Are you a Christian or other type of theist? This part is for you…
This may come as a surprise, but if pressed, many skeptics actually want to believe in a good God that loves them. To their dismay, they can’t because they don’t see enough evidence that such a God exists. Maybe you disagree with their conclusion, but they haven’t had your exact subjective experience and the experiences they have had may have driven them to a different standard for evidence. Whatever the reason, the result is that many desperately want to have what you have, but simply cannot get there. This statement may make sense without having the impact it should because words often fail to convey the appropriate level of meaning (at least mine fail). As an atheist, I want you, a believer, to take a moment to identify with me, personally, and many of my fellow non-believers by letting our often unspoken desire sink in through another, more appropriate medium.
This, my dear believing friend, is the urgency I feel about the Christian God. I want to believe that a good version of the biblical God exists, but I just need sufficient evidence. As a believer, you may even be able to identify with this at times. Can you empathize enough with this yearning to summon compassion for atheists and doubters in your life? It may be that not all atheists feel this way, but try not to write them out of your heart because you assume they don’t.
So how should Christians and other believers love atheists?
Take us seriously. Be genuine. Care. Understand that you’re different but fundamentally the same. If we are strident, our hearts may be hidden behind a few hundred self-imposed protective layers to help us recover from religion. That may be healthy for us. You have a different set of life experiences which lead you to different conclusions for now, but we both long for love. Love us. Respect us in spite of your differences. Model the love you want for us. Engage us, but not to convert. To be there. When possible, try to get close when you communicate. Meet with us in person at a coffee shop, a breakfast table, or a Google Hangout or FaceTime call. Respect our anonymity if we aren’t public with our disbelief. Try to understand the way we think. Ask questions. If you choose, be open to sharing in the philosophy and discourse of the ages that is the rite of passage to a learned faith. If that happens, don’t be afraid to be challenged and learn to let love wash away the sting of a disagreement. Always engage with gentleness and respect. Be a genuine friend. We may have given up on the view of God we once had because we perceive Him as silent – and therefore can’t convince ourselves of His existence – but that doesn’t mean we have to give up on you. Say something.
Are you an atheist, agnostic, freethinker, or other skeptic? This part is for you…
Many believers struggle with doubt. There are many parts of their scripture they struggle with. They don’t have it all figured out, they aren’t perfect, and despite how it sometimes seems, they are well aware of both. They are human just like we are – and like us, they’re working it out the best way they can. What most of them do strongly believe, while often failing to model it, is that you matter immensely. But that statement does not do justice in explaining what this actually means to them. Do you know of a family that has dealt with one spouse or child walking away from faith while the other spouse or a the parents struggled to maintain their beliefs and win back their loved one? Have you been through this crisis yourself? I’m reminded of CC‘s experience and, for a time, even my parents. My mother was a believer when my father left the faith. She has since passed away. I can imagine her heart as I imagine CC’s heart for her husband during those first few months or years. As I do, I extend it to the compassion and desperation that must at times be felt by various believers as they seek to reach you – to convince you. You may think them misguided, but consider the desperation, sincerity and humility captured in this music, and picture a loved one’s perspective as they chase after you to win you back to their belief. This song can be interpreted many ways, but when I hear it I’m reminded of the very recent time when my doubts utterly tore my wife to pieces. My failure to fulfill my commitment to be her spiritual leader was as difficult to bear as my loss of faith. I hear her feelings during those times in these moving words…
This desperate song doesn’t just reflect my wife’s feelings – it echos the feelings deep within many believers. Feelings we skeptics don’t often see as we focus on defending reason rather than listening closely to the genuine hearts of our adversaries. This is the character and commitment the Christian or believer desperately wants to embody for you. They may fail, but this is their hope. To be there. To be the hands of their God for you. To draw you back from a perceived precipice. To give you hope. This is what Pascal is for me.
Knowing this, how should we skeptics love believers?
Be honest about the source of your doubts. Don’t write believers off as naive or scientifically illiterate. Many of them aren’t. For the ones that are, offer to teach them in love. Some are extremists (on both sides – there is a bell curve). Try to earn their respect and friendship to open the door to sincere conversation. Don’t dismiss the others for the extreme views of the few. Change their perception of what atheists are like by being real with them. When possible, take down the barriers – yours and theirs – with one-on-one intimate conversation. Be gentle and respectful. Realize that if you or I had their same DNA and experiences we could not guarantee we would be any different than they are. They are our fellow humans, brothers and sisters in the struggle through this mysterious life. Explain your reasoning if that is appropriate, but don’t set a goal to deconvert them or set any other expectations on your relationship with them. Just be there. Be a genuine friend. Don’t be prideful about your reasoning or your conclusions. None of us knows enough for that. Understand both the depths and the limits of science and don’t give believers a reason to distrust it by taking it further than it was meant to be taken. Take the good where you find it and learn to live at peace with your neighboring believers who, deep down, just want to love us. We may disagree with their beliefs, but we shouldn’t mock them for those beliefs or their sincerity. Instead, offer them reason balanced with compassion. Continue seeking the truth, but do so with love and the sharpening influence of a believer or two along the way.
We each awoke into the mystery of existence. Some have found sufficient confirmation within ancient and personal revelations to convince themselves that a personal God is real and loves them. Others have not. Somewhere between a seeker’s yearning to discover the truth and a believer’s yearning to help reveal it is a tension hinted at by these videos. Don’t let the battle sounds of science, faith, holy texts and reason drown out the fire in our souls. It is a quiet struggle of questions, yearnings, and the need to give and be loved. This is a bridge spanning the gaps between our varying levels of certainty and skepticism about God. Let us not burn it down for the sake of our meager differences.
Gentleness and respect,