How Not To Evangelize To An Atheist (Starring Shelonda)

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I thought today I’d outline some rules for etiquette when it comes to evangelizing religion to a gay atheist, like myself.

Rule #1: Don’t evangelize.

Ever, really. But if you know what’s good for you, you definitely don’t want to try evangelizing to someone because of their identity. It’s like touching the top of the stove; you know what the result is going to be. Now, we might politely hear you out and ask a few questions to feign respect so you can walk away with a false sense of validation. We also might respond with questions that challenge your faith, we might insist on disagreeing with your claims, and we will most likely not express gratitude to you for trying to force your delusional beliefs upon us. I’m just saying, you probably won’t be satisfied with the results.

That’s because evangelism, in general, is offensive. It’s trying to force beliefs and assumptions upon another through the use of guilt and shame. It doesn’t matter what your motivation is, as admirable as your belief might be to try to save souls. The effect is always condescending.

And let me just point out that atheists do not similarly evangelize. We reason. We encourage critical thinking, skepticism, and scientific literacy. Our effort is to liberate a person from narrow thinking, not by telling them what to think, but showing them how to think better. As an added bonus, promoting atheism often involves helping people think more highly about the life they live (this is all there is!—celebrate it!), as opposed to belittling them and offering our point of view as the only cold comfort.

I just want to preempt any readers from trying to draw a comparison. Promoting atheism is not evangelism.

I could just leave it at that, but maybe you want a little bit more detail about how exactly evangelism can be offensive. I have the perfect example to work from.

As you may recall, a few weeks ago I talked about the long road to coming out as an atheist. I shared my college admissions essay, which demonstrated I’d clearly moved away from religion, but not yet from belief. I wanted to demonstrate how atheism is something that’s always present, but sometimes it’s a long process to disassemble the wall of indoctrination that blocks it off. I also wanted to show that coming out as an atheist can happen quite naturally, and doesn’t necessarily require some form of abuse or crisis to rock a person’s faith.

Well, a character named Shelonda decided to take it upon herself to evangelize on my post. You can read the full comment here. Now, it is tempting to be completely snarky as I respond to this comment. Even if I try my best, it might still come off as a bit snarky. But I hope my response to Shelonda helps elucidate the obnoxiously annoying proclivities of evangelism in a way that better promotes your understanding. Let’s begin.

Hello,  I listened to your story and realized that you probably need to find it within yourself to find out who Jesus really is because it sounds as though you are trying to find a belief where you do not have to compromise your homosexuality or things you do not want to compromise.

Well, thank you for “listening.” I appreciate that you took the time to read my blog post and are trying to understand where I’m coming from. It sounds like maybe you have some more questions for me.

Oh, wait. Nope. Sorry. I got my hopes up there. It took only 10 words for you to start telling me what’s wrong with me and what I’m trying to do.

Thing 1 that’s wrong with me: I’ve denied myself the opportunity to find out who Jesus really was. Nope. I actually know more than I care to know about Jesus as it is. He seemed like generally a good guy, except when he was promoting slavery, duping people into believing in him (with “miracles”), and leading a cult around challenging the government without any really good arguments as to why. (No wonder the teabaggers are a fan.)

Thing 2 that’s wrong with me: I’m trying to find a belief. Nope. If you’ve read any of my blog, you should know I’m a pretty committed nonbeliever. I have no interest in nor respect for belief. I am very at peace with my worldview.

Thing 3 that’s wrong with me: The fact that I’m gay is something I need to reconcile. Nope. I’m not trying to compromise my homosexuality with anything. I love being gay, to be honest. I just wish it didn’t make it so hard to meet a mate is all. Nothing you can do about the numbers though.

So, we’re one sentence in and you’ve already ignored what I’ve told you about my atheism, forced your belief in Jesus upon me, and condescended my homosexuality as something I need to compromise. Can you see, at this point, how I’m not inclined to care what you have to say, Shelonda? You’ve already indicated that you don’t really have any respect for who I am; you only care about convincing me (shaming me) to be like you.

