Secular Bible Study Proves to be Popular March 1, 2009

Secular Bible Study Proves to be Popular

Minnesota Atheists teamed up with Trinity United Methodist Church in Minneapolis to hold a Bible study for people who don’t believe in the Bible.

It was only the first of what will be a weekly gathering.

There were some ground rules — proselytizing is forbidden and disagreements are ok and encouraged.

“We’ve discerned that people have lost or lack the skills to engage in constructive and respectful dialogue in the context of profound disagreement,” [Chester O’Gorman, community outreach director for the northeast Minneapolis church] said. “An emphasis will be placed on dialogue among the group of small groups.”

How successful was the first meeting?

Just check out this picture from the United Methodist Reporter Blog. Very cool.

The more interesting question: After all this discussion, will they end up with a net gain of atheists, a net gain of Christians, or no change at all?

(via United Methodist Reporter Blog)

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  • I wonder if they will publish their material? I have been thinking of doing this sort of thing for a while. I was thinking of doing a skeptical version of the Alpha course. Working title the Delta course(d is for doubt). But I have struggled to find a way to outline the course and find a venue.

  • Wow, in that photo you can clearly see Larry David, the creator of Seinfeld on the left hand side.

    Anyways, I bet there will be no net change; however there will be a lot more understanding on both sides.


    I wondered who wants to participate in such an endeavor if you can’t argue about these issues?

    Upon more thought, I think it’s what athiest should be doing a lot of. Presenting Athiests as just other people, not heathens. Showing civility in discussing these cherised beliefs.

    If the discussion can’t be decent with centrist Christians, with whom can it? Agnostics?

  • sc0tt

    Why does it look like they’re all in a post-apocolyptic underground bunker?

  • Matt

    To Tim Van Haitsma.
    I am in the UK and half way through the Alpha course…I belived in a god but was unsure about the details…I am now totally converted! So beware. However during my research I came accross a website blogg which approaches the Alpha as an atheist. this guy runs rings around the group and the Pastor! The blogg helped in my coversion despite compelling evidence for the non existance of god!
    Depending on your knowlege try to find a group that can challenge you.

    Good luck,

  • Forkboy

    I think it’s a wonderful idea. Being an atheist doesn’t preclude one from knowing the Bible. As a matter-of-fact, I think they best thing an atheist can do is to be familiar with it. Knowing one’s enemy is always important, otherwise one cannot expect to argue logically.

  • joanna

    I like the idea of non-threatening discussion groups in order to discover the various voices in the community and to refute the idea that “a denial of God leads nowhere”.

    It is a type of education process I suppose…dialogue based on addressing problems and misunderstandings rather than “scoring points” or “defending the team”. Studying the bible and critiquing it without getting overly emotional or defensive about it. I’d like to think it’s possible. But people being people, they tend to get “worked up” when threatened.

    I would be very interested to know how long this bible study lasts…AND if there is any kind of demand for this sort of “bridge-building” exercise. I’m a bit cynical and imagine it ends up disbanding because some members get overly aggressive and hog the conversation. But we ARE talking Minnesotans here…they’re very NICE people over there. Ask Garrison Keillor. (I’m a Wisconsonite…we’re almost as nice…ha)

  • Shane

    “Why does it look like they’re all in a post-apocolyptic underground bunker?”

    Because they are. Isn’t most of America nowadays? At least until Obama uses his powers of divine oration and saves everyone.

  • Bart the Pirate

    Agree with Jason…

    Hopefully there will be a net gain of understanding. I find the bigotry expressed by both sides to be frustrating.

  • Matt

    Unfortunately alot of christians adopt a policy of “I don’t know why I belive, I just do” From what I understand Atheists have already studied the reasons for their belief, in that way atheists have a powerful religion, (the belief that their is no god) that christians or other religions find hard to argue with.
    Before I committed myself to god I researched the reasons for the non existance of jesus and why the bible could not be trusted, in the same way I read the negative reviews for a product i want to buy to get an allround idea of the reliability.
    Alpha is for all people from all backgrounds, you can go once or as many times over the ten weeks, no one will chase you if you dont like it. At the end you can forget it all as a load of rubbish or find out more. No one tries to convert you. Everyone just wants to find out the answers to what they wanted to know but were previously afraid to ask. (I went for the fun of an arguement, but came away with more than I expected!)

  • Devysciple

    Knowing one’s enemy is always important, otherwise one cannot expect to argue logically. (Forkboy)

    I wouldn’t consider Christians or the Bible or a church as enemy, just in the same way I don’t think of pirates or discordian popes as enemies. They just beg to differ on something that, to me, is quite irrelevant.

    BTT: I guess there won’t be any significant changes in net numbers of either religious people or atheists, due to the fact that the former supposedly hold a very strong belief, otherwise they probably wouldn’t participate in such an endeavour. And the latter usually have thought thoroughfully through all possible arguments in favour of religion before.

    But I’d also suggest that it might (hopefully) help the cause of mutual understanding.

  • Crux Australis

    I believe in the Bible. There’s one sitting on my bookshelf (I work in a Catholic school, so I have to have one), so it definitely exists. Thing is, I disagree with most of what’s written in it.

  • Sounds like a swell idea. It’s a great way for a lot of atheists to understand what the bible’s all about. And why we will probably not believe in it. But a good idea nonetheless.

  • I did the same thing with my group about a year ago. The group was predominantly atheist but with a few friendly Christian friends. We took turns picking parts of the Bile that we wanted to talk about and then dicussed it in a group. The key was DISCUSSION, not DEBATE. You could argue the issue but don’t attack the people.

    And it was great! We had intense, yet friendly conversations and I think everyone understood the other side a bit more.

    And we usually followed it with our Flying Spaghetti Monster Spaghetti Dinners. Which were even more awesome.

  • Jen

    I can’t decide if I would enjoy that or not. Presumably people know what they are getting into and are going to be fairly calm and rational. I would love to hear some of the “And why is it ok for this bear to slaughter children?” type of arguments.

  • Vincent

    This is great!
    The Beltway Atheists have been having a secular bible study for a couple months now but I don’t think it occurred to any of us to join it with a church group.
    I’m going to float the idea and see if anyone’s interested.

  • Todd

    I wasted twenty years of my life reading that book, I don’t think I can tolerate any more. It would be far more interesting to open it up to other religious texts in a group with a diverse cross section of believers and nonbelievers.

  • Christophe Thill

    But I do believe in the bible! I even have one. It’s there, on my shelf. It’s words printed on paper. It was written by people. We don’t actually know their exact name, but we know approximately where and when they lived. So, yes, I fully believe in it. Now, of course, concerning the stories that are told in it, it’s an entirely different matter.

    Let’s be more careful when using the word “believe”, shall we?

  • As of late summer 2009, the Secular Bible Study Meetup group has flourished with a stable membership of ~35 regular attendees (we meet every other Tuesday evening) — one-third of which are Christians, one-third of which are atheists, one-third of which are “Other,” and zero percent of which are proselytizing/combative, as we share and rationally debate our perspectives about biblical texts, history and ethics. A new Meetup patterned after SBS has also been cloned in Portland, Maine: “BAND” (Believers And Nonbelievers in Dialogue); and both groups are endorsed as suitable venues for trans-belief reasoning diaglogue and fellowship by the international ecumenical (religious + non-religious) rationalist group, The Circle of Reason.

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