3. In Everyday Life, You're Not That Different
You Christians, if the transmission in your Camaro explodes, are you going to use prayer to reconstruct it? No, you'll call a mechanic. When your tooth hurts, you don't assume it's possessed by demons. You look for a cavity. Basic, everyday troubleshooting.
Well, at the very worst, the atheists are just applying the same common sense, real-world troubleshooting to the God question. At the creation of the universe and in the heart of mankind, they expect to find the same physical, tangible answers they'd find inside a burnt transmission. If they're wrong about God, they're only wrong in that they've taken the tried-and-true troubleshooting we all practice one step too far.
On the other hand...
Atheists, even if you reject the idea of God completely and claim to live according only to the cold logic of the physical sciences, you all still live as if the absolute morality of some magical lawgiver were true.
No, wait. Don't go away.
When some guy hustles you out of eighty bucks in an ebay scam, you don't nod and say, "Interesting! This fellow lacks the genetic predisposition toward equitable dealing that generations of sexual selection in favor of social behavior has instilled in the rest of us! A fascinating difference!"
No, you think what that guy did was wrong. You want justice. You think he should have acted differently.
Even though there's no "wrong" molecule floating in the air and there's no "justice" element on the Periodic Table. You don't think of the swindler as just a fellow animal who happens to behave differently than you. You think he should have acted some other way, according to an invisible ideal that everybody is aware of and knows they should obey.
When that "boob at the Super Bowl" incident happened a while back, I constantly heard atheists making fun of Christians and their puritan silliness over sex. "Come on! It's just meat! We're all just mammals! Sex is natural! What are you afraid of?!?!?"
Yet, the moment you find out that while you were on vacation, your girl got drunk and slept with the entire Chicago Bears...
...Suddenly sex is something to get upset about. Suddenly it's not just meat slapping against meat. Suddenly the exclusive sexual bond between you and your girl was important, was to be protected, was almost... sacred.
Again there's this invisible rule that was supposed to be followed, that everybody was supposed to be aware of, that can't be proven by logic. Whatever it is, wherever you think it came from, you can't deny that it's there. Your own behavior would make you a liar.
Well, at the very worst, the Christians are just taking that same moral impulse and applying it to the God question. At the creation of the universe, they expect to find the same invisible hand that pushes us to be fair and loyal and kind. If they're wrong about God, they're only wrong in that they've taken that absolute morality and put a face on it, made an idol out of it. Taken it one step too far.
You think of it that way, and the amount of overlap between the two of us is actually pretty striking. Right?
4. There Are Good People on Both Sides
This is an easy one. I shouldn't lose anybody here. All you need is examples.
Atheists, you can despise a Falwell or the gay funeral protesting guy, but you've known Christians who did it right. Famous ones like Martin Luther King Jr., or just common ones you've run across who seem to have an inexaustible well of generosity and good cheer. You know how many charities have crosses on their logo.
Christians... look. The church loves to phrase it like:
"The faithful will be joined with their father in Heaven, while the liars, the murderous, the treacherous will be cast down with Satan and his hordes."
See the gap there, between the first part of the statement and the second? What about all the people in between? The atheists and Muslims and Buddhists and Scientologists who aren't murderous or treacherous or liars?
I understand the concept, that all morality comes from God and thus those on the outside are vulnerable to temptation and the devil and all that. But you know good people who aren't believers. I know you do. You can't miss them. Therefore:
If God alone can deliver us from temptation,
Some people who don't believe in God are also able to resist temptation,
God must offer his protection against temptation even to some who don't believe in God. One could even say that God aids the atheist's honest desire to follow one of God's rules... even while he continues to deny God.
But all that is speculation. In order to move on, we only need to agree that such good people exist. Easy.
5. Your Point of View is Legitimately Offensive to Them
Now, this says nothing about whether or not it's true. For this, I only ask that you understand why they get offended.
Everybody is aware that something can be both true and offensive, right?
You see a friend holding a newborn baby and you say, "You know, there's a chance he'll die tomorrow." Or you stand over the casket at your uncle's funeral and say, "He'll definitely be consuming fewer of the world's natural resources now." Both statements completely, 100% factually correct, and can be defended to the end of time by cold, undeniable logic. And both are incredibly offensive.
To say such things, and to be surprised when the hearers take offense, would show such a profound misunderstanding of human nature that everyone will assume you were raised by wolves.
So Christians, knowing what we just said about how it is possible to be a true, honest atheist, that people walk around every day and truly see no evidence of God, can you understand why it's offensive to them to hear that they, and their family, and their children, and their friends, are going to burn for eternity for it?
Especially if you, as most modern churches do, imply that people born into other cultures who honestly follow other faiths, are also going to burn? Because they were fooled by Satan?
And that if the hearer of this news hasn't had the aformentioned religious experience, and doesn't have that tangible feeling of God as a real presence in their lives, that they'll find this to be incredibly unjust?
Nobody hates the idea of a creator, or of there being some kind of ultimate justice in the universe. That's not what has these people in such a bad mood. They despise the clique-ish, militant exclusion of it.
Again, I'm not asking you to stop believing that people, or even these people, are in danger of Hell. I'm simply asking you to accept that, if the situation were reversed, you also would be offended. After all, don't you get offended when a Muslim says you're going to Hell?
Atheists. Same deal. It's irritating to you when they say you and your friends aren't going to Heaven because of your beliefs. But it's just as irritating to them when you say they're not going to Heaven, because there is no Heaven. And the irritation happens on the same grounds, which is, injustice. You hate the idea of all non-Christians burning for eternity, but you're telling them that the mass murderer and kindly grandma will draw the same eternal reward (or lack of).
Now, again, both of you are saying, "But I'm factually right in what I'm saying!" And that's fine. For this, all we're doing here is understanding why they're offended by what you say. That's it. Putting yourself in their shoes. Basic human empathy. That's all.
Everybody still on board my theological peace train? Sweet. Now I want everybody to stand up together and admit...