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Not all nonbelievers—be they atheists, agnostics, humanists, secularists, or some mixture of all of these identities—are identical, and we are mistaken if we develop a singular, cookie-cutter approach in our interactions with them. ...

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College Girl

October 18, 2013  8:31am

I am a student at a Christian college, but I fall into the "seeker-agnostic" category. I have tried to talk to a few (Christian) people about my doubts/beliefs, but they just look uncomfortable, change the subject, and thereafter treat me as an unclean creature. I was raised Baptist and went to church every Sunday until a few years ago when I decided it was making me too miserable to continue. Ever since I was very small (I was a bit precocious), I have doubted whether miracles could actually happen, and if they do whether science causes them. Also whether there is a higher power, and if this higher power exists whether it is really a "personal" higher power or just some force that keeps the universe spinning. At church, I spent most of the services watching other people worship, and listening to them talk about the emotions - joy, peace, faith - that they were experiencing. I never could understand or relate to what they talked about. If this post is still active, any comments?

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James Cowles

August 20, 2013  10:51am

@James Crowles - then you are subject hopping. True, but mine was not the first "hop". Someone asked speculatively what beliefs we have today that will be viewed as superstitions in a generation or a century. The context was that today's fallacies are somehow justified within the context of subsequent fallacies. My response was to inquire as to the basis of this justification. Your "subject hopping" allegation is between you and the person to whom I was replying.

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Thomas Gary

August 20, 2013  3:03am

I don't think arguing helps against an angry person but I have shared one basic reason why I believe Christ is special - Jesus led a TINY group of followers who were part of a SMALL religion, Judaism. The polytheistic religions and popular philosophies had millions of believers. So how did this poor preacher who was executed after a few years of teaching become the founder of the world's largest religion? A failed Jewish rabbi would follow the same pattern of others - they'd bury him and make his tomb a gathering place, remember his teachings and remain Jews. So what happened to make Yeshua of Nazareth special? Usually the listener has no good rational answer. It leaves them something to think about. Maybe God resurrected him after all? A crazy legend might be true? Amen.

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Thomas Gary

August 20, 2013  2:45am

Most of the atheists or agnostics I've known do talk about good intellectual reasons for their viewpoints, however as I get to know them they are like most people, painful life experiences often are below their thinking - raised in areas with harsh religious groups, loss of a loved one, bitterness about life's unfairness, religion breaking up the extended family. The intellectual atheists usually use science as the weapon against religion, however they often know very little about the history of religions in the world. They are prone to saying the same generalities as anyone - "religious wars have killed more people than all others" (false), "religion is a crutch to help losers cope with life" (prejudiced), "religion is for idiots" (prejudiced). I've often seen that by asking questions as we speak together, they will see that their viewpoints can be weak in the same sense they see religious beliefs. BTW - most people I've known are passive agnostics who just don't see the need for God.

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Ron Jonderson

August 20, 2013  1:31am

It's tempting to tackle outreach to unbelievers, from a position of authority. But the "none"s are probably not going to see you as an authority. They don't see themselves as smarter, or as authorities. They simply think that truth shouldn't need authority figures. It should be proveable, demonstrable. To them, the Bible is liable to just be a book written by uneducated nomads 3000 years ago, as they tried to sort out the way the world worked. It suffers from all the usual errors you find in stories that were passed on hundreds of times before they were written down. In Christian doctrine, the Holy Spirit ignites faith in people. It is clear to me that many Christians have experienced this, or believe they have experienced this. And that experience, I think, is one of the few real in-roads you may find with "over-it" nones from the Millenial generation - and only if it is truly a genuine experience.

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Ron Jonderson

August 20, 2013  1:20am

I appreciate the motivation for this article, but I must say that it it makes some very patronizing assumptions about those who do not believe in God. I have met many people who may have come to their atheistic philosophies intellectually, but nevertheless did not embrace that philosophy as a trump-card. The idea behind this article is that simply by employing different tactics, you can find a trick that changes a person's mind. But, that's a pretty shortsighted game. Many people today who are non-believers have lived most of their lives in the church - they know the message, they know the tactics, they know the culture. They simply do not find Christianity to faithfully describe the world that they have seen and experienced, and see little value in its rules and obligations, noting that they can find no reason that Christianity should be any more correct than, say, Vedic teachings, or pagan animisms. That's not something that one well-placed zinger will fix.

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Jim Ricker

August 19, 2013  10:26pm

Rebecca Dukes, you make some good points about not lumping all non-believers into one monolithic belief group. What you are incorrect about is what an atheist is. An atheist makes a claim that there is no god or gods - that is a stated belief (a positive statement) and not unbelief. An agnostic would be the person with non-belief (maybe) as many claim they don't know so they don't make claims outside of their own personal experiential knowledge base.

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Jim Ricker

August 19, 2013  10:23pm

@James Crowles - then you are subject hopping. The point of the article is certainly not about 'each generation's superstitions' or anything close to it. The article is about this classification system of six types of atheists. Again, rules of logic apply. Have a nice day sir.

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Rebecca Dukes

August 19, 2013  4:05pm

I appreciate what this article is attempting to do. To think of all "nonbelievers" as one homogenous group is a huge mistake. Atheism is not a belief-system, it is merely the negation of an idea (God). Knowing that someone is an Atheist tells you very little about what that person actually believes about life, ethics, etc. While I understand the usefulness of lumping non-believers into two groups (what the author calls aggressive and passive), these terms in themselves are defined by their relation to Christians, and fail to create groups that represent the various systems of beliefs present among nonbelievers. Characterizing people according to the level of exhibition they show, still misses the point. Perhaps it would be more useful to know whether or not the person believes that human nature is innately good or bad, or whether or not they believe that one can make meaning in life.

