Send Me to Church… Again March 8, 2010

Send Me to Church… Again

Yesterday, I was at a church (Willow Chicago) to talk with the pastor on stage about what Christians can learn from outsiders about how Jesus-followers and churches appear to the rest of us.

The talk was brief but it went well, I thought. And the people who stopped me afterwards were sweet and genuine with their questions — I didn’t get the feeling they were trying to convert me. If audio becomes available, I’ll post it.

I’ve done this sort of event a number of times ever since the book came out and it’s always been enjoyable — and from what I hear, the churchgoers like it, too. Not because it’s critical of what they do, but because it’s refreshing to hear an honest dialogue with someone who holds an opposing viewpoint.

Churches aren’t exactly known for allowing dissent among the ranks, so it takes some courage on the part of the pastors who invite me.

Pastor: I have an idea for next week’s sermon!

Church board: What is it?!

Pastor: I’ll have a conversation with an atheist!

Church board: … have you been drinking?

I’m sure that can’t be easy. But it has happened and it has worked.

Every time this has happened, though, it’s always been a conversation with the pastor on stage. Or, in some instances, they would take questions from the audience, filter through them, and then pose them to me. In all cases, I think the reception has been positive. None of these pastors were fired the next day. If anything, the congregation thanked them for doing something “risky.”

What I have NOT seen are churches brave enough to allow someone with a dissenting viewpoint to take the stage by themselves. (And why would they, right? It’s their church and their beliefs.) But if they’re strong in their faith, I’m sure they could allow someone to talk about the importance of questioning beliefs, or the problems a person has with Christianity (or Christians, specifically), or the truth about what non-Christians are really like… without fearing that the congregation is going to run away screaming. Think of it as an honest critique that would be a starting point for future conversations on how the church could improve.

When I had my atheist group in college, we invited speakers who disagreed with us quite a bit. For example, we once invited a lecturer who said he had good reason to believe that out-of-body experiences (like in a hospital emergency room while you were being operated on) were real. We’d hear him out and then pose our questions to him.

It would’ve been equally interesting to hear a good speaker talk specifically to our group about why pornography was evil, or why abortion should be outlawed, or why gay marriage should be banned. I’m sure the post-talk conversation would’ve been exciting for everyone.

With the right speaker, how interesting would that be? I think it’d be fantastic. And I’m confident enough in my beliefs on those issues that I could rebut whatever the speakers were throwing at me without feeling threatened by their presence

So, I’ll just throw this question out there:

Are there any churches out there that would let me speak to their congregation for at least 30 minutes?

I promise not to wreck your church, only to talk about the concerns I have as an atheist living in a predominantly-Christian country. I’ll ask some tough questions, share some personal stories, and even give credit to the church where it’s deserved. I won’t say/do anything that would get you in trouble with the law or try to dismantle the church in that time. That’s not my goal. You also don’t get to screen my talk beforehand — you have to trust that what I have to say is worth listening to. Other details, we could work out together.

I think it would get media attention, and I think it would draw in lots of people who wouldn’t normally step foot inside a church. You would be showing the world that you’re not afraid of criticism and opposing viewpoints — in fact, you welcome the challenge because it’d make you take a good hard look at your faith. And you’re confident you’d end up in a better position as a result.

I don’t know if any church would be willing to do this.

I also know this wouldn’t work with just any random atheist. But it might work with me. I think I have some pastors who could vouch for me as well as people who work for a Christian book publisher. I have references at your request.

Plus, I’ve seen enough sermons to know I could deliver a good one on my own terms. (The main speaker this weekend was author Donald Miller. Despite the Jesus-speak, I thought his talk was excellent.)

Who’s in?


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  • Dennis

    In Sweden it has been done — even with an atheist stand-up comedian, who basically slams christianity and the bible right in front of the congregation –who often collapse in laughter! …hmm, wonder if that would ever be possible in the US? 😉

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=noBzX_9tiX0

  • Jude

    I used to lead Sunday School singing at the church where I grew up. I took my daughter there for awhile and it was *so* boring that I attempted to serve as a model for how you could make it more interesting. When I made the proposal to the minister, I said, “As you know, I’m an atheist…” He didn’t hesitate to let me volunteer.

