How to Evangelize an Atheist

How does one evangelize an Atheist?

Some thoughts

  • with lots and lots of prayer ahead of time, during, and after
  • with God. It’s the action of the Holy Spirit, not us.
  • by being first and foremost a friend. A very non-calculating, natural friend.

Spend more time with them…non-evangelizing time. Be a friend. Do small things…send a non-spiritual newspaper article. Drink a beer. Go for a run with them. Do non-spiritual things…all without any “evangelizing”. No references, no name or church dropping. Nothing.

Smile more.

When this person asks slightly deeper questions…about your family, about life, about work…speak with a quiet, natural joy about your family and life. How well your work is going. Or how you’re happy to struggle a bit. Be honest, but carry your cross well.

Do not evangelize, unless you are a true friend of them. Pray for them if not. Prayer accomplishes more, if there is no friendship yet. Prayer, with friendship, will accomplish even more.

Best,. Response. Ever.

Thank you EdwardH!

I don’t think it is ever a good idea to go and pursue someone with the aim of converting them. It doesn’t really work. But if that person starts asking questions about your faith then have some answers and be ready for a discussion. It is good to discuss things that all people question: meaning of life, suffering in the world, justice, love, where we came from and why, etc. When I am engaged in such conversation I don’t say ‘the Bible teaches x,y and z’, but try to use language that an atheist would understand. Like ask them if they believe something can come out of nothing, that kind of thing. It might get them to question their worldview and to seek further answers.

I think the best approach would be to engage in conversation with them. Start small, ask what they believe and why, then tell them what you believe and give reasoning. Have a bible and maybe the CCC in reach in case you need to back up your statements. Don’t be forceful. This isn’t something that will happen in a blink, it will take time. That is of course if they are even open to the idea of it. Some people are set in their beliefs. Would you simply convert to Judaism just because someone you knew started talking about it and wanted you to convert? I know I wouldn’t. A person has to have a desire to do so, even if that desire is covered up and they aren’t even aware of it.

Good luck!:thumbsup:

As someone who (sadly) has more atheist/agnostic friends than religious friends I can tell you I know how difficult, frustrating, and delicate discussing faith with non-believers can be. It’s different then trying to evangelize a person who simply has different religious beliefs than what the Catholic Church teaches. At least with a believer from another faith there is a common ground of belief in something beyond cold materialism.

However, with an atheist things are more tricky because that common ground is entirely lacking. So you have to find another common ground on which to stand and build upon. I think the best way to engage atheists and agnostics is through reason. Most atheists (though certainly not all of them) are people who have a great deal of faith in science and rational thinking. These are both good things! However, they wrongly assume that the material world is all that there is and that religious people are somehow sentimental dopes. Now, part of this attitude of theirs is justified because there are a lot of religious people (especially among evangelical protestants) that have a faith based entirely on their feelings. They are feeling junkies that run from one emotional high to another and never try to understand God beyond their love for Him. Now there is nothing wrong with emotions, nor is there anything wrong with focusing on one’s love for God. But this is not a mature faith, nor is it the kind of witness that will win over an atheist.

And this is where the Catholic faith really shines regarding the false beliefs held by many atheists. The Catholic faith has a long tradition of being highly logical and we have many great saints and theologians who used not only their hearts but also their heads in order to better understand God and His creation. Use these sources to win over atheists. Start by dismantling the myths that they may believe about the Church or God and once you’ve proven to them that what they previously thought was incorrect then go on to show them how rational the faith is and that this is no surprise as God created reason itself.

I’ve rambled on for a long time now (which is nothing new I’m afraid) but I’ll end with stating that evangelizing an atheist is likely to be a long, largely thankless endeavor. However, it is certainly a good charitable act to perform. And if you get discouraged just remember great atheist converts such as C.S. Lewis (I know he was Anglican, but still he converted form being a staunch atheist to one of the greatest Christian apologists of the 20th century).

Good luck and God bless.

Ask them if you can sacrifice their cat and see if they take the bate.
Keep your sense of humour.:slight_smile:

what kind of atheist?

has he read C.S. Lewis?

Prayer and love for that person will accomplish the mission!!!

First, point the atheist to evidence for intelligent design. I recommend The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel, The Privileged Planet by Guillermo Gonzales, and A Biblical Point of View on Intelligent Design by Kerby Anderson.

Then, once the atheist accepts that proof, point the atheist toward books that argue for the truth of Christianity. I recommend The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel and More than A Carpenter by Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell. Both were written by former atheists.

What you do next depends on the atheist’s objections. Is it the problem of suffering? Is it Catholic sexual morality? Tailor your approach to the questions the atheist asks.

You don’t. “Evangelizing” an atheist is not something that can be done without changing their most fundamental view of the world. Which is practically impossible without extensive amounts of brainwashing, which I believe to be unethical.

Just leave them be. They don’t want to be saved from things they don’t believe exist. Think about it. If someone kept insisting that they had to save you from being attacked by a unicorn with rabies, would you give in to that person?

Sorry, this is not a Catholic response.

Evangelization is the duty of every Catholic. Pope Paul VI called it the deepest identity of the Church Herself. And to equate spreading the Good News with “brainwashing?” Come on.

You assert that evangelization can’t work with atheists because it involves changing their world view. That’s precisely the point! We are called to preach the Gospel to everyone (Mark 16:15). Who needs to hear it more than atheists?

