Startling but Understandable Statistics

In an article published in The Lutheran entitled, "Conversations with Atheists, Tell me about the God you don't believe in" by Lisa E. Dahill, a startling but understandable statistic was revealed.  One-third of adults under the age of 30 note their religious preference as "none."  They are either atheists, agnostics, uninterested or hostile toward organized religion.  Dahill, who is an assistant professor at Trinity Lutheran Seminary and a guest professor at Ohio State University, noted that many of her students who fall in this category have good reason.  When asked to talk about the God they don't believe in, Dahill often finds herself agreeing with their assessments.  So how do we have conversations about God to those who fall into the "none" category?  Dahill says with understanding, humility and genuine respect.

I've had conversations with my father about religion.  As far as I can remember, he's been an atheists or agnostic, wanting concrete proof of God's existence.  That's not surprising.  A lot of people, Christians included, seek proof.  I know others who fall into the "none" category who don't believe in God because of horrible experiences from their past.  The question "why did this happen to me?" fuels their disbelief in a loving God.  I get that.  Also, others refuse to believe that a loving God could send people to hell.  This is a contradiction they can't accept.  Totally understandable.  Some just think religion is ridiculous.  Some think that believing a man in the sky controls their destiny is childish.  I know someone who thinks that by believing in God, we're putting our hope to much in the afterlife instead of living our lives for the present, thus not living our best lives here and now.  I know a couple that doesn't take their child to church because they don't go and they don't want to be hypocrites.  Some people just fundamentally don't believe that Jesus was the Messiah.  They don't believe in the resurrection.

I could go on but the question remains, how do we talk to those in the "none" category?  Like Dahill, I agree that approaching religious beliefs of any kind should be done with respect and humility.  It's difficult sometimes to do so, especially since it's such a passionate subject, but no one wants to be preached to and no one wants religion "shoved down their throat".

A good first step is simply to establish a definition of God.  In the book Crazy Live by Francis Chan, he spends a whole chapter dedicated to answering this question.  Now, this is a book probably read by more Christians than non-believers, yet he still dedicates a full chapter to simply defining God.  Why?  Because a lot of people, including myself, have at some point gotten it wrong.  I recommend this book to help get your started understanding who is God.  In short, God is the creator of the universe, everywhere present, and our loving father.

Next, it's important to hear both sides of the argument.  If someone has a reason they don't believe in God, that means they've given it a decent amount of thought.  People don't usually just wake up one day and decide there is no God.  There is usually a catalyst.  The final straw in turning my back against God occurred in high school when an acquaintance - a freshman who sat next to me in a few classes - was murdered walking to a neighborhood grocery store.  Instead of turning to God with my pain and confusion, I turned away.  Many people have stories like this, many have worse.  Listen to them, patiently and with respect.

Be honest.  I remember one religious conversation with my father when at one point, he looked at me and smiled smugly saying, "You always have an answer, don't you?"  Ouch!  I realized at that point I wasn't doing a good job because the truth is, I don't have all the answers when it comes to faith.  I'm often confused when it comes to the mystery of God, and it would be better if I just come right out and said it.  In fact, it was through one of my dear friend's candor at her own lack of knowledge that I finally felt comfortable enough to ask questions about God and get back on the religious track.

Set an example, but know you won't be perfect.  No one is perfect.  Christians aren't perfect but often we are held to higher standards.  And you know what?  We should be.  We're setting examples by our words and actions.  While we'll never be 100% perfect role models, we can at least make a daily effort.  I was recently hanging out with someone whose been a Christian for about five years now, and she kept saying "Oh my God!" over and over when she got excited about something.  Little things like that don't go unnoticed and can be easily modified.

I could go on and on about this subject but I'll just add one more.  Perseverance.  If you're lucky enough to be talking with a non-christian and have them want to dedicate their lives to Jesus at that moment, that's a miraculous and wonderful thing.  But for many, these things take time.  Just letting someone know you're there in case they ever have questions can go a long way.  Answering a question, defining a biblical term, offering prayer are all little ways to keep the conversation alive.

Ultimately, I believe this topic is far too important not to discuss.  We're talking about our souls, the essence of our beings, the spark within us that no one on the outside world can touch.  We're talking about eternity, one that is either filled with Jesus or not.