic abuse. Higher than non-religious households.

    - “Atheists are all radical militant communists who hate God and want to dismantle the constitution and take away religious freedom so we better double down against Separation of Church and State, the War on Christmas, etc.”
    Heard this one and similar variants in many a 4th of July themed sermon. To be fair, the atheist community loves polemicists and is awful at PR, so they probably don’t help their own cause half the time. However, the fact that many (if not most) atheists are either 1) Republicans/Libertarians, 2) liberals who respect individual freedom, or 3) just plain moderate/apolitical people who do not care what you believe (as long as you are not a jerk about it) does not register with Tea Party fundies. I’m sure I don’t need to point out the irony that most Christians who buy into this line of thinking are more often than not hypocrites trying to chip away at everyone else’s constitutional rights.

    - “It’s ironic that atheists hate religion because evolution is their religion and they worship Darwin lolz!!1!”
    Man, this dumb excuse for a zinger annoys the crap out of me. The number of people who think this kind of nonsense is a legitimate critique of atheism is depressingly high. I’ve even heard it from Christians who really should be mature enough to know better.

    - “Gee, atheists sure do love to criticize Christians… why don’t you come back to church and show us how it’s done!”
    Yeah, way to show non-believers the church is NOT full of raging hypocrites who can’t logic their way out of a paper bag. What a convenient way to deflect our responsibilities as Christians and instead blame the people who WE drove out of church (assuming we’d even let them in to begin with).

    • Kat Walker

      One more just came to mind:

      “Atheism requires just as much (or more) faith as religion!”

      File that under Christians who do not understand that the world is not black and white. Not all Christians believe the same thing, or with the same amount of certainty. Beliefs can fall under a spectrum, and that includes non-theism. Most atheists are honest enough to admit they cannot make any absolute claims about the existence of gods; they simply see no compelling reason to worry about it.

  • Amy

    The question that springs to mind is: are my atheist friends insulted when I say I will pray for them? I find that I hold back a lot, because I don’t always necessarily remember what each and every friend believes. There are definitely some angry people out there who will string you up if you pray for them.

    • Vir

      Some might string you up. Some might realize that you are wishing them well and that you mean good things for them. If they become offended, try to explain that feeling.

  • Brett Fish Anderson

    wow just skimmed through this series a bit and will try come back and check it out further but thanks for writing it – looks really well put together and definitely some great food for thought… strength in Him, love brett fish – keep on!