Stover: Can Your Agnostic (or Atheist) Friends Enjoy Acting Like a Christian?

My atheist friends almost seem to brag when they tell me they don’t need God. “I don’t need all that religious stuff,” they say. There’s an old saying that my combat veteran friends support: “There are no atheists in foxholes.” When the going gets tough, God is always there to help get us through. Atheists insist they’re tough enough to get through alone.

My parents were of different faiths and divorced when I was very young. My mother was a religious CEO–she took me to church on Christmas and Easter only – -so I didn’t have much of a religious upbringing.

When I was discharged from the U. S. Coast Guard, my father let me stay with him. The first Sunday morning, he called up, “Do you want to go to church this morning?” I begged off, preferring to sleep in. He asked the next couple of Sundays, then one morning he yelled, “Well, if you won’t go to my church, pick one of your own.”

I drove around and picked the nearest church, which I attended the following Sunday. When I returned home, my father asked, “Well, how was it?”

“It was great,” I said. “The people were really friendly, and we sang a lot of songs, and the minister gave a great sermon. It was fun.”

He frowned. “You don’t go to church to have fun.”

When I thought about it later, I wondered, “Why not?” Why not enjoy a church? Why wouldn’t anyone enjoy singing hymns, listening to lively and interesting sermons, and hanging out with good people? Of course, that’s only part of the enjoyment of being a Christian. We also have the Bible, with its great stories and thought-provoking messages. (In a hotel room, it’s usually the only stimulating reading material besides the room service menu.)

Our atheist friends reject God and claim that Jesus was just a nice guy who preached but nothing more (although, surprisingly, most still believe he was the most perfect person who ever lived). They say that when they die, it’s all over for them. I wonder if they will feel that way when the end nears. I had a friend who admitted that near the end he’d probably cry out, “Save me, I now believe.”

We all need something more in life than just getting by day by day. The University of Maryland Medical Center noted, “All persons have spiritual needs. Some persons have religious needs. . . Some people find meaning, comfort, hope, goodness and community through their religious practice, beliefs and/or community of faith.”

In such cities as Los Angeles, San Diego, Nashville, New York and others, so-called “atheist churches” are springing up, a movement founded in 2003 by two British comedians. As Time magazine reported, “While evangelical Christians are known for celebrating faith in God at mega-churches, now atheists are celebrating their lack of faith in God in a ‘mega-church’ setting.” (Although attendance is far below what one would call “mega church” as we know it.) Attendees stomped their feet, clapped their hands and cheered as they were led through such songs as “Lean on Me” and “Here Comes the Sun” instead of hymns. As one atheist website puts it, “These are not churches in the traditional sense, but congregations of atheists gathering in a church-like setting to fellowship, sing, hear messages about celebrating life, and go out and serve their community.”

Uh, isn’t that what our churches do? One wonders why they would go to such lengths to do what many did before they turned away from the church. And there are a lot more churches, so there are more opportunities to find something to enjoy on a Sunday morning (and during the rest of the week). And they don’t have to believe anything they don’t want to.

One of the atheist church movement founders, who was raised in a Christian home, seems to approve of Christian churches. “”If you think about church, there’s very little that’s bad. It’s singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people, and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?”

Allan C. Stover

I’ve never been asked before or after church service whether I believe in God or Jesus. Beforehand, I just shake hands and tell people hello and how glad I am to see them. Afterward, I may linger and chat about the choir or the sermon or anything else of interest in the world that day. I may also go to Sunday school and listen to stories and lessons from the Bible. My church has a singles group, support groups, potlucks and breakfasts (Christians love to eat), movies, recreation activities, game nights, group travel, and missions. We have plenty of opportunities to get involved, and to serve the community, the church, and the world. An atheist can take part in everything going on at church and not believe.

Atheists present a tough challenge, but we just might slowly bring them to Christ if we let them know how much we enjoy our church, how much we find it to be an enjoyable and rewarding place to get involved. We even have fun there. They may someday decide to attend just to see what they’re missing. Even if they don’t soon come back, a seed has been planted that may bear fruit another day.

And someday, after hearing enough of the good news, your atheist friend or relative may realize that the path to Jesus is the true path to joy and eternal life. What a glorious day that will be for both of you!

June 9, 2019

~ The Author ~
Allan C. Stover is author of Underage and Under Fire; Accounts of the Youngest Americans in Military Service (McFarland Publishing, 2014). His website is www.AllanCstover.com.

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