O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

What Do Atheists Think of Christians?

On Tuesday, I mentioned The Outsider Interviews, a book and DVD describing what non-believers think about believers. It was brought to my attention by blogger and author Hemant Mehta, the “Friendly Atheist.” In his post about the book/DVD, he asked his readers — most of whom are nontheists — this question:

If Christians would listen, what would you say to them?


The responses are challenging (to say the least) but as we mentioned earlier, they are responses that Christians need to understand and be aware of. You can read an almost comprehensive list of them here without having to dig into hundreds of comments.

For the sake of our discussion, I thought I’d list a few of the answers to the above question.


• are hypocritical.
• need a spiritual
being to cling to.
• hold modern beliefs which aren’t Christ-like.
• think
that philosophy, science, postmodernism, movies, etc. are out to get
• tell others how to live their lives.
• are judgmental.
• are narrow-minded.
• reject reality.
• believe that God created
the heavens and Earth in 6 days.
• think they are horrible and
• have been brainwashed into believing something that makes
them intolerant and hateful.
• are trapped in a religion that takes
advantage of good intentions.
• limit their understanding of the whole
wide universe to the Bible.
• manipulate family members to isolate and
reject atheists.
• think that moral behavior is impossible without
belief in God.
• have been told what
to think by their Church.
• think that atheists are ignorant, angry or abused.
• condemn others.
• think shellfish are ok, but homosexuals are not.
• are
• have not read the Bible.
• don’t use
evidence based in reality.
• have not researched science.
• fear
• think asking
questions and searching for answers is a bad thing.
• are being spoon-fed.
• play the victim.
• are raised to
be judgmental.
• take the Bible seriously, but disregard other holy texts.
• do not have a
scientific mindset.
• hold nonsensical beliefs.
• use
words, actions and votes to express disrespect for another’s sexual
• are on the
wrong side of big issues like slavery, segregation, discrimination
against blacks, discrimination against women, discrimination against
• made war, tortured others, fueled the Inquisition, destroyed
cultures with missionary work.
• close their eyes to progress and
scientific evidence.
• wreck families and ruin lives.
• are unwilling
to change their opinion on whether god exists or not.
• don’t read the
Bible critically.


Yes, the list contains offensive stereotypes.

Yes, many of these are generalities that may apply to some Christians but of course not every individual.

Yes, many of these descriptions make me feel annoyed, upset, or uncomfortable.

But before we get defensive and start citing Scriptures about persecution and how the world will hate us and all that, we need to read the list again and ask ourselves this: What does it say about me? What needs to change in the way I treat people to repair this perception?

Because regardless of what we Christians may think about the list, we need to understand that this is the perception many nonbelievers have of us, and perceptions are often based on reality.

We can say over and over how important it is to love our neighbors and we can throw around words like “mercy” and “grace” and we can sing about how the world will know us by our love. But the truth is that we’re not doing a very good job at loving people, because the perception of Christians by non-Christians — judging from this list from an admittedly narrow focus group — isn’t good.

As a Christian, what am I doing that causes others to think about me this way?

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posted July 8, 2010 at 11:39 am

Good post, Jason. It seems to me that many of the criticisms listed about can be simply described as “Christians being more concerned about the thoughts and actions of others, rather than their own spiritual development.”

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Kenny Johnson

posted July 8, 2010 at 11:42 am

I just want to correct one thing. I do NOT think shellfish is OK. 😉
I think some of these may have been earned. We have certainly seen the ugly side of Christianity. I think it’s important for us to know what people think of us regardless of whether it’s true or not.
Ultimately though, I think we need to wear the character of Christ as best we can. We should be reflecting the love and mercy of God. Many of us fail at that pitifully.
Even before reading this list, I’ve realized I need to be: a better listener, not always seeking to win arguments, more humble, more caring, less judgmental, etc.

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posted July 8, 2010 at 12:01 pm

I posted this on facebook but would like to add my thoughts here too:
Most Christians will not read the list in any sort of self-critical way. They will see it as yet again another attack on them and their faith and most will come out swinging, which will only serve to reinforce the stereotypes that many of us already have. I would like to add one to the list though Arogant! Obviously not all Christians, or else I wouldn’t be here on this website, but the vast majority that I have come into contact with, including close friends and family. It is precisely because of this list, a very good one I might add, that I find myself unable to even consider becoming a Christian. And before anyone comes back with any lame excuse such as we’re not supposed to look at Christians but at Christ, I will remind you that you are supposed to be God’s representative on earth. You are like salesman. Your argument would be like a meat salesman coming to my door with putrid foul smelling meat and then when I protest saying, “Oh, no the good stuff is out in the truck.” When people look at Christians they are looking at the God that you profess and when you are shallow, judgemental and arrogant, that’s what people see of the Christ whom you worship and hence will not want any part of the putrid foul smelling meat that you are selling.

