Inviting atheists to the faith

The secular world around us is packed full of atheists, some of them actively hostile to us, some of them apathetic towards us, some of them seeing us as well-meaning but misguided.

We are called to spread the Good News and evangelise, but how do we evangelise atheists? Talking about Scripture, Heaven and Hell, Church teachings, or even God to an atheist would seem to be pointless, as he’s likely to just think we’re talking superstitious mumbo-jumbo, close his ears and walk away.

So how do we reach these people in a way that will engage them and make them willing to listen, and put them on a path that will eventually lead them to Heaven? I’d be interested to hear people’s views on this.

Why not simply teach the Truth, the full Truth of God, Christ and the Church? It seemed to work for Paul and the other Apostles.

I mean, plenty of people rejected them (as witnessed by the martyrs’ death of every one except John) but the Truth won out, and most of the Western world was converted.

God Bless

But Paul wasn’t evangelising atheists, he was evangelising pagans, he was evangelising people who believed in divinity.

And he didn’t just roll up to them and start talking about Christ the Messiah, as he would have done if he was talking to the Jews. He met people where they were and built on that. When he gave his sermon in Athens (Acts 17:15-34) he used the Greeks belief in deities. He didn’t condemn them for believing in many deities, he actually praised them saying, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way” and he used their ‘altar to the unknown god’ as a means to put the one true God into a meaningful context within their culture and beliefs. He took account of the cultural context in order to gain an audience that would listen and he evangelised in a way that made sense within the existing belief system of the target audience. If he’d rolled up, started condemning the Greeks for worshipping false gods, they’d have most likely just closed their ears and walked away, and if he’d started talking about Christ as the Messiah, they have thought “What sort of wierd mumbo-jumbo is this?” and walked of thinking, “Nutter”. But he didn’t do that, he cleverly used the cultural context he was evangelising within.

Using God, Heaven and Hell as a starting point to evangelise atheists might make us feel good within ourselves, but today’s atheist is likely to think “Here comes a religious nutter”, close his ears and walk away.

Paul met people where they were, when evangelising, and built upon what we beliefs we have in common with unbelievers (as shown by his sermon in Athens). But how do we do this with today’s atheists? How do we talk about God to someone who thinks that belief in God is in the same bracket as belief in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy?

The modern atheist respects science. So that’s where I’d start.

  • To start off with, you’re probably dealing with a case of “if I can’t prove it scientifically it’s not factual.” Point out gently that that isn’t a scientifically provable claim, making sure to note that there are arguments for Christianity. If they push, maybe ask if the existence of mathematics is scientifically provable, though this one is tricky.

  • Design and fine-tuning arguments are probably the best way to start. Don’t fall into creation/evolution traps. Your best bet is arguments about cosmology, pointing out the harmony in various constants.

  • The kalam argument is a decent argument about something from nothing. The tricky part is to be very clear on God as a self-caused entity. This one is somewhat harder to do because of the concepts involved.

  • Understand “simplicity” as a scientific virtue. In science, a simpler theory is considered more likely to be true than a more complex one. Push for the idea that a theory involving God is simpler than one without Him.

  • When it comes to specific religions, start with historical arguments. Evidence for miracles (again, think simplicity), age of the Scriptures, etc.

Yes, this means effective evangelism is going to require some research. You have to come out knowing what they know.

You really can’t, not until/unless they are ready to repent. I know because I’ve been there. All the evangelization and arguments and books and interviews in the world did nothing for me because I didn’t want to hear it. It was only when I reached a point at which I knew my life was bad, too bad to continue, and that it needed to change dramatically, that I was open to hearing the truth.

This is sort of the key thing. People so often talk like we are in a position exactly like the apostles so, therefore, we just need to “get back to basics.” We aren’t. Read Acts 17; when Paul walked the street of Athens and saw the shrine to the Unknown God, he understood that Christ fufilled the hopes of the pagans. But modern pagans have no hopes in that way. Classical pagans suffered darkness and ignorance of the truth, modern pagans positively and deliberately reject the truth – very often they fetishize that which is obviously not truth. I heard some time ago on Comedy Central a young high school-aged girl saying she was a Satanist because that was the only religion that “accepts everyone.” A normal person would think that’s a strike against the idea of total equality, not a point in favor of Satan, but we’re not dealing with normal-thinking people, are we?

If you have an atheist in mind you want to convert then pray, fast, do penance, and be available to answer questions if/when they repent.

I start with Natural Law.

