“I was brought up Christian, “came out” as non-Christian in my late teens, then re-evaluated and found God in my twenties. Throughout this time I’ve had some pretty uncomfortable conversations with both parties. These are a few things I’ve learnt along the way. It is in no way a conclusive of how all atheists or all Christians feel, just my own limited experience. This post aimed at anyone who has any opinion about God, whether it’s a positive or negative one (i.e. everyone). I hope some of these experiences can be related to by people of many beliefs, but I have used Christians and atheists as the main audience as these are the two groups I have belonged to.
Dear Christians, the first thing I would like you to know is this: people don’t necessarily ‘turn from God’ because they are hedonists who want to enjoy the high life of sex, drugs & rock n roll. When I ‘came out’ as no longer being Christian, I received a lot of comments suggesting this was probably why. I was choosing the easy path or giving in to peer pressure. Many people however come to logical conclusions based on academic research and their own personal experiences that God doesn’t exist. I just found the further you look into it the harder it is to stick that conclusion. So please don’t judge atheists/ex-Christians for their beliefs as though this somehow makes them weak or ‘bad people’.
Dear Atheists, similarly please don’t judge religious folk for their beliefs. Yes some people’s beliefs aren’t based on a huge amount of logic, but many many people have spent a long time weighing up the arguments and come to the most logical conclusion from their perspective – that God exists. Just because you don’t see it that way doesn’t make it unreasonable.
Dear Christians – it’s not your business to demand from atheists what personal experiences led to this conclusion. Often these are really tough things that left the individual despairing if there is really any good in the world. If you’re close to them they may chose to talk about it, but they don’t owe you an explanation. I know it’s hard because you want to see them enjoying God, but they are entitled to privacy in this area of their lives.
Dear Atheists – religious people are often really open to talking about their perception of God and personal experiences that may have led to their belief. These can be some really interesting conversations even if you think it can’t possibly be true. But please be respectful! A lot of these experiences are really personal too. It can be easy to get caught up in wanting to prove them wrong, but just because they are presenting an experience doesn’t mean they have to defend it. They’re just saying what happened and the conclusions they have drawn. It’s up to you to draw your own conclusions, but please do it in a respectful manner.
Both parties: it’s ok to ask difficult questions – that’s one of my favourite things. But it’s also ok not to want to give personal answers to people you barely know. Some of the most helpful conversations I had on this journey were ones that really challenged me and asked why I held those beliefs. The helpful ones however where done in a loving and respectful way.
Dear Christians – Atheists aren’t necessarily angry at you ‘for no good reason’. When I was atheist, I was confrontational for two reasons:
Firstly I felt I’d been let down by God, that he had rejected me. This was one reason I decided he didn’t exist. Despite thinking they were deluded, I still felt angry at Christians who made claims on this God’s behalf. If he’s so great – where was he for me? I know it’s so hard when people are being aggressive, but as a Christian I think that the only right response to this is love. These are broken and hurting people, and no they’re not making it very easy, but the only possible right response is to love them. And not the “tell the truth with love” type where you’re actually judging them. But the self-sacrificing, risking rejection, vulnerable type of love.
Secondly I would be confrontational because I didn’t want Christianity to be right. If it was right, I thought it meant the Christian God existed, but he had rejected me. I thought if I could destroy someones argument the nagging voice in my head saying “what if I’m wrong” would go away. Only it never did. And it turned out he hadn’t rejected me, so life win.
Dear Atheists – Christians aren’t telling you about their beliefs so they can get one up on you or brainwash you. Many Christians genuinely believe that the only way to avoid eternal suffering in hell is to accept forgiveness from God. Others may not believe this, but still believe the only truly fulfilling life is one lived with God. This may seem ridiculous to you – I appreciate it’s a really odd concept – but (most of the time) they are looking out for your best interests. That’s the heart of the message – wanting the best for you, even if it gets a bit muddied sometimes. That’s not to say there aren’t some crazy people out there to steal your money… (there are crazy people in every part of society), but the vast majority are just trying to help. And this should hopefully be reflected in the kind of people they are.”