Do you feel it is important to share your views on faith or atheism?

(1000 Posts)
gingerdodger Fri 04-Jul-14 15:03:11

This is a genuine question, I am not asking to promote a faith vs atheism debate as we have plenty of those.

My question is whether people feel that it is part of their faith to share those beliefs with others? How far do you take this and how do you approach it? Similarly for those who are atheist, do you feel it is important to share your opinions and in what ways do you do this?

I know some faith groups see this as absaloutely fundamental to their faith whilst others are more relaxed. I also see that those who do not believe in God(s) also often wish to share their opinions widely. It interests me to think about what this achieves in terms of sharing opinions, understanding of each other etc.

From my point of view I strive to be open about my faith, I like to listen to other's perspectives as this makes me think (providing they are listening, I tend to bow out when it starts to feel adversarial and not inquisitorial). I don't feel compelled to actively knock on doors (metaphorically or otherwise) to share my faith but rather subscribe to the view that I hope my approach to life and openness about faith allows me to discuss my faith openly and honestly. I do believe actions speak louder than words and the best form of 'preaching' is to live Christian values of love (not saying I am good at this).

Nigglenaggle Fri 04-Jul-14 21:06:22

As an atheist no, I don't feel the need to spread my views at all. I'm quite happy leaving people to their faith, although sometimes if it comes up in a non-adversarial way, I find it interesting to discuss peoples faith with them. But it's a very personal thing, and a poorly phrased question just sounds like you are hounding them - remember an incident at work where a colleague who had deeply seated faith which she never imposed on any of us, got cornered at lunch with a 'Go on then, explain dinosaurs!' conversation. I would be quite happy going for the throat with the scientific arguments if I felt someone was trying to bully me into their faith (which does happen) but she had done nothing to deserve that really, and clearly didn't really want to get into a heated discussion.

What I do push for strongly, as part of the National Secular Society, is a society where religion is a part of private, not public life. I like to have the right to live my everyday life free from other peoples imposition of religion, and I defend to the hilt anyone else's right to do the same, religious or not.

I remember my late father telling me "Never deny your faith, never try to convert others" and I try to live by this. The "never convert" bit is easy - the "never deny" bit was hard especially when I was a teenager and at university. He was a good Christian (Catholic) in his deeds and words, though, as shown by the fact that his very large parish church was packed for his Requiem Mass.

I think I'd really struggle if my priest suddenly asked me to knock on doors and talk to my neighbours about God - however I do teach children's liturgy at church, so I suppose I am doing it already - just with infant school children. Preaching to the converted grin

SixImpossible Fri 04-Jul-14 21:40:11

I agree that faith is private - private not just to the individual, but to their faith community.

I will happily talk about my faith, but as a point of interest or relevance, not in order to Spread The Word.

If a person finds their personal truth, their path to God, in a particular faith or sect, then I hope they would find a warm welcome in that group. But a group trying to impose their way on others, or to persuade others that theirs is the only way, is IMO wrong. Though if a person is a member of a faith where proselytising is fundamental to that faith, then my attitude is tantamount to telling them that their way is wrong!

sunnyspot Fri 04-Jul-14 21:49:44

I agree with both gingerdodger and Nigglenaggle. I think most reasonable Christians and atheists feel the same. I defend my faith if challenged or asked, but never "inflict" it on anyone.
I enjoy healthy debates on the subject but when it descends into personal attacks, I think it becomes pointless to continue.
I absolutely agree that actions speak louder than words.

Eminybob Fri 04-Jul-14 21:58:49

I don't advertise the fact I'm an atheist generally, but I will be honest about it when need be.

Eg when relatives are asking about getting my son christened. (Won't be happening, but explained I may have a naming ceremony)

Or when a well meaning Christian friend said something along the lines of god's plan when I'd had a miscarriage. I couldn't bite by tongue on that one hmm

I feel everyone is entitled to their faith, and I wouldn't dream of trying to convert anyone or peddle my lack of belief to a believer. But I do take offence to anyone who tries to push their faith down my throat.

In everyday life I don't mention I'm an atheist unless someone brings it up, but I do make a point of it in debates. I think it's important to offer those who haven't made up their mind an alternative to belief.

I don't expect to convert a true believer to atheism. I just want the undecided to see when the true believers don't have answers.

I grew up in a world where believers said they believed and non-believers kept quiet. I naturally assumed that everyone in the world was a believer.

combust22 Sat 05-Jul-14 08:07:26

I try not to bore people with my atheist thinking, but we are bombarded by christian influence, so at time I do speak up.

I can't abide religion as inevitably it spreads its influence.

Yes as it is part of my faith.

