Almost everyone I know and care about are Christians. I am an atheist. I have trouble explaining my point of view without making believers (Christian or other faiths) feel uncomfortable. How can I explain why I think the way I do without making Christians feel attacked? My goal is mutual understanding and respect.
closed as not constructive by Narnian, El'endia Starman♦ Apr 18 '13 at 14:44
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I was atheist for years before I became a Christian. Now, having seen both sides of the coin, I can say for certain that the biggest problems both sides face when having a disagreement is they both make assumptions about the beliefs/nature of the other.
Christians do not base all of their beliefs on blind faith. All beliefs when you truly and earnestly investigate them are well founded and thought out. Like-wise, atheists are not a-moral monsters, many of course have well thought out system of morals (many have thought more about this than Christians if the truth is told).
The real disagreement most of the time is in the base assumptions that are the foundation of these beliefs. Christianity wasn't the religion that I thought I had rejected. I still do not believe in what I thought Christianity was when I was an atheist now that I am a Christian, nor do I believe in the God that I thought I did not believe in when I was an atheist (if that makes any sense).
Hope that helps!
Don't denigrate what they believe, instead seek to understand what they believe. And explain what you believe in way that does not preclude the validity their beliefs (no matter how invalid you may feel they are). Lastly, when you question what they believe and why, make them honest questions which are designed get at their heart and broaden their understanding.
Also critical is not to make assumptions about what the other believes; there is surprising variation on both sides of the coin. One thing that really rubs me the wrong way is when someone tells me what I believe.
This is how I would like to be approached, and this is how I seek to approach non-believers.
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Religious belief is such a central part of many people that disagreement is often difficult or impossible to discuss without some level of discomfort.
However, the standard rules of politeness and respect go a long way toward promoting peaceful dialog. During your discussions, you may wish to avoid accusatory and denigrating statements. Instead of questioning a person's motives for a particular belief, question the belief itself. In this way, you can rise above personal attacks and focus on fact-based dialog.
Above all, ensure that both participants in the conversation are willing to learn. If you (or they) are unwilling to accept new facts or insights that may influence a belief, the conversation will ultimately be unproductive. Dialog is useful only when there is a chance of a mutually-satisfying outcome.
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Some thoughts ....
I do wonder why it comes up enough for you to ask the question?
Atheism, when actively practiced, is as much a religion as Evangelical Christianity. It is passionate, and there is just as much "faith".
To avoid offense, you need to understand the difference between "I believe there is no God" and "I believe that God doesn't exist". The first statement is "no God". The second is "anti God". The first statement is about you. The second is about God and those who do believe.
My strongest suggestion is that you seriously examine your beliefs, and get clear whether your belief is "no God" or "anti God". Once that is clear, you will be far better able to articulate it is a way that doesn't provoke insult and disdain.
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I read that you care about them and that your goals are, "mutual understanding and respect". That is great and will hopefully shine through your conversations. I also hope that those sentiments are reciprocated. I note that whenever Jesus spoke with unbelievers He always had utmost respect (and love) for them; far higher than many of the religious figures of His day. Hopefully your friends are following in His footsteps.
To answer the question, I would advise that you, "seek first to understand, then be understood". That is, you want mutual understanding, so first understand their point of view. Take the initiative to ask questions using neutral language wherever possible. "Why?" questions are really powerful here.
There will always be sensitive people who cannot easily handle these kinds of discussion. They may be new Christians or weak in the faith. Don't push them; agree with them not to discuss religion if possible (so that they won't talk about their belief when you are not able to ask them anything!).
It is probably also worth noting that this is also a cultural issue. In the US, there might be a stigma attached to atheism, whereas in Europe the stigma is more often in being a Christian.
The reason you have trouble explaining your life-stance to Christians is basically oriented to the issue of the validity of "The Bible".
