The Friendly Neighbourhood Progressive Christian’s Field Guide to Atheists

Christians are good at a lot of things. We’re good at caring for and listening to others. We’re good at loving Jesus. We’re especially good at putting on potluck dinners. But we’re not so good at knowing what an atheist is. For whatever reason, I’ve had a lot of good friends placed into my life that are atheists, all a pleasure to know, and I’ve learned that they aren’t that different than anyone else. Here are some things I’ve heard about atheists, contrasted with what I’ve learned about what atheists are actually like:

Atheists do not give to the needy

This seems to be a pretty popular misconception. After all, we are specifically commanded to tithe money and care for the poor (which, by the way, is also one of the Five Pillars of Islam as well), atheists have no obligation to care for the poor, so why should they?

kiva lending teams as of 6:30pm Central May 10, 2015

I want to illustrate this by talking about a charity I got involved with, Kiva. Kiva is basically a microloan organization, helping out business owners in the developing world by having members loan their endeavour a small amount (as little as $25) which they use to establish their business or buy needed items, and then they pay it back. Many Kiva lenders join what’s known as “lending teams”, where Kiva lenders with commonalities can loan money to those in the developing world and connect with each other over their shared commonalities as well. This is definitely a worthwhile cause and for sure a fulfillment of God’s command to us to look after the less fortunate. I’ve supplied a screenshot of the top four teams as of this writing on the side, you’ll notice that Christians are indeed on there, having loaned well over 17 million dollars .  But there’s also an atheist team, bigger and having donated almost $3 million more despite there being more than five times as many Christians in the United States as there are non religious.  However, my point is not that the atheist group has donated more than the Christian group, but take another look at the “Why we loan” writeup for the atheist group.  “We loan because we care about human beings and understand that it takes people to help people.”  Atheists do not lack the urge to help out their fellow man even if they don’t have the commandment to go with it.  (In case you’re wondering, the lending team I’m on is the “Friends of Bob Harris” one, even though there are many teams that I do identify with, it was by following Bob through my involvement in the trivia community (he was a (very memorable) former Jeopardy! contestant) that I learned about Kiva.  And his team, as well as many, many others, has a pretty healthy mix of Christians and atheists on it.)

One of my favourite parables of Jesus’ is that of the talents, or bags of gold, found in Matthew 25:14-30, where three servants are entrusted with their boss’ wealth.  They aren’t told at all what to do with them, but two of them choose to do good with it and have more money than they started with.  We are like that, we shouldn’t have to be told to go out and make the world a better place, we just do.  The fact that God feels he has to tell us tells us more about us than it does about them.   Atheists don’t get the instruction book we do, they invest in the world as they wish to improve it as well.

Atheists lack a moral compass

Matthew 21:31
Matthew 21:31

This one seems to be particularly prevalent. Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson (admittedly not really an example of a “Christian”, but, like many conservatives holding un-Christlike views, he seems to think he is) once gave a gruesome and sick story to illustrate the “perils of atheism”and seemed to imply that atheists, free from the worry of being judged for their actions, can do whatever they want.  Frankly, this way of thinking makes me more scared for the Christian than the atheist if the only thing that is holding them back from being the next Paul Bernardo is their belief in God, then I think I’ll hang out with the atheist.  Christianity is quick to point out those that commit atrocities in the name of religion, and even those who commit atrocities in the name of their own religion, so this is something that we know is just not true, the only reason to really use that argument is to treat the other person without the respect they deserve.  Fortunately, Jesus treated everyone with respect, no matter their religious background.  That’s why he’s the person I choose to follow.

If we are going to do horrible things to people, we don’t need religion (Crusades, pedophilia in the Catholic church, Islamic extremism, Buddhists in Myanmar (Burma) slaughtering minority Muslims) or a lack of religion (Stalin, the Great Leap Forward, the Columbine shootings) to stop us from it.  One of the most feared serial killers in the United States, the BTK Killer, was a regular volunteer at his church.  Whether they are religious or not, haters are going to hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.  (I *really* hope that that’s the last time I quote Taylor Swift in my blog, I really don’t want to drive away readers.)

Atheists are going to hell

Try telling them that.  After all, if they don’t believe in God, they don’t believe there is a hell.  It is as nonsensical as if someone told me that I should do as they say or I will spend my afterlife as a character on the Simpsons.  It would explain why it’s been on the air for so long, and why there’s myriads of characters on the show, but it’s not a real place.  The atheist view that we just cease to exist after we die, as we did not exist before we were born actually fits in well with the early Jewish teaching of “Sheol”, found in Psalms, where those who die (and I believe that it applied to everyone, righteous or not) went to a place of “nothingness” and just ceased to exist.  I must admit that this prospect is even scarier than that of Hell for at least I would still exist in Hell, but if nothingness after death doesn’t scare them, hell probably won’t.

So what makes an atheist different from us?  Pretty much nothing.  They do the exact same things we do (except they’re probably sleeping in more on Sunday mornings), they can be utter jerks or incredibly nice people.  When you encounter someone of another faith, or no faith, take the time to get to know them, and what they believe.  Really get to know them (and encourage them to do the same with you).  You may have more in common than you think and have an ally in doing what God wants us to do.  Even though they’re working for a different boss (or are independent contractors).

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