***Update***: Audio of the event (MP3) is now available!
The event at Kensington Community Church went wonderfully. I’ll post audio when it’s available.
The evening was structured so that I would be interviewed by the pastor on stage about the eBay auction and my thoughts about the Christian church (about 20-30 minutes), followed by another 30 minutes or so of questions from the audience. The questions were submitted on pieces of paper while the first half of the conversation took place. Staff members collected them and weeded out certain questions (because they were too general or odd or just plain weird). The more interesting ones were given to the pastor and he selected his favorites to ask on stage.
What kinds of questions were asked?
- Why are atheists altruistic?
- What is your take on Jesus?
- Finish the sentence: God is ______.
- What is your definition of “atheist”? [Versus "Agnostic"]
- Are you still practicing non-violence? [I believe that's a nod to my Jain upbringing, though it sounded funny when asked]
More on the questions below.
The audience was great. They were respectful. No one bombarded me with “the love of Jesus” afterwards. No proselytizing. Good deal.
A few more details…
- The opening song (in my honor!) was Chicago by Sufjan Stevens. That was awesome.
- I met quite a few atheists after the event! Thanks for all your support!
- I met frequent commenter and Forum mod SarahH!
(See? People on this site exist in real life!)
- I *swear* I’m not that short. I’m just leaning. Yes, that is a church, not a mall. And no, I have not yet learned how to remove a mic from my head.
One girl came up to me afterwards along with her two friends. We had only a brief chat, but this is what I understood her story to be.
She thanked me for raising some interesting questions and getting her to think more critically about her faith.
Then she started crying.
I asked what was wrong.
Essentially, she said that she rarely gets exposed to a different point of view. She’s a Christian and her parents are Christians but they still seem to shove their faith down her throat. At the first sign that she might be challenging her faith, they stop her. If she’s hanging around people who might question her Christianity (or cause her to ever-so-slightly stray from it), they are all over her.
She’s not going to become an atheist anytime soon, but she was grateful for hearing a new perspective.
Then she had to go.
(I hope I got that story right. And if my interpretation of her story is accurate, it says a lot about what’s wrong with parents being dogmatic about their faith and trying to “protect” their children from what else is out there.)
There were a lot of questions people wanted the pastor to ask me. We could only get to a few of them because of time issues.
I was really curious which ones were weeded out…
The church staff was kind enough to pass them along.
Here are some of the questions from the un-asked pile:
- Did you ever consider that people want you to believe because they care about you? [No, I figure they tell me about Jesus because they hate my guts... In all seriousness, I know they care. I just think they're misguided.]
- Have you ever considered giving Jesus a chance? [Yep. Didn't work.]
- Who do you turn to in times of despair? [Friends. Family.]
- From a scientific standpoint, all evidence points to an Intelligent Creator (God)… Do you have presuppositions that influence your choices how to interpret this huge amount of evidence?
P.S. Do you think we are fools? [I think he's referring to ID-Proponents... and no comment on the rest of this. Why bother.]
- What if you are wrong? [It's a risk I'm willing to take. Now, what if Islam is right? Then we are all in *so* much trouble...]
- … Do you not question the validity of a master designer when you see the change of seasons, the complexity of the human body… do you believe you evolved from an ape? [*sigh*... it's not so hard to believe when you actually read some books about evolution and understand how science works]
- Where are you going when you die? [Same place that you are.]
- Who are you living your life for? [Myself. And, hopefully one day, the wife and our 18 kids.]
- Do you see that you chose to not believe in God? Do you see that can choose to believe? [I had no idea. I guess I will just change my mind now.]
- What do you sit around talking about with fellow atheists? [Politics. How to deal with Christians who try to "show us love." How to raise our children. Sports. The best temperature at which to roast the children. You know, the usual.]
- How do you apply Laws of thermodynamics, conservation of energy, & creation of man from a non-God perspective? [I read books about Science and then try to understand how these things actually work.]
- How do you explain the concept of love without belief in God?
- What factors solidified in your mind that God absolutely does not exist? (signed: Not Kirk Cameron) [I mentioned a few times that I was not saying God definitely did not exist... oh well]
- As an atheist, would you allow your children to make their own decisions about Christianity? [Yep. Would you do the same regarding their decision about atheism?]
- Where do you find joy when there is such sorrow and pain — either in the world or in your life? [In the people I love. In books. In Stephen Colbert.]
- Have you ever had an experience that you couldn’t explain by your mind or any rational thinking? [Of course. That doesn't mean the automatic explanation must be God.]
- I wonder what kind of relationship he had or has with his father? [Oh boy.]
- When you pray, why do you say, “In Jesus’ name?” [When I pray?! Maybe I need to be clearer about what atheism entails...]
- What can we say/do to a “non-believer” in 10-20 words or less to show them Christian love?
A lot of those questions were echoed by others with slightly different wording.
It’s easy to just laugh at a lot of those because the answers seem so obvious to atheists.
But it’s important to realize these are among the reasons religious people have a hard time understanding who we are and why we believe the way we do. We need to have decent responses to these kinds of questions.
I’m especially curious how readers would answer that last one.
Briefly, what would you advise Christians to say to atheists so that we know they care about us?
Personally, if they talk to me like another human being and not as “he-who-must-be-converted,” that’s a good first step.