A Calmer Dialogue

My eBay “soul buyer” Jim Henderson will be featured in the Christian Science Monitor tomorrow. He moderated a dialogue with Christians and atheists titled “God – for people who hate church.” :)

What prompted this dialogue? Jane Lampman writes:

Some Christians, concerned that millions of Americans never cross the threshold of a church, want to understand why, as well as learn what it is in evangelistic efforts that turns people off. Some atheists, worried that polls show they are the least accepted social group in the country, want to break down stereotypes and change people’s attitudes.

At a conference in Salem, Mass., last Saturday, for example, Christians from several states listened to atheists and neopagans talk about who they are, the origin of their ethics and beliefs, and what challenges they encounter in a society that is predominantly Christian.

“I’ve never understood treating a people group as [the enemy] because their belief system is different,” says Phil Wyman, pastor of The Gathering, a Salem church that sponsored the conference.

Here are some excerpts that won’t be a surprise to any atheists:

“It’s Christian militancy that has evoked a backlash of atheist militancy,” says Michael Bleiweiss, a physicist and atheist from Methuen, Mass.

Henderson also conducts interviews with men and women who are non­believers as an event at church and pastor conferences. Many Evangelicals “are obsessed with conversion,” he says, and always speak of non-Christians as “lost.” The interviews show Christians immersed in their own culture and how that sounds to the people they approach.

At the Salem conference, Mr. Bleiweiss recalled a co-worker who “worked Jesus into every conversation we had.”

I should mention they discuss me and my book in the article as well.

I love the idea that Christians like Henderson and Wyman, and certainly many others like them, are willing to hear (often very bluntly) how they come across to atheists and other non-religious people. If only more Christians were willing to hear what anyone else besides people in their own church thought…

These are at least decent first steps towards a larger goal of atheist acceptance in the general public. As well as general Christian decreepyfication.

[tags]atheist, atheism, Jim Henderson, Christian Science Monitor, God, Jane Lampman, Christian, Salem, Phil Wyman, The Gathering, Michael Bleiweiss, physicist, Methuen, Evangelicals[/tags]

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  • http://groundedinreality.blogspot.com Bruce

    Some Christians, concerned that millions of Americans never cross the threshold of a church, want to understand why, as well as learn what it is in evangelistic efforts that turns people off.

    So, it isn’t really about truth but rather about marketing??? Most atheists I know aren’t your typical mindless consumer. They demand good solid evidence before they are going to change their beliefs. It isn’t anything particular about evangelistic efforts that keep people from believing in a god. They could offer free food and all the beer you can drink at church and most atheists are still not going to convert. The problem is not in the way their message it delivered, it’s the message itself. And when you’re dealing with a group of people who take great pride in their intellectual honesty in pursuit of reality, it’s going to take a lot more than a friendly smile to convince them to believe something that isn’t even close to being self-evident.

    You want to know how to market your product better? Try producing solid evidence to back up your claims. But I suppose when you can’t do that then your only alternative is to try and convince people they need you anyway.

  • http://inthenuts.blogspot.com King Aardvark

    True we’re not going to convert without them bringing the evidence, but if they no longer act like self-absorbed pushy morons, then we’ll probably stop being militant. It’s more about acceptance than changing people’s minds.

  • chatterbox

    King Aardvark, I love your comment. Primarily because it applies to both sides. If everyone stopped being militant self-absorbed pushy morons then the whole world would be a better place.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    This church marketing thing started somewhere around the early 1980s. Before that churches were more into “outreach” but when the prosperity doctrine that was part of a small offshoot got adopted (even while being condemned) by the larger evangelical churches, then they started this marketing tactic because it contributes to the bottom line. Jesus would definitely throw these money changers out of the temple.

  • http://squarenomore.blogspot.com Phil Wyman

    Hey Hemant,

    decreepyfication? Wow nice word, and I agree we can be creepy. How is it that both sides have creeped each other out so deeply?

  • http://off-the-map.org/atheist/ Siamang

    True we’re not going to convert without them bringing the evidence, but if they no longer act like self-absorbed pushy morons, then we’ll probably stop being militant.

    I don’t fully agree with that. Sure, a committed atheist is more likely to be resistant barring some kind of evidence…

    But I rather think that most people choose the religion that is made up of the people that they most admire.

    An atheist, if they are what I’d call a skeptic rather than a mere non-adherant, has come to that point in their life where what matters most to them is empricism. They’ve come to that point in their life by following role models, reading certain books, taking to heart certain thinkers. The priorities are a function of their environment and what they’ve been exposed to.

    I Guarantee you that if the ONLY exposure someone had had to Christians is high-pressure salesmen jerks, nobody would become Christians. Ditto atheists.

    But if Christians are the nicest, friendliest, genuinely cool, caring, smart, funny, passionate, dynamic people you know… that will shape what you think is important, and you’re much more likely to be a Christian too.

    If most of the people you admire are Christians, chances are very, very good that you’ll also be a Christian.

    This is where I see Jim Henderson’s form of evangelism appealing and very likely to bring far, far more people to Christ than the high-pressure sales tack. It seeks to find people where they are at, and have a RELATIONSHIP with them that doesn’t begin and end at conversion.

    I value my friendship with Jim, and I have to say he’s probably the Christian I most admire in the world. Better than that, he’s on my list of the people I most admire in the world.

    I don’t “believe” in the supernatural at all, but I wholeheartedly believe in Jim’s style and gift of communication and humility and charity of spirit.

    I really hope that God does exist, because I want it for him. More than anything else, I want him to be right.

  • http://www.yahoo.com Marc

    you will burn in HELL faggot