  • Revyloution

    The real problem comes from this sentence Hemant:

    “When I had my atheist group in college, we invited speakers who disagreed with us quite a bit.”

    Atheists are truth seekers. Most gladly admit that they don’t know much of anything, and are certain about very little.

    Theists are Truth Knowers. They have the truth of something, and want to share it. Most apologist cum atheist that I know lost their faith by trying to defend it against the hard questions atheism has been asking since Epicurus.

  • I was in perfect agreement up until this sentence:

    “It would’ve been equally interesting to hear a good speaker talk specifically to our group about why pornography was evil, or why abortion should be outlawed, or why gay marriage should be banned.”

    Listen to arguments against pornography? OK. Entertain notions of banning abortion? I’ll grit my teeth and hear him out. Allow someone to lecture me that gay marriage should be banned? Not on your life.

    I’m sorry, but that is never an appropriate idea to entertain. Why? For the same reason that we should not listen to someone who argues that black people should not be allowed to get married, or that Indian people should not be allowed to get married. For the same reason that we should not listen to arguments that slavery should be brought back, or that the work of Holocaust ought to be completed. (Godwin!)

    Some ideas really do not deserve to be heard, and while we can’t stop them from being spread, we can at least refuse to provide a forum to those who argue that human rights should be restricted to only certain classes of people, whether those classes are defined by race, religion, sexual orientation, or some other equally innocuous distinction.

  • Peter Rollins is an interesting Irish cat who does some “emergent church” stuff (largely in pubs it seems), and caused a bit of a hubbub amongst the churchy crowd when he decided to give up god for lent last year. I could/would see him having you on stage.

    Two of the later things I did while I still “believed” (or was still trying to believe), was to go to a Willow Creek conference at that location and read Donald Miller’s book. I found myself quite uncomfortable there, even though I was with friends from the church I attended at the time. I was never a good evangelical x-tian, and it became much more noticeable when hanging around that crowd.

    The one interesting thing I took away from the conference was the idea that “your job” wasn’t to lead somebody entirely to christ, but to just bring them a little closer. Think of it as moving them along a number-line. You don’t have to take them from 0 to 10, just 0-1 (or maybe 5-7). As I’m still not an entirely “out” atheist (even to my own kids), I keep this in mind as I try and interact with people in my life. I’m not trying to deconvert all of them, I’m just hoping to promote a little more tolerance, improve scientific understanding, and improve critical thinking. If that means my friends, or my kids, become atheists down the road I’ll be happy for them, but if it just makes them more reasoned theists and gets them to read Ehrman or Sagan (doubt any of them will jump into Dawkins or Hitchens right off the bat) and take them a bit further down the path of reason I’ll be happy too.

    Incidentally, Donald Miller’s book (Blue Like Jazz) was recommended to me by two very different friends (both Christian, and while I was still a church-going regular)… and while he had some interesting things to say I couldn’t stand the book (I was forever going “oh come on!” at writing and logic choices he was making). My deconversion was, as I’m sure most are, a series of little steps. I can’t recall when it was exactly 4-5 years ago when I started to remember that feeling I had when I was 19, the one that religion was BS. When it crept in I increased my reading of defense and criticism of religion and it turned out the books on defense of religion (Case for Christ, etc) turned me further off from it, while the books ostensibly against religion (Misquoting Jesus) were the ones that gave me something to hang on to. Misquoting Jesus let me hold on, for a while, to a sort of “well it wasn’t all literal, but there was a God still and he was good” x-tianity. The Language of God was, I think, the first book that it started to hit me that I was finding the arguments for evolution (which I had no understanding of and had been fed YEC all my life), MUCH more compelling than the arguments for God being made.

  • I suppose UU churches/societies/congregations don’t count, because I’ve seen that happen.

  • Joyfulbaby

    I’m with Secular Planet on this one. We’d love to have you at our UU fellowship, but it wouldn’t be very controversial.

