Why I Have Atheist Friends (And I'm Not Trying To Convert Them!)

I love the Internet. I don't know at which point it became my main source of communication, but I type way more words than I speak on a given day.

I especially love social networking: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr.... awesome. I have had some amazing conversations and met some really great people. (Something that my less-than-mobile body doesn't allow much of in the 'real world').

Recently someone (who shall remain nameless) sent me a rather snooty email educating me on the dangers of associating with the "wrong sort of people" because people will think "poorly" of me and everything I am associated with "especially the church". This person had visited my Facebook profile and had looked at my friends' profiles. The "wrong sort" they were referring to were those who listed their religious beliefs as "atheist", "agnostic", "free thinking", "new age", and "none". (I guess the guy who listed his beliefs as "The Holy Church of Bill The Cat" was OK.)

The email didn't really bother me. This particular person is, unfortunately, someone I can't completely remove from my life, like "unfriending" on facebook, so I have learned to pretty much ignore everything they say. But this particular email did get me thinking.

I have 59 friends on facebook. Out of those, only about half ever post anything, so I don't really consider them "friends" (though some are "real world" friends who just don't really use Facebook.) If we cut those out, that's 28 people. Half of those, when asked, will say they are atheist, agnostic, apathetic, or some other term to express their non-"religiousness".

So yes, I guess from that individual's point of view, I do associate with people that, in their opinion, might be called the "wrong sort".

But guess what? I love these people. To a man (or woman) they are all very intelligent, very well read, and great debaters/conversationalists.That's true about all my friends (I don't keep people around - unless I have to - that don't enrich my life in some way) and these "non-spiritual" people fit in with the others because they are all awesome, because of (or in spite of) what they believe/don't believe.

So what is a Christian guy like me doing hanging out with atheists/new agers/"other"? And worse yet, why am I not trying to turn them in to Christians????!!!???

What follows is just me rambling. I'm not really an expert on anything and would never pretend to be. Feel free to talk, debate, argue. But what's here is just my opinions. I'll be the first to admit if I'm proven wrong.


Atheists are just people

(I am using the term 'atheist' - which technically means they think "there is no God or gods" - loosely to refer to anyone who is  'non-religious', though strictly speaking there are those are agnostic - "there's no way to know" -  and apathetic - "don't really care" -in there as well.)

"We have the truth, those who reject it are evil and are going to hell". 
Some churches will tell you that every Sunday. Without Christ people are evil and because they are evil they need to be saved. Atheists, therefore, have rejected Christ and are evil and you shouldn't associate with evil. "There is no good in the world without Christ. Without Christ they can't be good or do good. So stay away from bad people."


Atheists are just people. They don't belong to groups that sacrifice virgins and drink blood. They're just people who go about their day to day life doing the same thing the rest of us do - eating, driving, working, parenting, pooping, etc. etc etc.

My friends don't talk about atheist things (though there is an occasional comment or cartoon posted). Atheism doesn't define them or drive them because they are too busy just getting by like the rest of us.

Atheism isn't their "religion". They don't go to "atheist church" or to "atheist non-prayer" meetings (though some do have get-togethers). Atheism isn't a religion. Calling it a religion is like calling "going commando" a type of underwear. Everyone is born an atheist. Some will stay that way, some will become "religious", and some who became "religious" will return to being atheist.

But no matter what one chooses, or doesn't choose, to believe, on a day to day practical level we all have to deal with life, health, work, family, food, and each other. In spite the churches we go to or don't go to, we are all human. And that makes us equal.

It is possible to be good and do good without religion

"Without Christ, the world would de-evolve into hedonism and disorder! There is no good without God! Even if it seems like 'they' are being good, it's only because they learned it from us!"
- Church type thing that might be said somewhere.

I was part of a church men's group years ago. One evening our discussion turned to the topic of pornography. One of my friends there worked in the cable tv business in the pay-per-view sales support. He told us that every year, this particular hotel in the city hosted a convention for youth pastors. While the youth pastors were in that hotel, sales for pay per view porn videos were through the roof. Significantly higher than when even the porn convention was in town.

I tell you this to point out that even WITH Christ, it's possible to be bad. Being a Christian does not automatically make one good in the eyes of one's fellow man.

Likewise, not being a Christian doesn't automatically make one bad. It is possible to be good and to do good without any religion in your life. Many would argue that some atheists have done more good than any  religious group.

