Can Atheists and Christians Coexist?

Seventeen years ago, if you were to ask me “Can athe­ists and Christians coex­ist?” I would’ve said one of two things: “no” or the more smart-​ass “every­one on the plan­et exists at the same time just fine so yes.” My smart-​allecky past self aside, let’s focus on that “no” response.

Seventeen years ago, I was a *inhales* inde­pen­dent fun­da­men­tal Baptist who strong­ly believed in the ple­nary ver­bal inspi­ra­tion of the Holy Bible and the inerran­cy there­of, in the King James Version alone, nat­u­ral­ly. I was a lot. But one thing that I decid­ed­ly was not was a peace­mak­er. Bridging gaps was­n’t some­thing that came up much at my back­woods lit­tle coun­try church. Indeed, most activ­i­ties seemed direct­ed toward either get­ting butts into the seats or, well, mak­ing sure every­one knew of all the peo­ple we did­n’t approve of.

Homosexuals, athe­ists, Catholics, Muslims, Mormons, etc. etc. I recall the youth pas­tor even mak­ing a snide remark about a vis­it­ing evan­ge­list hap­pen­ing to be Black because appar­ent­ly even race was a divi­sive issue at my church. 

During my time at that church, I was intro­duced to the movie Apocalypse and its three sequels. For being low-​budget movies that were, I think, financed by Christian groups, they were at least mod­er­ate­ly watch­able and fea­tured a few sur­prise appear­ance by actors like Gary Busey, Howie Mandel, and Mr. T. Detailing the events of a pret­ribu­la­tion­al, pre­mil­len­ni­al End Times frame­work, the series fol­lows a vari­ety of peo­ple liv­ing in a post-​Rapture world ruled by the Antichrist. Those who came to believe in Jesus were called out as “haters,” out­cast and per­se­cut­ed by a world that can­not tol­er­ate their message.

Seventeen years ago, that’s how it felt to be a Christian, at least my par­tic­u­lar kind of Christian. Christians could­n’t pos­si­bly be haters because the very act of warn­ing peo­ple about their sins — homo­sex­u­al­i­ty includ­ed — was seen as a com­plete act of com­pas­sion. Christians weren’t the haters… Everyone else was. They hat­ed God, they hat­ed holy things, they hat­ed holy peo­ple. Therefore, it fol­lowed that when the world was giv­en over to the Antichrist and the major­i­ty of the world was firm­ly on his side that Christians would be derid­ed as being hateful.

Coexistence did­n’t seem possible.

The very thought of it felt dirty, actu­al­ly. “What fel­low­ship has light with dark­ness?” I would have argued back then. 

What the Bible actu­al­ly said, though, rarely fac­tored into my deci­sions or the deci­sions, as I’ve grown to learn, of my church and oth­ers like it.

I’m an athe­ist now, and like my time as a Christian before, I spent the bet­ter part of my first years as an unbe­liev­er being a divi­sive butthead, doing every­thing I could to “dis­prove” Christianity or show the Bible to be worth­less. It occurs to me, then, that I can­not blame Christianity for my hate­ful­ness before. I did­n’t leave it behind when I left the church behind; it was some­thing with­in me that I had to overcome.

In so doing, I’ve reached the point where I don’t care if there is a Christian church on every oth­er street cor­ner. Frankly, that does­n’t mat­ter. What I’d like to see, though, are bet­ter Christians who aren’t out there mak­ing the same mis­takes I made. 

As a Christian, I could­n’t imag­ine liv­ing peace­ful­ly, or coex­ist­ing, with homo­sex­u­als or those who con­doned (or received) abor­tions. Imagine my sur­prise when I real­ized that the Bible does­n’t con­demn those things! As a mat­ter of fact, a lot of what the church­es spend their time on has lit­tle to do with the book they claim to stand upon, and a whole lot of what the book actu­al­ly calls upon Christians to do is rarely found among “God’s peo­ple” today.

As an athe­ist, I chose to become a human­ist, some­one who cares about the wel­fare of my fel­low humans. The more I leaned into it, the more I real­ized that this world­view was­n’t incom­pat­i­ble with Christianity. Well, not bib­li­cal, Jesus-​driven Christianity.

I would glad­ly accept every gospel mes­sage direct­ed toward me if it came from the lips of a Christian who was tru­ly tak­ing up his or her cross in devo­tion to not only their god but their fel­low humans, as direct­ed by their Lord in their book.

Can athe­ists and Christians coex­ist? Hypothetically, and ide­al­ly, yes. I believe so. 

It won’t, how­ev­er, come easy. Not every Christian cares a whit about what Jesus taught; many pre­fer instead to get hung up on a hand­ful of more open-​to-​interpretation Bible vers­es in order to jus­ti­fy some big­otry or, more sin­is­ter­ly, to sup­plant Jesus’ teach­ings with a hol­low shell of a reli­gion that func­tions as lit­tle more than a social club.

And then there are the athe­ists. Many don’t care one way or anoth­er, but among those who pub­licly claim the athe­ist label, folks all too often fall into the trap of set­ting them­selves on a mis­sion to dis­rupt reli­gion, whether by protests or memes, often ill-spirited. 

Atheists and Christians can coex­ist, but for it to hap­pen, we’re all going to have to be bet­ter.

Better Jesus-​followers.

Better human­ists.

Better humans.

I believe in us.

Resolutely, Rick

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