Spiritual Care for Atheists: Compassion Not Condemnation

Melanie Jean Juneau

It is easy to become self-righteous, or defensive, when a Christian feels attacked by atheists. However, indignant arrogant rants that bludgeon others with the ‘truth’ treats the unbeliever as an object and not an intelligent person who is also loved by God.  When I am  secure in the Love of God, I can love and respect everyone, because I do not feel threatened.  Then it is possible to encourage respectful dialogue that actually listens to the crux of  atheists’ concerns and doubts. Such dialogue opens the door for the Holy Spirit to become the Divine Moderator of the discussion.

1 Corinthians 13:

4 Love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited, 5 it is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, it does not take offence or store up grievances. 6Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth…..9For we know only imperfectly… 12 Now we see only reflections in a mirror, mere riddles, but then we shall be seeing face to face.

My words alone will not convince an atheist. Catholics need theology and apologetics, but these disciplines will  not convert  anybody, because Christianity is not primarily a moral theology or a philosophy, but a relationship of love. By focusing upon the reality of  our Christian experiences as they truly are, Christ becomes a living Messiah not only to us, but a visible light to others.

Many believers still cling to a false idea of a God with a white beard on a throne.  This image is a finite human creation, not the real, infinite Creator of the universe.  Of course,  intelligent atheists reject  false, naive views of God.  My own personal experience of the Holy, Immortal One, is often closer to the mystical apophatic tradition  The Christian contemplative is a life of  prayer. Such devotion is not one of rigid perfection and certitude, but a life which involves inner struggle, growth and healing, as we journey deeper into the Mystical Body of Christ.  The honest life in Christ is rooted in humility not pride, because we are constantly  aware of our own sinfulness and wounds.

The contemplative learns about deep trust and complete abandonment to One he knows to be beyond all understanding.  The mystic does not have all the answers; he is not afraid to admit that he does not understand everything and he certainly does not berate or belittle those who are searching. The true mystic  experiences  God as unknowable, not an object nor a thing to be studied.  God cannot be boxed in, defined because He is a mystery. Such  experiential faith  reveals itself in the ground of our being.  This is where dialogue with atheists can begin, because God dwells at the core of our selves, atheists and indeed of all life.

Ultimately, it is God who reveals Himself to the atheist.

A brilliant young friend  was atheist. He availed himself to understanding Christianity. When I asked what he had read on spirituality or Christianity he simply replied, “The library”.  One day, we were in a prayer group, and while praying, my friend relaxed as merely an observer on the margins of the group. Suddenly, he suddenly started to laugh. Our eyes popped open in surprise. The quiet, subdued young man was beaming, and he exclaimed,

“I’m hot all over, especially inside my chest, my heart really. It  feels  like a glowing, golden mist  all around me, inside of me…but it was there all the time; I just couldn’t feel it or see it.  All of a sudden I am plugged into a circuit board of power that has been here the entire time. God is real. He exists. I can’t believe it. Why did I not see something all around me, in my face? I feel this energy flowing between everyone in this room and connecting to me as well, like electrical currents, like invisible bands or cords. I want to jump up and down and start yelling on the top of my voice that God exists and He is right here.”

God converts atheists and draws them to the Church while our self-righteous preaching drives them away. What God really needs from us is just one open window, one landing strip, one antenna to perform miraculous conversions.


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19 thoughts on “Spiritual Care for Atheists: Compassion Not Condemnation”

  1. Pingback: R. I. P. Richard Collins, Popular Blogger - BigPulpit.com

  2. Suppose there exists a supernatural intelligence behind all this. It would make sense. Suppose too that humans have been worshipping gods for a very long time. What are the chances that the supernatural intelligence would be accurately described by any of these tribal gods? The supernatural intelligence is not a god at all. There are no gods. That is atheism.

    1. melanie jean juneau

      Exactly- we cannot accurately box in, define or control a ” supernatural intelligence”
      Isaiah 55: 8″For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. 9″For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.…

    2. I suggest you read “The Christ Connection” by Roy Abraham Varghese. You wrongly assume that all tribal groups are fundamental polytheists. In many aboriginal, early human tribes that is not the case. Many early human tribes were largely monotheists (belief in a single, supreme Creator above everything- including “spirits” and natural forces). In the book, it presents a lot of research work (in the field of the history of religions & anthropology) that supports this. Good, solid book overall.

