Commentary: How to share the hope of Christmas with ‘nones’ and ‘agnostics’


After reading two articles during the past two days, "What the Christ Child Says to the 'Nones'?" and "The New Agnosticism," I wanted to ask and answer this question: "What can we say this Christmas to 'nones' and 'agnostics'?"

First, we must clarify who the “nones” are. Robert Barron explains in his article that “fifty years ago, 3 percent of Americans would have claimed no religious affiliation, and today the number stands at 26 percent … around 40 percent of Catholics under 30.” He identifies three “common” reasons: Their belief that “the sciences have effectively disproved the existence of God;” their inability to “understand how a good God could allow so much suffering in the world;” and, third their questioning of “the unique correctness of Christianity vis-à-vis the other great religions.”

Most “agnostics,” who opt for doubt over faith, tend to concur with Barron’s analysis. Some like Graham Greene (a self-described “Catholic Agnostic)” also admitted that he “didn’t want to change” his life as “a lifelong philanderer.” He admitted that “if I have a soul at all it is a small, dirty beast.” It is said that for another “agnostic”, Ludwig Wittgenstein, the “moral requirements (of Christianity) were particularly daunting.”

What can we say to “nones” and “agnostics”? Let’s ask what I call seven “If/Why/How Questions” during this Christmas Season when people tend to be a wee bit more open to matters of the soul:

IF Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year,” WHY? Is it something to do with a God who humbles Himself as a baby born in a stable – “emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men … He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death – even to death on the cross” (Phil. 2:7, 8)?

IF we pause to look into the night sky as did those ancient astronomers/astrologers called magi 2,000 years ago, HOW do we answer the question raised by the scientist who mapped and sequenced human DNA in the Human Genome Project: WHY is there something instead of nothing?

IF the most modern science concludes that the universe has not always existed, HOW did it come to be – apart from the most ancient and yet most scientifically reasonable if Biblical answer in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth"?

IF Einstein was right in saying that “the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible,” HOW do we comprehend, scientifically speaking, what physicist John Polkinghorne goes on to observe, “that the most surprising and significant event in cosmic history … is (how) in ourselves the universe has become aware of itself … We are greater than all the stars, for we know them and ourselves and they know nothing”??? Is not science dependent on scientists being, in the words of David “remarkably and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14)?

IF the worst evil induced suffering so evident when Hamas “committed unspeakable horrors against a defenseless civilian population” in which they “beheaded babies and burned entire families alive” comes from a corrupted and perverted heart-mind-soul rooted in selfishness that gives rise to such evils as excessive anger, bitterness, cravings and desires, envy, fear, greed and hatred – hatred run amok, HOW on earth can we escape from both the potential and actual wickedness embedded in selfishness? WHY is it that in spite of all that education and sophistication may bestow upon us, we cannot turn ourselves inside out so that we think, dwell less on ourselves and what we want and think, focus more on others and what they need --- as Jesus did?

IF the best and most extraordinary efforts to alleviate pain and suffering, ignorance and hopelessness have been started and supported by churches striving to follow in the footsteps of Christ as seen in the beginning of clinics and hospitals, rescue missions and rehab centers, orphanages and hospices, schools and colleges, WHY are churches being devalued and deserted? Do we need to publicize such facts as what Dr. Gary Ferngren says in his historical survey of hospitals published by Johns Hopkins University: “The hospital was, in origin and conception, a distinctively Christian institution, rooted in Christian charity and philanthropy. There were no pre-Christian institutions in the ancient word that served the purpose that Christian hospitals were created to serve”?

IF God embodies the deepest and widest love the world has ever known or imagined by humbling Himself to come in the Person of Jesus Christ as a baby to live among us, suffer with us, die for us, and live within us (“pouring Himself completely into this small vessel”), HOW does anyone explain it, and more importantly imitate such love without His help – without His inspiring and empowering Spirit, HIS CHRISTmas Spirit?


Paul R. Baxter is the mission strategist for Georgia's Pine Mountain Baptist Association.