  • Alex

    Another option would be speak to a Comparative Religion class. I was invited to speak to one recently and it was a great experience. It was also the first time the instructor invited an atheist and noted that she will do it again next semester. Let me know if you want a copy of my talk.

    It also does happen in UU churches, at least once in the last 15 years when I was a member. But you have to ask and ask!

  • Killer_Bee

    I’m sorry, but that is never an appropriate idea to entertain. Why? For the same reason that we should not listen to someone who argues that black people should not be allowed to get married, or that Indian people should not be allowed to get married.

    So say you, the arbiter of appropriateness. Putting aside the fact that there’s no connection between black marriage and gay-marriage – a notion demonstrably offensive to many black Californians – why shouldn’t we think about it? Why are any thoughts off-limits? Just more indication that you don’t have to be religious to fall prey to groupthink.

    For the same reason that we should not listen to arguments that slavery should be brought back, or that the work of Holocaust ought to be completed.

    Maybe those are actually good things. If we’re not allowed to think about them how can we know? Revelation? In any case, not allowing gay people to claim the label of “marriage” is hardly the same as enslaving or killing them. It’s not even prohibiting them from living together and even enjoying legal protection under civil-unions in many states.

    Look at that, I’m thinking about it even now. 😛

  • TychaBrahe

    @Eris – You can listen to an idea for reasons other than to come to believe it. Sometimes it can be helpful to understand why someone believes something you don’t.

    If you want to change something, it helps to know why people aren’t doing what you want.

  • @Eris – I would very much like to hear a well thought out, rational talk on why gay marriage should be banned. To date, I haven’t heard any good reasons to be against gay marriage. I would love to have an intelligent, logical conversation with someone who is anti-gay marriage simply to understand their position and why they feel that way. I’ve found that it’s only after finding common ground that we can move forward. Ignoring the arguments entirely accomplishes nothing.

  • Revyloution

    also @ Eris,

    Remember, when you’re listening to a ignorant bigot, your’e ensuring that he isn’t spending time with anyone who might be impressionable to his rantings.

  • @Eris,

    when people feel like they have no say & are being excluded, they may choose more dangerous methods of getting their point across.

    giving someone a listen may actually lower their defenses and create the psychological space they need to explore new ideas.

    also, i agree with Emily’s point about searching for common ground.

    people want to feel understood. we don’t need to agree, but showing others that you care enough to listen probably does more good than harm.

  • I have tried having rational talks with many people about why gay marriage should be banned. I am a lesbian living in Texas – a state that voted for a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage by 76% – so I have no lack of people to talk to when I want to hear why gay marriage should be banned, and the arguments always boil down to one of 3 things: 1) the argument from religion; 2) the argument from lies; and 3) the argument from tradition.

    The argument from religion is simply that gay marriage violates the teachings of religion X (where X is almost always Christianity, since Christians dominate Texas). Trying to argue against this is about as useful as trying to convert someone, since really that’s what you have to do in this case. You have to convince someone that part of his religion is wrong and should be abandonded. Good luck with that!

    The argument from lies is often that gays are pedophiles, or that they promote bestiality, or some other equally ridiculous and easily disproven assertion. Nominally this ought to be the easiest case since all you have to do is present people with evidence that, say, gays are no more likely to be pedophiles than straight people, but in practice I’ve never had any success. The people who I’ve talked with on this topic always end up getting defensive and claiming that they “just don’t like the idea of gay marriage”, or perhaps they fall back on one of the other two positions.

    The third argument I’ve come across is the argument from tradition. I hear this from people who describe themselves as libertarian. Basically it is simply that marriage is traditionally between a man and a woman and therefore it should be kept that way. I have the hardest time arguing against this one because it has so little substance to it. “It’s OK to oppress gays because we’ve always oppressed gays and society still works.” The only way I can think of to change the minds of these people is to convince them that there is a benefit to allowing gay marriage, but the benefits are to gays, and these people have already decided that it’s OK to deny gays these very benefits.