Back to my friends, I can only speak about the atheists I know, and I've never seen any activity or discussion from any of them that I would classify as evil. Not even anything I would consider disrespectful. If fact, for the most part, they are the most respectful and loving people I know.

And caring. And not just about their own little sphere of influence, but the world. World causes like hunger, poverty, and injustice. They don't just talk, they ACT. They give. And these aren't 'atheist' causes, these are things that HELP people. Without the pretense of doing it just so they can also give those you are helping a pamphlet about atheism.

Unfortunately I know many "church" groups that only help with the pretense of evangelizing those they help. As a Christian of course I believe that we should share the "good news", but that needs to be it's own "thing" and not part of some scheme where "we will give you food and shelter if you'll sit through this sermon, if not, go find someplace else to sleep". (Not EVERY Christian group that offers aid does this, but there are some.)

Why I don't evangelize them

Here's where I get off on a huge rant. My church friends won't agree with some of this. Heck, my non-church friends might not agree with some of it, but since this is my blog, I get to say what I want *smirk*!

I talk about church, Jesus, the Bible, all that 'religious stuff" with my friends. I don't hide it, it's part of who I am.So they know where I stand. I also know where they stand on that subject. We respect each other in that area. Agreeing to disagree. We have had some great friendly debates and conversations on religious and atheistic topics.

We don't try to "convert" each other. I don't push. And they don't push back.

One misunderstanding of atheists is that they haven't heard the gospel, or haven't hear it the "right way", and therefore will accept it if it's shared properly. Or they've had some trauma in their life that has turned them from the faith and if someone will just explain to them how it wasn't God's fault then all will be ok and they will come back to "the faith".

So amazingly not true. Many who are atheists have come to that belief (non-belief) in the same way that I came to faith. Searching, studying, reading, learning. They have already been evangelized. They know the gospel as well as I do. They've looked at apologetics, they've read "The Case For Christ". They know this stuff as well as I do. They know the Bible, have looked at the faith systems of the world and have come to a different conclusion than me. Do I think they reached the wrong conclusion? Well, yes. And they think I have too.

We know that about each other. And we respect that about each other. I don't tell them they "need Jesus" and they don't tell me "Jesus was a Zombie" (unless it's a great joke!) We don't try to turn each other. If either of us did, it wouldn't work.

Here's the point I'm trying to get to:

Evangelism, as it has traditionally been done, doesn't work

Did it ever? Well, without getting into the discussion about the methods of 'Mormons' and Jehovah's witness and their door to door... thing... yes, it has worked in the past, in a sense. But whether it is evolution in human thinking, the influence of media, or whatever, telling people about your religion doesn't any longer make them want to join it. The days of Billy Graham filling stadiums and having long lines of people responding to an alter call are gone (though others still try).

And, new ways of "doing" evangelism are sometimes really bad, using guilt and shame as tactics. Oh, you've lied before? That makes you a liar. You took a pen home from work? That makes you a thief. You've seen someone who isn't your spouse naked? That makes you a cheater. You're a lying, cheating, thief. You're obviously going to burn in Hell for all eternity." I'm not sure this quite conveys the "they will know us by our love" image Christians should convey.

Here's how some outside the church see what Christians call "the good news":

So there was God. He once talked to a guy and gave him a bunch of rules to live by. Breaking those rules is called sin. You should feel very very bad about your sin. God hates it when you break his rules and you will be punished by burning in eternal hell. But the good news is, God sent his son to die for those sins so you don't have to burn in eternal pain. Hooray! So now you pray this little prayer and then you don't have to burn forever. In other words, God insists that you follow his rules. He's a control freak that wants to control every part of your life, even the way you think, and if you don't let him he punishes by burning you forever. And if you do you get to sit on clouds and play harps all day.

You can see why they reject it.

In fact, the "traditional" way of presenting the gospel has become a joke, a meme, in our Internet connected world. A brief look at 4chan or any number of Tumblr accounts will show you what I mean. How can Christians compete with that?

My opinion? We don't. We shouldn't. There isn't, and has never been, a magical formula, a way to say just the right things, to give just the right message, to bring people to Christ. Continuing to try to find it only makes it more of a joke, makes the image of Christians as ignorant and bigoted spread further.

So what do we do?

We....do nothing.

Ok, not 'nothing'. But we live. Our daily practical lives of eating, driving, working, parenting, and pooping. We just live. And in that living, we be Christ to those around us. Without condition, without preaching, without going around quoting the Bible (which more and more people declare "a book of fairy tales" and will outright reject). Just love people as Christ loves them. That's it and that's all.