A Christian/Atheist Dialogue in Texas January 23, 2011

A Christian/Atheist Dialogue in Texas

In Bedford, Texas, atheists and Christians will be gathering next month to discuss religion and where their beliefs come from:

This informal gathering of atheists and Christians started as a dialogue between Metroplex Atheist member Julio Rosario and 1st Baptist Church Pastor Marty Atkins.

The purpose of the gathering is for members of each group to talk to each other about belief in God or the lack of belief in God. People from both groups will have the opportunity to ask and answer questions and to voice their opinions.

I think this is the type of outreach both sides need to have more of — it’s not a debate; it’s just dialogue. And if a few stereotypes go by the wayside as a result of all this, then all the better for those involved.

The event takes place on February 15th at First Baptist Church of Bedford.

(Thanks to Joe for the link!)


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  • Humanistdad

    I’m not sure of the point of the meeting. It reminds me of an interfaith gathering and do they really get anywhere?

    As I see it, the result can only be one way – some Baptists will lose their faith.

  • Nick

    Seems like these things are often held in churches.

  • Anonymous

    Is there a Baptist tradition that doesn’t hold that homosexuality is a sin? AFAIK, they all do. On that basis alone, I would never associate with them. There is no outreach possible as long as they demonize human beings.

  • Rhodent

    Humanistdad, I think that the advantage for atheists is obvious. Most Christians don’t know any (non-closeted) atheists, so they regard atheists as this bizarre “Other” that they simply can not comprehend, and this makes it easy for them to believe any wild claims they hear about atheists (they have no morals, they’re all communists etc.) Just meeting atheists will remove the mystique and make it possible for them to see atheists as normal human beings who just happen to have different religious beliefs.

    Anonymous, in a word, yes. Although fundies are taking over the denomination, traditionally there have been a wide range of beliefs among different Baptist churches. I know of Baptist churches which have presided over gay marriages (in states that don’t recognize gay marriage), and one that had an openly gay pastor. Furthermore, even if the particular Baptist church here doesn’t accept such things, that doesn’t mean every single member of the congregation agrees. The purpose of such meetings is to view people as individuals, not walking stereotypes. That works both ways.

  • Cindy

    Yay! This is ten minutes away from me. If I can switch my work schedule around, I’m gonna go.

  • gharkness

    Having a way to communicate between the two is always better than NOT communicating at all. Many Christians don’t realize that atheists are all around them, and they think of atheists as something akin to space aliens. If for no other reason, to get the two sides at least acknowledging the other as people, this is a good thing.

    Here’s an excellent example of an effort already begun, also in the DFW area. This is between the pastor of the church that hired that silly truck (I still love you – God) to follow around the bus (Millions are good without god) in Fort Worth, and the Executive Director of the Fellowship of Freethought. I was shocked at the level of misunderstanding that the Christians had about the atheists. (Since most atheists were Christian at one time, atheists do have a better understanding of Christians, I think.) (Link follows)

    Inside the Lamb’s Den

  • Ben

    Maybe this is nit-picky but why is “atheist” uncapitalized while “Christian” capitalized? Isn’t Atheist a proper name given to a group of people who share something in common. I think we need to be “Atheists” and not “atheists”. Maybe there is no difference.

  • I like how there’s going to be a discussion about religion, inevitably including discussion about problems caused by Christianity, all done inside of a Christian church, while a few dozen Atheists will be there, to help make it all happen. More free and open communication is what spoils the plans of organized deception, and yes, a great many Christians still don’t know squat about us. So this is good.

    No need to try to convert anyone. I think that should come from within anyway. It’s more of a few hours of education for everyone there. For many, it’ll be the first time they’ve heard these arguments. Surely some young Christians will be there.

    Open, friendly and above all, honest communication between our camps is something that can only help improve understanding between us.

  • Spencer

    No, Ben. Atheism is not a religion; therefore, it is not capitalized.

  • Admiral Ackbar

    It’s a trap!

  • Ben

    Spencer, I know we’re not a religion. That wasn’t my point. We are, however, a group that has something in common; namely a no reason to believe that there is a god. Shouldn’t that be enough go give us proper noun status? That was my only point.

  • Paul

    Ben:

    I don’t think that merely being a defined group is the criteria by which one capitalizes words. But the formal name of a specific group is capitalized.

    So,

    “stamp collectors, ”

    but not “Stamp Collectors,”

    but “Stamp Collectors United of East Bumble-F***.”

    Sorry to get all grammatical . . . .