    After 40 years of life, I’ve grown tired of hearing the bigots argue why I should have fewer rights than other people. I grew up hearing these arguments. I heard them at school. I heard them at work. I read them in newspapers. I heard them from my “friends” and “family”. And I’m tired of it. My rights are not something that should be subject to debate and I no longer tolerate it when I people try to argue against my very freedom.

    I am sorry for the long comments – and not even addressing the topic of the actual post at that. As you might have noticed, my rights are a subject that gets me riled up.

  • Jonas

    Some time ago, (About three years) I was on a panel of three atheists at an evangelical church being interviewed by Jim Henderson (of offthemap.)

    He had called it conversations with the ‘unsaved’ or something similar.

  • Hemant,

    Since it is the mission of evangelical churches to “bring the unsaved to Christ”, you could present yourself as a case study in the unsaved. The congregation could be told by the pastor to listen carefully to what you have to say so they can try to get in your mind and find ways to crack through your tough rational exterior and open up your tender Christ seeking soul within.

    That would be music to their ears.

    Of course the influence could also work the other way.

    Some in the congregation might start to realize that their beliefs are all just wishful thinking with no basis in reality. 🙂

  • Revyloution

    Eris, sorry you have had such a hard time. It must be rough.

    Just some food for thought:

    You never change someones mind during any conversation. Any debate must keep this in mind. Think of it as planting seeds, not harvesting. I’ve seen the small seeds of doubt that I’ve planted blossom in people over the years.

    My best story has been repeated here before. It was a 2 year conversation with a wonderful lady who sold me coffee. She lost her belief in creationism, and began to seriously doubt her faith. But it took time, lots of it. I think the biggest motivator for her was just daily seeing a non-believer who was normal, friendly and genuinely nice.

    You can be that representative for the GLBT group. Be ‘out’, be nice, talk to people. When they are exposed on a regular basis to someone like you, it becomes less strange. Strangers are easy to hate, easy to demonize, and easy to discriminate against. Don’t be a stranger. Plant some seeds, water them. They will bloom, I promise.

  • Eris,

    Thanks for sharing.

    I think Revyloution nailed it, but I wanted to say I understand.

    I’m a lesbian too, and it’s HARD when your fellow citizens, friends, family and institutions fail to see you as an equal.

    I believe they are wrong and failing to live up to their own values of love and liberty. I try to point this out, in conversation- lovingly and with diginity- when I can, but it takes it out of you. I’m always looking for a better way to do it.

    Feel free to contact me on my blog if you want to talk….

  • Yeah, UU church is probably the best you’re going to get. And if that’s your thing, I bet my church would love you!

  • Demonhype

    There are two issues that, when they come up in argument, have driven me to tell my parents how ashamed I am of being their daughter.

    One is the death penalty. (I oppose it completely.)

    The other is gay marriage.

    My mother in particular defends “under God” in the pledge and “in God we trust” on the money, insisting that it has no impact on the rights or equality of atheists (somehow, what amounts to an official government statement endorsing religious belief and put in place specifically to create an atmosphere that excluded atheists…doesn’t actually harm atheists in any way. Try wrapping your mind around that.)

    According to her “it’s just a word”! (until you blaspheme or use it in a way she disapproves of, of course, or when she or any of the faithful are using those mottos to insist this is a “CHRISTIAN NATION” and deliberately underscoring the otherness of atheists using those very C/S violations.)

    So I told her that marriage is “just a word”, and it shouldn’t upset her that two men or two women can call their union a “marriage” the same as she can, and asked whether she seriously thinks she is harmed or her marriage diminished because the two gay men down the street are also considered “married”. All she does is scream out “IT DOES HURT ME!” I started hammering her on that, demanding how it hurts her–does it remove any of the rights or privileges of your marriage, or suggest that you are somehow less married in any way, or what?

    She didn’t have anything to defend herself with, of course. Somehow, the government openly endorsing religion doesn’t hurt atheists one iota, but calling a same-sex union a marriage will somehow “hurt” her marriage in some way she can’t articulate but will doggedly insist upon.

