An Atheist Tries His Hand at Street Preaching

Simon Clare was recently walking through the Brighton city centre (near London) when he heard some Christian street preachers. It gave him an idea:

Street preaching is synonymous with intrusive statements about how sinful we are and how the only way to guarantee eternal life is to give yourself to some religion or other. But what if street-preaching could become something we no longer mind encountering? What if the messages preached were ones that added to a sense of how great we all are?

So he gave himself some ground rules: No knocking religion, no confrontation, no catchphrases.

Then he went to work:

I would say there is nothing mere about human life, human consciousness.

If you look out into the night sky, you can see vast numbers of gigantic objects. Beautiful stars, all going about their spectacularly huge, significant business. Stars may be huge, really really huge but they are dead. They don’t even know they are there. They really are just mere matter.

The rarest and most valuable thing this universe has to offer any of its atoms is one lifetime of consciousness. One life. Just by simply being alive, we are jackpot winners in a cosmic lottery. Every atom in the universe enters this lottery and the winning atoms are the ones that are here, inside our heads.

There’s no audience that sticks around for his words, but there’s also no vitriol thrown his way. I’d consider that a win :)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Matt Jones

    Brighton city centre is 50 miles from London. Brighton is known as the UK’s most gay town and the most godless town. It’s a great place to live!

  • Marco

    I would make a suggestion. Bring a small group of friends next time. Even just 3 or 4. Passers by will be much more likely to stop and listen. 
    It’s herd mentality, but it works.

  • ConureDelSol

    I may have found a few quotes to add to my list of awesome stuff.

  • _7654__

     Yep, a small crowd or atheists just 3-4 people, hang around him would bring in a much larger crowd :-) But is was fun to watch the flick …

  • Quintin

    He should have quoted Dawkins’ “we are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones” as atheist scripture. Or not. One thing is certain, his short speech was great and very inspiring, unlike anything any street preacher has ever said.

  • John F

    Chuckled at “Brighton City Centre (in London).”

    Like saying “downtown Boston (in New York)”.

  • Michael

    As I parse it, his message is “I am an atheist because you are all awesome”?

  • Steve Bowen

    Americans eh? What ya gonna do :)

  • Patrick

    “The US, in the Carribbean.”

  • Hemant Mehta

    Sorry! Fixed, I think!

  • Graham Martin-Royle

    Brighton, just up the road from me, hope I get to hear him if he does this again. Well done Simon.

  • Simon Clare

    Thanks Graham – I’m going to be doing it again on BBC Southern Counties Radio on Tuesday morning, some time between 6 and 8:30am

  • Simon Clare

    Thanks Quintin – I was certainly inspired by Dawkins’ writing but I wanted to try to do this in my own words. Glad you liked it :)

  • Ross Thompson

    “Near” by American standards, maybe ;)

    There’s an old (?) saying that a hundred miles is a long way in Europe, and a hundred years is a long time in America. I think that applies here.

  • amycas

     I don’t think he’s saying “I’m an atheist *because* you are all awesome.” I think it’s more along the lines of “I’m an atheist, therefore my life, and everybody else’s, is awesome and you only get one chance. So don’t waste the chance wishing for more.”

  • Quintin

    I definitely had the feeling that it was a quick rewording of Dawkins, and I definitely don’t mind. All I request of you is stay awesome, with or without awesome quotes from equally awesome people, or perhaps with awesome quotes from your awesome self. By the way, have I told you you’re awesome?

  • Marella

     I said this at my father’s funeral. I had the devil’s own time finding things appropriate for  a funeral to say and in the end Richard’s words were what I went with.

  • viaten

    It might have helped if he had something visual indicating he’s an atheist.  A few things he said taken in isolation don’t make it clear he’s an atheist and people could assume he’s a religious preacher as they walk by.   I wouldn’t mind seeing more of this kind of thing if it could be done where people would not mind it so much and the speaker could intelligently engage believers in discussion.

  • viaten

    He could take some pointers from Ray Comfort and his “On the Box” people.  I’ve watched a few of their videos.  They have all kinds of techniques and tricks for attracting, keeping and engaging a crowd, and getting them to take literature.   I think it’s about the only thing they’re good at.

