Practical advice from a former atheist on how to evangelize atheists

July 21, 2010 by  
Filed under Patrick's Blog

N.B.: Jennifer‘s conversion story — from a born-&-raised atheist to a convinced Catholic — will appear in the next issue of Envoy Magazine (vol. 9.4). Her website is
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28 Responses to “Practical advice from a former atheist on how to evangelize atheists”
  1. Anonymous says:

    Isn't Jennifer great?

    PM – just delete the nuts and continue doing good work for the church and our culture. Loved your book, The Godless Delusion – just finished it last night. Plan to reread it and purchase more for gifts.

  2. jean says:

    I was brought up a Catholic but became an atheist in my teens. I loved being an atheist and didn't care that death would be the end of me. At least I didn't have to worry about hell! And I LOVED arguing with Christians.

    Then God zapped me and to my horror gave me proof that He existed. That was 40 years ago and gradually I learned to love being a Catholic again. But I never argue with atheists. I think Jennifer's ideas are exactly right!

  3. Easter A. says:

    She is a girl-next-door whom people will take the time to listen to. I am proud of Jennifer!

  4. Anil Wang says:


    You use the word "Magisterium" without seeming to understand it. Individual priests or bishops *can* be opposed to the Magisterium from time to time and it is right to bring these violations out…first to the priests or bishops or laity themselves (we all make unintentional mistakes and can't be condemned for our carelessness or lack or clarity or lack of knowledge) and then publicly if the violations persist and are grave enough.

    Granted, as lay people acting on our own judgment, our credibility is less than that of the priest, But we do not have to rely on our own judgement. We have the catechism (the product of the Magisterium) and the papal encyclicals as guidance for what is true.

    As for whether Catholics are Eucharist focused or testimony focused, you make the same mistake that Protestants do…taking one thread of the faith and assuming it is the whole thing. Calvinists aren't wrong to say that God is sovereign, they just don't see the flip side that by the grace of God man has free will. It's "both and", not "either or". Catholics are *both* Eucharist focused *and* testimony focused *and* sanctification focused *and*…. Take one thread out and you don't have Catholicism, you have Cafeteria Catholicism.

    That's why the Catholic Catechism for *laity* is so large and the longest Protestant Catechism for *clergy* (if they exist) is small enough to memorize including scripture verses. Every thread is important. Even an iota of difference is enough to separate you from the church.

  5. Patrick Madrid says:

    Anonymous, your latest fatuous broadside shows that you are unable to give an example of my "misrepresenting" and "misinterpreting" Catholic teaching or "attacking" Catholic priests. Please stop now, and take your anger somewhere else.

  6. Anonymous says:

    PM, you and your associates should do the 'Catholic' thing and stop bashing our priests and bishops on the air and in writing that you may not agree with and stop spreading scandal as a 'teaching' moment. This form (the apologetics public forum) saying it represents Catholicism, is really only a small political demographic, not the true sacramental form of Catholicism, because only the Magisterium has the true authority granted by Christ. How dare you attack any of our priests. I would take the time to respond but as always your attack dogs stand ready to defend what is defenseless. Stop portraying the church as divided, and put this cult of personality behind you, because this division only exists in your mind and you are passing it along to others who are closer to fundamentalist Protestantism than true Catholicism. Most importantly, stop portraying your small band of apologetics personalities as being the Church. The world is a big place, get out and meet the people you are condemning, you may find that these people are closer to Christ than you are. We are the Universal church, and no segment as small as apologetics can claim Her authority.

  7. Anonymous says:

    @anonymous 8:26:

    What on earth are you talking about? Can you supply a single example of PM "stacking the deck" against traditional catholics or the magistereum? Can you even explain what "stacking the deck" means in this context? What a load of paranoid, hyper-sectarian rubbish.

  8. Abel Myers says:

    I agree with everything that was said, but for me, what got me to see that atheism was false was the assumptions of atheism itself. You could convince me that belief in God was rational, but atheism was rational and safer since "no one knows the truth for sure"….If I lived a moral life and I was an atheist but you were right, I'd be pleasantly be surprised. If the shoes were reversed, you would have made a fool of yourself all your life living a lie…living for the next world rather than this one.

    But that doesn't work. Point blank, atheism has no foundations. For instance, ultimately, there is no difference between breaking the leg of a chair and a person…it's just breaking molecular bonds. If you try to make up arbitrary moral rules like "the Golden Rule", then you have to ask, who is my neighbour? Does the Golden Rule apply to only people? How about monkeys? How about rats? How about vegetables? How about bacteria? What justification do we have for killing millions of bacteria to save one person from the common cold? Where do you draw the line and by what authority? Every area of atheism is filled with these weak foundations that crumble if you ask the hard questions.

    The key thing is not to answer those questions for the atheist, just ask them. If you answer the questions, they can avoid thinking and just dismiss the answers. But if you leave the question open, they're forced to either provide an answer (which can be questioned), or go away with the question burning in their mind until they discover an answer that will satisfy them.