You seem to be a  very confused and damaged by some sort of molestation or other demonic influence that is not really who you are.

Thing 4 that’s wrong with me: I’m confused. Nope.

Thing 5 that’s wrong with me: I’m damaged. Nope.

Thing 6 that’s wrong with me: I’ve been molested or cursed by some demonic influence. Nope.

And honestly, I find this kind of assumption particularly offensive. What she (I’m guessing Shelonda is a woman?) is basically saying is that she thinks I am so out of whack that something awful must have happened to me. Like, how could I be this messed up? It couldn’t even happen naturally.

The sad thing is: some people are susceptible to this kind of language. “Wait, maybe I am confused. Maybe something is wrong with me.” No! Evangelists are frighteningly confident in their faith, but they know nothing of what they speak. Their goal is to break you. To dominate you. To crush your spirit and fill the void with their delusions.

Shelonda, how closed minded do you have to be to not be able to appreciate the diversity around you? How indoctrinated do you have to be to assume me damaged because you’re unwilling to actually consider anything I say about myself?

Instead of building up a website to find answers about your identity from others, ask Jesus to come in to your heart with sincerety and he is the only one that can provide that hole in  your heart for the answers since he created you.

Maybe this was Shelonda’s first time on my website? I don’t know.

Thing 7 that’s wrong with me: I’m trying to find answers from others. Nope. That’s not really the point of this blog. To a certain extent, the point is the absolute opposite: to help others better understand me. Or rather, to help ME better understand ME through the process of my own writing. Of course, I want to get some challenging conversations going. I want to hear new points of view. I want to commune with others who think similarly to me and have new insights to offer. I want to hear from people who think quite differently from me so I can better understand where they’re coming from. Shelonda, unfortunately, your comment is showing not to warrant that kind of respect.

Thing 8 that’s wrong with me: I didn’t ask Jesus to come into my heart (or I didn’t ask sincerely enough). Actually, did you read about the part where I claimed for many years that I had a relationship with Jesus? The Bible study? The prayer? And then I realized I was talking to nobody and wasting my time depending on a delusion instead of having confidence in myself? I did ask Jesus to come into my heart, and my heart grew when I stopped asking.

Thing 9 that’s wrong with me: There’s a hole in my heart. Wait, if Jesus created me, why did he create me with a hole in my heart? That seems like poor design! I better see a cardiologist, stat! Or does Shelonda mean that I’m dispassionate, incapable of love, totally selfish, and devoted only to my own causes? If that’s what she means, I guess she’s kind of right. (Oops, some snark crept in, but it was at my own expense, so that’s okay, right?)

To say that you live your life for you and the people in this world is like taking a knife and stabbing yourself because the world cares nothing about you, but Jesus does and you will never be able to meet the expectations of the world or yourself.

Thing 10 that’s wrong with me: I’m not cynical enough, so I ought to commit suicide. Wait, what? It’s not that I think the world revolves around me (I’d be on fire!), but is it so wrong to be optimistic about people? Is the key to happiness thinking that everyone in the world is a misanthrope? And the fact that I have hope for mankind means I should be depressed and end my life? Yikes. I want nothing to do with that. Excuse me for following the golden rule.

Thing 11 that’s wrong with me: I’ll never be able to meet anyone’s expectations, including my own. Wow, Shelonda, you are just ripping into my psyche here. If the world expects me to follow Jesus, then I guess the world will be disappointed. I’m actually quite proud of the fact I don’t follow Jesus, so I’m already meeting my own expectations. I’m going to keep trying to do right by the world, but the world’s going to get from me what the world gets from me.

Look in the mirror how many times have you dissapointed yourself?

Hey! I’ve lost a noticeable amount of weight lately! Give me some credit.

