One reason it is hard to have a true friendship with many Christians is because, in the end, many have a strong desire to convert us non-believers into Christians. They look for moments to discuss the gospel, to witness to us, to see if the Holy Spirit is moving in our lives. Worse, they look for every misfortune in our lives to be God’s mysterious way to speak to us and bring us into his fold. Such a relationship can barely be called a “friendship” — well, unless you really believe that disbelief results in eternal damnation and torture. But since I don’t, I don’t want those sorts of friendships. Fortunately, many Christians don’t act or think that way and thus there are several Christians I call “friend”.
Likewise many Christians feel uncomfortable about how I approach them as an Atheist — they feel I am condescending and trying to convert them. I have thought about this issue and can honestly state that I don’t necessarily want them to stop being a Christian. This is because, unlike many Atheists, I believe there are all sorts of Christians and with some types I have no disagreements in any meaningful way. See my post on “My Favorite Kind of Christian“.
Though many Christian friends and I just stay clear from religious conversations, with others, when we do debate, I try to make it clear that I am not trying to argue them out of Christianity. Sure, I may be trying to argue them away from some positions within their version of Christianity — but not necessarily out of Christianity in general. This may sound pejorative and self-righteous but it is far better to consider your friend mistaken than to consider them damned for eternity for their beliefs. And besides, I am not really trying to take them outside of their identity — I feel they can remain Christian and be a fantastic person. And further, I try to only have this dialogue when we mutually agree to engage. I am not looking for moments throughout our relationship to sneak in my atheist agenda.
So, I can honestly say I am not trying to convert people out of Christianity but into a better version of Christianity. If they feel there is only one version of Christianity (theirs!), then I can see why they feel I am trying to talk them out of Christianity. But they would be mistaken.
I think Christians should considered approaching Atheists in a similar way — focusing on how to make them an Atheist with better belief sets without trying to get them to believe in a god. I think such evangelism is potentially healthy. I think such dialogue is useful and can help improve the lives of both friends simultaneously. Such an evangelism does not look to convert but to effect deep pre-doctrinal ways of thinking.