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posted July 8, 2010 at 12:12 pm

At first, I was offended by this list. Then, I realized I agreed with most of it. Not about myself, of course, I’d never do any of that stuff (sarcasm laugh here). The sad part about that list is that we’ve brought every bit of it on ourselves. And, even though I don’t feel I have that kind of attitude, I don’t do enough to change the perception. I’m working on tolerance, kindness, listening and all that stuff. Maybe one day, I’ll even get there.

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posted July 8, 2010 at 12:37 pm

This is a wonderful list to consider. Thank you for sharing it. I’m tweeting this out, and then I think I’m going to write a post about it in a couple days.
-Marshall Jones Jr.

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posted July 8, 2010 at 1:09 pm

“But the truth is that we’re not doing a very good job at loving people, because the perception of Christians by non-Christians — judging from this list from an admittedly narrow focus group — isn’t good.”
Actually, I think that’s a rather distorted truth. That’s putting the onus on Christians to essentially be perfect because that’s what is being demanded of them by these people who don’t know Christ and are borderline hostile toward the faith. Just look at Brian’s comment to see the kind of arrogant, hostile attitudes toward Christians that are pervasive within the society at large. The negative stereotypes are promoted and perpetuated and somehow that’s turned into “well, Christians need to change their behavior to fit how the world wants them to behave.” Loving people doesn’t mean we take the world’s definitions of right and wrong and substitute those for Christ’s.
I don’t believe for a second that if all Christians started acting absolutely perfectly that this kind of thing would end. It’s foolish to somehow say that any time a group of non-Christians makes their list of things they hate that we’re supposed to stop everything and do a critical self-analysis. As much as some in the world would want to pretend they are supposed to be the focus they’re not. (Sorry, Brian.) The focus is really Christ. If we focus on Him and strive to be more like Him then we will do more of the things that run counter to the negative myths of Christians as a whole that the world likes to generate.
We need to stop looking at lists like the one you posted and start looking at ourselves in light of the way Christ calls us to live. That is the goal, that is the standard and any other standard (such as that list) is really putting an idol in place of God. Is it more important to make the non-followers of Christ happy or is it more important to live as Christ calls us to live?
A problem I have with the list is the basic premise because Christians do listen…they just don’t like our answers. A lot of people of the world have a hard time with the fact we don’t change to cater to their whims. For example, if we don’t support gay marriage, then we’re “judgmental” and “narrow-minded.” If we believe God created the earth, then we “reject reality.”
If you want “reality” consider this from the survey: “take the Bible seriously, but disregard other holy texts.” Why would we take any other holy text seriously that doesn’t say God is God and Jesus is His son and died on the cross for our sins? Why take seriously any holy text that is counter to the cores of our faith? That’s simply foolishness but it’s projected upon Christians because it’s a convenient way to condemn them.
Sorry to write such a long response but I wanted to try and be as clear as possible. :) Too many misunderstandings come from the cold pixels of a screen. I’m not saying some of those things aren’t legit statements to make but if we focus where we should be focused…Christ and not the world’s opinion of what we should be doing…then we’ll be just fine. (Now, we all fall short of that, but that’s a whole different issue.)

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posted July 8, 2010 at 1:26 pm

THANK YOU for this post. It is a list, to which if we simply ignore we only add another item.

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shawn smucker

posted July 8, 2010 at 2:44 pm

there is no point in arguing against anything on this list because of course it’s all true. sadly, it has always been true, and will always be true. mostly because christians are people, and people in general are kind of screwed up.
unfortunately, christians who read the list and respond with anger or defensiveness are the types of people who would not consider changing. the people who are receptive to the list are probably those whose lives nontheists would find least offensive or hypocritical. i guess this is why i find a list like this so frustrating and rather pointless.
i would be more interested in knowing if nontheists believe that christians do or believe or accomplish anything that is good. when trying to quit certain behaviors it is always easier to fill the vacuum with a positive behavior.