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Dusty Johnson

August 18, 2013  9:40pm

I'm not sure what type of atheist my neighbor is. He is real superstitious and is always doing things to keep away bad spirits but he doesn't go to church anywhere anymore. I need to learn to talk to him and explore his views so he can teach me some of his methods because this cat started showing up after he moved in. We still go to Methodist Church though because they get out at 11:30, so I don't plan to convert ever. Maybe he will if I talk to him more.

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James Cowles

August 18, 2013  1:35pm

@James Ricker ... "James C - Do you always frame your questions in a matrix of which you cannot be wrong? One must prove the claims are superstitions first. Basic rules of logic apply." I make no claims about which beliefs are superstitious and which are not. Each generation, each century, each millennium has its superstitions. That is a fact, not an opinion -- and also the point of the article. Each generation, each century, each millennium will winnow out the epistemological chaff from the wheat. The point is that no superstitions, whichever they are, do not justify others.

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audrey ruth

August 17, 2013  4:58pm

One thing that struck me when I first read this: Christians are often accused of being known for what we're against (usually by people who haven't lived the true Christian experience and are often hostile toward Christians in general). But if any people are known for what they're against, it's atheists, far and away. In my area they have paid megabucks for lots of billboards all over the city to let people everywhere know exactly what and whom they are against. David Sanford, thanks so much for posting. It was very enlightening to read of your experience.

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Jim Ricker

August 16, 2013  10:46pm

James C - Do you always frame your questions in a matrix of which you cannot be wrong? One must prove the claims are superstitions first. Basic rules of logic apply.

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Stan Wiedeman

August 16, 2013  9:35pm

I agree that these categories can be helpful as we think about our interactions with people around us. It seems important to remember that if we treat the individual like a a piece of data, we will probably miss the point of contact where God wants to meet that person with the gospel. We must guard against the tendency to allow the profile to overshadow the person. When that happens, love gets lost in the intent to win the argument or apply the right approach. Love bears with the person to find where they are hurting and where they are crying out for grace, forgiveness, love and acceptance.

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David Sanford

August 16, 2013  9:03pm

Thank you for this insightful article. I wish you would explore the social fallout from Aggressives who have children. I come from a long line of atheists. While growing up in the '60s and early '70s I heard one lecture from my father: "David, there are no rules. Don't obey anyone. Don't even obey me." As a boy you think living in an ultra-permissive home is wonderful. When I fully committed my life to Jesus Christ at age 13, I found out my family did have a rule: Thou shalt not become a Christian. I was disowned by my paternal family. My father often would go to his adding machine, crunch numbers, and dutifully inform me that he could legally kick me out of the house in, say, 432 days. The rest of my paternal family rejected me much faster. Not one attended my high school or college graduation. Not one attended my wedding there in Seattle. Aggressives? Terribly so. It took 37 years to be accepted back. Thankfully, God was at work in their hearts and mine. www.linkedin.com/in/drsanford

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James Cowles

August 15, 2013  10:28am

Jim Ricker: how do the superstitions of one generation justify or redeem those of that generation's predecessors?

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Jim Ricker

August 14, 2013  8:09pm

Ken London - and the same will be said of you and we in a thousand years too. Does that mean that an oversimplification and very much incomplete view of the ancients should be adopted as you have adopted? The arrogance of each generation is far more debilitating than the misguided beliefs - it prevents real learning. Grace and Peace

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Ken London

August 13, 2013  8:28pm

Brian S. says: " In the whole anthropology and history of man, the belief that there is a God / gods is a frequent, collective experience.' So is blood sacrifice. The wisdom of the ages mostly consists of all manner of superstitions and errors. They did invent wine, beer, gunpowder and metallurgy which are all awesome but really, a cursory examination of history will reveal that if the ancients believed it, it is almost always a load of cobblers.

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Jane Jimenez

August 13, 2013  8:25pm

Such an important article! I came to faith in my 40s, a believer in an extended family of agnostics and strident atheists. In the past 20 years, I have been able to evaluate and respond to different evangelical approaches, and I find most of them "miss the mark" precisely because Yancey's points. If we are going to "allow" all of the thousands of "flavors" of Christians, we must take time to admit non-believers into our families and HEAR their hearts. Even after my 20 years devoted to Christ, the evangelical "lingo" of "washed in the blood" and the "Roman road" still leave me cold. I am enthralled by the many and varied stories of conversion to faith and know that God opens the door in many unexpected ways. Salvation is no less a mystery than the resurrection. Thank you for this article. I have shared it with many of my believer friends!

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jj shag

August 13, 2013  3:43pm

This list is not nearly exhaustive, as spirituality is a very individual phenomenon. Just for one example, there are many cultural Christians, who are agnostic or atheist but believe in many aspects of the philosophy of Jesus. Also re: #1, the Intellectual atheist/agnostic: I believe it is more common that some individuals view themselves as emotionally, rather than intellectually, too advanced for religion. Intellect is not always a proxy for emotional strength or maturity, although intellectual curiosity may be, regardless of level of formal education.

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