How to Convince an Atheist That God Exists

Listen up, Kanye: if you want to turn atheists into believers, I’m here to let you know what it’s going to take. I’ve spent years on both sides of the debate, and while I don’t see myself reconverting anytime soon, I would never say that it’s impossible to convince me there’s a God. If you’d asked me ten years ago if I’d ever call myself an atheist, I’d have said “Heck no!” Clearly, I’m no prophet.

Let’s be honest right from the start: there may only be so much Kanye or any human being can do. If I could be impressed by someone’s profound personal testimony, I’d be baptized dozens of times. If there was a valid and sound logical argument for God’s existence, it would have been presented by now. Apologists think they’ve already done so; atheists like myself think they’re full of it. The fact that this conflict has been ongoing for millennia with no novel arguments forthcoming should make believers question if their logic is really as rock-solid as they think it is.

If apologists can’t do it, then the ball is firmly in God’s court. Being all-powerful, he must have tons of tricks up his proverbial sleeve. His reticence to use them could be the subject of another post, but let’s say he wanted to pull one out for the sake of my eternal soul. Already we have a problem: I would be a bad skeptic if I were made a believer by a single act. Realistically, if I were to experience the kind of mind-boggling, unprecedented gesture that could only be performed by God, my first reaction would be to question the reliability of my own faculties, immediately creating doubt where God intended conviction.

In theory, one could be skeptical about pretty much anything. Go down that rabbit hole too far, and you’ll wind up a solipsist with a headache. Perhaps it would be more charitable to ask not what would convince me outright, but what would make me stop and reconsider. An act of god might not persuade me to join Team Deity, but it could at least give me pause — more than God has done for me so far. I can definitely think of a few things that would force me to take a step back and reevaluate my position:

  1. A clear, authenticated, specific prophesy. I’m talking a document from thousands of years ago, confirmed by expert historians that lists a date, time, and location that a particular event will occur. None of this four horses, seven seals nonsense. This should be well within God’s power, and it would eliminate the objection that a prophecy is too vague.
  2. A personal vision/appearance common to all people. What if, on everyone’s eighteenth birthday, God pops into their noggin and introduces himself? “Hey, this is God… yes, I’m real. Just letting you know I’m looking out for you. By the way, have you thought about getting your cosmetology license? I bet you’d be really good at it — just sayin'” Since everyone has their own unique but similar vision, we can compare notes and rule out the possibility of a random hallucination.
  3. A message written on the moon in the native language of every reader. Not a big deal, right? The moon is visible the world over, which would make it the perfect divine billboard. I’m sure the most skepticky skeptics would bring up the possibility of alien technology, quoting Arthur C. Clarke all the way, but the rest of us would have a lot to think about.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. God could have methods at his disposal that are beyond my understanding. I mean, using Kanye West as a spokesperson seems like an odd choice to my limited human mind — but then again, having him show up at my door to rap the gospel might be just the kind of miracle I’ve been waiting for.

Would You Rather Be Happy or Right?

Some time ago at the Atheist Christian Book Club, I had a conversation with a new Christian attendee. I don’t think she had much experience talking to atheists, but she pulled out an old canard like a seasoned pro:

I just don’t know how atheists live without the love of Christ. I think I would just be depressed all the time!

This line of thinking reveals how some theists have entirely different end goals than most atheists. It’s similar to the whole “atheism would lead to amoral anarchy” trope: the effects of holding a position have nothing to do with the validity of a position. In other words, we have to deal with reality as it is, even if we don’t like the results.

According to polls, religious people tend to be happier than the non-religious. Of course! Belief in a supernatural father figure and a blissful afterlife can buoy one through many a rough sea. But what happens when these ideas are challenged? Do believers face them and risk losing their happiness and security? Or is it more important to follow truth where it leads, even if one’s religious foundation is discovered to be incorrect?

“Right” is absolute: you and I share a reality, and there’s only one way to be right about it. “Happy” is relative: what brings you happiness may not have the same effect on me. Religion does not make everyone happy; communities of ex-believers are rife with examples. What if you’re a gay Christian or Muslim, being told that your very nature is an abomination? What if you’re a woman, forever told to submit, keep quiet, know your place? I’m sure antebellum slaves were overjoyed when their masters brought out the Bible to support their subjugation. Many people find happiness impossible under a theistic paradigm.

Atheists regularly employ the term “delusional” when it comes to religious folks. Personally, I try to avoid it; I’ve spoken with quite a few believers who put a lot of thought into their faith and have a logical, if flawed, basis for it. However, there are also a large number of believers for whom the comfort of their faith is so paramount that the factual foundation of it remains unexplored. While it’s important not to overuse the term, choosing to be happy over being right is the very definition of delusion.

Consider the #wakeupolive saga that at the time of this post has only recently concluded. I feel awful for the Heiligenthals, even more than mere sympathy for grieving parents who have lost a beloved child. Their confidence in God’s power of resurrection has hamstrung them from dealing with reality on its own terms. Even when God fails to expend one iota of his mighty power on their behalf, they remain steadfast. In their community, this is a virtue! The family may have their doubts in private, but it’s telling that they feel it necessary to maintain a positive public image. In the end, they know what their parishioners want to hear, and it’s not the harsh reality of life.