Anytime Evangelize

We cannot keep to ourselves the words of eternal life given to us in our encounter with Jesus Christ: they are meant for everyone, for every man and woman. … It is our responsibility to pass on what, by God’s grace, we ourselves have received."

  • Pope Benedict XVI

To you, it’s good news. To them, it’s forceful adaption to a lifestyle that they want nothing to do with.

I wonder why it has become so socially acceptable for people to go against the wishes of atheists.

You don’t understand the concept of evangelization. The purpose is not to impose, but to propose, as Pope John Paul II put it. To propose what? The existence of God Himself; His love for us in Jesus; His revealed truths through the Catholic Church; yes, the Catholic Christian lifestyle.

If the atheist rejects this Good News, one continues to pray and entrust him to God’s mercy. But to say that such work is unethical, some kind of imposition or any sort of brainwashing is absurd.

Anytime Evangelize

We cannot keep to ourselves the words of eternal life given to us in our encounter with Jesus Christ: they are meant for everyone, for every man and woman. … It is our responsibility to pass on what, by God’s grace, we ourselves have received."

  • Pope Benedict XVI

Hello Edward,

Can you say something of your “track record” for this approach with actual atheists?

Hello Matt,

Have you had success with “proposing” the existence of God to actual atheists? What has your experience been so far?

Ratboy -

I agree that “their most fundamental view of the world” must be understood and is the immense obstacle to any effective evangelization. The fundamental belief and acceptance of philosophical realism by Catholics, and the denial of such a worldview by many modern men, is a chasm not easily bridged. In fact I think that only a miracle of grace can reach into the heart of persons formed by this secular-materialistic-subjectivist/relativist world, and present to such hearts the staggering truth that God IS.

Your “unicorn” analogy is apt. To a modern man whose mind has been so warped by the insanity of these times, God is as real as a unicorn - figments of the mind. Yet the commission to the Church remains what is always has been: evangelize! The Church exists to evangelize! The truth deserves to be proclaimed, in season and out. Our part is to obey - and maybe it is the impossibility of “success” in our labors that can force us, the Church, to rely finally on the only One who ever could bring about the transformation of souls in the first place - God. To God be all glory, forever.

Thanks for asking, Fide.

It’s been my experience that atheists are normally not as polemical, disrespectful or intolerant on a one-on-one basis as they are when speaking to larger numbers of people (whether it be in person, online in a combox, on the radio, etc). As a result, the chasm is not as difficult to bridge (to use your words) as it seems on the face of it. More often than not, evangelizing the atheist simply means clearing up misconception: about our doctrinal beliefs, our beliefs about science, how we view this world, life, the human person.

Actually, that’s the whole purpose for my creating Anytime Evangelize. My goal is to post these encounters of evangelization and others like them, so there you can see for yourself, and perhaps even join me! :thumbsup:

Anytime Evangelize

We cannot keep to ourselves the words of eternal life given to us in our encounter with Jesus Christ: they are meant for everyone, for every man and woman. … It is our responsibility to pass on what, by God’s grace, we ourselves have received."

  • Pope Benedict XVI

Hello Matt -

Thank you for responding, and for your comments. Maybe we have different meanings for “bridging the chasm”. The existence of a bridge in itself can’t bring about personal relationships, nor even can crossing the bridge to the other side physically if the two parties speak different languages. What I’m trying to say is that there are two fundamentally different ways of seeing the world around us - that is what I mean by this “chasm” - it is a philosophical divide deeper and more isolating than any physical chasm, and deeper and more isolating than mere language differences.

It is also deeper than merely a mutual failure to talk, or even to “understand” the opinions or beliefs of the other side. Here’s what I mean, as one example: among modern philosophical confusions is a radical subjectivism that sincerely believes that such things as atheism and theism and Christianity and Buddhism and etc. are “realities” existing only in the mind of the beholder. They are merely personally satisfying concepts. Thus “my God” may be pleasing for me, and “his atheism” works better for him, so can’t we all just get along?

Well, if there really IS God - if God really IS, absolutely and independently whether you or I ever or never knew of Him or believed in Him - then such subjectivism is wrong from the start and a waste of time. If I believe in God as such an absolutely existent Being, but the atheist believes that such is nothing more than my self-pleasing concept, then his “understanding” will never be able to grasp what I am talking about. Such an absolute Being is not in his conceptual universe, not in his reality at all. He even believes that his own “faith” in no-god-at-all is also merely a self-pleasing concept, because in his universe of thought that is all there is.

I don’t know whether I’m making any sense at all, but I’m trying to say that philosophical foundations of thought are prior to any thoughts and communications, and when the foundations are incompatible, communications mean different things to the different people.

So - I hope your attempts are successful and fruitful! It will be difficult or impossible for some, but perhaps helpful for some others.

I think I understand what you’re saying, but I also think you’re making things out to be a bit more complicated than they are or have to be. These same reservations you have about evangelizing atheists in particular could theoretically apply to evangelizing all non-Catholics in general, and I assume you wouldn’t have a problem evangelzing to those groups, would you (I certainly hope not)?

In any case, I intend to post a more well thought out response to all of this in the coming days to Anytime Evangelize, so if you like, be on the look out for that.

Anytime Evangelize

We cannot keep to ourselves the words of eternal life given to us in our encounter with Jesus Christ: they are meant for everyone, for every man and woman. … It is our responsibility to pass on what, by God’s grace, we ourselves have received."

  • Pope Benedict XVI
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