  • Annie

    I always stop and listen for a bit when people are shouting on a street corner.  They are either very passionate about what they have to say, or crazy… and most of the time, both.  I enjoyed Simon’s take on street preaching.  He was courteous and unobtrusive, which is hard to accomplish when you are yelling on a city street.  Well done! 

  • chicago dyke, Blonde

    i know this will piss people off around here but /dons flamesuit:

    The rarest and most valuable thing this universe has to offer any of its atoms is one lifetime of consciousness…we are jackpot winners in a cosmic lottery

    perhaps. it certainly is true from the perspective of rational human beings enjoying a limited lifetime of human consciousness. but there are problematic, religion based reasons that cause people to assume that human consciousness is the only kind that has ever existed. secular and freethinking folk should always remember that and question and be critical about such assertions as fact. 

    i was just reading today about a science based scientist, you know, the real kind, who recently reported on the attempts of a captive whale to communicate with its human captors. in a british paper, even. this whale is dead, but apparently the analysis of its sound/speech patterns showed that for a time, it deliberately attempted to “speak” like a human. at one point, a minder/diver in the tank with it jumped out and asked, “who told me to get out (of the tank)?” turns out, it was the whale, lowering it’s vocal output such that it emulated human sounds. whales have an even larger brain/body ratio than humans and are evolved mammals, are we really so sure that they aren’t “conscious?” 

    yes, we should value the human brain and the experiences one has when one has one. but are we the only “conscious” beings? i find this irrational. it could be that such is true, but it also could be that human understanding of our own world, and the zillions of others in the universe is so limited, we have no idea what the concept even means, or how many other living beings share it. again, i stress the whole “humans are unique” concept comes from religion, and not science and certainly not evolutionary science and biology. science tells us that we should not assert even a theory, let alone “fact” without a whole lot of comparison, testing, reproduction of experiment… we’ve only just begun to do that with consciousness. for the vast majority of our history, our greatest minds were literally trying to prove and define the existence of “the soul.” science has a lot of catching up to do before it can undo that mythology as we (re)define our place in the hierarchy of thinking, conscious beings.

  • chicago dyke, Blonde

    i’m a pretty strict atheist, but i don’t begrudge the agnostics of the world. it’s a fairly fair bet, in some ways. i think it’s a silly one to make, like buying a lotto ticket is silly because only the math challenged believe that there’s a ‘real’ chance they could win. but still, math is math, and even a tiny chance is still a chance. science tells me to be bold in admitting “i could be wrong, and if someone proves in a definitive way that my claims and theories are wrong, i must accept that.” the fundies always beat us over the head with this, when they use it to convince the science-challenged that 1% is somehow as significant as 99%, in terms of surety. but i really pride myself on being honest, and so i don’t totally begrudge the agnostic, for all i think the same worms that will eat me will eat them and laugh at us both. there’s an intellectual honesty to agnosticism as well, and i respect it, far more than i do the religious/mythological ones. 

  • brianmacker

    I thought he meant Brighton which is in Boston till I heard the guys accent, and checked his location. It evangelizing didn’t look very successful.

  • Scramble

    Thank you. The whole “humans are so special and unique” narrative has bugged me my entire life, even when I held spiritual beliefs. It always sounded like a line we were using to convince ourselves of our own worth. But I remain unconvinced that we are unique in having “higher” sentience, consciousness, intelligence (on this planet alone, never mind the countless other planets in the universe). Perhaps we are the only creatures that we know with total certainty to have such consciousness-I will grant the “special and unique-ers” that much, but I nonetheless question why it’s so important to us to see ourselves that way, true or not. Do we have to be special and unique to have worth? I agree with you, Chicago Dyke, that it is a vestige of religious thinking, of that religion-based toxic love-hate relationship we have with ourselves as a species. 

  • amycas

     I consider myself an agnostic atheist (when seen as intersecting axis and not on one line), but I don’t really get what that had to do with my comment. :-/

  • Thumper1990

    “Brighton city centre (near London)”

    Brighton is 45 miles south of London. That’s not “near”. Well, not by our standards anyway :)

  • Thin-ice

    But go west to Worthing, or east to Eastbourne, and you’re back in seriously evangelical territory again.

  • David James

    There was an audience, it was just small! And to be fair, they knew what he was about to do. I was there, Simon did a great job!