The Confrontation with an Atheist

They are as sure of the absence of God as you are in God’s existence. In rare cases, the passionate atheist and fervent believer can meet the eye to eye and wrestle, often to a stalemate, thru the evidence for and against the existence of God — and part after thorough and exhausting discussion, being better human beings.

Religious affiliation is of no consequence here except as evidence for the Atheist that no religious organization has established the primacy of owning the eternal truths that they purport to possess within their separate faiths.

The confrontation can be unnerving and unsettling for both parties. Both have world views that have far-reaching consequences. However, at the core of it all, what is missing is an underlying mutual understanding of the limits of our certainty regarding humanity in general and acceptance of the subjective experiences that allow for or disavow faith.

A Jesuit writer, today on the feast of the epiphany, wrote that a friend of his is an atheist, and his atheism he presumed was primarily grounded in a belief in the primacy of reason. His friend presented a different reason. He shared that he was aware that many believers in God experienced what we Christians would describe as the desire for God “written in the human heart.” “I’ve never experienced that,” he said. “If there is a God, that seems terribly unfair and perhaps even cruel.”  Powerful question. From a Catholic perspective, we acknowledge faith is a grace given to us, not something we can create through our own merit and actions. We believe it is there for the taking for anyone who seeks a relationship with God. On an individual level, how can we explain to a morally upstanding human being, a friend perhaps, why they have not had that spiritual consolation of grace? Many atheists have, by human measures, pursued a relationship with God with persistent, genuine, and sincere efforts and come up empty. Answering them with Divine Providence or God’s mysterious ways, explanations feel insufficient. Judging our friend’s effort and character also seems wrong or Jobian.

My atheist friends, I cannot answer for the absence of a spiritual spark within your heart any more than I answer why a fervent believer can have years of spiritual aridity. I cannot answer the questions regarding human suffering and misery in any manner that will comfort the non-believer.

I can say believers struggle with some of the very same ideological and practical concerns that atheist has about our faith or our religious institution.  I can further say I do not judge your disbelief or assign you any hierarchical position on the spiritual ladder of life. I have been in the Atheist camp as have many believers.  I can say I am willing to be present with you in good times and bad facing life’s graces and suffering. Yes, even graces can be a challenge.

Our joint actions together, no matter how inconsequential our work may seem, can serve humanity in as much as we both ensure our efforts are not evilly intentioned.

6733ae34-574d-46e4-ad2f-6607affc0d56-1998-000002555b4f069aPerhaps my faith in action for the “the greater glory of God” and your work for the greater good of humanity can ignite elevating a shared vision of human social responsibil08c86120-d1ed-42e1-8d18-d430e69e0abf-1998-0000025633cd5576ity.  The litmus test will be frequent and furious. Let us face each divide with genuine compassion, action, and, when appropriate, laughter at our human folly and gross inadequacies.

On my end, I pray today for spiritual grace for anyone who requires this consolation.  I also hope that no one closes the door entirely on the possibility of a higher power and remains open to possibilities.  People often speak about God closing a door for us and opening up another.  I am not talking about that door, I am talking about doors that we close to spirituality.

doorOn what grounds or merit do I write to you on this request.  I have had personal experience opening and closing that dam door.  I have set up shop behind it and barricaded myself inside with science, literature, competition, human relationships, philosophy, sports, and other not so worldly vices.  It took me a bit of time to realize that while most of these comforts hold great value, my life is better after I unbarricaded the door and was open to a relationship with God.  Sometimes I still let the door briefly swing shut on the winds of carelessness and inattention.  It isn’t long before life reminds me how important for me, at least, is an inner spiritual life guiding my mortal days.

For some dramong us, closing that door can be life-threatening and do unbearable harm.  Ask people in recovery about the spiritual aspects of 12 step programs – they are free of religious affiliation but very dependent on an ambiguously defined higher power.    Those open to genuinely following the spiritual elements of the 12 step programs tend to have more success in both recovery and happiness overall.  You can visually see their peace and serenity as you might see and feel when visiting a Trappist monastery.    


What might your higher power look like if you began to search again and were open to the possibility of God’s existence?   Maybe nothingness, but the journey will be rewarding even if you don’t achieve a mystical experience.    

  • For the Atheist out there, perhaps in deeds and actions, we can find a little spark of spirituality.
  • For those who are looking into religious organizations, my bias is the Jesuits and the Catholic Faith.
  • For those in recovery – the journey is yours to define a higher power, define one quickly and be open to change.

At the end of the day, a discussion with an Atheist, Agnostic, or person in recovery about God is not a confrontation.  It is an opportunity for people of faith to exchange experiences and beliefs that we hold dearly and an opportunity to get to know one another more intimately regardless of challenging questions and probing accusations about our beliefs.   We need not be grand apologetic orators or defensive about inquiry – for if we cannot answer a few questions, how strong is our faith anyway?   And somethings we will never be able to answer – as a relationship and belief in anything mystical will defy our imagination and ability to achieve concurrence among mankind probably beyond my lifetime.


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