I don’t know about other parts of the USA, or the world, but here in the South it isn’t uncommon at all for folks to invite other folks to church. It is – usually – akin to inviting a friend over for a game of bridge. Usually. It is a little – nay, a lot different when a Christian extends that invitation to someone they know isn’t a Christian. In those cases, the Christian is trying to get the non-Christian into a church in the hope that they will hear the word of God and convert from their non-Christian religion to the invitee’s particular flavor of Christianity and become a tithing member of that congregation. “Come to church with me”, in that context is really nothing more than membership drive.
But what about when a Christian invites an “avowed atheist” (crazy phrase there!) to church? What should the response be from an atheist when their friend or family member extends that invitation?
First off, don’t be a dick about it. They usually have their hearts in the socially right place, if not the reasonable one. You can be snarky and sarcastic if you so choose, of course, but honey vs. vinegar. A polite, “Thanks, but Sunday is my day to wash the dog/do yard work/paint the house,” works just fine. My bigger question, however, is, “Why?” And this question can open up a door to a (hopefully) meaningful discussion about faith.
Why do you want me to come to church with you?
Since I’m not one of the approximately 41,000 sects of Christianity in the US alone, this clearly isn’t a social invitation.
Since I’m not one of the 6% of Americans who identify as non-Christian or the 15% of Americans who “don’t know”, this can’t be a membership drive.
Since you know that I am one of the 2.4% who expressly identify as atheist, I think your motivations are a bit different.
I have written a number of posts about what it means to be an atheist, but let me give you a quick list of why inviting me to your church won’t convert me.
- I know what Christians mean about “God”.
- I know what Christianity is.
- I have read the Bible.
- I have studied the Bible.
- I have attended Christian men’s groups to discuss the Bible.
- I have considered the claims of Christianity.
- I find absolutely no reason to accept the claims of Christianity to be more true than any of the other world’s religions.
- I find no evidence for a supreme being that has not been – to my mind – adequately explained by natural causes. And those still unanswered questions are no proof of God.
I have considered it all, and I am an atheist. Coming with you to your church will not convert me. Proving your story is true will.
Here are some reasons you may give that, frankly, I consider lame:
- Our minister is a really good speaker!
So was Hitler. Okay, I shouldn’t have invoked Hitler, but being a good speaker is not the same as speaking true things.
- We have wonderful music.
The Foo Fighters play at your church? No? Okay, let me guess. You have electric guitars and a drum set, and one of the member’s daughter is a better than average singer, right?
- Our church isn’t about religion. We’re about a relationship with God.
All churches, all faiths, all denominations are about religious beliefs. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that your church is different. You are a member of your church because of the theology presented from the pulpit, lectern, stage, whatever. If that theology were to change, you would go to another church.
- The men’s group is fantastic.
Been there done that. Unless your men’s group are on the local college campus helping single women get across campus safely, or you’re swinging hammers in a low income housing project, or you meet regularly to discuss the finer points of home brewing – all without praying or discussing a particular chapter in the Bible – your men’s group is just like every other church men’s group.
- Our minister is a pretty woman, who is also an evolutionary biologist with an expertise in bats, and she skates on the local roller derby team!
Okay, I’ll come to church with you.