I enjoy conversations with people who do not think like me, especially atheists. They keep me on my toes and really make me think. Most of them have thought long and hard about the God question, as I have, but they have come to a different conclusion. Many atheists will tell you they get annoyed by the average theists with whom they dialogue. They feel that Christians are not very thoughtful about their faith and are not able to articulate even an elementary understanding of their core beliefs. I can understand this annoyance. So, I have put together some mistakes to avoid while conversing with the atheist.
1. Labeling – Atheists are not devil-worshiping citizens with no morals. Some of them put many Evangelical Christians to shame with the way they live their lives. Most of them are not rude, or arrogant who refuse to carry on a conversation with you. Christians do no like it when we are lumped in with groups like the Westboro Baptist Church, so let’s not lump all non-believers into the same category.
2. Not listening – Christians just need to shut up sometimes and let the other side talk. We could learn a few things. We are so eager to preach, lecture and (unfortunately) condemn that we may be missing some legitimate concerns or questions that need addressing. I think people who have honest questions and concerns deserve honest responses.
3. Not knowing what you believe and why – Many atheists are dumbfounded that Christians claim to worship this God who supposedly created everything yet they are ignorant about the Bible and what the Bible teaches. Two years ago, Atheists scored better on a test about Biblical knowledge than did their Christian counterparts. This is embarrassing. I am not claiming that every Christian be a theologian, but you must know SOME things about Christianity and be able to explain them and maybe even be familiar with some common objections. This requires WORK and STUDY.
4. Not admitting when you are wrong – Whenever an atheist makes a good point or corrects an error in your thinking; ADMIT IT!! This can be a learning process for the Christian. Just because the person doesn’t think like you doesn’t mean they cannot make a good point or expose a weakness or flaw in your thinking. THAT’S OK! Admitting a mistake adds credibility to your position and will open up future dialogue.
5. Condescension – This takes many forms but the most common is uttering the phrase, “I will pray for you!” Now I am not saying that we shouldn’t pray for people, but this is often used as a slogan to insult the atheist and they do not take it as genuine. It is much better to say, “Thank you for the conversation, it has been eye-opening. I hope we can meet again sometime.” The goal is understanding and mutual respect.
This list is obviously not exhaustive, but it definitely a good start. Just because someone disagrees with you or doesn’t think like you doesn’t mean you cannot form a relationship with them or learn from them. So Christians, avoid these mistakes and continue those dialogues.