A Catholic’s guide to atheists

Just what the world needs: Someone who claims to have been be an atheist for all of her life before converting to Catholicism a few years ago now has all the answers for her Catholic friends about how to deal with atheists. (In case you’re still wondering, I’m not Catholic, so if you’re looking to learn how to conduct yourself as one in the spirit of the title you may be in the wrong place.)

This whole exercise is misguided on a number of levels. For one thing, maybe I’m traveling in the wrong circles, but Catholics as a rule are not exactly the evangelizing type. They also don’t care if others are atheists or belong to other religions. Mind you, I’ve met a few crazy and strident and stupid ones, but this was a result of their inherent nature, not their Catholicism. Most Catholics I know are barely a step ahead of the Jews I know when it comes to the strength of their ecclesiastic beliefs, which bear far more resemblance to my own than to those of archetypal Christian. They’re in it for the tradition and the social aspects, and in some cases have educational motives. The Vatican may be an unholy mess, but that doesn’t speak to what Catholics stateside believe.

For another thing, it’s always advisable to be suspicious of people who claim to have been nonbelievers for a long time before finding God. I’ve found that these types of people are, understandably, very confused. They don’t actually know whether they really believe now or not, which is eminently reasonable but in sharp contrast to the identity they’ve embraced. They remind me of people who have been going to AA meeting for a few weeks after two decades of hardcore drinking and are already telling people who have been sober for years how to best approach their still-imbibing friends and family members. This energetic distribution of piercing insight is often followed by a drinking relapse and a disappearance from the sobriety scene.

Furthermore, the writer is operating from a mistaken premise–that the things atheists believe (and she’s right about this in many cases) are incorrect. One example is her statement, “most atheists think that large parts of the Bible simply aren’t true, and many see the entire thing as a work of fiction.” She’s half-right, but she fails, of course, to take this to its proper conclusion, as this would obviously undermine her entire raison d’etre.

Finally, the writer’s implicit assumption is that atheists–who, by the way, do not come in one basic “type” in terms of personality, educational level, etc.–not only want to listen to people go on about their experiences as Catholics, but need to. If I have a friend who’s Catholic (or Jewish, or Hindu, or Muslim, etc.) whose life has been strongly influenced by her religion, than I like to listen to her discuss it because I like knowing more about herself and her experiences. But if someone’s only looking to challenge me, then it’s pointless. For one thing, most atheists know more about the tenets of their interlocutors’ religions, a strange but true reality that has been borne out by fairly hard data was well as lots of anecdotal accounts. For another, no real atheist is going to be persuaded by arguments from the faithful. At best he will grow bored or irritated or perhaps frustrated at observing an otherwise intelligent friend blather on about things like people coming back to life or crackers equating to tasty human flesh, etc. At worst he might start fucking with you, leading you on like the telemarketer you effectively are, before delivering the coup de grace and mocking you outright before slamming the door in your face (literally if you are a literal evangelist, figuratively otherwise). There is no percentage in proselytizing, and the fact that this blogger is hopelessly wrong about not only her conceptualization of nonbelievers but also the urgency of her de facto mission only hurts the whole unnecessary movement.

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