The Atheists Are Right
by Jason Wisdom
I talk to a lot of people who reject belief in Christianity. However, in the vast majority of these conversations, they are rejecting an understanding of Christianity that I also reject. And it isn’t because I have some sort of new, hip, or postmodern views. There are plenty of people trying to modify historic Christian teachings in order to make them seem less offensive. But that is not why I often find common ground with people who reject Christianity. It is because I have spent years studying the historic Christian faith, and what they are typically rejecting is something else altogether–a pseudo-Christianity that frustrates me just as much as it does them. That is actually a great jumping off point for a conversation.
You see, true Christian apologetics is not about defending any old religion that has Jesus for its mascot. It is about defending the truth of the historic Christian faith. And while there is definitely a place for advancing polemics against other philosophies, we cannot let our own views be hijacked. That often requires us to help people cross the chasm that exists between what Christians believe and what historic Christianity teaches.
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The atheists are right–right to reject imposter forms of Christianity. And that is where it is important for defenders of the faith to know more than just how to poke holes in other people’s views. If we are knowledgeable of what historical Christianity teaches, we will be able to say, “I agree with you” and “That bugs me too,” when someone is pointing out problems which run contrary to the truth. Believe it or not, people love to be right! I haven’t looked into the psychological literature, but I would be willing to bet that people are much more receptive to a conversation that begins with the other person saying, “I agree with you.”
We should not take opposition for granted. There are great things to be learned from those who disagree with us. Even if they are wrong about 99% of what they say, there is almost sure to be 1% that is correct, which would be helpful for us to hear. Unfortunately, we generally screen out the 1% because of the 99. All we hear is, “I don’t believe in your god!” But if we listen closely, I submit, we will often discover that we don’t believe in the god they are talking about either.*
We live in a time when you will be hard pressed to find any outspoken atheists or agnostics who do not feel passionate about their distaste for Christianity. When they are pressed into a corner, they may say that they don’t have any opinion one way or the other–they just “lack belief”–but you won’t have to talk to them for very long before you find the hot button issue that really irks them. But it would be counterproductive to antagonize someone in order to find something to agree with them about…