    I can’t help but agree with Eris. I’m not going to sit quietly and listen to someone spouting hideous, ignorant, atrocious monstrosities. Though I see the point in keeping such views visible (these people are dangerous, and I’d prefer to know where the wasp is in the room), I couldn’t get behind giving such ideas an open and unopposed platform. Bad ideas need to be destroyed, but they can only be destroyed by good ideas and by people showing those ideas for the garbage they are.

    And I agree, human rights are definitely not up for a majority vote. Another issue that came up with dear old Mom. “MAJORITY rules! MAJORITY RULES! And the MAJORITY has voted out gay marriage, so SHUT UP!” Sorry, we dont’ live in a mob-rule democracy, and there are some areas where the majority has no clout (and never should).

  • LawnBoy

    I asked my wife if she thought it would work at her church (which is fairly liberal Missouri Synod Lutheran). Her response was that the pastor likely would be interested in having Hemant talk in some capacity, but not as 30 minutes during a church service in a speech that would crowd out a sermon.

    So, if Hemant wants to be part of a dialog with the pastor, or if he wants to speak in another setting, it might work.

    I can’t say that I’m surprised. Churches aren’t generally designed to have the main service be a place for discussion of controversial ideas – it’s a lecture, not a conversation.

  • Miko

    I agree with Eris. The problem with the gay marriage “debate” is that one side (the anti) has absolutely no good reasons. On other issues, there can perhaps be honest disagreements, differing assumptions on the role of government/governance, differing assumptions on what an ideal society looks like, differing views in general, even disputes on the facts. The position of banning gay marriage is unique in contemporary politics in that it has absolutely no argument in its favor, not even a bad argument. It just has an inarticulate whine.

    Eris: The third argument I’ve come across is the argument from tradition. I hear this from people who describe themselves as libertarian.

    In my official capacity as a libertarian, I hereby declare the argument from tradition to be nonsense. 😉 Some of the less controversial opinions held by libertarians include relegalization of all drugs, opposing the issuance of titles to land, and disbanding the military, so it’s pretty hard to simultaneously support libertarian goals and keep traditions. Traditionalism is for conservatives. While the embarrassing state of their philosophy right now may have them claiming to be libertarians, they aren’t really, and when the Democrats self-destruct in the next election, they’ll go right back to calling themselves conservatives.

    The only way I can think of to change the minds of these people is to convince them that there is a benefit to allowing gay marriage, but the benefits are to gays

    Not so. An attack on the rights of one is an attack on the rights of all. Gays will be the most impacted in the short term, but the cancerous effects of banning gay marriage will harm the rest of society just as much in the long run.

    Demonhype: Sorry, we dont’ live in a mob-rule democracy, and there are some areas where the majority has no clout (and never should).

    Replace the word “some” with the word “all.” Majority rule is never just, for exactly the reason that it isn’t just in this instance (or, at least, I’ve never heard a good argument for why it should be). Democracy is only a valid system of governance when it acts with unanimous consent. This needn’t mean unanimous agreement (e.g., a group of friends votes on where to eat and all voluntarily agree to go with the majority decision), but it does mean that a law is unjust if even one member of the society governed by it does not consent to be constrained by it. (Naturally, such governance will only work if decisions are made at the most local level possible.)

    Killer_Bee: Maybe [slavery and genocide] are actually good things. If we’re not allowed to think about them how can we know? Revelation?

    To the best of my recollection, I’ve never had a discussion in which someone tried to convince me that slavery and genocide were good things. Yet I’ve somehow managed to determine that they aren’t.

  • jemand

    Yeah I’m with eris. I can’t sit quietly listening to a super dumb argument, which is why I QUIT going to church, and now only read blogs which I can COMMENT on. If I don’t have the ability to comment back, in a significant capacity, I don’t want to listen to a lecture in propped up by the nonsense that ALWAYS props up arguments as to why certain people shouldn’t have access to basic human rights.

    Maybe other people don’t mind sitting and listening in such a setting, but I do. If I am sitting and listening quietly to someone, it must be because that person has greater experience and good data to back up his or her position and to convey meaningful data. I, personally, do not plan on attending of my own volition, an event which by it’s organizational structure pretends to follow the expert presenter/learning audience setup, but in actuality is just a crude mockery of it.

