I’ve had lengthy conversations with two Christian friends recently on the question of atheists and people who do not go to church. I found that they confuse the two types of people and conflate roles and characteristics. In a conversation about prison ministry, they repeated the Christian canard that prisons are full of atheists. I countered with statistics showing that almost all inmates believed in god or professed a religion of some sort. My friends asserted that prisoners declare a believe in God, but they are atheists. Their reasoning was simple, if they were Christians, they would not be in prison. I usually get a headache at this point.
I explained that atheists are people who assert that there are no gods. People who profess a believe in God are theists, but they may not be Christians because they do not subscribe to a specific Christian theology. I refer to theists who fit in this category as the unchurched, a term I learned from a pastor. I think it fits. There are lots of unchurched and few atheists. What bothers me is that many lay Christians do not see it this way. They often refer to what I call the unchurched as atheists or event agnostics. It is maddening.
My only weapon is dialog. I repeat myself as often as I can. I tell the story every time the question comes up. I even ask that my friends re-tell the story. I think its important to clarify things so that it paints the proper characterization. I’m not looking for god. I’m not interested in going to church or in religion at all. I think I speak for my fellow atheists. We are not the droids you are looking for.