What do we Christians have to say to atheists at Easter?

Bonn - The church celebrates Easter for weeks – but more and more people do not share the belief in the resurrection of Jesus. Stefan Kiechle asks what Christians can do to counter this – and sees Easter as a decisive turning point.

Published  on 03.04.2024 at 00:01  – by Stefan Kiechle SJ

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The church celebrates Easter for an octave week and then for another 40 days. But more and more people do not believe: they deny God and creation, Jesus Christ and the cross, the resurrection and eternal life. What do we Christians have to say to the atheists?

Of the many varieties of atheism, I would like to mention two: "Naturalism" claims that there is only matter, that it comes from the Big Bang and that everything can be explained scientifically, not quite yet, but soon; there is no room for a God. A "cultural atheism" explains that monotheism only leads to fundamental, absolute claims to truth and power and is therefore the cause of patriarchalism, of all authoritarian regimes, of dictatorships, of imperialism, of violence and war, of all evil; so religion and God should be abolished for the good of humanity.

Now atheism cannot be proven. The questions of what was "before" the Big Bang and how consciousness, spirit and freedom can be explained are not dealt with by naturalists. And of course religions have legitimised and even waged wars to this day, but they have also contributed a great deal to reconciliation and peace, to the humanisation of humanity to this day. The comprehensive whole of the world and mankind, the questions of where from and where to, of life and death and new life - no atheism answers these questions.

Faith cannot be proven either. You can think about it and find good reasons for it, so it is not unreasonable or irrational. But there are also good reasons for unbelief. It remains a stalemate - we Christians are happy to admit that.

You can only engage with faith: Sensing God's closeness to some extent on spiritual paths and thus experiencing him; entering into a relationship and trusting; reading Holy Scriptures; listening to witnesses; letting oneself fall into the abyss of God. Sometimes we Christians believe against experience - for example, the experience of distance from God, of suffering, of crises and wars. Sometimes, however, we experience God's comforting and healing care.

At its core, Christian faith is always Easter faith: suffering, hardship and death are overcome, life triumphs. The first disciples recognised the Risen One through relationship, for example the weeping Mary of Magdala by addressing him by name. Of course, we cannot hold on to Christ, who shows us God. Faith is not knowledge, but certainty. It fulfils, heals and revives.

by Stefan Kiechle SJ

The author

Father Stefan Kiechle SJ has been editor-in-chief of the magazine "Stimmen der Zeit" since 2018. He previously headed the German Province of the Jesuit Order for seven years.


The views expressed are solely those of the author.