Remember that atheists (and agnostics) do not have an experience with the spiritual, supernatural, or metaphysical spheres. As I remember in my days before Christ, when I did not understand these things nor comprehend their power, I reconciled them with my world by believing that they were psychological in nature. That is. . .
a. the people were brainwashed.
b. they believe in a God because they want comfort (yeah, like we believe in a God who could potentially @#!*% us all to @#!*% forever — surely you can make a better argument than that, mister!).
c. they’re young and foolish, or naive (yet many mature, distinguished scientists worship their Creator).
d. they’re crazy.
. . . you get the idea. Psychology.
When you talk about the God of the Bible or Jesus in particular, they may respond with comments that lump together all their ideas, impressions, recollections, and ruminations on religions, spirituality, and the metaphysical in general. They say they don’t believe in these things or say there is not enough proof one way or another, but overwhelmingly their comments lean toward the negative.
They are contradictory at times, though. They insist that religious matters cannot be scientifically determined, but then they espouse a great deal of ideas about the spiritual world (which they know nothing about) as though it were all true — no proof from science needed to convince them of their opinions!
The Christian, on the other hand, has had experiences of God working in his or her life and has made a distinction between the material and spiritual worlds. Remember what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:9-10: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” Since the nonbeliever does not have the Spirit, he does not comprehend the things that have become new truths to you.
Paul also wrote, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (2 Cor. 2:14). The truths you have learned from God are “spiritually discerned.” You now have an experience in the spiritual life, a life that is characterized by obeying the Bible as though you were obeying God, and finding the consequences rebounding back just as though God were responding to your obedience. The nonbeliever does not have this experience, so “they are foolishness to him.” But they are “spiritually discerned” by you, not psychologically discerned.
Remember that, from their perspective without experience in spiritual or supernatural things, if you believe in spiritual things, then you are by definition foolish or misled. You will be talked down to. That probably can’t be helped.
As all men do, they judge all things based on their personal experiences. God has never broken through to them personally, so they explain such experiences by the psychological means mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, they take the stance of bitter old men who have had one sexual fling after another, all ending disastrously, and seek the comfort of like-minded men who have had similar calamities. They then view those who have been married for twenty or so years and say, “They must be faking it . . . She only wants him for his money . . . Just wait, reality will catch up to them eventually.” They unwittingly invalidate the experiences of others by comparing them with their own.
To continue the analogy, they have confused love and lust, and so miss out on the reasons for a successful, enduring marriage. Similarly, they have mixed up the difference between world religions and a personal God, and so have missed out on knowing God themselves.
You may remember reading C.S. Lewis’s book, The Screwtape Letters, in which the head demon advises his junior demon to flash an image of a man in red tights with pointy tail to his charge, then suggest that since he can’t believe in this, he certainly can’t believe anything this religious person is saying. They twist your words around because there is a war going on by spirits in high places. The fallen angels cannot hurt God directly, but they can thwart His plan by affecting the human beings that He loves.
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12).
Because they are judging life by experiences, it may be more to their benefit to talk about your experiences with God, rather than evolution/creation and other intellectual pursuits. Paul followed this practice more frequently towards the end of the book of Acts. Who were you before? How are you now different?
Recall your own days before Christ and identify with your hearers — you are not that far from them yourself; you seek to understand life more just as they do.
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