Thing 12 that’s wrong with me: I don’t look good in the mirror. 🙁

By the way, have you ever checked your own spelling and disappointed yourself? (Damn, there’s that snark again. Sorry!)

Take it from someone that Jesus has delivered from self and people. When you come to love yourself, you will realize even in your confusion, Jesus was there all along waiting on you just to seek him.

So, if I’m talking to Shelonda, does that mean I’m talking directly to Jesus? Because Jesus has delivered Shelonda. So who’s Shelonda? I’m only getting confused because of the words you’re using!

Thing 13 that’s wrong with me: I don’t love myself. Wellllll, without going into too much detail, I can pretty much assure you that I do. Take my word for it. And if we ever meet, we can shake on it.

Thing 14 that’s wrong with me: Thing 4 and Thing 8 combined. I’m confused and not seeking Jesus! I’m not really confused, but I’ll try to rectify this one right here and now. This is a public blog and it comes up in search results. Jesus, if you’re out there, please respond. I’m getting the sense you’re pretty full of yourself, so I’m sure you Google your own name like all the time. If you see this post, drop me a line, would you? It’d be great to hear from you.

Invest  in a King James Bible(living translation) and begin to read and pray for change and for him to reveal the reason that you are here so you can began fulfilling your purpose instead of being blindsided by that which feels good to you, but is not good for you.

You couldn’t go one long paragraph without bringing my money into this, could you, Shelonda? I have two Bibles in my house already, but both are Catholic, so they’re probably not good enough for you, are they? King James gave his translators specific instructions in the 17th century, so I’m sure he knew exactly how to properly translate those ancient texts. It also seems that the living translation is a new version of the Bible that isn’t even the same as the KJV. So, you want me to read two different Bibles that are different than the two different Bibles I already have? It seems fishy that with the thousands of editions and translations out there, you know exactly which one(s) I should read.

Thing 15 that’s wrong with me: I need to pray for change.

Thing 16 that’s wrong with me: I don’t know the reason I’m here.

Thing 17 that’s wrong with me: I’m not fulfilling my purpose.

Thing 18 that’s wrong with me: I’m blindsided by things that feel good.

Thing 19 that’s wrong with me: The things I think are good for me are not good for me.

Zackford how many times have  you awaken

Thing 20 that’s wrong with me: I’m not capable of finish

Shelonda, thank you for commenting on my blog. You have provided an excellent case study for how offensive and rude evangelism can be. Perhaps if you spent some time outside of your Bible-reading and started considering other points of view, you wouldn’t come off as so obnoxiously selfish and narrow-minded.

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There are 8 Comments to "How Not To Evangelize To An Atheist (Starring Shelonda)"

  • Kevin says:

    Hey Man,
    I have enjoyed reading your blogs even though i often find myself disagreeing, your viewpoints tend to be educated and well thought out, therefore i cant take offense to anything you say.
     
    I however did find the need to comment on this post, I do agree that many christians see that the bible asks them to “go and made disciples of all nations” and they use it as an oppertunity to tell others that they are going to Hell, and to condemn their every action.
     
    Here is where i take pause however, I am a christian, and my faith has changed over time as i became more aware of the world around me. In the view of most of my christian friends, the foundation of christianity should be Love, it is after all the greatest commandment.
    Now I have spent some time doing missions work in guatemala and  worked in orphanages where there were children who were left for dead as their Mother had replaced the traditional bottle filled with milk, to a bottle filled with turpentine. To “evangelize” on these trips was not the point…To share love and hope, and to draw a smile was the single most important thing, of course we shared out beliefs but in no way was it fire and brimstone again, Jesus used actions much more often than words to move a people. To Evangelize  with words is empty, to do it while providing love and a smile is not, nor should it be offensive
     
    A persons faith is about what provides them with answers, just as your atheism provides you with answers. If a person is in need of some sort of validation  in their own life would you not tell them how Atheism helped you come to terms with such things as life and death?  How can Christians or Muslims or Buddhist be held to a different standard?
    Bullish and close minded preaching is empty and foolish, however if you and i sat down with you and had a conversation about ideals, I would share my faith, and what i have found to be the path for me… Just as you would do the same.
     