  9. Patrick Madrid says:

    Anonymous 8:26, you are ignorant and fatuous. I am a life-long Catholic, not a convert. In my youth, I was steeped in the daily family rosary, Eucharistic adoration, and the Traditional Latin Mass. I have never claimed or even implied that I have any authority whatsoever in the Catholic Church, nor do I assert any "rights over priests and bishops." Your allegation to that effect is absurd. And if you are going to publicly accuse me, as you have here, of misinterpreting Catholic doctrines, then at least have the courage to provide an example to back up your claim. That, of course, would be the truly Catholic thing to do.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Ismael the Evangelizer and PM are both symptomatic of a small group of radio-minded converts (steeped mostly in that old time revival form of protestantism) who want to stack the deck against traditional and lifelong Catholics and the Magisterium. Like PM they have lived alongside Southern Protestants so long they can no longer tell the difference. They are organizing the "Convert Church" which falsely claims the authority of the church and speaks against our priests and bishops and at its core is a hybrid protestantism-Catholicism. The difference between you and other Catholics is we are not testimony focused, we are Eucharist focused. Your misinterpretation of Catholic doctrine gives you no rights over our Priest and Bishops. All of you are about your "testimony" and selling your merchandise.

  11. mgseamanjr says:

    I've been praying for several atheist intellectual friends for a long time and have gotten nowhere in my own mind, though we never know whether we have planted a seed that may grow later. I was left wondering whether Ms. Fulwiler has helped along some of her atheist friends to convert and to what more precisely does she attribute her conversion. Looking forward to reading Patrick's new text.

  12. J Sloan says:

    It's so important to know and understand one's Catholic faith. Looking at ancient and modern heresies helps us to see the ways in which our faith is being threatened. I just read a great book that outlines some of these very things using Scripture and Tradition called "The Judas Syndrome". I highly recommend it to anyone who wants their faith to be solidified that much more.

  13. Ismael says:

    Anonymous @ July 22, 2010 6:01 PM seems to win the prize for most incoherent sentence. 😛

    Besides what the heck does Benny Hill… oops Hinn… have to do with anything?

    Also does one need ‘authority’ to evangelize? I think not, since everybody is called to spread the Gospel.

    Regarding misquotations… there is a whole prayer that is often attributed to St. Francis (of Assisi) but that he did not write (but catches exactly the Franciscan spirit).

  14. Anonymous says:

    Best way to evangelize atheists, send Patrick Madrid to work for Benny Hinn, neither has any authority in the Catholic Church.

  15. Gregory says:

    It's not great discipline, Nick, but it ain't "evil". That's too scrupulous by half.

  16. Dean says:

    I first heard that statement attributed to St Francis de Sales. I'm not sure if I spelled hhis name right. If that is true, she and Mr Madrid are not wrong, Nick.

  17. 1maccabees says:


    You can not absolutely know for sure St. Francis did or didn't say those words ….big whoop. As stated, I'm sure he don't mind.

  18. Patrick Madrid says:

    Oh please. Don't be absurd.

  19. Nick says:

    "I'm sure St. Francis doesn't mind."

    To put words into peoples' mouths is evil, and evil means cannot be justified for a good end.

  20. Dymphna says:

    I'm with you, Mary Ellen. My ds is atheist and I really mourned the fact that he will think I am nothing and nowhere when I die. Such a frightening thought.

    God bless Jennifer for all she does.

  21. Mike says:

    Just goes to show you…the greatest wisdom on earth comes from red headed people.

    St. Paul, Patty Bonds, and this woman!

  22. nazareth priest says:

    This is spectacular!
    I have to admit, I have always believed, even as a very young child; complete grace and mercy of the Lord…He has given me so much, for which I am not always grateful.
    I cannot imagine not believing; not at all.
    It's not that I live up to the demands of our Catholic Faith, but atheism has never even crossed my mind; darkness, dryness, feeling alienated from God…yes. But I know He exists…even when I'm struggling.
    Faith is such an incredible gift…I pray for those struggling and for those who do not believe;
    how worthless life must be. It's hard enough to live with the suffering we encounter as a believer; I can't imagine life without believing.

  23. tour86rocker says:

    Wow, immediately one of my new favorite people

  24. Mary Ellen says:

    Excellent video and extremely helpful. When my husband and I married 37 years ago he was a Catholic. In fact, he often went to Mass with me when we were dating. Since then, he left the Church and declared himself an atheist recently. I can't tell you how heartbreaking that is hear. The additional stab in the heart was when he told me that he felt when I died, I was going to be nothing more than "worm food" in his mind. Of course, I know that isn't true, but the thought that he would think that after I'm gone…broke my heart.

    Yes, I am praying for him, have for a long time. And I am working very hard on my own holiness, spending regular hours in the Adoration Chapel has been my biggest blessing and helps to keep me centered and strong.

    Great video, thank you so much. It gave me hope that he can still change…gonna keep praying and working on my own holiness. 🙂

  25. Patrick Madrid says:

    Yes, yes, Britt. I know. But it's commonly attributed to him, so lighten up. I'm sure St. Francis doesn't mind.

  26. Ismael says:

    Great video! It's always great to hear from converts, especially if one wants to learn hor to evangelize in this modern era.

  27. Britt says:

    St. Francis never said that…

  28. Spence Ohana says:

    I love her blog, it's on my list to follow. She is such a great writer!

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