  • Defiantnonbeliever

    From interchanges I’ve seen on the web and on newspaper call in columns, and personally, I’m not sure how it could not get heated or worse. Perhaps in person things can be different if lots is left out. Good luck to the ‘diplomats’.

  • Mihangel apYrs

    there is a possibility, with good will, to identify the things that we have in common, including the nebulous “aspirations” for a peaceful world maybe, while putting the significant differneces in the “not for the voyage” box

    fundamentally we are all members of the same species with the same aspirations, hopes and fears. If we can find a way to address the commonalities in a non-beleif-oriented way (i.e. purely empirically) then that is a step forward. If we can show the religious that we aren’t “other”, especially gay atheists, then we will shine light into their lives

  • I honestly do not understand the idea that there could be any useful “dialog” here. There are reasonable Christians, who don’t need this sort of thing because they don’t have (much of) a problem with atheists. And there are unreasonable Christians, who aren’t going to listen to anything an atheist has to say.

    Who, then, is supposed to be reached?

  • this sort of thing is a fun waste of time for all who can participate. it could be more, too! which is to say, some believers could become otherwise as a result. having been to many of these types of events, i’ll say that there is little chance that atheists will ‘convert’ to a religion as a result. mostly, this sort of event is for the titillation of believers. “ooooh, look at us! we spent time with people who don’t believe! how exciting!” to most of us, it’s not really that big of a deal. we shrug and roll our eyes and otherwise try to act patiently when they say, during the ‘debate,’ “but the BuyBull says…” and they variously use text to justify otherwise ridiculous assumptions. in my experience, “interfaith” dialogue b/w believers & non-believers is good for about 30, maybe forty five minutes of entertainment. after that, it’s about as useful as queers listening patiently to the arguments of “ex” gays. ymmv, of course.

    personally, i’m much more interested in multi-faith/agnostic/atheist dialogue. much more fun, for me at least. sure, we can bring xtians and atheists together and they can make arguments that are 2,000 years old and hashed. but so much more fun (i speak as someone who has hosted many such successful parties and gatherings) is when one brings xtians, atheists, agnostics, hindus, jews, and zen practitioners together (etc). a “two way” dialogue is almost as useless as if this were only a conversation between, say, muslims and baha’i.

    what the hell. it’s texas. i’m sure people down there have a hard time understanding that there really is more than “both kinds” a la the Blues Brothers scene in which the restaurant owners declaimed “we have both kinds here, country and western!” sorry to be such a regionalist, but TX is after all the home of the school board busy redesigning the national textbook curriculum to reflect the ‘fact’ that evolution is disputed and Jefferson was a baptist republican. and getting away with such lies.

  • Ben

    Paul:
    Thanks! I like being corrected. Grammar and words are important to me. 🙂

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    I think this is the type of outreach both sides need to have more of — it’s not a debate; it’s just dialogue. And if a few stereotypes go by the wayside as a result of all this, then all the better for those involved.

    I’m with Humanistdad, Anonymous, PsiCop and chicago dyke on this one – I’m not sure what the point is.

    Where do the atheist stereotypes come from in the first place, if not the First Baptist Churches of Whatever? If you want to rid the world of stereotypes, the best place to start is where they originate – in the church sermons when the atheists are not there.

    Debate at least gives people reasons for thinking one way or the other. It gives people an idea of why you think what you do even if they still don’t change their mind.

    I can’t really see any point to dialogue at all. If we’re going to dialogue with fundamentalists, will we dialogue with Scientologists, too? What about crystal power New Agers? Or does it only make sense to dialogue when larger numbers embrace the madness?

    Like chicago dyke said, your mileage may vary, but when I hear ‘dialogue’ I ask ‘What for?’

  • Dan W

    Maybe it’s just me, but I’m pessimistic about the outcome of this dialogue. Sure, it could have some good results, like some Christians getting a better (and more accurate) understanding of atheists, and some of them might even question their beliefs. But I worry that this dialogue will turn into increasingly heated debate, which tend to get nowhere when one side (usually the theists) refuses to see reason.

    I could be wrong, of course, but that’s how many dialogues I’ve had with theists have gone. Though most of those have been over the Internet, not face-to-face, where people might feel less likely to turn a friendly dialogue into a heated debate.

  • I’m a little surprised by the “all or nothing” stance that many on this thread have taken.
    If one atheist can have a positive influence on just one fundie, then progress has been made.
    Just having someone represent atheists as flesh and blood people is a good thing.
    By communicating with these folks, we become less of an abstraction. We become their neighbors. Individually speaking, it’s harder to pull a trigger on a neighbor whom you’ve met and truly interacted with.