    I may participate in a one on one conversation, but not pretend some bigot is an expert.

  • I’m sensitive to the pain that others have expressed here. Being a half-breed, I have been through incredible physical and emotional abuse in the name of religion. It would pain me to have to sit through some nonsense that I know to be not only untrue, but truly evil.
    However, one effective way of getting to understand the enemy (many will take exception to my calling them “the enemy”, save your breath)is to crawl into the belly of the beast. If we are going to struggle effectively against bigotry and other barbarisms done on the behalf of angry gods then some of us need to do the “dirty work” so others don’t have to. Hemant is unusual in that he is capable of doing such work. Give the man some kudos for doing what many of us cannot.

  • Hemant, you’d be welcome here. I’m a pastor in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, one of the more conservative Christian denominations. We wouldn’t have you speak during a service, but this past Sunday, we streamed in a pastor in Africa via Skype onto our screen after the service for a live presentation & could do something like that as long as you’ll allow a Q&A afterward. We’re near Cleveland, and we’d welcome you live as well, although we don’t have a budget to fly in guest speakers. If you came live, we could stream the presentation out to allow people to watch and leave comments and questions live, or we could post it on our church website afterward and allow comments that way. I would likely have some live questions at the time as well, and I’d probably post a few rebuttals on my blog if I felt a response was necessary.

    I’ve actually been doing a class, discussing Ingersoll’s rebuttal of the Bible (passed on to me by an atheist friend), and while I’ve invited local atheists to come, we’ve had no takers. Sadly, that document is over 100 years old, so while I frequently hear the same arguments today, which is why we’re looking at it, the perspective and attitude is very different from that of most of my atheist friends. In fact, we audio record the class and make it available as a podcast. Anyone who has comments about any of the classes we’ve had so far is welcome to leave those comments on our website. As long as people are civil, we won’t delete opposing viewpoints and welcome the discussion. In fact, anyone in the Cleveland area is welcome to attend the roundtable-style class and offer their perspective.

    OK, I’m a bit hesitant to submit this, since, being new to this site and not “one of the guys,” I don’t want to spam the blog with my comments and links, so Hemant or whoever’s moderating this, if you’d like to contact me without passing this through or edit it first, I won’t be offended and would still love to talk with you about possibilities.

  • I don’t know, Hemant. You clearly spend a lot more time with evangelicals than I ever have, so maybe you know them better than I do, but I can’t help being suspicious. I’m not naturally a suspicious person, but I just don’t trust these churches and their motives.

    For example, the Jubilee conference and other panels you’ve mentioned. I might be wrong, but it seems like the vast majority of people inviting you to speak are only interested in atheists as a means to an end. They want to understand us in order to increase their chances of changing us. They don’t accept us or respect us the way we are. Somehow I think that any information we give them is going to be taken and used to form new techniques in order to “reach” us and “save” us.

    So while your aim may be to increase awareness and at least get them to stop misrepresenting and telling lies about atheists and atheism (a worthy goal), there’s no two-way respect because they don’t accept us the way we are. I suppose one could argue that we don’t accept them either, except that I don’t think it’s true of all or even most atheists. I know that I personally am not on a mission to deconvert anyone, even if I think it would be in their best interests. I can accept them without wanting to change them.

    I don’t know. When I read a previous comment by someone involved in the Jubilee conference, they mentioned that they had “gotten you to admit that you had faith in science.” I can’t find the actual quote now, but their wording spoke volumes. It was like they had caught you in a lie (“everyone has faith in something!”) and that despite all your efforts at education, they insist on conflating atheism and science and pretending that atheists worship science or see it as some kind of god, never mind the fact that there are probably millions of atheists who have no particular interest in science whatsoever.

  • Anna, I know a lot of Christians are like that. I’m not them, so I won’t apologize for them, but last I checked, the word, “Bazinga!” isn’t in the Bible. Jesus’ opponents were always trying to corner Him and get Him to say the wrong thing, but He never did that the other way. I like the way Jesus did it: He loved people, went out of His way to help them, answered their questions, and gave words of comfort.

