How to Understand People who Believe in God (for Atheists)

Three Methods:Exposing Yourself to Different ReligionsRelating to People Who Believe in GodTalking With People Who Believe in God

Regardless of whether or not you believe in God, talking about religion often leads to conflict. People have very different beliefs and oftentimes, they are not very good at expressing them respectfully. In order to understand people who believe in God, you must display an open mind and a willingness to listen and learn.

Method 1
Exposing Yourself to Different Religions

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    Visit different houses of worship. As an atheist, it’s easy to completely isolate yourself from different religious schools of thought, but this is ultimately not helpful for your growth. Visit as many different religious services as you can and try to form relationships with as many different people as possible.[1]
    • Ask a Christian friend to take you to a Sunday service.
    • Ask a Jewish friend to invite you to their Shabbat dinner.
    • Visit a Confucianist temple; Confucianists do not believe in God, so this organized religion may feel more natural for you.
    • Find a Secular Humanist group near you; Secular Humanism focuses on ethics and reason and not dogma, so it may be more comfortable for you.
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    Take a religious studies class. Prejudice stems from lack of education and if the only religious education you’re receiving is what you read in the news, chances are you will be even less open to understanding people who believe in God.[2]
    • Taking a class is guaranteed to expose you to people of different religious affiliations and beliefs, which can only make you more understanding.
    • Approach your class with an open mind and do not try to win any class arguments.
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    Read many different religious texts. If nothing else, religion and belief in God have shaped much of human history. Reading as many religious texts as possible will help educate you historically and will also help you identify ways in which your own views mirror those of people who believe in God.[3]
    • To better understand Christianity, read the Bible.
    • To better understand Judaism, read the Torah.
    • To better understand Islam, read the Qur’an.
    • To better understand Buddhism, read the Tripitaka.
    • To better understand Hinduism, read Bhagavad-Gita.
    • To better understand the Baha’i faith, read Al-Kitab Al-Aqdas.
    • To better understand Taoism, read the Tao-Te-Ching.
    • To get an overview of many different religions, read The World's Religions, by Huston Smith.[4]
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    Have discussions with different people of different religious faiths. You may have been brought up thinking that discussing religion is rude, but this is actually not the case. The best way to understand people who are different than you is to have open and honest discussions about why and how you disagree.[5]
    • When discussing religion, be aware that listening is just as important as talking.
    • Be respectful at all times. Just because you respect someone’s point of view does not mean you agree with it.

Method 2
Relating to People Who Believe in God

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    Don’t try to change people. One of the big problems with organized religion is that oftentimes, believers feel compelled to convert non-believers. Atheists are not immune from this. When you meet a person who believes in God, don’t try to explain to them why they shouldn’t. Instead, listen to them when they talk and try to understand where they’re coming from.[6]
    • Remember that your choice to not believe in God is not being challenged by another person’s choice to believe in God.
    • Use humor to connect with one another and diffuse conversations when they get too confrontational.
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    Think about the positive benefits of believing in God. Attending church helps people with their mental health by providing them with a sense of community. While you may not personally believe, understanding that believing in God improves other people’s quality of life may help you understand their choices.[7]
    • Many religions preach forgiveness and forgiveness also correlates with increased mental health.
    • Believing in God may help your mental health when recovering from medical conditions like cancer and traumatic brain injuries.
    • Believing in God may also help you when receiving treatment for depression.[8]
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    Set your personal biases aside. Religious ideology definitely plays a role in creating conflict and war, but it's not the only perpetrator of violence. Poverty, social inequality and employment stagnation also play major roles.[9] Don’t let your personal biases get in the way of you learning and connecting with people who have different beliefs than you do. [10]
    • Do not let your biases against religion affect the way you feel about religious people.[11]
    • Stop making sweeping generalizations when you talk about people who believe in God. Choose your words carefully and hold yourself accountable for what you say.
    • Treat people who believe in God with the same respect that you expect as someone who doesn’t.
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    Respect that there are many different viewpoints inside each religion. There are many different religions out there, and even people who practice the same religion share different beliefs. Be respectful of everyone’s point of view and do not tar different people with the same brush.[12]
    • Remind yourself that just because some people in a religion believe in something doesn’t mean that everyone in that religion believes in that thing.
    • Don’t use religious extremists as the basis for your arguments. When it comes to believing in God, they are the exception, not the rule.

Method 3
Talking With People Who Believe in God

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    Practice active listening. When talking to someone who believes in God, don’t spend the entire conversation waiting to argue your point of view. Instead, be present for the conversation by listening actively and constructively.[13]
    • When someone tells you something, paraphrase what they just said to show you understand.
    • Ask questions to move the conversation forward, instead of letting it stall out.
    • Be empathetic and acknowledge the other person’s feelings.
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    Make sure you’re both defining God the same way. Sometimes, different people have different definitions of what God actually is. Before you engage in a conversation with someone who believes in God, make sure you’re both defining God in the same way.[14]
    • Ask the person you’re talking with to clarify what their God entails before getting into a theological discussion.
    • Check in at different points in the conversation to make sure you’re still on the same page. This will prevent you from arguing over one another.
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    Have a collaborative conversation, not a confrontation. Regardless of how persuasive your argument is, the person you’re talking with is probably not going to leave the conversation an atheist. Treat your conversation like a religious exploration and you may both leave having learned something new.[15]
    • Ask questions that challenge your partner’s beliefs, but do so because you’re interested, not because you’re trying to trip them up.
    • If the other person makes a good point, tell them. Learning about God should not be a competition.


  • Be open-minded and civil when talking to people about God. No one likes feeling attacked for their personal beliefs.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Atheism | Philosophy and Religion