Mostly these days people come to me as they want someone to officiate at a wedding or a baptism or funeral. They might be coming to a regular service or one of the seasonal ones at Christmas or Easter. I've been called to give the last rites and hold the pain of loss for the relatives of the dying. I've sung hymns with the seriously demented in care homes and visited those people who don't have regular visits from friends and family at the same. I've listened to the tears and loneliness, hopes and dreams, pain and frustration of the homeless, addicted, mentally ill and generally lost. I've eaten chips at 2am with the Street Pastors who are helping to keep people safe on the streets of my town. I've made sandwiches for the homeless who turn up at my door and I usually have a stock of sleeping bags for those who have lost theirs.

Mostly I listen to people. Mostly I signpost on. I pray. I bless. If people want to know more about the Christian faith I'm happy to give details of books or websites or courses that are running locally.

It is a mix of things and lots of it practical. It was much the same before I was ordained but the difference was that I didn't have the uniform and it tended to be only people that already knew I was a Christian that approached me. I go, but only where I am invited.

headinhands Sat 05-Jul-14 10:38:15

Best form of preaching is to live Christian values of love

But surely that only works if someone hasn't worked out that Christian values are actually human values and not in any way exclusive to Christians. OP, do you honestly think that non-Christians have less capacity to love and be kind??

SixImpossible Sat 05-Jul-14 10:57:37

No, I don't think that is so, headinhands.

The 'human values' are very much a Western attitude, heavily influenced by Judaism and Christianity. They are certainly not universal. Some, maybe, but by no means all.

Besides, if faith helps someone to behave in a way that we recognise as good, what does it matter that they active that to Christian values? Or Jewish values, or Buddhist values, or Atheist values, or Humanist values?

headinhands Sat 05-Jul-14 11:07:57

Human values are very much a western attitude

Your joking aren't you! Take the golden rule for example, that predates Judaism and is found throughout the world.

headinhands Sat 05-Jul-14 11:09:43

Sorry, forgot the link. The Golden Rule

Only when necessary ie if someone asks or, occaisonally, if someone makes an assumption that could cause distress or inconvenience - and in the latter it might not be any more than a polite reminder that not everyone has the same opinions on the existence of gods or which ones are the best.

DioneTheDiabolist Sat 05-Jul-14 11:34:23

I'm a believer, but I used to be an atheist. I am happy to tell people what I believe, but I don't try to convert people.

niminypiminy Sat 05-Jul-14 11:34:53

There is a subtle difference between the Golden Rule ('do unto others as you would have them do unto you') and Matthew 22.40: 'And love your neighbour as yourself'.

Jesus isn't merely recommending reciprocity but is putting love at the centre of our value systems: it's the loving relationship between people, in which they love each other as much as they love themself that is strikingly different to the usual formulation of the Golden Rule.

And it is this extraordinary emphasis given to love that has shaped the value systems of those parts of the world where Christianity was once the default religion, and where the values of Christianity have indelibly shaped what we now think of as universal human values.

Those who are not Christians may want to claim that love, the uniqueness of the individual, the equal worth of all human beings are universal human values. But they are rooted historically in Christianity, and the reason they seem to us right and natural and universal is because we are heirs of two thousand years of Christian ethics.

specialsubject Sat 05-Jul-14 13:29:48

nimiminy YOU may be the heir to that. Most of the world is not. The values you espouse are in the other religions too, formulated long before Christianity.

and are also the values of most reasonable people, even if they believe in nothing. Being nice to each other generally works the best.

niminypiminy Sat 05-Jul-14 14:13:53

No, that's exactly the point I was making. Being nice to one another, and the equal worth of all human beings are not cardinal virtues in Confucianism or Hinduism, or the cults of Ancient Greece or Rome. It doesn't matter whether you are a Christian or not, in a society with a Christian history the central values have been formed by Christianity. The central values of a society formed by Confucianism or Hinduism will not be the same -- however worthy they are otherwise.

Ethics is a bit more than being nice to each other.

Virtue ethics is all the rage at the moment.

stanford.library.usyd.edu.au/entries/ethics-virtue/

niminypiminy Sat 05-Jul-14 14:34:13

Agreed (about ethics being more than being nice)

GiantIsopod Sat 05-Jul-14 14:36:48

As an agnostic, no. I won't evangelise.

If someone says to me, 'I think religion is great...religious laws make sure you don't steal etc;' then I'd say something about how I'm quite sure I've never stolen, killed and so on, without following religious laws at all. I WILL respond if I think it's worthwhile- if it's an actual discussion where we will listen to opposite views and it's equal and fair.

