Richard Dawkins, Richard Carrier, Barry McGowan, Christopher Hitchens, Bertrand Russell, Madalyn Murray O’Hair — they all had one thing in common — they are or were people. They also happen to be or were well-known atheists.
I was quite taken with Madalyn Murray O’Hair at one time. I never met her, but had the opportunity to talk with her more than 40 years ago when she was a guest on a radio talk show I produced. I was a young atheist and looked up to her and Bertrand Russell (he was still alive at the time) as examples of what I wanted to be in society — a freethinker who opened the minds of the masses to think for themselves — unhampered by the dictates of religion. I didn’t think of Madalyn or Bertrand as anything other than people speaking their mind.
So, what do I think about them today? They were people speaking their mind. The fact that I became a Christian more than 40 years ago did not change my opinion about the humanity of atheists. Every atheist, past and present, was born as a person. They were human long before they were atheists.
I bring this up because of my personal experience as an atheist and the years since becoming a Christian. I produced and hosted talk shows in the 60s and early 70s and earned the scorn of Christians who listened and called in to the program. It still surprises me as I think back on what many of them said to me. Most were less than cordial and some were even hateful toward me. It didn’t bother me at the time because their hate helped boost the ratings for my shows. However, it bothers me now because Christians haven’t changed much through the years. They still find atheists disgusting. I’ve heard Christians say they hope atheists they know burn in hell. I remember Christians saying that to me on my radio show. Did they really mean that? Did they really hope I would burn in hell? I hope not. I hope that was just their frustration talking.
I was also surprised at what happened after I became a Christian. The man who prayed with me when I was saved was a minister and knew a lot of other ministers in the area. He told them about my conversion and most didn’t believe him. Many ministers told me to my face that I was the one person they didn’t think could be saved. I remember the pastor of one church saying he stopped praying for me because I was such an enemy of the Church. That’s a bit surprising as I think about it now, but that’s what he thought. I shared my testimony in many churches and Christians who came up to me afterward were either crying, laughing or shaking their heads. They just didn’t believe I could be saved. Why was that? I think it’s because they lost sight of the fact that I was just a person — a lost soul looking for answers in all the wrong places.
Atheists are just people, lost souls, looking for answers. Most have not looked in the right places. They don’t know how to find the answers. They need someone to show them the way and that means treating them like people, not like hateful garbage. I can name the Christians who impacted me positively for Christ and each one of them treated me as a person. They all knew I was a mean-mouth, mocking atheist, but that’s not how they saw me. They saw a person, dead in trespasses and sins, blind and bumping into life’s walls searching for answers. They cared about me as a person and that meant something to me. I was not persuaded by the angry words of Christians who saw me as a threat to their family, their church, their town, their way of life. I was persuaded by the love of God’s people for a lost and miserable soul.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, if you really want to reach the hearts and minds of atheists in your family, in your circle of friends, in your neighborhood, at your job, see them as they are — people — people in need — people who can be reached by the Power of God and the love of His people.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,