Atheism / Culture / religion · September 17, 2007

The Education of a Christian – John Shore

When I was a Christian I was instructed that part of being a Christian was witnessing to others, to bring them into Christ. But witnessing didn’t mean going around and knocking on doors – although we sometimes did that it was seen as a little tacky in my church. Instead we were to honestly talk about our faith whenever it was brought up, and then gently pull the person into our church. I was told that the best way to bring people to Christ was to just live a good Christian life and then we just couldn’t help but bring people to us.

That was a long time ago, and it happened in my own denomination. It seems to me now, as an Atheist, that many Christians have never heard this way of seeking new members. The radical evangelical Christians of today tend to use the caveman approach of witnessing. Basically they whack their their poor victims over the head with the Bible, and then drag them by the hair kicking and screaming through the church doors. And then they wonder why they get so much resistance!

Every now and then a Christian will get the swell idea that, “Hey, maybe we should listen to the people on the other side of the fence.” Well! Trying to be understanding? Reasonable discourse between people with opposing philosophies? Being kind to others? I guess I can’t expect all Christians to believe in the power of acceptance and understanding – after all, the first Christian to do that got nailed to a piece of wood. I understand it messed up his whole weekend.

Still, some Christians do try, and I applaud them for that. It’s a refreshing change to be talked with, instead of talked at.

I’ve been following one such Christian who blogs at John Shore asked a simple question of Atheists the other day about how we deal with guilt. And boy, did the Atheists come out and answer! It was wonderful to see so many caring, compassionate Atheists in the replies, and as expected to also see in contrast the uncaring, unbending attitude of a couple of Christian comments.

I recommend reading the comments – and not just because I’m one of the people commenting. Look at the acknowledgment by John that Atheists are good people too. We don’t get that enough from the religious, no matter how well deserved. You can almost see the education that John is getting, and he gets a little frustrated with his own side of the camp. I don’t think this means that Mr. Shore will defect any time soon, but it does seem as if the “scales have fallen from his eyes.”

And to prove a point, he goes on to make a second post where he summarizes what he’s learned, which is also good reading. From his second post:

Turns out atheists are quite the … cyber-communicators.

It also turns out that atheists — or the many from whom I heard, anyway — care just as much as we Christians do about loving and doing right by others.
Curse the atheists! Why couldn’t they be the craven sensory-hounds they’re supposed to be? Must they reject God, and be intelligent and sensitive?

How are we to tolerate these people for whom toleration is a tenant?

We Christians want the atheists to come over to our side of the fence — to join us, to become one of us. They would much prefer it if we would quit wanting that, and leave them be. They would naturally prefer it if we could actually respect them for, say, their intellectual (not to mention moral) integrity — but they aren’t exactly holding their breath waiting for that to happen. Because they know that Christians believe atheists to be at best lost, and at worst damned.

And let’s face it: If you know the best someone can think about you is that you’re lost, you’re hardly inclined to, say, invite that person to your birthday party. Ever.

We need to listen to the atheists because … well, because we never do. We try to listen to them, but we fail. And we fail because while we’re listening to them, we’re secretly thinking how they really, really need to become Christian.
And it’s just about impossible to really, really think something about someone and not, in one way or another, really, really communicate that something is.

So I say: Let’s every once in a while put aside our Christian Agenda (none of us are thinking that we don’t have one too, right?), and just listen to atheists. Let’s just hear what they’re saying, and what they’re thinking, and why they’re saying and thinking whatever they are.

Yay John! I wish I heard those words from more Christians! I would be more willing to talk to Christians if I knew that they were more willing to actually listen to me without their own hidden agenda!

To the Atheists who responded to John’s blog, I say “Well Done!” I consider it to be an accomplishment to get Christians to respond to us as people, and not as potential converts. I’ve seen too often where Christians equate “Atheist” to mean “Empty” – as a vessel waiting to be filled with their message. I’m tired of telling believers that I don’t need to be topped off with God like a thirsty car at the gas pump!

And to those Atheists who go from here to visit John’s blog, please, play nice. I know, many of us have a knee-jerk reaction to the religious, so sometimes when a religious person is actually trying to be nice (and maybe fumbling at it) we Atheists tend to get a bit snarky. Hold that in a bit when commenting on John’s blog – he’s just come to the realization that Atheists are people! It will take him a while to realize that we are individuals too, and that some of us (me included) have a sense of humor that is a bit, ah, blasphemous.

And to John Shore, you might not get any converts from our side of the fence, but with your attitude you’ll be welcome to talk with many (most?) of us. Which is better than the caveman evangelists that usually shout at us!