Responding to the 'don’t know, don’t care about God' crowd

Many years ago, I worked with a great guy at a database software company. He and I were peers in different groups – he was the director of engineering and I was director of product.[1]

Courtesy of Robin Schumacher
Courtesy of Robin Schumacher

When we reached the point where we chatted about things beyond work, I began to talk to him about Christianity and the pushback I got from him was unlike anything I had previously experienced with non-Christians. His position on God and Christianity was simply, “don’t know, don’t care."

He went on from there to formally introduce me to apatheism, which is more of an attitude than a worldview or belief system. As you would expect from the name, an apatheist has a feeling of indifference towards the existence or non-existence of God. Plain and simple, they are just not interested in accepting or rejecting any God-is or God-is-not claims.

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Take agnosticism and tack on a sense of insignificance to the idea of God and you have the apatheist. Surprisingly, there are a lot more of them than you may think.  

As an article in The Christian Post recently highlighted, a survey done by the Cultural Research Center of Arizona Christian University found many who they call “don’ts” (apatheists): “slightly more than one out of four Boomers and Builders (28%) qualify as “Don’ts”—that is, people who do not know, believe, or care if God exists—and roughly the same proportion of Gen X adults can be characterized as such (31%), closer to half of all Millennials (43%) are Don’ts.”

That’s a lot of people.

In an August 2018 article in Public Discourse, authors Paul Rowan Brian and Ben Sixsmith made a (then) somewhat surprising assertion: “The greatest threat to Christianity is found not in the arguments of the atheist but in the assumptions of the apathetic. The danger is not a hostile reception of belief in God but an incurious indifference to the idea.”

Why do they say that? Because while Christians tend to engage people on the four ‘biggies’ of origin, meaning, morality and destiny, apatheists view those things along the lines of a meme that I recently saw: “At some point something happened and somehow something or someone was created and somehow I, a bunch of other people, and a lot of other animals got here. I can live with that.”

Tough crowd.

Having no care about where they came from, sensing no loss of meaning, asking for no direction in morality and content to slide into eternity with their fingers crossed, apatheists echo French philosopher Denis Diderot’s shrug-of-the-shoulders “meh” reply about whether God exists: “It is very important not to mistake hemlock for parsley; but not at all so to believe or not in God.”

Trivial attitude aside, make no mistake about one thing: as Christians, we should not view apatheism as a live-and-let-live, non-combatant when it comes to co-existing in society. While the apatheist may not care about whether God exists, they likely don’t feel the same about the supposed threat Christianity represents to their various social-justice causes. Just look at the war Diderot himself waged against the Christian faith.   

Engaging the “don’ts”

With a wide array of gods and philosophies in play during his time, Paul encountered his fair share of people who spent “time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21) and didn’t seem concerned about committing their path to the right or wrong set of spiritual ideas. But that didn’t stop him from engaging them at Mars Hill and impressing upon them the need for repentance and commitment to Jesus.

How should we go about discussing Christ with the “don’ts”?

To start, realize that a position of apatheism doesn’t undo what and who a person is underneath. When it comes to any unbeliever, no matter whether they are an adherent of post-truth thinking, scientism, apatheism, or are militantly and belligerently opposed to Christianity, they are still made in the image of God and, although marred by sin, are comprised of rational, spiritual, and moral dimensions.

An apatheist can first be challenged from a rational perspective to understand they don’t apply that philosophy to other areas of their life. Do you have enough money in your checking account to cover your rent check? Don’t know, don’t care. Do you have cancer? Don’t know, don’t care.

The reason the apatheist behaves differently in these circumstances is they accept the reality of their landlord and physical health, i.e., they are not agnostic in those areas and realize the consequences of ignoring them.

This is a good starting point for the apatheist since their agnosticism is driven by their disinterest in the idea of God. Getting them to acknowledge that, in this life, consequences exist for being negligent and wrong in their thinking leads to the question of why things would be different when it comes to God, both in this life and the next.

This is especially true for the next life because eternity is an awfully long time to be wrong.

While standard apologetics arguments may have some impact on the apatheist, these days no proof is better than appealing to their moral dimension via the well-lived Christian life of the one speaking to them.

David Dockery says that in order for new generations to consider the plausibility of Christianity, they must be convinced of its authenticity and its community-building characteristics before they will hear its truth claims.[2] The Apostle Paul did just this – he lived among those he preached the Gospel to and exhibited a witness among them that proved the reality of Christ.

Paul’s way of life very much rounds out any intellectual apologetic he presented on Mars Hill. Along with the cerebral presentation of the Gospel came a love that the world saw in him and in Christianity as a whole.

Historian Antonia Tripolitis argues that Christianity’s sense of community and its universal charity were a major reason, if not the single most important reason, for its growth and subsequent victory over the empire and other competing religions and philosophies of that day.[3]

Scottish minister Robert McCheyne understood this and once said that his people’s greatest need was his personal holiness. He knew that it is not so much great gifts that God uses as it is a great likeness to Jesus that draws unbelievers.

Although my apatheist friend at our old software firm didn’t convert to Christianity while we worked together, he did remark to me that I was different (in a good way) than others at the company and enjoyed our discussions. My hope and prayer is that he, and all the other “don’ts” have their indifference towards God melt away by seeing Christ in us and discover the meaning and importance that having Him in their lives brings.  

[1] Some of this article is taken from my new book, A Confident Faith: Winning People to Christ with the Apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

[2] Dockery, D. “The Challenge of Postmodernism” in The Challenge of Postmodernism. David Dockery, general editor (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 16.

[3] Tripolitis, A. Religions of the Hellenistic-Roman Age (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2002), 97.

Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

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