Specifically, most modern atheists hold to the concept of ‘human rights’. Likewise, most have no logical basis for the concept.

It is certainly not genetic, there is no ‘gene’ that causes human rights. And if it is a human development, then it then falls to humans to define it, and humans can change it. Humans could vote, for example to make slavery a human right.

Modern atheism is really more of a ‘feels good’ atheism, rather than the though out atheism of Nietzsche and Sartre.

It’s going to take a lot of prayer and mortification on our part. We must give things up, even legitimate things, for the conversion of others. We need to pray for supernatural charity and for those who do not believe to respond to God’s call and His grace. When it comes to humans I think there are those who can be shown the necessity of God by the order present in the universe and I believe there are those who can be shown the necessity of God by seeing the disorder within them.

Yet like Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said, there is theism in atheism. God is a reality and is not fantasy which is why all the efforts of the atheist to protest against a God and to deny His existence are not seen as the acts of lunatics. If someone put as much effort as atheists do in attacking the existence of a unicorn, then that person would have been thrown into a loony bin. One would think a person would look at their own actions and check themselves into a psych ward for devoting so much time denouncing the existence of a unicorn. And why? Because unicorns are fantasy and not reality! Yet atheists are not thrown into loony bins and they do not check themselves into psych wards because they are fighting against a reality!

In the end the created cannot deny the Creator and it proves this in the most subtle of ways when it tolerates those who protest and spend their life protesting against a being they claim doesn’t exist.

I wouldn’t preach at all but hopefully as with my actions anyway, I would softly hope that my actions would allow them to see how much better to believe in God than it is to foster an anger against God for those atheist who have fallen out with God or religion of which I don’t consider those people to be true atheist anyway because they are angry at something they claim dont exist tho been attending a church for long enough? I accept they have fallen out but not totally disbelieve. But to atheists, true atheists, calmly accept there is no God and don’t celebrate Christmas even the materialistic version or anything then I would accept their decision as I would hope they accept mine and wouldn’t try to persuade with words but hopefully they would see I am happy with God in the way I am and may be there just may be, be a God and thats enough for me. I wouldn’t preach *religion *at all, just hope that people can get to know God and believe in Him and be at peace with Him.
To argue there isn’t something is based on the premise there is something to argue there isn’t. I haven’t come across anyone on the web yet that argues there isn’t a God without mentioned the name God and trying to slam however politely religious doctrine which to me is what they are against rather than being against God. So I hope I would by being peaceful allow them to really get to know God?

Some good advice on here. Thanks for that.

I personally might approach it from a staring point of concepts such as morality and truth. I have never yet come across a completely immoral atheist, they all seem to have an inherent grasp of the need for basic moral action and a respect for truth. But where do these concepts come from? There is no physical, scientific basis for morality or truth, so why do you believe that such concepts exist?

Short answer? We can’t.

We have virtually no chance of evangelizing an atheist until he at least admits the possibility of God.

I think the vast majority of scularists/atheists in the Western world can not be converted until things get much, much worse. Until they see their false gods of materialism and “tolerance” fail them absolutely.

I think it is much more promising to focus evangelization on the “luke warm”. Those who retain at least a vague belief in God; the “I’m spiritual but not religious” crowd.

Less than 10% of Americans are really atheists. Better to focus on the 70% who are still religious inclined, but unchurched, or non-Catholic.

Special focus should be on the theologically and morally conservative Protestants. They share many of our basic beliefs, and are very numerous, and very evangelical. Conversion of many of them would immensely strengthen the Church, and improve our ability to influence society, and draw others to Christ. I’ve long believed we need a great saint to be the “Apostle to the Evangelicals”.

Not to mention evangelizing the millions of Catholics who deny core aspects of the faith.

I’m sure God approves of an additional Catholic or Protestant soul saved as much as a former atheist saved.

God Bless

Evangelization is more than speech; I’ve learned that going to one of the most “secular,” by far, university in the US. People seem to have a greater deal of receptivity to your beliefs when they’ve seen the results first. Even the random act of kindness in a lonely city is a much louder message of evangelization than most of the soapbox preachers have to say.

One might accuse me of pragmatism but it’s not so. It’s like how you teach children a simpler message than you would if you were teaching adults - in this case, the hypothetical atheist might be spiritually a child [in terms of development].