Christians accept this text as at some level and with some degree of certainty, as the "word" of their particular conception of a deity, a personal deity. Some, of course, consider it completely and totally authentic in "every syllable". [I recently read this description, which obviously emanates from someone for whom "every word" is insufficiently inclusive]. Every syllable of which translation? [Every translation is inherently inaccurate and biased to begin with]. Then comes the problem of interpretation, even if one could accept the approximations of translation, and selectivity among the innumerable contradictory passages. Just think of the US Constitution, a rather explicit document with Excellent provenance and the eternal bickering about what it "really" means.
Then comes the justification of slavery, concubinage and polygamy, rejection of divorce, the validity of the divine right of kings, existence of a covenant between Jehovah and the Jews, indiscriminate slaughter of women and children on orders of Jehovah, whether Love or the Sword is the preferred weapon of Jesus, etc., etc. Ultimately, we have a document from a huge variety of sources and times voted on by A committee along with the suppression and destruction of any documents, many probably equally valid, which might have contradicted those ultimately accepted as absolutely accurate. Some, of course, have now been dug up at various sites and DO contradict many of the Christian doctrines expounded in what is now known as "The Bible". There were many Christianities in the early days of the CE and many "bibles".
Because of this dichotomy, belief at some level in the validity of "The Bible" as "the" source of ethical and theological authority vs. The realistic evaluation of "The Bible" as a literary creation of humans, there is and always will be a chasm between atheists (or even Deists) and those who consider themselves some variety of Christians. Of course, the same dichotomy exists in the case of "The" Book of Mormon, "The" Koran, "The" Bhagavad Gita, etc., etc.
Tell them, that you respect their faith, but do not discuss theological issues like the existence of god, etc. You know, these are issues not resolvable by discussion, because religion does not have a rational basis. Likewise, refuse challenges to disprove GOD, or something. You can't disprove existance of white ravens, much less non-existance of a thing that is by definition not bound by the laws of physics (i.e. meta-physical).
Show your respect for their customs, for example, if they pray before eating, remain quiet on you stool and start only eating if they finish. You don't need to appear praying yourself, thought, just don't disturb them.
As an Atheist myself. Let me offer some guidance. I've never been quiet about my Atheism. So I've been in this situation many times and there are a few things you'll have to understand:
So extra care needs to be taken to understand that you are, absolutely, telling the people you love that you believe that they are mistaken and that the foundation of your belief structure is based on everything they cherish being wrong. That's a mountain to overcome. But by understanding what it is you are saying to them you can better prepare yourself. And you can be understanding when the reaction is to be insulted.
What has worked best for me in the past is to first, pick your venue. You need to find an intimate location away from other people and away from other emotional contexts. At work is a poor choice. At their home is a poor choice. Out in a park you don't often come to is a good choice, and it also offers up examples from nature should you be called on to justify yourself.
Begin by stating what you hope to do. If they don't know you are an Atheist already, start by just saying you are one. Let them ask the questions. If they know, say something like "I would like you to know more about my Atheism." and then quickly offer to answer questions.
Like I said. You are called on to justify yourself. You are not entering into an explanation of your beliefs, that is already well established. You don't believe in God/gods. What someone of faith will be interested in will vary person-to-person and there is no way to know what the reaction will be. However, there are ways to prepare.
This is a learning experience for the person involved. There can be a lot of baggage around the idea of Atheism in the Christian community. A lot of misinformation. Your goal here is not to convert your loved-one. It is simply to convince them that you are not a bad person. That you aren't going to change. And that you aren't going to take offense to them practicing their faith in front of you. Nor are you going to take offense if they try to include you in their culture.
Those are all, also, things Atheists get wrong a lot. So these bigotries aren't unfounded. A lot of Atheists are jerks. Out to convert people. Or to stomp away pseudo-science wherever it is found. The feelings of the people who believe in these things be damned.
We need to be more understanding about the faithful in their own personal lives. Even when we feel like they might be harming themselves. We run the risk of doing much more harm. Especially if it means driving a wedge between ourselves and our loved ones.
