Making Friends with Atheists

2011/01/jeremy-pirate-600.jpg Photo ©Copyright/Courtesty of Jeremy Witteveen, r25 Productions

Duh! Isn’t that why we’re here, after all? But if we’re honest with ourselves, how many Christians do you know who are out intentionally befriending atheists—especially atheists who used to be Christians—for sure the most dangerous kind!

Though there are plenty of dangerous nice atheists we could befriend, today I’m talking about one in particular—Jeremy Witteveen. I met Jeremy last week when I got a Google alert in my inbox about one of my articles he “poked fun” at. Okay, it was really more like scoffing, but no need to get technical.

I was more amused than offended by Jeremy’s remarks so I browsed his website and read a little bit about him. As I pretty much expected, I found evidence of a deep thinking, engaging, articulate, witty guy (also an insane blogger), who has a legitimate bone to pick with Christianity. That particular day, I just happened to be his target, but it was nothing personal. Little did he know he was going to get caught in the act by the wonders of modern technology (Google alerts)! In the days since, I’ve had several conversations with Jeremy and found his bark to be far worse than his bite. There’s a pretty nice, sincere guy underneath the tough, sometimes sarcastic, anti-Christian exterior, but don’t let that word get out—he has an image to keep up.

Why did I suspect to find a great person when I started exploring Jeremy’s blog? Well, first of all, in my experience, atheists aren’t against God, they’re against god—against the god Christianity has painted to them through our major hypocrisies, and our unwillingness or inability to answer (or listen to) their legitimate questions. No one in their right mind would turn down an accurate representation of the true God…in other words, if they had half a fair chance to find out who He truly is by those who are supposed to be His image on earth. Just so you know, I fully include myself in this lack of image-bearing.

“Listening” to Jeremy, I found out he was brought up a hard core, evangelical Christian. He attended Christian school, went on to Christian college, and was in church with his family every Sunday. And that’s just the beginning. You can read a little more about his journey if you dare. And I dare you. I think Jeremy, and many other atheists I’ve met, have some GREAT questions and thoughts about Christianity and how they arrived at their beliefs. Sadly, I used to dismiss their questions without even listening to them. But now I’m asking us all to begin listening. We can learn a lot about our faith from an atheist. Will our faith crumble? Some parts of it might—the parts that have no foundation and NEED to go. But we can also become more reasoned, considerate, open minded people by listening to the legitimate, honest questions and observations—especially ones that reveal weak our spots and gaps.

Great! I’m supposed to be building your faith but instead I’m influencing you to read blogs and books by atheists! What’s next? Hopefully, more enlightenment. Expectantly, more compassion.

You might be asking, “Does an atheist have anything worthwhile to say to someone like me?” I guess that depends on who you are. If you think not, then I rest my case. But if your heart is open, you will be blessed in your learning. One of my favorite blogs of Jeremy’s (of the 4-5 I’ve read this past week) is called “Absolutely Despicable Me.” It’s a beautifully written blog, centered around the theme of adoption (Jeremy was adopted by a very loving family when he was little). I really recommend it, but here’s a look at one part in particular:

When you’re little, there’s a forgiving disappointment. When you’re little, you’re like a dog. You can get beat down with disappointment and still manage to forgive the despicable actions from parent deity. When you grow up, either you get over the disappointment with the many justifications the church provides, or in my case, you don’t.

The breathtaking thing about my family is the sticktoative behavior they’ve shown despite my absence of belief. As promised, they haven’t abandoned their love for me. While there’s a conditional nature to Mr. Deity’s love, they have no condition. Family is family. And that love, as it’s shown by Witteveens, would never let me go.

At least part of Jeremy’s struggle with Christianity (besides the intangibility of God) is his inability to reconcile the fact that, according to Christianity, his parents love him more than God. His adoptive parents have proven to him over and over that there is really nothing he has done or could do that would make them stop loving him, whereas the “God” of his parents—the “God of Christianity”—is another story. Jeremy, like so many others out there who have been wounded by such twists of God’s character, has something very worthwhile to say—to teach us. These kinds of expressions can be one of our greatest instructors in the ways of the true character of God, if we have ears to hear and understand.

“Well,” you might say, “isn’t that kind of dangerous, hanging out with people who are against God? What if they have a corrupting influence me? It’s one thing to drag an atheist down to the local potluck at church to hang out, but should you really be hanging around on their turf?”

I say, if more of us spent time reading or listening to people like Jeremy on his turf, we would get a glimpse of something our deaf ears need to hear and our blind eyes need to see. We will be challenged in wonderful and necessary ways. We will also gain understanding of how the world sees us, and our hypocrisies will be laid bare. In the end, it’s ALL good!

Be sure to read the endearing post Jeremy wrote about our initial meeting from his point of view. And when you read his parting words: “The way I see Ferwerda is she’s a gateway drug to this side of a coin. She’s a stepping stone toward non-belief, or at least a more realistic view of the world through an educated view of bible (what a compliment!)…” Remember this is from an atheist’s viewpoint. I have no intention of going over to the “dark side” (LOL)…at least not anytime soon!

2 honest, thoughtful books I’ve read this year that I recommend (but only AFTER you read my upcoming book—it will help ward off discouragement and give more insight!) are:

  • The Unlikely Disciple, by Kevin Roose. An undercover Brown student spends a semester at Liberty University to better understand the Christian culture. Hilarious at times, sadly true at others.
  • Jesus Interrupted, by Bart Ehrman. As a Christian, you should know what your educated, post-Christian critics are saying—they have some great questions and knowledge that your pastor knows but doesn’t teach you. Bart graduated with a degree from Moody Bible Institute and became an agnostic. His questions need not lead to apostasy, but can certainly make you more understanding of how some people come to the conclusions they do, as well as spawn you to find a more intelligent, reasoned faith.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you encountered atheists and listened to them? Do they make reasonable points that cause you to have questions about your faith and beliefs? Can you think of any? Share them with us!

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