As an atheist I have had little success in changing Christians’ religious beliefs, despite what I thought were . . . ahem . . . impeccable rational arguments. Now I realize that my goals have been too ambitious. Rather than trying to convert Christians to secular beliefs, perhaps I should focus on dispelling what I consider to be misconceptions regarding the secular community. Here are some comments I have received from Christians upon learning that I do not believe in God, along with my interpretations of what those reactions might imply and my responses to them:
1. “I am so sorry.”
Interpretation: You would be much happier if you believed in and worshipped God.
Response: In my experience happiness and contentment are unrelated to whether one believes in God. Personally, one of the happier times in my life was when I realized that I no longer believed in God.
2. “What’s the point? What do you have to live for?”
Interpretation: The life of an atheist must seem hopeless and meaningless.
Response: If Christians carefully analyzed what gives their lives meaning, they would recognize that it is the joy they experience in their love of others and in their personal involvement with and engagement in those activities that sustain them.
3. “I think you are a good person.”
Interpretation: I’m surprised that you act in a moral fashion. Your moral code must be a carryover from your Christian upbringing.
Response: Moral codes are the natural product of the social order. Living in groups requires that there be a set of rules to maintain and enhance the group’s well being and functionality. Without such rules the social order would collapse. Religion is simply a convenient, if sometimes disingenuous, rationale used to justify that moral code, not the origin for such a code.
4. “You are going to hell.”
Interpretation: Failure to believe in God is in itself evil. You cannot truly be a good person without belief in God who judges your actions.
Response: See above. I subscribe to the principles of secular humanism. I live a moral life. I am not evil. I am not going to hell.
5. “I will pray for you.”
Interpretation: What you believe is wrong. My beliefs are superior to yours. You need to open your mind to God’s truth.
Response: At least in the U.S., most nonbelievers of a certain age (I qualify) were reared in a Christian faith and have since left it. Their journey has involved an analysis and comparison of both belief and nonbelief. To paraphrase the book of Daniel, they have weighed Christianity in the balance and found it wanting.
© 2018 John M. Phillips