    Anyway, I enjoy what you have to post, even though i surely disagree with a vast majority, but hey… education and appreciation for others views is what life should be about.
    Adios,
    Kevin
     

  • ZackFord says:

    Hey Kevin! Thank you for reading and for commenting!

    There are two things I’m kind of struggling with from your comment.

    In a way, this is a bigger conversation than just evangelizing, because it speaks to why people believe. Religion likes to tell you why you should and insert itself as the answer. If you hadn’t been taught that you needed certain “answers,” you wouldn’t find comfort in religion to begin with. If you hadn’t been taught, as an example, to fear death and to need to “come to terms” with it, then things like Heaven and Hell would not have importance over your life, nor influence you to buy into other beliefs that are similarly unfounded.

    So, the first thing I’m struggling with is that there is no kind of evangelism that is not offensive. Any time you push your beliefs upon another, you are suggesting that they need those beliefs, that they should be concerned about questions like life and death (like you were taught to be) and then believe the answers you’re giving them. Even if you wholeheartedly know it to be true in your heart, it is still a con, a lie. It reflects the way God and religion are often characterized as viruses. You are, in a sense, swindling their mind into thinking they need something they don’t. It’s always inherently dishonest and selfish, even when it feels like it is the most selfless and caring thing to do.

    And so the second thing is that I think doing it with “love and a smile” is even worse. Let me ask you a question: Would you have given up your time to help the impoverished people of Guatemala if it were not a missions trip? Could you go to such lengths to help people without sharing your beliefs? Furthermore, would church groups even coordinate so many missions trips if they did not include evangelism? Last time I checked my dictionary, the whole point of missionary work was to evangelize.

    Isn’t it incredibly dishonest to suggest that your beliefs are those people’s salvations? Do you really think the conditions of their lives are any more or less tolerable because they have your beliefs to worry about now? It’s actually cruel Pavlovian conditioning. “I’m helping you and I’m going to make sure you associate all forms of kindness with my specific set of beliefs.”

    If you can say your work was purely dedicated to helping others, why was it still important to share your beliefs? And is it really any less offensive because you do it with a smile? It’s rather authoritarian to say, “You’re only getting help if you listen to our beliefs.” You might be doing good work, but you’re also using them reinforce the truth of your own beliefs.

    So, to wrap up my comment, I understand why you think evangelism can be good, but from my perspective, you have those reasons because you were evangelized to yourself. You were convinced to believe what you believe and then also convinced to convince others. It doesn’t matter how lovingly you evangelize, you’re still imposing your beliefs. You’re caught up in the spiral of religion’s viral spread, and there’s no positive way to spin it your participation in it.

    You’re a good guy, Kevin. I’m proud to call you my friend, and I admire your commitment to helping others. I just hope you can understand how I see the conditions of that help to be a bad thing.

  • Buffy says:

    Fine, some people think they’re obligated to preach the gospel because the Bible says so.  But why do they think that they’re going to gain converts by treating other people like shit?   Do they really think the way to get people to join their club is by saying things like “you really suck, you’re a broken, depraved piece of sub-human scum”?   If they really, truly want to make their little gang look appealing they should stop acting like a bunch of hateful thugs and instead try to present themselves and their group as something appealing and worth signing up for.
     
    But then their methods get them just the sort of people they’re looking for–desperate and willing to endure any sort of abuse.   Why should they change after all these centuries?
     

  • Kevin says:

    If someone believes something to be true, and it gives them a meaning in life, how can be sharing that a bad thing?
    I guess the bottom line for me is, I have taken what i was taught as a child, and thought long and hard about it, searched my head and heart for what i TRULY believed, and it is quite different from my parents version of Christianity.
     
