The Atheist Who Went to Church

HM: And I want to say—that’s OK! If you’re talking with someone who’s also not trying to convert you to atheism or another religion, but is just trying to have a discussion with you, it’s OK if you don’t have the answers. Talk about the questions you have. You may find you have some of the same ones. You can always read and look up material after the conversation, but just talk while you’re together!

HJ: Hemant, you’re still an atheist, but you say you’ve learned some things through this experience. And you’ve wanted others—Christians and non-Christians—to join you as you went through the process of exploring Christianity and its churches. So, what do you hope Christians learn from your observations?

HM: Clearly, most churches have aligned themselves against non-religious people. By adopting this stance, Christians have turned off the people I would think they want to connect with. The combative stance I’ve observed is an approach that causes people to become apathetic—and even antagonistic—toward religion as a whole. Many evangelical pastors seem to perceive just about everything to be a threat against Christianity. Evolution is a threat. Gay marriage is a threat. A swear word uttered accidentally on television is a threat. Democrats are a threat. I don’t see how any of these things pose a threat against Christianity. If someone disagrees with you about politics or social issues or the matter of origins, isn’t that just democracy and free speech in action? Why do Christians feel so threatened?

You need to spread the message of Christianity—the message being what Christianity stands for—loving each other, helping the people around you. Those are things everyone can get on board with.

Also, atheists … we’re not non-believers. We do believe in a lot of things, but they come from other experiences and other encounters, not necessarily a book.

HJ: What would Christians have to do to change how atheists view them?

HM: Well, for instance, a lady e-mailed me and she said a group of people from her church wanted to do something nice over the weekend. They contacted the mayor of the town and asked if he knew any service projects that they could do. He told them there was an older couple—the guy is a war veteran—and their house needs remodeling. And so they did this kind of extreme home makeover thing. They pitched in, sent the couple away for a weekend to a hotel or something. And they didn’t get just church people involved, they invited friends and the couples’ neighbors.

So the couple returns and sees what these people have done for them and their house, and they are just overjoyed. 

That sort of thing can change views. It had nothing to do with “we’re Christians doing this.” It was just a group of people doing the Christian thing, just helping these people.

The woman even said they had no idea what the faith of some of the people helping were, what church they attended or if they even attended a church. But the whole point was to do something nice while all these people were together.

And that is the type of thing that is hard to argue with. If that is what your Christianity can do, wonderful! And I can’t think of any atheist who would be against that sort of a thing.

HJ: What are things you can’t get on board with?

HM: Religion tries to answer unanswered questions, ones that philosophers have struggled with for millennia. Atheism also seeks answers to the same questions, but when we don’t know an answer, we just admit it. My sense of logic prevents me from making a leap of faith where none is needed.

The idea of an afterlife is also troubling. The atheist view of death, which is that death is the cessation of existence, makes much more sense to me—considering the fact that I’ve never met anyone who died and then came back to verify what happened after death. The life that matters is this life, here on earth, the one we know for sure exists.

Read Chapter One of Hemant’s book, I Sold My Soul on eBay: Viewing Faith Through an Atheist’s Eyes (WaterBrook).    

Copyright © by Outreach magazine.  All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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