Below is a transcription of an old yellowed news clipping I cut out years ago, and found yesterday stuck in a book.
I think- regardless of your faith- you’ll like the surprising way Father Dietzen answers the question:
by Father John Dietzen for Catholic News Service
Q: How do people come to be atheists? So many books and articles are written today about that, but it’s hard to understand. The existence of God and His love seem so evident to us. What makes some people refuse to believe? (Ohio)
A: I don’t know all the answers, and I don’t think anyone does. My experience, however, suggests that some of our easy assumptions are off-track.
Before judging and categorizing “atheists,” we need to ask ourselves: What God, what kind of God, are they rejecting? And why? The answer may not be as simple as we think.
Several years ago, the evening television news described a Southern city in violent turmoil over an atheist couple whose son wished to join the Boy Scouts. His parents sued the local organization for mentioning God in the scout oath.
As the child left school, a group of adults and children, their faces distorted in anger and hostility, berated him for his godlessness. He was in tears. Could anyone not understand if his family reacts by thinking: If your God is anything like you, we want no part of it?
As the late saintly Brazilian Archbishop Helder Pesoa Camara once wrote, “Watch how you live. Your lives may be the only gospel your sisters and brothers will ever read.”
We have endless evidence that people, we of Christian faith or other believers, sometimes instinctively tend to cut God down to our own size, to our own ways of thinking and acting, so he will fit comfortably into our very limited minds and plans.
Then in our zeal we attempt, usually without realizing it, to impose that stunted idea of God on others. If they cannot accept our representation of God and what and how we feel God expects us to act, we are greatly threatened. We accuse them of being evil, enemies of God, enemies of good, enemies of life.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that by seeing our good deeds others will be moved to give glory to God. If so, then the opposite is also true. When our actions become mean-spirited and belligerently strident, we make it incredibly difficult if not impossible for others, especially persons with little faith background, to recognize the merciful and faithful God we say we believe in.
We too often lack kindness, generosity and basic charity. We may even feel a self-righteous obligation to judge, disrespect and revile persons who do not see things our way. When that happens it is wildly foolish to expect a change of heart or conversion to our understanding of God and His Word.
This does not deny that most of us are bathed each day in evident signs of God’s goodness, wisdom and beauty. (The millions suffering grinding poverty and save genocides might not easily agree.) And we know the destructive force of intellectual pride and stiff-necked wilfulness and greed for power which, as Scripture often reminds us, we all share to some degree.
It does say, however, that we need to move carefully and compassionately when we’re tempted to denounce others for not accepting faith in God, or what God wants, the way we do.