I don’t accept that. They have souls, we HAVE TO find a way. It is difficult, but it cannot be impossible. Perhaps as EnglishRedRose has said, we need to show by example how we live our lives and how we reach out and care for the world around us. Most Atheists respect kindness and care towards others. If they can see us reaching out and helping it may lead some to think, “Wow, those are really good people, what drives them to do that?”. Or we approach it from their respect for science as has also been suggested. But we cannot throw in the towel and give up on them.

Surely the process of evangelisation begins before this? An atheist admitting the possibility of God might in some cases be a victory for evangelisation that started well before this.

I would agree with you on that.

That may be the case in the USA, but in the UK there are a lot more than 10% who are true atheists. It is a very atheistic culture here. On the 2011 census 14 million people described themselves as atheists (almost double the number from 2001). That is 22% of the UK population, and rising steadily (the figure today will be higher than that). So do we just give up then?

I would argue that these are not the souls in most need. They are believers. They are Christians. They at least are headed down the right road. They are perhaps not in the best vehicle for the journey, but at least they’re going in the right direction. It’s the poor souls who are sitting by the roadside going nowhere (or heading in the wrong direction completely) who we should really be trying to get onboard.

Imitate Jesus

Atheist are believers too! As there’s no proof that God does not exist either, they believe that he doesn’t exist. So you can use the same approach with them as Paul, building on their beliefs. We all believe in certain things as our knowledge is limited…it is always interesting to find out more about other people’s beliefs and why they believe what they believe.

We are all believers. No exceptions. .

That’s a good point. We all believe in something, what is ‘belief’? Is everything an atheist believes in grounded in the physical realm and can be absolutely explained by science? If not then why does he believe it? What is ‘belief’?

And you are right, it is always interesting to find out more about other people’s beliefs. We too might learn something from them.

It is not up to us to find a way, it is simply our duty to speak truth. When Jesus sent out the apostles to spread word of him, he did not say “Go to a city, and if they do not receive your message, then stay their forever and repeat yourself until you die.” He said to evangelize and, if they would not receive them, to shake the dust from their feet as a testimony against them and then move on.

We are bit players in the drama of conversion, our role is tertiary and minimal at best – it begins first with the grace of God and second with that person’s surrender (that is, lack of resistance) to that grace. If someone does not want even implicitly to hear “Jesus Christ is Lord,” then saying it again won’t help, nor will converting it to binary, cloaking it in liberalese, translating it into ebonics, etc.

It is hubris to think that the salvation of souls is primarily our work, the best we can do is get out of the way, not set a bad example (which too many Catholics do, and that includes clerics), to contradict the world with our saintliness and to pray and fast and do penance.

There’s a difference here. No, it is not ultimately our job to save people. But it is our job to evangelize. And part of our job as evangelists is to speak to people in ways they understand. How can you know that someone doesn’t want to hear “Jesus Christ is Lord” when no one has said it in a way that they may understand?

Many atheists I’ve found reject a God and religion that quite simply isn’t the God we worship and the religion we follow. They think there are no arguments for God, and that religion is just about blind obedience. Or they think that it’s just about making rules against things they don’t like. They reject the name “Jesus” but they have no idea who He is.

How to evangelise atheists? Easy.

Evangelist: “You know you will one day die?”
Atheist: “Yes”
Evangelist: “What do you think comes after?”

If they say “nothing”, then you counter with all the reports of survival after death, from time immemorial.

If they say “I’m still a spiritchool purson”, tell them they have no authority for their ideas, which, if culled from books and magazines, may do more harm than good when they get to the Other Side.

If you go to a party and talk to people at random about psychic events, a surprising number will have stories. That’s how religion started. The phenomena cannot be dismissed.

We Catholics have the Author of All intervening directly, in a beautiful and clever way, in His Creation. We have the history. Atheists are like 13 year olds trying to ‘reinvent the wheel’; it’s a waste ot time.

The entire point is to evangelize out of love for the dignity of the atheist, not show them they’re “stoopid.” Please reassess your motivations.

How to evangelize an atheist? Don’t Assume the belief / or non-belief of Anyone. If a person desires to have a spiritual conversation with another person, ask God for wisdom in the process Of sharing. A simple comment like “Isn’t this a beautiful day that God has given us?” or “Isn’t it wonderful how God has brought that person back to good health?”
During conversation, Assume God’s existence. “In the beginning God created…” Of Course He’s real…" God is like the wind or the breeze – both are ‘seen’ by the affect it has on our surroundings. We can Feel the wind blow and feel the breeze on our skin. Share what God has done in Your life. :slight_smile:

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit