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.
I believe in us.