    There should be no thoughts of condescension or personal offense taken when someone shares their faith, each individual has the ability to take the information process it and either use it or deny it, it is all part of having freedom of religion.
     
    I agree with you The way some people shove it down others throats is in poor taste, and does nothing positive for the image of Christian’s… but the bottom line is, everyone has personal responsibility to do the research on their own, to process every part of information we get and use it to develop who we are.
     
    haha, this is a long conversation and i dont spell well enough to keep trying to formulate paragraph after paragraph, so i will leave it at that… .but again I am glad to hear what you say…
     
    Kev

  • Shirley says:

     
    ‘each individual has the ability to take the information, process it and either use it or deny it’
    I know what you mean Kevin but it’s not exactly a level playing field. When I was an evangelical Christian I brought many people ‘to the lord’. The methods I used, the methods I was taught to use, the methods used on me, were emotionally manipulative. I did not have intentions to hurt anyone, quite the opposite, (and what I do resent about some atheist commentary on religion is the idea that Christians are wilfully going around trying to dupe people, in fact it is more complicated than that, in my time as an evangelical I didn’t meet one Christian who was out to wilfully mislead anyone) but none the less what we did was to convince people that unless they took on the beliefs/lifestyle that we endorsed, not only would they ‘miss out’ on all the benefits, but also they would upset Jesus and ultimately they would ruin their own lives and end up in hell.
    It’s not fair to say that it amounts to ‘religious freedom’ to be able to say such things. It is very upsetting for some people to hear that they’re sinful and if they don’t accept the cure they will remain in their sin. With freedom comes responsibility and that includes the responsibility to care about people’s feelings, because feelings matter and they affect what people do and how people see themselves and how they then treat other people. ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free’, so how come we think it’s OK to manacle people to our ideas about God? It being ‘our right’ to do so just doesn’t seem like a very Christian attitude to me.
    As a child I was happy to embrace Jesus and heaven but I can’t tell you how many nights I lay awake in tears pleading for God to save my parents in case they died before they were made Christian and taken to hell. It’s not just kids who have those fears. If you really believe in hell then you’d be similarly distressed to think about anyone you love ending up there. Of course this is a great motivator to ‘share your faith’ and so it goes on. But what is really happening is that people are sharing fear and insecurity dressed up as certainty. I am angry in advance towards the person who tells my daughter that unless she accepts Jesus as her personal lord and saviour she is going to hell. I am not an atheist but I would far rather have her grow up as an atheist than buy into the bribery of that kind of religion.
    For the record, I consider myself a Christian but it’s a very personal thing and although I am happy to discuss what I think about god and atheism I never want it to be the case that my rights become more important than caring about other people. When they do, everyone loses.
     

  • Jo says:

    Okay, so cramming something down people’s throats is bad. What if they have nothing else in their life? Does that make it bad? There are lots of people out there who need something more.
    Picture this, if you win the lottery or something major like that….don’t you want to tell people about it. It will change your life because you won X amount of money. Wouldn’t you just be so happy and gleeful about it? That’s how I view evangelism. I must say some people go about it all wrong.
    Just for the record, I am a Christian. I’ve always wondered, why do most (not saying this directly aimed towards anyone) atheists seem more against Christianity, than Islam?

  • ZackFord says:

    There’s a big difference between wanting people to be happy for your happiness and using fear to coerce people into dedicating their lives to playing the lottery. In fact, I’m not sure your analogy quite works. If people were just >em>announcing that they were happy, I probably wouldn’t care too much. It’s the attempt to change others that bothers me.

    I think the important context for your other question is the location of “most atheists.” The most visible atheist communities are undoubtedly those in the UK and the US, both cultures severely dominated by Christianity. I have no love for Islam, but it isn’t affecting my day-to-day life.