    3. I said tribal gods but I didn’t mean multiple gods from one tribe. I meant each tribe having its own god. The Jews were one of those tribes.

    4. I can see what you’re saying, but in most case studies, behind each “tribal god” stood common denominators= single, Creator, transcendent, featureless, supreme. To Hebrews it’s personally known by name (YHWH), to other ancient cultures it was known by a different name or was even nameless. Again, I recommend “The Christ Connection”, it shows many case studies from Hebrews to indigenous African religions and even to Native Americans.

    5. I don’t give any creedance to the superstitions of indigenous and primitive cultures. I look to science for the real answers.

    6. That’s a little elitist (so primitive & indigenous cultures are automatically inferior? Is it a superiority contest?). I too constantly look for the sciences for real answers concerning the natural world. I also look to Catholicism for real answers concerning the meaning of life, spirituality, morality, philosophy, art, & social teachings (significant things outside the jurisdiction of natural sciences). Fides Et Ratio, my friend. In the Western civilizations, the development of sciences came largely from Catholicism.

    7. “I also look to Catholicism for real answers concerning the meaning of life, spirituality, morality, philosophy, art, & social teachings (significant things outside the jurisdiction of natural sciences).”

      Yes. I agree. Catholicism is very good in those areas and that is the void created when it is abandoned.

  3. melanie jean juneau

    Brilliant insight that startled me with the new perspective that atheists do not seek compassion only acceptance. Yet I still contend that both the Lord and I view unbelievers with compassion because they ARE suffering in their spirits.

    1. @Melanie , You cannot, nor do have to right, to say that “they” are suffering in their spirits. That is a mere projection of your reality and your belief system, a system you have a perfect right to. I am not suffering, have a strong spirit, live a worthy life and live in union with the Sacred, the only issue is that it is not your Sacred. My son (29) is a non-verbal, spastic quad for who I care full time….he deserves compassion. My best friend, an Israeli, who cares for his son who is 16 and has Ohtahara Syndrome ….deserves compassion. I work with a network of 160 parents who children are near drowns and severely disabled….these children deserve compassion. I neither deserve nor choose to seek compassion because i know I live a worthy life.

      “Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.” Hitch

    2. Nope, Old Hitch was wrong again, Phil. Human decency is hardly natural in humanity. Simply study world history to see it. The development of religion (most especially in regards to the effects of Christianity on Western civilizations) helped foster human decency whether you or your generalizing Hitch like to admit it or not.

    3. Oh boy, pilgrim….modern man achieved human behavioral normalcy about 65,000 years ago; the first semblance of any religious organization was seen in the neolithic age about 10,000 years ago…the Abrahamic religions are 6000 years old at most. The first hunters and gathers organized into cooperative tribes and clans and were decent and kind to members of their clan…clasm as not dissimilar to religious sects. Hunter, gatherers were decent….much religion came thousands of years later. I do not believe Christianity, only 2000 years young fostered any more decency than anyone else.
      9831 The Neolithic Revolution begins and results in a worldwide population explosion. The first cities, states, kingdoms, and organized religions begin to emerge. The early states were usually theocracies, in which the political power is justified by religious prestige. Beginning of First Cankam period in South India.
      9130–7370 BCEThe apparent lifespan of Göbekli Tepe, one of the oldest human-made place of worship yet discovered,[14] including the Sphinx (dated to 9500 BCE) has also been found in a nearby site, Nevali Çori.
      Human decency propelled organized religion; the proliferation of a multitude of religions then promoted divisiveness, war, struggles for power, murder, etc. Religion was not a friend of human decency; a warrant for child trafficking, genocide, inquisitions, torture, crusades, claims of heresy…nothing to advance human decency. Hitch was on target.

  4. “The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.”
    ― Christopher Hitchens

    Despite an excellently written post, atheists and pantheists seek neither compassion nor condemnation…they are two sides of the same coin. Only acceptance and understanding are desired.

    1. I accept that theist beliefs are different than mine, yet valid for them. Faith works. What the faith might be in might not be real, but it still works. The belief that Jesus will return to judge all has worked incredibly well even if it never is fulfilled. It’s working as we speak.

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