March 4, 2008

Atheism Doesn't Always Strengthen Their Faith

cross on a tree

It seems nearly impossible for Christians to discuss atheism without eventually making the claim that encountering atheists strengthens their faith. Of course, this should be no surprise. Material that contradicts one's belief system often strengthens one's belief in the "truth" one thinks one has, especially when one refuses to question the assumptions behind this "truth" (i.e., refuses to exercise reason). And yet, many ex-Christians report that exposure to other atheists and/or atheist-oriented material had exactly the opposite effect. They will often tell you it helped them break free from irrational belief.

Those of us writing atheist blogs do sometimes wonder if we are just preaching to the choir. If I were to analyze the readership of this blog, I would probably find that the vast majority of my readers were atheists. Among the Christians with whom I have interacted here, there have been some curious visitors, many pesky trolls, and a handful of regular readers who seem to genuinely engage the material without the not-so-subtle conversion ploys we often see.

The Christians who do appear to be interested in real dialogue are a great bunch, and I sometimes wish I could attract more of them. They make me think, stimulate discussion in the comment thread, and provide cause for optimism. Indeed, this sort of Christian will always be welcome here.

I also happen to believe that these Christians are among the least likely to report that encountering atheism strengthens their faith. I base this speculation on the fact that I was once one of them. Exposure to atheism did not strengthen my faith; it showed me that there was a viable alternative which made far more sense to my rational mind. Most of all, exposure to atheism provided me with a model of a life without superstition. I realized I did not have to be a Christian.