Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Chatting with "Atheist Friendlies"

Part three in this story series ...

One of the most important things to do when you first meet and engage an atheist in debate is to determine right off the bat whether they are a "Friendly" or an "Enemy." We'll cover the times when it's not so easy to discern immediately, but for now, let's dive into how to handle conversation with someone who is an obvious "Friendly."

Keep in mind I've only been actively chatting with atheists on Twitter for about three weeks. I still have a lot to learn and don't have a lock on this, to be sure. But here are some general observations and pointers if you find yourself in a bantering situation with the "Friendlies:"

1. Know that their purpose is to glean information from you, not to antagonize you.
So ... don't antagonize them. If you were in a regular setting -- a workplace or a Christmas party -- and someone asked if you went to church, then revealed they were an atheist, how would you respond? Hopefully, in such a situation, you'd be polite and courteous. The same goes for an online discussion. Just because you are sight unseen doesn't give you license to speak down to them or to immediately charge them.

2. Assume the best in the person, not the worst.
It's easy for us to be defensive when we hear someone say, "God doesn't exist." But remember they've come to that conclusion for a good reason. As one "Friendly" pointed out to me yesterday (rightly so!), the choice for non-belief is very painful for many people. If this person was a former believer and became disenfranchised for some reason, they have already been through the pain of "realizing" that what they thought was true "wasn't," the Friendly told me. I never considered that before, and that's because I was assuming the worst of all atheists. That's a mistake you never want to make, especially if you espouse that you love Jesus.

3. See them for who they are: These are people with real lives, real families, real dreams. They are NOT Hannibal Lecter. They are very likable people, very smart people and also very kind people. When I sent out a note on Twitter that I was receiving anonymous threats to my other blog, Kingdom Treasures, the Friendlies responded with great concern and sadness. The Enemies will question whether you're telling the truth, because they are accustomed to dealing with lies. But Friendlies? They'll stick up for you, because like the rest of society, they're not any different when it comes to human compassion.

4. Understand that they feel misunderstood. And to a great degree, in the larger Christian community, they are misunderstood. When chatting, communicate that you accept them and love them as you do your fellow believers. Remember the famous "love" passage in Matthew?

This is a great one: "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5: 46-48

5. Don't be impatient for them to immediately accept your words.
Listen. I have a very dear friend of more than 20 years who is agnostic. We have gone rounds for hours and hours about my belief and his unbelief. Will he ever believe? I have no idea. But this guy is my friend. I still pray for him. I still believe that Jesus died for him. I still know that God's love and mercy will cover him when he's ready to ask for it. It's God's job to break the hearts of atheists and agnostics -- NOT. YOURS. So let God do it. And while you're about His business to share His love with them, do not give into the temptation of impatience.

So. Do you really love others as Jesus does? Be honest. When confronted with a person whose beliefs are opposite to yours, how do you see that person? Do you assume rotten things about them? Do you care for them? Before you decide to engage with an atheist, even a "Friendly," make sure your heart is right with God on all of these points. Otherwise ... the discussion is pointless.

Tomorrow ... we'll look at the other side of the coin -- the "Atheist Enemies." See you then!

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