Heading to Pittsburgh for a Christian Conference February 19, 2010

Heading to Pittsburgh for a Christian Conference

I’m off to Pittsburgh tonight for the (Christian) Jubilee conference!

Ashley will be there, too. She made a video explaining our panel discussion and asks a couple great questions:

Since we’re speaking in front of several hundred young Christians, what are the things you want us to tell them?

And what should we refrain from saying?

My flight gets in late, so I won’t be at the bar until around 11:00 p.m., but if you’re in town, come join us at Drinking Skeptically!


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  • – Just be yourself (be cool). Just being a normal fun guy speaks volumes.

    – Since it is a Christian audience, perhaps mention that even if there is a God, once one strips away all the man-made components of religion, (like holy books), why would God dole out reward and punishment for believing things without evidence? It would all be so arbitrary. Tell them to be rational, be good, and don’t worry about appeasing God.

    – if you must bring up the proclivity of atheists to eat Christian babies, be sure to emphasize that you are engaging in satire. 😉

  • When I was a young “Christian”, I was taught that Atheists weren’t good people. So anything you can say or do to plant the seed about how that isn’t the case would have stuck with me at that age.

    Let them know that Atheism isn’t a fad. People from all walks of life are Atheists. Teachers, Politicians, Mothers, Doctors, Students, etc. We are good people, many of us volunteer on a regular basis and are happy to do so, without the guilt of a god.

    I am a modest, stay at home mommy of two beautiful curious daughters. I hope they will be on the path to becoming freethinkers once they start school. I am sure most people assume I am a Christian. I think those young folk would be surprised to find out how many Atheists are in America today, I know I was.

  • Hugh Kramer

    You don’t need to talk about atheism per se. After all, it’s a conclusion resulting from a particular way of looking at the world and not a worldview itself. That needs to be made clear.

    Talk instead about critical thinking and examining the assumptions that underlie people’s worldviews. For instance, talk about the assumption that faith is a virtue and ask questions about it. Is it a virtue if it makes you fly aircraft into buildings or say, as the Pope did, that condoms cause AIDS when, in fact, the evidence shows they prevent it?

    Get them thinking about the assumptions they take for granted. Start them asking questions about them. Do that and perhaps some minds will open up and see skepticism (and the tools of critical thinking) as a healthy part of their lives.

  • Richard P

    I would recommend not saying:

    Hmmmm!! I feel like a wolf among the sheep….

  • Richard Wade

    1. Ask the audience for a show of hands of those who were taught by their family or preachers that atheists are bad people.

    2. Lay out a brief empirical case that atheists are not bad people.

    3. Conclude that those in the audience who raised their hands were told a lie.

    4. Ask them to consider: If their family or preachers lied to them about atheists, what else did they lie about?

    5. Leave it to sit in their minds, and go on to another topic.

  • Erp

    Hmm, browsing over the Jubilee site.

    “You will encounter a unique and fantastic book “table” at Jubilee. I say “table” in quotes because what Byron Borger and the Hearts & Minds team pull off is extraordinary. You will find books with a Christian perspective on nearly every field of study.”

    Might be interesting to look at. What range of Christianity do they cover or the ID/Creationism/Science mire (e.g., do books by Francis Collins, Ken Miller, or Francisco Ayala on evolution and religion show up or do they avoid). Any books on Catholicism or Orthodoxy or from Crossan and Borg? What about the LGTBI movement?

  • fritzy

    Please find a way of explaining that:
    1. Atheism is NOT a religion
    2. Atheism does not take more faith to “believe in” than god(s) (or for that matter ANY faith).
    3. That many atheists used ot be believers and left the xtian faith arduously and painfully. For a bulk of us, hearing xtians prosthelitize to us is just a repeat of all the things we told ourselves as we were wrestling with our beliefs on the path to atheism. As such, while we appreciate the xtians concern for us, little if any of what we hear from evangelicals is new, and much of it is just frustrating to hear over and over again.
    4. That we don’t believe that the Universe just “came to being out of nothing.”

    These are the four things that seem to come up the most in my interaction with believers and are also the things that piss me off the most. If you can convince even half of those 500 to 1000 students, that is 250 to 500 people from whom I will never have to hear this folderol again.

  • Lysistrata

    I would stress that atheists are just regular members of society that we volunteer, we give to charities, and feel community and family is important.
    I would also ask the question to the group: What would happen if they found out their best friend was a long time atheist? Would this change their feelings towards their friend, would this negate the good deeds their friend had done, would it make them any less a caring son/daughter, girl friend/ boy friend, mother/father?