    Are we going to try to change you? No. At least in our church, we believe God changes hearts. It’s just our job to love people and tell them why we love them. If they don’t become Christians, we still love them. If you were on your deathbed and said, “I’m still an atheist and always will be. Can I have a drink of water?” I’d get it for you. Because God created you & Jesus paid for your sins, I’m going to love you, because He first loved both of us.

    Would I like all people to become Christians? Yes, just as you’d probably be happier if all people were atheists. For Christians who believe in heaven and hell, the stakes are higher if that doesn’t happen, but when you believe that God changes hearts, not Christians, you don’t go around trying to convince people of anything. You just want them to be loved and cared for and leave the rest up to God.

    By having an atheist tell us about atheists, we get rid of stereotypes and learn how better to serve (not trap) our neighbor.

  • DSimon

    Dale, I question whether or not Christians believe in any practical way that “only God can change hearts”.

    Have you really never changed your opinion about a religious topic after hearing an interesting and well-thought argument?

    And, are you against missionary work? By that, I mean not just charity work done by religious organizations, but charity work combined with promotion of the religion itself.

  • I’m not talking about the details. I’m talking about a person going from not being a Christian to being a Christian.

    And I’m in favor of missionary work. I should clarify. I believe that God uses the message of His love as shown through Jesus Christ to bring people to faith. While the intellect is involved, that transformation happens as God miraculously turns a person who is dead set against Him to believe in Him. We teach that God works through means, sometimes miraculous,like bringing people to faith through the good news of His love, and sometimes through non-miraculous means, like saving people’s lives through medical professionals, unlocking the secrets of the universe through teachers, etc.

    So it’s through hearing about His love, not through rhetoric, that He creates saving faith. Christians are called to share that message through word and deed, but not called on to expertly debate (or use thumb screws).

  • Dale, I appreciate your response, but do you want me to be honest with you? I think you’re being deliberately disingenuous, and any atheist who is not extremely naive and uneducated is going to realize that immediately.

    Are we going to try to change you? No.

    This statement seems dishonest to me. “We believe God changes hearts” is a cop-out. You go on to say that you believe in missionary work, so obviously you do believe in evangelism. You believe in doing everything you can to persuade, convince, or change us, and to imply otherwise really makes me (and most other atheists, I’m sure) distrust you. Trying to deliberately obscure your intentions does not make me inclined to think of your belief system favorably.

    A tip for would-be evangelists when dealing with atheists: If you believe in missionary work and evangelism, do not try to hide what you believe and what you want to do. Be honest about your real motives and ultimate goals. Don’t make it sound like you’re just “leaving it up to God” to change people’s hearts when it’s obvious that you do engage in various forms of evangelism. You’re not just talking about “loving” people or “serving” people. You’re talking about changing people. Please be honest about that.

    Would I like all people to become Christians? Yes, just as you’d probably be happier if all people were atheists.

    Happier? I don’t think my personal happiness has anything to do with other people’s private belief systems. As long as they are not using their beliefs to impinge on my rights or my personal freedom, I could not care less what they believe. I suppose I might feel more comfortable and less frustrated in an all-atheist world, but that scenario is extremely unlikely and I don’t think it’s productive to waste time thinking about it. I certainly have no desire to forcibly change people and deconvert them against their will, or to meddle in the way they bring up their children, or to tell them to live their lives in accordance with my beliefs. Simply put, it’s not my business to police the content of other people’s minds.

  • Here’s another tip for evangelists:

    Anna, I know a lot of Christians are like that. I’m not them, so I won’t apologize for them, but last I checked, the word, “Bazinga!” isn’t in the Bible. Jesus’ opponents were always trying to corner Him and get Him to say the wrong thing, but He never did that the other way. I like the way Jesus did it: He loved people, went out of His way to help them, answered their questions, and gave words of comfort.