  • Christina says:

    Zack,
    I read your comments and can only tell you that-“You are loved in more ways than you could ever think, fathom or imagine. You were put here on this earth to give to “GOD” ALL OF THE GLORY<HONOR<AND PRAISE that only HE deserves. IT"S NOT ABOUT US AND IT NEVER HAS BEEN. LOVE is a choice. Choosing God is a choice that He gave every human being in the world. He is not going to come down from heaven and hit anyone in the head with a sponge-to make them serve Him. I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic schools-So, I was brought up in Religion and know it very well. That's been the problem. I was never taught to read the Bible-It sat on the shelf and collected dust. I can tell you that I too have been through some very traumatic event's in my life. Even though I believed in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and knew about them. I did not have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. I was so very lost and a sinner. I was unhappy and very lonely. I could'nt understand how bowing before a statue could do anything for me. It was'nt like He was going to reach out and grab me or something. I also looked at God as being a mean, angry God-and no matter what I did to be perfect was ever going to be good enough-so I ran-ran far, far away from Him. I took it upon myself to fulfill my own emptyness with what I believed I needed to make me happy. In a sense I became my own God. Then there were times in my life when I hit rock bottom. I cried out to God to help me. When I look back at it now I can see how He answered my prayer and then I just went on my way not even giving Him a second thought, and right back to the way I was living before. I wanted it my way. Without going into all the details, I hit rock bottom again but, this time something was different. The Lord put this very merciful person in front of me. Jesus Christ was shared with me in ways that I never even knew about because I was so blinded by what I believed. Little by little the blinders began to drop off from my eyes and I started to see the TRUTH that begun to make me free. Which IS JESUS CHRIST. So , because of this life altering change that has occured on the inside of me- I just want to let you and others know that this experience is just not for me. Religion will alway's take away Love. We are all sinner's and until we cry out to God through Jesus Christ for that hunger and thirst to know Him non of us will ever have that experience. That's why it's all about FAITH. What we believe. If you believe-you'll recieve and if you doubt you do without. If you would, please just open up the Catholic Bible you have. Turn to the old testement in Dueteronomy chapter eight verse three:"So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. (Now, keep in mind-this is the back side of the cross-before Jesus ever came to the earth). Now if you will please turn to 1John chapter two verse 14: I have written to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the begining. I have written to you, young men, Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, And you have overcome the wicked one. Now: 1 John chapter 1 verse 26 states: John answered them, saying, "I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. 27 "It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose." 28:"These thing's were done in Beth-ab ara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing. The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30" This is He of whom I said, 'After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me. 31" I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water."32:And John bore witness, saying "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him.33: I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, "Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit." 34:And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God". John 1:17: "For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Okay- so the law was given by Moses to clean people up on the outside (old testament) but Jesus was the next installment on God's plan. Which was to change the jewish peoples hearts and substute God's law for God's love. John 1:14:"And the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." But their traditionalism and law they took overboard. Jesus- New Wine. Jews:said no we prefer the old wine taste better. So Jesus was sent to change the heart inwardly and of course that would lead to the change outwardly. But the Jewish people did'nt believe, nor like it. Remember when satan took Jesus to be tempted in the wiiderness and said to Him:"If you are the son of God command these stones to become bread. Jesus, reply to him was: Man shall not live by bread alone but by every written word of God. Jesus say's heart has to be changed. The question I ask you is this: If you were blind and about to stumble over a sac of potatoes that was on the kitchen floor and worse yet the kitchen stove burners was on, where you could fall into them to catch yourself from the fall-Would'nt you want someone to warn you that those potatoes were there, so you would not stumble? I believe your answer would be a yes. So, only understand that I care enough to help you see some thing's that maybe you never seen before. Yes, its true only the Holy Spirit can do anything to help you to see Jesus is a way that you have never seen, heared or known Him before. I pray that God the Father will open up the eyes of your understanding and empower you from on high to overcome the enemy in such a way that you will be able to experience Him. Know that this is done in love and no judgement. It's your choice and always has been. I pray you make the right one. John 14:6 "Jesus said unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man come unto the Father, but by me.

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