Reader Samuel is a leader of the Agnostic & Atheist Student Association (AgASA) at the University of California Davis.
Friday night, Dan Barker — author of Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists — spoke to the group. It was a successful event and Samuel is facing a wonderful problem:
… Through our efforts to advertise the event, we expected maybe about 150 people to show up. However, the 500-seat capacity lecture hall was almost filled on Friday night! We’ll be having our club’s weekly meeting this Thursday, and I’m definitely expecting many more people to show up than usual. I’m expecting the new audience to consist mostly of fellow non-theists, but judging by the unhappy faces I had seen during Barker’s event, I won’t be surprised to see a good number of theists in the meeting, too.
How can I best present this meeting such that this new audience will continue to come to future meetings?
What would you advise Samuel to talk about?
Since the audience will be mostly non-religious, I would suggest discussing what the atheists can do to change stereotypes about them on campus and in the community. That may involve a forum with other religious leaders. That could include publicity “stunts” that explain what atheists think and why they think it. That could involve doing charity work with or without other religious groups. If Christians are present at the meeting, they would be helping both sides by being honest about their own views of atheists: How can any incorrect beliefs be changed? Can they be changed at all? Would the Christians on campus be willing to dialogue about their beliefs?
More than anything, don’t hide your atheism. The others are guests at your meeting.
If they came to be a part of the conversation, include them.
If they came to learn about atheism, enlighten them.
If they came to convert and preach instead of listen, they’re not worth your group’s time.