How to Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist

How to Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist
Explore this Article
Avoiding the Subject
Preventing Conflicts
Engaging in Constructive Conversation
Questions & Answers
Tips and Warnings
Related Articles
References
Article Summary

If you are an atheist, you’ll come across your share of religious people who are genuinely curious about and respectful of your perspective, even if they completely disagree with it. You’ll also encounter religious people who are ignorant about atheism, eager to convert you to their truth, and/or hostile to your very presence. Many disagreements and arguments can be avoided through tact, patience, and common sense. And when they can’t (or shouldn’t be) avoided, a thoughtful and respectful approach can help prevent a contentious situation.

Method 1 of 3:
Avoiding the Subject

Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 1
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 1
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1
Don’t bring up the subject unnecessarily. You should never feel like you have to lie or pretend about what you believe (or don’t). If you’re asked about your religious beliefs, be honest. However, you also don’t need to be a walking advertisement for atheism at all times either. If you’re in a room full of believers, think carefully before steering the conversation towards your lack of belief. There’s nothing wrong with sitting quietly sometimes, and it never hurts to listen to others talk about what they believe. We all have to sometimes listen to people talk about subjects we don’t care for or don’t understand — hockey, poetry, auto repair, or whatever it may be. Just “sit it out” and wait for the subject to change.
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 2
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 2
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2
Keep the focus on other topics. Instead of sitting back and hoping the conversation doesn’t turn toward religion, or waiting for it to pass on to another subject if it does, you can work to steer the conversation towards topics that may be more comfortable for everyone involved. Consider the audience, and bring up topics that are likely to be of general interest. It may seem trite to discuss sports or the weather at Thanksgiving dinner, but it’s probably preferable to a knock-down, drag-out fight over deeply-held religious beliefs. Even politics may be a less contentious topic to bring up. For example, if your religious friends start to discuss their church activities try saying, “That’s great you’re so involved in your church. What other activities do you enjoy doing outside of church? I’ve been trying to find some new activities to do.” This is likely to shift the conversation to jet-skiing, stamp collecting, volunteering at an animal shelter, etc.
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 3
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 3
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3
Refrain respectfully or partially engage in prayers or religious rituals. As an atheist, there will be times when you will feel you need to stand up for what you believe — be it the teaching of creationism in public schools or prayers before city council meetings. It’s okay to decide that every little thing isn’t worth fighting for, though — like choosing to simply sit quietly during a prayer before a group meal. You have to decide for yourself when to “let things go.” [1] X Research source If someone happens to complain that you aren’t bowing your head during the prayer or showing the proper reverence in some other setting, calmly offer to discuss the topic privately later. If, for instance, you are at Thanksgiving dinner and are asked to give some sort of blessing or say what you are thankful for, you can do so without invoking any god or religion. Say something like “I am thankful for the people who grew this food, those who provided it, and those who prepared it. I am thankful that we can all be together now to enjoy it, and each other’s company.”
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 4
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 4
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4
Spend time with other atheists. While it’s healthy, instructive, and usually necessary to spend a good bit of time around religious people, it’s also alright to seek out the comfort of being around others whose perspectives align more with your own. With a little searching, you’ll probably find a welcoming community of fellow atheists. Atheists make up about 3% of the U.S. population; however, within your community, it may seem as if you’re alone, particularly if you live in a small town. Try finding support online.[2] X Research source Check out the websites for American Atheists, American Humanist Association, or similar groups in your area or nation. They may have local get-togethers or events.[3] X Research source [4] X Research source
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Method 2 of 3:
Preventing Conflicts

Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 5
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 5
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1
Stay calm and don’t get defensive. Instead of reacting defensively when someone attacks your point of view, take a moment to collect your thoughts. Determine what you want to say before you say it. [5] X Trustworthy Source HelpGuide Industry-leading nonprofit dedicated to promoting mental health issues Go to source Remember, you don’t have to defend your point of view to anyone. Your views are equally right and important. Use “I” statements. This will help to diffuse a potentially bad situation. For example, “I am feeling attacked right now. I would appreciate it if I could have a moment to collect my thoughts.”[6] X Research source
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 6
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 6
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2
Don't try to force your point of view on others. Even if you are resentful because you feel like religion is often forced upon you, don’t stoop to the same level. If “bullying” tactics don’t work in convincing you that you should be religious, don’t expect the reverse to work with others. If you are resentful towards religion, consider that much of your resentment probably stems from people attempting to force their beliefs on you. Think of how you’d like to be treated if the situation was reversed. Allow others the opportunity to speak. Otherwise, you’ll come across as aggressive, which will likely lead to conflict.
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 7
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 7
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3
Agree to disagree. Don’t try to determine whose point of view is right, especially when dealing with something as deeply personal as religious belief. Attempting to resolve who is right and who is wrong will only prove futile. Focus on explaining what you believe and why in a calm, reasoned manner. [7] X Research source If you’ve been going back and forth, put an end to the conversation, at least for the time being. You may want to say, “It seems like we’ve been going back and forth on this issue for awhile. I respect your opinion and I hope you can respect mine, but I think we should agree to disagree.” Don’t bring up the subject again unless there is new information to cover. Remember, everyone, regardless of their beliefs, assumes they are right. You’re not going to convince someone otherwise in one conversation.[8] X Research source
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 8
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 8
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4
Don’t argue with someone trying to convert you to their religious beliefs. Having a lively discussion with someone who hopes to convert you can help to clarify your thoughts and learn more about others' beliefs. Getting into a heated debate or outright argument with someone who is never going to budge, however, won’t achieve anything positive. Give them an opportunity to speak. Once they have finished their thought, thank them for their time. Give a measured, calm response, or none at all if you so choose. If the person is a friend let them know you value their friendship, but feel uncomfortable by them trying to convert you. If they keep trying to convert you, you may need to reconsider the friendship. If the person shows up at your door, don’t just slam it in their face. Let them say what they came to say, take any materials they offer you and thank them for their time.
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 9
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 9
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5
Walk away when a calm discussion is not possible. If things get too heated, simply walk away. There is no shame in leaving a conversation that isn’t going anywhere. You can always choose to resume the discussion at another time if you choose, but you need not do so if you see no point in trying again. Let them know you’re ending the conversation. You can say “I am feeling disrespected right now and am going to take myself out of this situation.” Walk away and give yourself some time to cool down. If you think of another point you’d like to make, don’t put yourself back into a bad situation. Send an email or ask if you can discuss the topic with the person at a later time.
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Method 3 of 3:
Engaging in Constructive Conversation

Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 10
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 10
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1
Do your homework. It is very difficult for a constructive dialogue to take place if there is no common ground of understanding between the two parties. Before engaging in a conversation with a religious person, educate yourself on the basics of their beliefs. [9] X Research source Especially if you are very unfamiliar with the person’s religion, search online, read articles, consult books, and consider taking a look at the faith’s sacred text(s). This will help you better understand where the other person is coming from, and will help you to generate questions about their faith.[10] X Research source It is completely fair for you to expect the same of the other person. Offer to recommend some key atheist works that speak to your point of view, and ask the person to consult them to facilitate your discussion. You can always delay and resume the conversation at another time.[11] X Research source
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 11
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 11
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2
Define what atheism means to you. Before you can explain to others what it means to be an atheist, you need to be able to explain it to yourself. You don’t have to use a textbook definition of atheism — there is no single “atheist” view, just as there is no single “Christian” or “Hindu” view. Come up with a definition that works for you. [12] X Research source Before you begin the conversation, ask if the person understands what an atheist is. You may want to say, “I’m looking forward to talking with you about atheism. Before we start, why don’t you tell me what you know about it.” If they don’t know anything about atheism, or assume that it means you believe in nothing or are satanic in some way, don’t criticize them for it. Instead, quickly provide them with some basic information about atheism. You can start the conversation by saying, “Why don’t I tell you a little bit more about atheism, so you know where I’m coming from.” If necessary, provide some source recommendations for the other person to consult and request that you resume the conversation at another time.
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 12
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 12
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3
Ask questions and listen to answers with curiosity and respect. Make an effort to understand the other point of view by listening and asking questions. This will show that you are engaged in the discussion. If you don’t have specific questions, ask open ended ones such as, “Tell me more about your beliefs” or “How did you come to believe what you do?” Listen when they respond. Make eye contact and focus on what the person is saying. Now is not the time to be planning your next question or trying to look up something on your phone.[13] X Trustworthy Source HelpGuide Industry-leading nonprofit dedicated to promoting mental health issues Go to source Don’t ask questions that are purposely leading and antagonistic. For example, refrain from saying something like, “What makes you think your religion is so much better than others?” Instead, try asking, “What aspects of your religion set it apart from others?” This is a nicer way of asking the same question.
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 13
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 13
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4
Avoid taking cheap shots. You may think the other person’s belief system is ridiculous, but offering ridicule will get you nowhere positive. Just because you may have read somewhere that there is a negative correlation between IQ and religiosity (that is, that less intelligent people tend to be more religious) doesn’t mean you should make generalized assumptions or critical remarks about the other person being “foolish” or “delusional.” Offer respect if you want to be given respect. [14] X Research source Steer clear of open-ended or hostile questions that won’t move the conversation along. For example, refrain from asking, “Why are Christians so crazy?” You’re not only generalizing, but you’re backing the person into a corner, as they couldn’t possibly begin to answer your question. Don’t blame the person for all the evils you believe have been done in the name of that religion. You don’t want to be blamed for all the evils done by those who rejected religion, do you? You can ask, however, how their religion reconciles evil acts done under the guise of the faith.
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 14
Image titled Deal with Religious People if You Are an Atheist Step 14
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5
Be open to learning something new. Don’t just say you’re open to learning something new; mean what you say. In learning more about other faiths, you’ll only broaden your own worldview. If your beliefs will be threatened by knowledge, then maybe they ought to be reconsidered anyway. An atheist should be someone who is open to asking questions and seeking answers. Like a good scientist, an atheist should never be afraid of being proven wrong. Truth should be your ultimate goal.[15] X Research source If the person invites you to a religious service, agree to go as a respectful observer. You don’t have to convert to their religion or share their beliefs, but you will certainly learn something new. You in turn can invite them to a gathering of others like you.
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