Myth: Atheists are uninformed about Christianity
The quickest way to annoy me when discussing my husband’s deconversion is start making suggestions about what books he should read to bring him back to the faith. It’s usually the standard fare. C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity (not awful) or Lee Strobel’s The Case For Christ (not great). Sometimes they’ll suggest a trip out to the Creation Museum (absolutely terrible).
There are a few reasons this tactic bothers me. First, it shows me that the person making the suggestion has spent absolutely no time getting to know my husband. He was a Bible college student and is a voracious reader so to assume that he’s unfamiliar with these works says to me that they have no interest in my husband as a person, but only as a soul to be saved. As someone who actually likes the guy, that does not sit well with me.
But also, it shows a lack of understanding for a large number of atheists, not just my husband.
Many of the atheists that I have met have come from a religious background, and here in America, that background is often Christian. So at the very least, a number of atheists already have some kind of religious background of their own. For those who do not have any religious background, they almost certainly have some close relative or friend who is a Christian. To be an atheist who is completely isolated from Christianity would be nearly impossible.
And yet Christians often assume that the only thing that is stopping atheists from becoming a Christian is lack of knowledge about the basic tenets of the faith.
In 2010, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a study of what people knew about various world religions, including their own. This study of more than 3400 people showed that overall, atheists and agnostics had a better grasp of world religions than any other religious group. And while Evangelicals knew more about Christianity than atheists, the gap was significantly closer than one might expect.
In the 2008 documentary Lord, Save Us from Your Followers, there was a mock “Family Feud” game show about various faith issues, and the atheist team cleaned up time and again against the various Christian teams. Over and over they had a better understanding of the Christian worldview than even the Christians did.
The truth is, a number of atheists point to their study of faith in general and Christianity specifically as part of their deconversion process.
If you’re tempted to assume that what an atheist needs is more information about Christianity to find it attractive, I encourage you to actually get to know the person. Find out what their history is. Find out what they’ve already studied. Find out why they deconverted.
These conversations may open up an opportunity for you to share about your faith journey, and that can be a beautiful thing. But regardless of whether that happens or not, if you’re listening, you’re in the beginning part of forming a relationship. And that is already part of sharing the good news.
Next week: It takes more faith not to believe
- I’m one Christian and my pool of atheist friends is not vast. If you want to know about what an atheist believes, ask them. Daniel at The Barking Atheist will be co-blogging with me for this series and he is as committed as I am to having a good conversation between Christians and atheists. Stop by his place for additional thoughts on each of these topics!
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