With Love and care. Love, Sheila
I usually listen to what they have to say and why they believe there is no God.
Then I discuss why I do believe in God and Why in particular I am Catholic…
and leave it at that.
Hopefully some seeds have been planted.
From my experience (and my own previously as an atheist/agnostic), the main gripes seem to be:
*]the problem of evil
*]the “violent” passages of the Old Testament, and
*]lack of empirical evidence
The problem of evil can be addressed with an appeal to the following example: Consider a free, democratic country where there exist some “political parties” that promote racism/xenophobia, hate speech and general ill will against foreigners, such as the various “National Front” type organizations. Do you blame the country for the existence of such aberrant mentalities, or do you actually try and tackle, within the law, the problem?
The apparent violence in the Old Testament is misinterpreted, somewhat like Genesis is misinterpreted by many Evangelical Christians to be a literal account of cosmology and biology. Fr. Robert Barron gives an excellent overview of this issue here:
Quoting a very early Church Father (Origen), he says, “We must read these texts in a spiritualizing way. We must read them as evocative of the spiritual battle. The battle of sin and grace, if you want.”
He then goes to a specific example, dealing with Samuel and the Amalekites; based on this ancient interpretation, the Amalekites stand for all the forces opposed to God’s creative intention (love, compassion, forgiveness, non-violence), that is to say, sin.
With respect to lack of empirical evidence, do they expect God to show up every single day to say “Hello?”
Other than that, there are excellent philosophical reasons the existence of God seems very likely, not to mention the historical evidence of Jesus’ miracles and ultimate Resurrection.
These are the main issues I try to discuss when debating with atheists.
I recommend this blog post from an atheist on how to talk to (or convert) atheists.
What is the historical evidence of Jesus’ miracles and resurrection?
(other than what Christians wrote down in gospels many decades later, I mean)
In response to DaddyGirl–
I don’t know about historical evidence for Jesus’ miracles, but I’ve heard some stuff on evidence for his resurrection. I recommend the following article for starters (I apologize if you are not a “starter”). I’d say it’s simplistic, but it informs you of the basic evidence for Jesus’ resurrection:
What level and kinds of evidence will be sufficient to change your mind and cause your conversion, DaddyGirl?
Well, for instance, consider the fact that into the 2nd century, pagans and the Jews that hadn’t chosen to accept Jesus as the Messiah tried to explain away his miracles via magic. Why would they even acknowledge his miracles in the first place to blame them on magic? Why not just deny any supernatural occurrences in the first place? This seems to indicate that his public miracles were so well known, it was hard to conceal them with lies.
With respect to the Resurrection, consider the dramatic change of personality that the Apostles experienced - all of them, except John, abandoned Jesus when he was sentenced to death and eventually crucified; what was it that suddenly made Thomas go all the way to India to preach the Good News, to later be speared to death? And let’s not forget Matthew, who was decapitated for trying to preach Christ’s Gospel. St. Peter suffered the same fate as Christ, except he requested to be crucified upside down… all of the Apostles suffered painful deaths except John, who happened to die naturally but lived a martyr’s life regardless.
There is also much more on the Resurrection here.
I also happen to know of the following symposium and I’ve been told it has a good, objective overview of the evidence that is currently out there. I haven’t started reading it yet, so I can’t comment on anything it says, but I thought I’d throw it out there since you were looking for evidence. The more, the merrier.
Since it won’t let me edit the previous post, this is absolutely amazing.
I do not try to “prove” mysteries of the faith to nonbelievers. These mysteries must be accepted with faith grounded in prayer. Only after this foundation is laid can reason be of some aid. I have never thought it advisable to attempt to prove with reason alone that the gospels, abounding in rich symbolic language with very different accounts of the Resurrection, can be accepted with reason alone.
If someone is really discerning a call to Catholicism, as I am, it is best to start with prayer. This prayer is the proof of the living Christ. Reason is important, but many can accept the resurrection according to their reason and yet have no living faith.
I use reason as a tool of research into Christianity’s history, but without faith I could never discern from this the real essence of the Christian life much less which church is true amongst different sects, Eastern or Oriental Orthodoxy, etc.
If an atheist is a “rationalist” with disdain for faith there is little I can say of value to help that person. The best I can do is let my life and prayer witness to the transformation faith brings.
One problem when talking with atheists is they often do not know or understand differences between Christians. In fact the vast majority of arguments I have heard by atheists are refutations to Fundamentalist Christians. There is also any number of misconceptions they might have about the Church. Thus the first step seems often to be (in my experience) first defining what exactly you do believe.
Some of my closest friends are militant atheists. My older sister is agnostic and my younger sister is atheist. My sisters were brought up Catholic and know how much my faith means to me, so there are rarely problems between us.
With my friends though, it was a big learning curve on both sides. At the end of the day, after arguments, cutting each other off, etc. we came to a few agreements: that we would agree to disagree but be respectful of each other’s right to believe something completely at odds with our own belief. Like I had to call my friends up on some of the ******** they were saying about our Church. I told one quite clearly that if she wanted to continue bashing religion, she was gonna have to actually know what on earth she was criticising first!
How do you talk to atheists?
Charitably and with the intention of helping them to become members of Christ’s Mystical Body. Otherwise, talking with atheists is not good for anybody.
With action. by being a good a Catholic as we can be. Use words only when necessary
Ditto. Be charitable. Explain your faith, and acknowledge when you are unable to answer a question. I always direct people here to Catholic Answers or Scripture Catholic when I lose ground. Unfortunately, most atheists I know are so sure they are right that they do not care how logical your explanations may be. I actually had an atheist friend laugh at me when, upon hearing she was no longer Christian, I said, “I’m sorry to hear that. I will pray for you.” All you can really do is be charitable and respectfully disagree.
Some of the atheists I know well ended up that way from past hurt in life. The old “If there was a God He would have never taken my father (or mother, brother, sister, etc).” is their mantra. They do not understand eternal life. Basically they are stuck in a morass no matter how lofty the intellectual cover they put on it. It does no good to argue intellectually, but God has set eternity on the soul of man, and you can make some headway by asking them “What if?” questions about eternal life and how it could relate to their worldly losses.
I dont even bother trying to debate. Thats not really ever gonna get someone on your side. I just talk to them and try to find common ground and go from there. They are typically very good people, to be honest, and there isn’t a need to single them out from everyone else just because of their beliefs. Just be a friend to them. Thats the best we can do.