I guess each one of us went through the stage when we were absolutely confident in our ability to prove existence of God and were itching to try our skills on atheists. I don’t know whether I got wiser or just lazier but that seems to be like a wasteful endeavor now. Here’s why.
Imagine you met an atheist who seems like a rational guy and so you want to convert him. Most likely you don’t want to sweep him away with bold and sentimental moves about how Krishna is the most beautiful being in existence or how the sound of the Holy Name captivates every listener, you want to be rational, too. You are supremely confident in superiority and infallibility of our philosophy and you think that it’s all you need.
Most likely you’ll end up with nothing, though. There are people who’d take up Krishna consciousness before you even bring out your big guns. “You had me on “Krishna is our eternal master”, they’d say, and this seems like a victory but it’s not a victory for your superior logic. There are also people who are so close to believing in Krishna after listening to all our arguments but never make the leap to faith, and there are people who’d keep arguing and arguing with you and you’ll never be able to pin them down. Why? Because logic never works.
No one can understand Krishna through logic, no one can believe in God The Person through logic. He is adhokshaja, he can’t be approached or comprehended through our common rationality. He makes total sense to us, we think, but that is not because of logic, it’s because we’ve been given Lord’s mercy and with that mercy our rationality is connected to Him now. For other people without this mercy there’s no connection, too.
So, if we approach reasonable atheists thinking we can beat them at their own game, on their own terms, we are mistaken and are likely to be disappointed at the end.
When we talk to atheists they see us as our bodies, not as souls, that’s their limitation. As bodies, however, we can’t reach Krishna or prove His existence. Our senses are not better than those of atheists, our minds are not better, our logic is not better, and so with those instruments we can’t get to a better conclusion than them.
Modern atheists are not particularly smart by Vedic standards but they have easy access to a very deep well of knowledge. If they don’t know something at the moment they can always go and find how other people dealt with the same problems, and they can always find someone smarter than us, too.
We know that their arguments are wrong but it’s not always obvious how and analyzing how their premises are faulty is not an easy thing to do, especially during a debate. In the end finding mistakes in their logic would take all our computational power and there’s no guarantee that they would agree with rational conclusions either because with a little more thought put into it they can always complicate the problem even further.
What I mean is that no one is able to follow logic and reasoning to the absolute degree and for all practical purposes this can make such a debate endless. Theoretically it could go on for years and decades and long after our deaths, too, and there’d be still new arguments and counter arguments to defeat. It’s just exhausting.
In the end we’d come back to square one – Krishna can’t be comprehended through logic.
Okay then, if we can’t preach to atheists from their platform, because it’s not suitable for accepting Krishna, can we introduce them to religious aspect of our lives?
Let’s say they ask us why we go to the temple, why we bow down before the Deities, why we pray etc. What do we answer? We use our bodies to, allegedly, connect with God. Does it prove that God exists? Do we really talk to God, does He really listen, does He really accept our offerings?
Here we come to the subject of miracles. Christians are very big on miracles, especially Catholics. Can we demonstrate a miracle for atheists, too? I’m afraid we can’t. As devotees we all have stories to tell and we are absolutely sure of Krishna’s intervention but skeptics can easily offer alternative explanations to our “miracles”, too.
Why do we call them miracles anyway? Easy answer – because they defy our expectations of how the world is supposed to work. It’s not about God per se, we judge what is miracle and what is not by the standards of our mind and intelligence. Electricity would be a miracle a thousand years ago but now we know that it isn’t and God has nothing to do with it and that’s what atheists can always say about something they can’t currently explain.
What about genuine Vedic rituals? During Vedic yajnas demigods used to appear on a sacrificial arena. I’m sure it was possible to invoke Vishnu, too. Mantras were really working then, better than any magic. Is it possible to replicate it now? That would prove atheists wrong and actually show them God Himself.
Theoretically – yes, practically, however, no one has required degree of purity to really connect our material bodies with God. We are not gopis, we are not Vedic rishis, we are not even brahmanas. Our bodies are untouchable and absolutely useless in God’s direct service. So nothing to show atheists there either.
More importantly, even if we could make a Deity walk for hundreds of miles like Sakshi Gopala did, atheists won’t be able to see it because they still haven’t got Lord’s mercy.
So once again, without Lord Chaitanya’s blessings atheism is the best philosophy in the world right now. Maybe not as strong as impersonalism but it’s easy to understand for everyone, no need to study Vedanta, even school kids can get it.
How to preach to them? Same as to everyone else – hope that by Krishna’s grace they get an opening in their heats and we can plant a seed of bhakti we received from our guru. There’s no other way.