Why both Christians and atheists both need to lose their prejudices

I have read quite a lot of books by atheists about Christians. They make tough reading. Sometimes I feel like I have gone 10 rounds in a boxing ring with Mike Tyson with my hands tied behind my back. Arguments, criticisms, personal attacks punch me from all sides. I and my faith can come away feeling pretty bruised.

Authors such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett often present a picture of self-deluded, stupid or malicious Christians who blow up abortion clinics, build 'hell houses' to scare children into believing in God, or who picket gay funerals. They point to the Spanish inquisition or the trial of the astronomer Galileo and argue that Christianity is brutal or antiscientific. They tend to tar all Christians with the same brush.

Do discussions between Christians and atheists always have to involve a row?Pixabay

The problem is that I don't recognise this kind of Christian in the work I do with Christians all round the world. Most Christians I know have thought through their beliefs and have good reason and evidence for their faith. Most are involved in some way in the heart of our scientific, medical, legal, cultural, political and civic life. Most care deeply about being compassionate, peaceable and benevolent towards others.

But this is only half the story. I have also read a lot of books by Christians about atheists. Most assume that atheists are all just like Dawkins and friends – angry, argumentative, anti-Christian, aggressive. But the many atheists I have spent time with over the years look nothing like this. They are not all out on a personal vendetta to ridicule Christians or their faith. Most atheists in my experience are personable and pleasant. They are our neighbours, our family, our colleagues. We serve alongside them on PTA committees and football coaching teams, we share our offices, our homes and neighbourhoods with them.

What if the war between Christians and atheists is all a bit of a myth? What if we don't want to work through our differences in an intellectual boxing ring? What if the stereotypes we paint of one another are skewed so far out of proportion that both groups are unfairly represented? What if we have more in common than we think?

These are the questions at the heart of my latest book, Faitheism. In a culture where issues of faith are more important than ever, yet both Christians and atheists can feel more marginalised, it is vital to dispel the myths and stereotypes that can cause unnecessary division. Faitheism aims to help ordinary Christians and atheists have a better conversation together. You don't have to be either a committed Christian or a committed atheist in order to get the best out of the book. Wherever you are on the broad spectrum of belief and unbelief, Faitheism is designed to help you navigate some of the biggest questions and challenges of how we can live together in our pluralistic societies, offices, families and neighbourhoods. Faitheism offers a way forward so that without compromising what we believe we can enjoy genuine, authentic relationships across the dividing line of belief and unbelief.

Much of the material in Faitheism is born out of my experiences working in secular environments. I have come across both conscious and unconscious bias that Christians and sometimes atheists face in the workplace. Wrong assumptions, snide comments, subtle prejudice and blatant discrimination are at odds not only with current equalities legislation but also with the ideals of a western democracy and indeed, Christian and atheist values.

Faitheism is for anyone who wants to understand the role of faith in today's world and it offers tools to graciously and yet confidently challenge the prejudices we come across. It is also for anyone who is wrestling with the question of identity and belief: how can our private beliefs meet the public arena without being shot down or punched out? It is for those who want to think through the implications of faith and those who are prepared to consider some of the misconceptions we may hold.

Each chapter begins with a provocative look at some of the stereotypes that have traditionally divided Christians and atheists, and goes on to show that we don't have to look far to find we have more in common than we might think:

Christians are weird/atheists are normal
Christians are born/atheists are made
Christians are judgmental/atheists are tolerant
Christians are do-gooders/atheists are good-for-nothings
Christians are boring/atheists are fun
Christians are Bible-bashers/atheists are bus-bashers
The Bible is inspired/the Bible has expired
Christians are warmongers/atheists are peacemakers
Christians are immortal/atheists are mortal
Suffering necessitates God/suffering negates God

My aim is that we can get rid of the anger and animosity and instead find a way towards more authentic and honest conversation, towards greater confidence in our beliefs, and towards more genuinely inclusive workplaces and communities.

Dr Krish Kandiah is the founding director of Home for Good and his previous books include Paradoxology: Why Christianity was never meant to be simple ( Hodder). Faitheism is available for pre-order now.