Others have mentioned Evangelism. If there is one thread that runs through nearly all Atheists it is a distaste for being preached to. Get over it. If you love the person who is preaching to you as much as they love you. Just accept it gracefully and change the subject. They are only worried about you. And they would rather hurt your sense of individuality than see you burn in Hell. Which if you were really in danger of, you'd want someone to stop you. If you don't accept the evangelism, you are guilty of the same moral absolutism you accuse others of all the time. :)
Some good answers here, I agree that "focus on mutual understanding and respect" is the primary way to make this work. You will have two major issues you'll need to work through; and they are likely not to be evolution or whatever other random nonsense people like to argue about on the Internet/in the political arena. What you will need to understand and contend with are:
You should understand though that Christianity does specifically encourage its followers to evangelize non-believers. So if you expect them to "respect your beliefs, and not try to change them" then in general you will be disappointed. From their point of view, you're a great guy, loved by God, and are at risk of Hell if you don't believe in him, so if they do value and respect you as a person then they will almost of necessity try to convert you, which can take the form of arguing the invalidity of your belief sometimes. Christians in general don't/can't believe that all beliefs are equal. So make sure and have realistic expectations, "live and let live and don't keep trying to convince you" is an unlikely result.
In the end, Christians believe that God has to inspire your heart to believe in him in the first place, so you can probably get a reasonably peaceful equilibrium by saying "I'm open to God touching my heart and telling me I'm wrong, but for now I just don't believe he exists." As long as you're not perceived as actively working against/setting your heart against God, that puts next steps in God's court (and theirs, as they will still try to show you love by example, etc.) but keeps things well away from the bitter recrimination/opposite sides path.
Also, no one has mentioned what is one of the core issues really being discussed especially in places where Christianity is culturally dominant and influences laws and cultural mores, which is morality. Many Christians look on atheists/agnostics with suspicion because they have no normative moral belief. Jews, Muslims, etc. you may disagree with but you understand they have a reasonably defined moral guideline. With a/a's, it's more "roll your own moral code personally," and there's a real fear that a given person without religion will deviate strongly from common morality. So when they are discussing Christianity vs atheism with you, what they are often discussing in the back of their mind is "Yes, but are you going to take drugs or date rape my daughter or steal stuff from me?" In other words, are you a good person that it's good to be around in general? In my opinion, the number one thing you can do to reassure Christians so you can get to the point of a rational discussion of beliefs is explain that you do have morals, founded in whatever it is your morals are founded in, and that you, too, are happy thieves go to jail etc. Because be honest, it's not like no one ever abandoned Christianity because they wanted to behave immorally and it wouldn't let them, and that's one of their key fears about someone close who declares themselves an atheist.
In the end, religious issues are NOT all logical. Many of the issues bubbling around in peoples' minds, when you are talking about real friends and family and stuff and not folks on Internet forums, is all mixed up with love and uncertainty and fear and distrust and "will this person still like me" and "will this person cause shame to the family" and all that.
It's a question of love! Please, looks the subject by a Christian perspective:
See? I'm not against you, it's the opposite idea!
It's a question of love too!
Christians loves God, The Bible, Jesus, and even the faith. And we are instructed to fight for our faith:
mutual understanding and respect
Hey, some Christians attacks atheists, it's a sad truth! (some Christians forget about love, go figure...). But you need remember some atheists attacks Christians too, and usually are things like "closed-minded", "medieval-thinking", "low-intelect", etc.
Remember, both sides are inclined to try to convert the another side. The best reply that I see (from any viewpoint) is, resuming:
"I'm not conviced about your beliefs yet. Maybe we can talk about and we can talk about our beliefs."
See, I know that you are atheist and I know that you are happy with this fact. You knows that I'm a Christian, and I'm a very happy Christian. But both me and you knows a lot of people that converted from and to Atheism and Christianism. And surely we don't exhausted that subject, then we agree that we don't know about our future.