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posted July 8, 2010 at 5:15 pm

I have been thinking about my reply for a while, and want to write an essay. But I think I can keep it to a reasonable length.
First, though, I have to be honest about my response to your title: Who cares what they think? But that was a first reaction. Second, your conclusion was the best part. No, not because it meant that the article was over. What I liked was the prompt for self-examination and prayer.
I have been dealing with Internet atheists (the so-called “new atheists”, the Dawkinsites) for some time now. When you go to apologetics sites that are open to comments, most are downright vicious, attacking the integrity and intelligence of the writers of the sites. If someone attempts to show where they, who claim to love “reason” and “logic”, are not living up to the standards that they espouse, then they are attacked. It is funny to see this, in a way, because their attacks prove what the critics of the atheists are saying! “You are engaging in tu quoque and ad hominem attacks, Mr. Atheist”…”Just what I expected to hear from a stupid xtian who believes in the flying spaghetti monster!”
When I dared to write about the follies of atheism and the lack of honesty of these atheists, they trolled so badly with obscene comments, I actually had to shut down the comments feature. Their response? To attack me personally in the comments section of other peoples’ Weblogs.
Also, they will post obscene comments on Christian “pages” on Facebook and other places.
This is coming from people who should realize that the same complaints that they raise against Christians easily apply to their own attitudes and actions.
I will never apologize for speaking the truth and showing their lapses of logic. However, your post is a necessary reminder to me to be watchful that I am not giving them legitimate reasons for the listed complaints. One of the other commenters said, “Christians are people”, and these atheists seem to have an expectation of us that is unrealistic at best; they will not allow us to have human failings. With God’s help, we should at least cut down on those.

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posted July 8, 2010 at 5:40 pm

For every item on the list, I know at least one person it applies to. On the positive side, I know a handful of Christians to whom none of it applies.
If you apply Jason Wert’s approach above – keep on doing things that sometimes confirm the items on the list, and not care about perceptions – then you have no business complaining about being treated like the perceptions warrant. If you want to find justification for your homophobia and racism from the bible, then don’t be surprised when you are judged and dismissed by the society as a homophobe and a racist. Unfortunately homophobes aren’t yet judged as heavily as racists are in heavily Christian countries, but things are changing and we’re well on our way there.
American Christians are in very special situation in the sense that it’s possible to keep on confirming every claim on the list without much care towards how non-Christians feel about them, just because a vast majority of the population is Christian. In many other western countries non-Christians are significant enough portion of the population that perceptions matter.

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posted July 8, 2010 at 9:31 pm

As we have been looking for churches, i’m finding some of these things true. My most recent experience was that we had stumbled into a “Christian Club” where everyone knew everyone else & if you didn’t know everyone, they didn’t want to bother with you.
Sometimes i think Christians want churches to be a type of Cheers, where “everyone knows your name.”
I’m finding that it bothers me when people are more passionate about the church they attend than about the Christ they follow.

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posted July 9, 2010 at 2:45 am

I hadn’t called myself a Christian for half my life, despite being raised up as a Southern Baptist and having been baptised at age 9. I’m beginning to question why I haven’t called myself a Christian. I agree with a lot of the list because this is how I felt about the *religion* of Christianity for a long while.
I heard an interview with Bishop Carlton Pearson a few years ago and I’m reading his book, The Gospel of Inclusion, and I have decided that I am a Christian after all based on what I’m reading.
Here’s a quote from his book: “Do we honor God and Christ if we live virtuous lives solely because we fear hell, or because we are bribed with the carrot of heaven? By that logic, atheists, who presumably do good not out of hope for an eternal reward but because they feel it is right, are more virtuous than Christians.”
Bishop Pearson has been condemned for his beliefs by many in the Christian religion. His beliefs and his gospel of inclusion, which he says was how Christ originally taught his followers, has got me thinking about Christianity in a more hopeful way than I have thought about it in almost 25 years.

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posted July 13, 2010 at 6:27 pm

The majority of those statements refer to most humans. Yup, Christians can be intolerant, stuck in their ways, mistrustful, misguided….of course they can. As can atheists, pastafarians, Muslims, Judaism, Shinto and whatever else you will. And all for the same reason, they’re human. Humans are a tad flawed, everyone seems to accept that, and it’s at the centre of many modern religions.
It’s like saying that all heroin addicts drank milk as babies, and therefore milk leads to heroin addiction. Correlation is not causation.
@ Stormbringer: Sorry about the Dawkinists, if it’s any consolation I’m an atheist (technically an agnostic on quantum mechanical grounds, it’s a long story), and Dawkins and the like really bug me. Yes, some of us aren’t religious, and it’s as important that religion observes a similar moral and ethical code as science, but can we please just accept that? Religion is a fascinating thing to study as an outside observer at the very least, and – frankly – there’s no need to be rude while you’re doing it. If there were Science V Religion ranks then Dawkins would be on a par with a commercial televangelist, it’s not something I’m especially keen to be associated with.

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