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Asking the Clergy: How should believers talk to rationalists, atheists?

Faroque A. Khan,  Jeffrey D. Prey and

Faroque A. Khan,  Jeffrey D. Prey and Rabbi Mendy Goldberg Credit: Newsday/Paul J. Bereswill / Handout / Pablo Garcia Corradi

Atheists and agnostics are experiencing increased harassment in 23 countries including social harassment in the United States, according to a recent Pew Research Center report. This week’s clergy discuss how they would attempt to communicate in a respectful way with people who don’t share their belief in God.

The Rev. Jeffrey D. Prey

Pastor, First Presbyterian Church of Oyster Bay

While I understand where this question is coming from, I begin with the premise that the Christian faith is a rational belief — that upon consideration, it makes sense. I also understand atheism (based on my reading of atheist John Gray’s book, “Seven Types of Atheism” (Farrar Straus and Giroux 2018) to be a form of belief in and of itself — just with a different object. So, with that as a prelude, believers (or  anyone, for that matter) should talk to rationalists/atheists (or  anyone, for that matter) with respect. Part of my belief system is that all people are created with dignity and worth in the image of God. At times, we do a pretty good job of hiding that, but it cannot be wiped out. It is an indelible part of who we are — each one of us. This respect shows itself in a willingness to listen. As a believer, my goal is to get to know the other. That cannot be done through argument or condescension, but through a mutually respectful dialogue. While we may disagree on substantive matters, it is always good to remember that we share a common humanity.

Faroque A. Khan

Board of trustees chairman, Interfaith Institute of Islamic Center of Long Island, Westbury

In the Quran it says, “Invite (all) to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious.” (16:125) When asked questions about my beliefs, such as, does God exist?, I follow the guidelines in the Quran 3:190: “Verily, in the creation of the heavens and earth and in the alternation of night and day there are indeed signs for men of understanding.” What is the evidence of God’s existence? In the Quran I was amazed to find passages highlighting astronomy, physics, geology, biology, embryology, oceanology, space travel and more. These scientific  breakthroughs were not known to humans in the 7th century when the Quran was revealed to prophet Muhammad. So how did these facts, only recently confirmed, appear in the Quran? For me, this is evidence for the existence of a higher "power" — God, creator, sustainer of the worlds. As a Muslim, I am advised to share this information. After presenting these and many other similar findings to the skeptics, I conclude by saying: thanks for your query, may God guide you to the right path.

Rabbi Mendy Goldberg

Lubavitch of the East End

A man once came up to a Chassidic rabbi. “I don’t believe in God,” he scoffed. The rabbi replied, “The God you don’t believe in, I don’t either believe in.” I believe that there is no such thing as an atheist. At most, they can be called an agnostic because it’s difficult to not believe in something you know nothing about. I would point to the well-known adage that “there are no atheists in foxholes” as proof that everyone believes subconsciously in a power beyond our conception. Some may not want to identify that power as God. For the atheist, he himself is god, the universe is only defined by his own understanding, and all ethics are subject to his approval. He views himself as a self-made man, creating his own universe, squeezing himself inside. So what is needed is to educate with love, and to help atheists understand that they truly do believe. We need to help guide them by listening and allowing them to question and understand what they always believed to be true without ego getting in the way.

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com. Find more LI Life stories at newsday.com/LILife.

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