Atheists and Agnostics: An Open Letter to You

by Dave Palcsak

I used to be one of you. I thought Christianity was a crutch for folks who had no other method to cope with the scepter of death. Nonexistence is a fearful thing so the desire to live forever made perfect sense to me, because seriously now, who wouldn’t want to spend eternity in bliss? How could you blame those crazy Christians for that? But it wasn’t enough for me. In fact, even now, it’s not enough, and I actually think if that’s all you have, you don’t have genuine faith. Eventually, I did examine my worldview, and it’s probably clear that I am now a Christian, and a serious one at that. But this isn’t about theology. It’s about understanding. As an agnostic, I listened to Christians who were sincerely (for the most part) trying to help me. This went on for literally decades and it never worked. Actually, poor Christian witnessing bolstered my agnosticism because I never heard a remotely convincing proof of their God…until I did. Another story for another time perhaps.

One thing about genuine Christians: we have to be honest. And to be truthful, even as an agnostic, I had no respect for atheism. If you’re an atheist reading this, please don’t stop. It’s just that – you can’t know there is no creator. Cellular complexity, the cosmos, beauty, music, and so on and so on. It’s at least possible that a creative force is behind everything. Agnosticism, however, made perfect sense to me. So much so that I had my own phrase: “Agnosticism, it just MIGHT be the answer.” And I loved challenging Christians about why they believed the wildly improbable ancient fairy tale they took as gospel (pun intended).  No one can prove there is a God anymore more than anyone else can prove there isn’t. It was the only logical and intellectually sound conclusion. I was convinced of my conviction that no conviction was superior to any conviction. I staunchly (and respectfully) defended my worldview at every opportunity. I’m eternally (pun intended again) grateful that one of those conversations ultimately compelled me to radically alter my worldview.

While it’s certainly true that I would love it if everyone came to know what I now know; I realize I’m not going to make that happen so I’m not going to try. As I stated, this is about understanding, and my goal is to convey why I think it’s more important than ever for people of differing worldviews, political views and differences on issues in general to be able to speak cordially and even lovingly with one another; because if mutual respect is absent, so is influence and understanding. I can also tell you that the primary onus for facilitating such edifying communication is on me and my brothers and sisters in Christ. By saying this, I’m not suggesting that others are unlikely to be polite. As a former Lyft driver, I have had many, many conversations with many, many different folks who believe many, many different things and I can happily tell you that most of them, regardless of how they see the world, want to be kind and helpful. That fact, and it is a fact, makes approaching others much easier. The problem is, kindness goes down when labels pop up; liberal, conservative, red, blue, pro-gun, anti-gun, etc.

I mean no offense, and I’m not speaking in a condescending manner by stating that the onus for facilitating civil communication falls primarily on Christians. We have to follow a rule book. Our direction comes from our relationship with Christ as relayed in the Bible, and the love that flows through us from Him develops, and ultimately supersedes the proclivities of our “old” self. We must constantly strive to understand that His love can be in conflict with our natural feelings, and when that happens, His love, not our feelings take precedent. In short – great day, follow the rule book; horrible day, follow the rule book; tragedy in your life, follow the rule book. A huge part of that rule book demands that we love our enemies, and that is not always easy to do. What we must consciencely and continuously strive for is an understanding that the vast majority of those in groups other than our own, are not really enemies at all. That helps, but the love your enemy thing still applies. In short, if you encounter a hateful Christian, you should absolutely call them out on it; but let me also be clear – speaking the truth in love is not hateful or hate speech.

That’s a bit of the rub, isn’t it? The whole truth thing. My belief that the God of the Bible is the One and Only true God, doesn’t make it so. That’s what I believe to be true; but it’s not “my” truth. It is either true or it isn’t. It’s either fact or it’s not. We’re here, so something happened; but you don’t get your own personal truth, and that’s not a bad thing. Defend why you believe what you do. Folks can really learn about one another by testifying as to how their worldview came about.  I don’t think any single issue stops stimulating encounters more than: “Don’t talk about it, your truth is just different from my truth.” Why do we try so hard to eighty-six this subject? If the deeper things of life interest you, lively discussion will bolster your convictions or prompt you to reconsider them. Either way, you’ll come to understand why another likeable person sees things in a light you don’t. If they aren’t likeable; scratch them off your list then, not before. If all of us would give our fellow humans the benefit of the doubt and put more topics on the table instead of constantly removing them, we will all be much better off. If you assume the best in folks, you are far more likely to get it.

My experiences and perceptions influence me. It’s a part of the fabric of who I am, and they help make up my personal testimony. And I love testimonies. Every single one is unique; yours included. This is my point. Share your testimony and how you came to be who you are with other folks. Some of the best conversations in my life have been with those who believe differently than I do. Learn and grow by understanding other points of view. Stimulate your brain by diving into what makes you and others tick. Trust me, it beats the heck out of: “How’s the weather?” Fascinating topics beat the mundane whether you find validity in another viewpoint or not. Let’s eliminate conversational eggshells as a reason to avoid genuine discourse because there are so many incredible opportunities to share with so many incredible people. Do your part to change the narrative. Approach others with genuine interest and compassion whether you agree with them or not.

Have you noticed how politicians, almost 100% of the time, vote along party lines? This is one of many great examples of polarization in our world today. Disagreements are mostly “group”-oriented. Significant pressure exists in virtually every group context to conform, and these days, pretty much everything is framed in a group context. I’m not speaking solely of politics, but they do seem to be at the epicenter of conflict. The message is clear: don’t deviate from the rank. Departure from the collective is tantamount to evil. We are good, the other side is bad. Consequently, as a society, we are devolving to solely look at groups and ignore the individual.

We need to have the freedom and confidence to respectfully speak without fear. I have noticed a troubling trend claiming racism as the motivating factor driving “evil intent” on multiple issues. It seems to me that race has nothing to do with the vast majority of these issues, but I’m a white man. So, I decided to have an open conversation with a black woman who is a very close friend because I lack the ability to see things through her eyes. We had a very productive chat. I learned a lot and I think she did too. After we exhausted the subject to our mutual satisfaction, a thought occurred to me and I shared it with my friend: I told her that I know many people, and as far as I can tell, none of them are racists. I asked her about those she knew. After considering the matter, she said the same thing. I’m not claiming racism doesn’t exist, but from my experience and from hers, this is what we both perceive: most folks are decent. Racism is horrible, and decent folks are in agreement on this. Hating those with whom you disagree with on issues is also horrible. Hating liberals because you’re conservative or hating conservatives because you’re liberal, and on and on, are also horrible. To summarize, all hatred stemming from ideological or racial partiality is horrible. Every human has intrinsic value. Categorizing by issue dehumanizes the individual. You can hate an ideology without hating the person. Group think is fascism. The only thing that feeding on hatred does is increase the appetite for hatred. It’s poison. Don’t be sucked in. Seek out folks you don’t see eye to eye with. Find out why they look at the world as they do and tell them why you see things the way you do. Be respectful and also be sincerely curious. That’s a great recipe for increasing knowledge and developing positive relationships. I don’t know about you, but I much prefer making friends to making enemies.


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