I went to a well-known Catholic university in northern Indiana (who needs to name it?) where 83% of the student body was Roman Catholic. The other 17% were Protestant, Evangelical Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and finally, a sprinkle of atheists and agnostics. But by some statistical oddity, I found myself surrounded by close atheist-agnostic friends, including my future wife (now a happy and practicing Catholic (blog post spoiler alert)).
So when I say you should be friends with atheists, I’m not just talking about a universal Christ-like love. I’m talking with experience about being actual friends with real-life atheists!
Yes, self-proclaimed New Atheists as well.
But how can this be, I hear you say, since we fundamentally disagree about the nature of everything?
This post isn’t about the ‘how’ of befriending atheists. I’m currently writing an ebook about that for you guys and gals (How to Win Discussions and Influence Heathens (it’s a working title…)).
But here are the reasons you should befriend our godless brothers and sisters:
1) Many atheists are quite smart.
Quite often, the atheist is more thoughtful about his atheism than the Catholic is about his Catholicism. I know that’s true for none of my readership, but there it is. I know I personally enjoy having smart friends; they help push me to be smarter, they’re better at and more willing to discuss anything and everything, and usually the conversation is livelier (pro tip: especially when it takes place at the pub).
2) You might learn something.
Whether it’s realizing that there are holes in your doctrinal knowledge, or simply refining your discussion/debate skills, I’ve only ever found upsides to genuine discussions with atheists. Now obviously, to have this level of discussion there’s the prerequisite of actually being friends. Establishing mutual respect for each other is a requirement to having a productive conversation that doesn’t devolve into a ”yes-it-is no-it’s-not” debate.
3) Atheists are deliberate in their search for truth.
Many atheists come to their atheism through thoughtful deliberation, and when they ‘come out’ as atheists to their families they face a lot of animosity, which shows to me that being an atheist is not ”copping out” or ”the easy way.” It’s been rare that I’ve found an atheist who is an atheist because they ”want to do whatever they want” (those people make up the ‘None’ category: people who just don’t care about religion/God one way or another). So don’t dismiss atheists as immoral right off the bat, many are extraordinarily ethical.
4) They’ll help you be a better person.
I know you’re a good person now, but we’re always striving to be better. It’s easier to do that when you have something tangible to strive for. Being friends with atheists helps you to realize that everything you do in your life reflects on the Church and how people see Catholics. How seriously can someone take you in a discussion about religion if you’re sleeping around, skipping Mass on Sundays, getting plastered on a Thursday afternoon, and you’re the religious representative in the debate?
5) You’ll read more.
How many of you enjoy being schooled in debate after debate? I don’t see anyone’s hand up. That would take a special kind of masochism right there. If you lose a debate against an atheist who is a friend, you’ll want to come back for round two, ready to teach them for sure this time. So you’ll read your Catechism and your Bible. You’ll study your philosophy and rhetoric. You’ll come back to this blog so you can find everything you’ll possibly need (and if you can’t find it, ask me! I’ll get it to you). You have a reason to study your faith deeper. Do it. Don’t make us Catholics look dumb.
6) Someday, down the road, you might have saved a soul.
No one is won over in the heat of a debate. But after a lot of talks, a lot of drinks, a lot of good times, and a lot of good example, you might just have been the last nudge that pushes them through the wall they put up between themselves and religion. I know my atheist friends will hate reading this on here (sorry, O’Duffy), but it’s true. Friendship should be for its own sake, and while it’s a little Machiavellian to befriend someone for the purpose of converting them, the fact remains that you might. And saving one soul is of infinite value.
7) Jesus would do it.
Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m done now.
But he would.
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Don’t worry. You all voted for the Apologetics of the All-Male Priesthood and it is forthcoming. But it’s going to be a long post and I want to make sure it’s a) completely in line with Church teaching, b) totally covering all of the bases, and c) interesting enough that even the shortest attention span amongst you will read it. In the mean time, this will hopefully tide you over.