    When speaking with atheists, bringing up what Jesus said or what Jesus did or what other people did or said about Jesus is generally going to turn us right off. I didn’t mention Jesus once in my original comment. I was talking about churches and the possibility that many (not all) of them have hidden motives and agendas. I don’t have the slightest interest in what Jesus said about converting people or helping people or loving people. You can certainly talk about what your church believes, but why you believe it does not tend to matter the least bit to those of us who don’t believe in any gods and don’t believe your holy book has any kind of legitimacy or veracity.

    On a related note:

    If you were on your deathbed and said, “I’m still an atheist and always will be. Can I have a drink of water?” I’d get it for you. Because God created you & Jesus paid for your sins, I’m going to love you, because He first loved both of us.

    While it’s nice that you believe in helping atheists, even if we’re on our deathbed and not interested in converting, your rationale for doing so is rather suspect. I would rather you helped us because you wanted to be a decent human being, not because your god told you to love us. And, honestly, going on and on about how you love us does not seem the least bit genuine.

    By having an atheist tell us about atheists, we get rid of stereotypes and learn how better to serve (not trap) our neighbor.

    Getting rid of stereotypes? Awesome. Getting rid of stereotypes so you can better “serve” (read: evangelize) us? Not so awesome. As I said earlier, just be honest about your real goals and intentions. It’s this tendency to hide them that makes people less likely to trust you.

  • Anna, this is the official teaching of our church and has been from its inception. That said, I immediately qualified my statement in an effort to be as transparent as possible. Do I want people to change? Yes. I made no illusions about that. I was talking about our methodology. Since we believe that simply sharing the message and helping people is all we’re called to do, we’re not going to try to trick, trap, or convince anyone per se. Because we believe it to be a miracle, it’s a bit hard to explain, but in response to your original comment, we’re not the subversives that you think we are. Evangelism is saying, “God loves you, like I’m trying to love you by my actions.” You can do what you like with that information, including throw it out.

    I do try to be upfront as possible that yes, I do believe that atheism is spiritually self-destructive, and I pray to God that He will convert my atheist friends, but that shouldn’t bother you if you don’t believe in the spirit, God, or prayer.

  • Anna, you don’t know me, so you’re not giving me the benefit of the doubt. I don’t blame you, and I’m not sure it’s possible to prove my sincerity, but I’m really not trying to be sneaky. I have no reason to be and have nothing to hide.

  • I’m sorry, Dale. I didn’t mean to imply that you were deliberately being sneaky. Or at least, that’s not quite the word I would use. I don’t know you personally. However, it is my experience with evangelists of many different stripes that they often do try to hide what they are doing, or they try to couch it in vague or less offensive terms. I don’t believe that they’re doing this to be malicious, but rather that they’re doing it “for our own good.” However, that doesn’t make it more tolerable to me.

    Since we believe that simply sharing the message and helping people is all we’re called to do, we’re not going to try to trick, trap, or convince anyone per se. Because we believe it to be a miracle, it’s a bit hard to explain, but in response to your original comment, we’re not the subversives that you think we are. Evangelism is saying, “God loves you, like I’m trying to love you by my actions.” You can do what you like with that information, including throw it out.

    Okay. I’m willing to believe you. However, without knowing what specific forms of evangelism your church participates in, it would be hard to say whether or not I would agree that this is the case. I think, though, that if your church believes just in helping people, then you wouldn’t fall under the banner of the kind of evangelical churches I was talking about in my original comment.

    I do try to be upfront as possible that yes, I do believe that atheism is spiritually self-destructive, and I pray to God that He will convert my atheist friends, but that shouldn’t bother you if you don’t believe in the spirit, God, or prayer.

    It bothers me only in the sense that I find it hideously disrespectful. However, I can’t control what other people do or what other people think, and my self-worth is not bound up in other people’s opinions of me. Plus, as I said before, it’s not my job to police other people’s minds. So if you want to pray that I’ll see the light and stop living a “spiritually destructive” (!) life, that’s up to you. But I sure can’t respect people who think that way. I would feel very uncomfortable around them. How can I possibly have positive feelings about your religion if that’s what it teaches about people like me?