In apologetics, we often focus a great deal of our energy into combating atheism. But for those of us in the United States, the stats say we might be misreading the field.
According to a recent Pew Research Center study, a whopping nine out of ten respondents believe in a higher power of some kind. Only 54% of respondents mean the God of the Bible, but in comparison, only 10% of respondents believe there is no higher power at all. In fact, nearly three-quarters of the “nones” (those without any religious affiliation) believe in some vague notion of a higher power. Why, then, are we spending so much energy on atheism?
This is, in part, because it is a greater danger than other religions of pulling away young people. Some estimates of young Christians leaving the faith as they enter adulthood are as high as 70%. Many of these are leaving faith for atheism, frequently because of apologetics issues, such as the problem of evil or a perceived anti-science bias. As a result, focusing on atheism in an effort to retain young Christians makes sense.
When it comes to our own circles of influence, however, some caution for those of us who are already Christians is in order. The best tactics to use for these two groups – those who are atheists and those who believe in some other higher power – are very different.
Don’t Make Assumptions
As you are forming your ideas of what to say in theoretical discussions, it can be easy to form responses to every objection you imagine they will make. But here’s the problem: by forming a predetermined idea of claims and responses, you make it less likely you will hear what they actually say, rather than what you expect them to say.
Perhaps the most frequently quoted maxim of First Date Evangelism here at A Clear Lens is to ask more questions – and ask the right kind of questions. This recent study highlights the importance of doing so. By asking questions sincerely, we mitigate the risk of unfounded assumptions, which results in talking past each other at best and shouting at each other at worst. Simply put, people frequently reveal themselves to be outside of the template we have assigned to their view.
I’m reminded of a time I was having discussions with an atheistic classmate in college, and the subject came to The God Delusion. I said in no uncertain terms what I thought of Richard Dawkins and his approach to Christianity. I was shocked when my classmate said, “Yeah, I don’t like Richard Dawkins, I think he’s too militant.” It didn’t fit my predetermined template of atheism, because, funny enough, people are not templates. My surprise clearly communicated that I had made some bad assumptions about his approach to the issues as an atheist, and undoubtedly impacted the rest of our exchanges.
Season Your Speech With Salt
In addition to asking questions and refraining from making assumptions, consider the way you talk about other views that, as far as you are aware, others do not hold. You might be wrong. This goes along with the “do not make assumptions” point, but goes further – it applies even when you aren’t in an active spiritual discussion. I once said several things regarding Islam that I still believe are correct, but were said with harshness and without purpose. I then found out that one of the members of the group was Muslim. Right then and there, any chance of future gracious discussion was pulled from the roots.
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” – Colossians 4:6
Whether you tend towards taking for granted the views of those around you, or making assumptions in spiritual discussions, we would all benefit from asking more questions. Doing so helps us to put away predetermined templates of belief and truly listen to what our friends and neighbors say about their own beliefs. Only then will we be enabled to talk to them rather than talking at them.