  • Encourage them to read the bible, but to do so critically. Remind them that different denominations are different because of human history, and that it’s their responsibility to separate out myth and cultural beliefs from their religious beliefs. Good way to get them to turn a critical eye in the right direction 😉

    In short – (1) you might be wrong on certain details of your religious beliefs and (2) it’s your responsibility refine them by being critical of them, learning about your religion from a variety of sources, and importantly (3) to be open to the fact that some of the details of your current beliefs might be wrong.

    Key is using basic history and language facts that are agreed upon by real theologans… not just Christian apologists who call themselves theologans.

    Here’s a good “homework” example that came up recently in discussions w/ a Christian friend of mine. There’s a common interpretation of Gen 3-15 as the first mention of the coming of a savior. Read it, then ask yourself the following questions (which, btw, are great to ask of any non-obviious interpretations of bible passages): “What reason/evidence is there that the author intended for those words to have that interpretation?”

    Plenty of others that highlight the importance of not taking the bible literally – compare the creation stories in Gen 1 and 2, compare and contrast the gospels, look up all mention of the sun and moon and compare w/ reality as we know it, etc.

  • Mary

    Basically, it’s always good to show people that the comforts they find in religion can be found without religion.

    Believing that things happen in the world because of cause and effect is not any scarier than believing that there is an invisible being behind everything playing with the natural order of things and making you guess why he is doing it.

    Believing that bad things can happen at random to anyone is just as comforting as believing that there is “someone” behind those bad things making them happen, or allowing them to happen, “for a reason.”

    While the concept of a loving creator is comforting, so is the concept of loving, everyday people who step up and make the world a better place.

    Just as “being saved” by a powerful being is an encouraging thought, so is saving yourself by taking responsibility for your actions and working to improve your behavior and your impact in the world.

  • Ron in Houston

    If you talk about stereotypes that could clearly be a great setup for a number of great one liners about atheists and eating babies.

  • muggle

    Some good suggestions up here.

    I’d echo critically reading the buybull. That’s what led me away and I’ve known many other Atheists who also found reading the dang thing a real eye opener. Hell, I didn’t even read it unbiasly. I read it to get closer to “God” which is downright funny in hindsight. So encourage them to read the Bible but with an open and questioning mind.

    Independent of their parents or religious leaders if you can somehow sneak that in there. Too blatantly might tic off said parents and religious leaders to looking over the kids shoulders as they did so.

    I also echo that morals are independent of belief. There’s bad and good Christians, Atheists, Jews, Muslims, Bhuddists, Hindu, or any other ilk. We’re not all Dawkins and Hitchens or anti-theists. Let them know some of the things you have done to be involved in the community. Tell them about your new charity.

    What I would not do is tell them they’re all a bunch of sheep, it’s stupid to believe, they’re brainwashed, etc. Stress the only real difference between believers and nonbelievers is just that one finds “God” believable and one does not.

  • Gliewmeden

    I have yet to find an answer for “why are xtians always so angry?” They have their religious buildings on nearly every street corner with billboard signs containing biblical quotes and suggestions for the way they think people ought to live.

    However, should there be any atheist information posted (Bus Ad Campaign, as example) religions of all colours, and espcially the xtians get quite cranky.

    My own life experience has been that the hard core religious right always have treated me, the questioning atheist, with distain, contempt and as an outsider, very uncharacteristic of the verbal professing they espouse.

    My Catholic mother married the son of a United Church minister. I know religious teachings/conflicts and the bible well. I am one of the few who has read the bible from cover to cover.

    I have a good buddy who has received death threats from the xtians in his community because he is an outspoken, questoning atheist. He is no longer because he does not wish his son to be caused any harm.

  • Tom

    “When I was a young “Christian”, I was taught that Atheists weren’t good people. So anything you can say or do to plant the seed about how that isn’t the case would have stuck with me at that age.”

    Hey Ashley! I want to stress this point. This would have really made me nervous as a Christian to see there’s a good person on the “other side”

  • Hemant–just wanted to say it was great having you at Jubilee, and true to your reputation, you gave a friendly and winsome description of your beliefs. I enjoyed moderating the panel discussion and hope we can do it again sometime!

  • Steve — I had a great time there and I hope I can do it again in the future 🙂 Thanks for moderating!

  • Jesus H. christ

    Almost without fail the word ‘PROSELYTIZE’ is misspelled on all the religious & atheist sites I have recently visited over the past few days. (most spell it prosetheltize etc. which is incorrect). Why mention this ? Why be so picky ? No reason other than wanting to be helpful – most of arguing the case in favor of critical thinking depends on getting your facts & details straight. While ignorance plays a role in faith based beliefs those who do read & can spell will discount your background and message quickly. They actually don’t forgive that easily.