If there's a JW knocking on my door, I'd just say no thanks, goodbye. If someone asked if I was religious, I would say no, but I wouldn't say 'no, I'm agnostic because....' And the try to convert them or whatever. I will not deny my lack of belief, but faith is very personal, it is not my business at all whether you are a Satanist, a Christian, Jewish (like my family), Muslim etc.

LovingSummer Sat 05-Jul-14 15:02:59

The golden rule article is interesting to read, especially in light of the critic viewpoint which states; you can't "do unto others as you would like done to yourself" because you don't always know what that person may like. For example; a person who doesn't fear death or thinks suicide is a great idea can't automatically assume everyone else wants to die with them. Similarly, a judge wouldn't want to go to prison but sends other people there because it is the right thing to do in our justice system.

HereIsMee Sat 05-Jul-14 15:28:19

No, not really. I don't have any particular belief so it would be hard to share non-belief as a way of life with others. However when asked about religion I am open and happy to explain. I also tend to mention it in areas where it is over looked in ways that affect me. I think it's fairly narrow minded to assume people must have a religion or spiritual belief. Atheism isn't a belief system so you can preach or teach it to others.

LovingSummer Sat 05-Jul-14 16:01:58

So to answer the OP. You said: "^My question is whether people feel that it is part of their faith to share those beliefs with others?^"

If you are talking about the Christian faith then the bible does instruct people to 'spread the word' so to speak. Roman's 10:17 says "how are they to hear without someone preaching?" But interestingly the bible passages about "go into the world and make disciples of all the nations" could be seen to be a message of inclusion rather than licence to being a pest! Previously all things related to God included conversion to Judaism and so the inclusion of the gentiles was a new concept at that time.

"^How far do you take this and how do you approach it?^"

1 Peter 3:15 says "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect". I think to me that sums it up. Gentleness and respect does not include ignoring people's "don't want to talk about it" reaction, or pushing anything down someone else's throat. But it does mean give an answer to everyone who asks you.

Matthew 10:14 says "_If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet._" There is an account in Acts 13 where Paul "brushes the dust off his feet" in response to people not wanting to hear about God. The point being that he didn't hang around trying to force them to believe like we all have probably experienced with JW's at the doorstep.

Don't forget God promises "if you seek me, you will find me." But equally, "faith comes by hearing". So it seems that the answer is to remain open and honest but not pushy. The responsibility lies with the person seeking just as much as it does with the person giving an answer to the hope they have.

"^Similarly for those who are atheist, do you feel it is important to share your opinions and in what ways do you do this?^"
It seems that "New Atheism" is more overtly forceful and intolerant than traditional atheism. It is not content with existing without a belief, but actively seeks to destroy and belittle other people's belief system or worldview. New Atheism explored Certainly this is evident anecdotally in many philosophy & religion threads on MN!

^"I know some faith groups see this as absaloutely fundamental to their faith whilst others are more relaxed.^"
If you're talking about Christianity then any faith that adds works is a false gospel (See Galatians 1) because the true saving faith is about God's mercy and forgiveness, with nothing we can do added to it. It's not of our own works, we are reminded. So anyone saying you have to evangelise to be saved does not have the true gospel. Having said that, if you have a really good product then you want to tell your friends so they can benefit from it too. And so it is for those who honestly believe that they have been give a free gift and are saved from a judgement they deserved. In short, they are trusting in and relying upon God rather than upon themselves for what they view as the most important "good news" you can pass on to those you love.

"^I also see that those who do not believe in God(s) also often wish to share their opinions widely. It interests me to think about what this achieves in terms of sharing opinions, understanding of each other etc.^"

I think if everyone adopted the idea that they share their world-views with gentleness and respect, then MN would be a completely different place! The trouble is, that, from the Christian perspective, satan is the enemy of our souls and stirs up trouble wherever he can. Ephesians 6 says "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places."
and then again in John 10:10; "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full"

Anyone who has "tasted and seen that the Lord is Good" (Psalm 34:8) would naturally want to tell other people. Don't we do that over normal everyday temporary pleasures like watching a good film at the cinema or going to a great holiday destination? So much so for the permanent lasting pleasures of a life with God in eternity.

HereIsMee Sat 05-Jul-14 16:38:59

LovingSummer lots of people describe themselves as atheist because they do not adhere to any particular faith for lots of reasons but overall because they do not believe in such things. It isn't a single movement or set of beliefs that people follow. I cannot teach or share a lack of faith. I don't know what new atheist are but people have existed forever with ideas about life that don't include following a religious belief. I don't know very many atheists but a lot of the people I know follow a faith belief and we seem to manage just fine.

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