  • Justin

    I’m a little surprised by the “all or nothing” stance that many on this thread have taken.
    If one atheist can have a positive influence on just one fundie, then progress has been made.

    I suppose a lot of people think that is too slow going. It would be interesting to take a poll after these types of events and see how church members see atheists-ism after the discussion. If it seemed a real impact was being made then it might be a little easier to support.

    Correct me if I’m wrong but aren’t baptists usually on the more fundamental side of the spectrum? I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t engage them in dialogue, but I think it does make the whole thing a lot more difficult.

  • Valhar2000

    The Godless Monster said:

    If one atheist can have a positive influence on just one fundie, then progress has been made.

    I’m not sure what the others think, but the reason I am skeptical of this sort of meeting is that I am very skeptical of what you said in that very sentence.

    I think it is much more likely that the atheists in attendance will be preached at incessantly, that horrendous lies will be told about them, and that when those very atheists attempt to counter those lies they will be chided for being so very rude.

    Don’t get me wrong; I fully support the people who want to go there for 2 reasons:

    1) It’s not my place to tell them what meetings they can or cannot attend.
    2) I’d like to see if my suspicions are correct, and I’m glad that someone else is willing to undergo the pain involved in the experiment.

    But, I do believe it will be painful (except for those who get a kick out watching fundies and their wacky antics).

    Plus, if it turns out I’m wrong I’ll get to be pleasantly surprised. That’s the best kind of surprise!

  • @Justin,

    “I suppose a lot of people think that is too slow going.”

    I would suggest that this way of thinking is flawed.
    As far as the difficulty of dealing with fundamentalists, I’d say that it is difficult to do a lot of worthwhile things in this life.
    The level of difficulty involved in dialoguing with fundamentalists in no way adds to or detracts from the usefulness of it.

  • @Valhar2000,
    Fear of possible nastiness isn’t a good enough reason to decline meeting with fundies.
    I’m sure you are familiar with the saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
    If a specific group of fundies demonstrates that they are not sincere in their desire to dialogue, then future interactions with that particular group of individuals should be stopped…unless you are a masochist.
    That being said, there is a reason that most scientists will not and do not debate evolution with creationists. Creationists, however, are a hardcore subset and shouldn’t be confused with all Christians. Besides, the exchange taking place here is not described as a debate, but as a dialogue. If this was a debate, I’d most likely decline to participate.

  • BrettH

    I’m an atheist that grew up Baptist, and I think this kind of thing would be very valuable. Because you’re surrounded by so many bad arguments presented by everyone you know in authority (parents, pastor, adult friends) for the existence of God, it becomes very difficult to even understand the idea of a non-believer. The very silly idea that atheists do believe in god but just pretend not to because they want to sin makes perfect sense when everyone you’ve ever known believed in some kind of God. I grew up thinking that Mormons, Muslims, and any other theistic religion was well meaning but misguided, and “atheists” just lying to themselves and the rest of the world so they could have lots of sex. Helping Christens upgrade how they see us to “well meaning but misguided” seems like a pretty valuable step to me.

  • @BrettH,
    Well put.

  • @chicago dyke,

    “what the hell. it’s texas. i’m sure people down there have a hard time understanding that there really is more than “both kinds” a la the Blues Brothers scene in which the restaurant owners declaimed “we have both kinds here, country and western!””

    Um…wow. Sure you don’t want to rethink that?

  • JW

    Dr. Marty Akins was my smalltown high school pastor. Knew him very well. Played b-ball many a time and even camped with him at church camp. I always had a high level of respect for him. Even if he wasn’t, ahem, perfect.

    Am very interested in this if I can swing it.

  • This is a few minutes away from me. As long as its Baptist members and not Baptist preachers this could be a good thing.

    Around here my biggest concern is that Christians understand that not believing in God does not translate to active evil. They seem to think that you’re compelled to do all sorts of evil things to your neighbors. If they could just understand that atheism doesn’t equal compulsory raping of their children then we are improving relations.

    But Southern Baptists are the ones that drove me from church to begin with. They lure you to friendly get-togethers then ambush you with high pressure preaching, so I’m concerned that their view of this meeting may be a chance to force some conversions.

    For the person mentioning that many of these happen at a church, understand that around here there just aren’t many (any?) buildings capable of gatherings that aren’t churches and don’t charge lots of money. Municipal community centers, perhaps, but they are almost churches themselves, and municipalities seem to be shying away from the possibility of religious confrontation.