This is a couple weeks old but I still thought I should share it. My friend Adam Hann, a veteran and atheist like myself, and I received an invitation to speak at a CRU (formerly Campus Crusades for Christ) Conference. At first I was extremely hesitant about how this would turn out. I am and shall remain very critical of the CRUmilitary mission: using “god’s military” and taxpayer dollars to spread the gospel of Jesus. Not only is this unethical it is also illegal and a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
So with my outspoken demeanor towards the mission of some of the CRU ministry I went in assuming the worst and found myself pleasantly surprised. Perhaps it was the pastor I was engaging with, the particular crowd of university students (Ivy League), or the fact that it was two “lions walking into a den of lambs” but the reception was quite amazing.
Adam and I engaged on stage with Doug Pollock, author of “Godspace”, as he attempted to engage us civilly onstage. Afterwards we interacted online via social media with many people asking questions. The most annoying part was the attempts to disprove evolution through an argument – I am not a scientist but I find a conspiracy between hundreds of thousands of professionals of varying ethnic, religious, and ideological backgrounds colluding to push a false theory highly improbable – but I had to point out that evolution was a fact in many of these conversations. There were quite a few young-earthers there….
Nonetheless, here is video footage of the event.
Question and Answer
Afterwards, with no video unfortunately, there was a 2 hour block of question and answer session. It was very interesting and we ended up pointing out the very real threat coming from the fundamentalist sect of the Christian community. Many of these students were surprised and appalled that such a movement existed. I heard over and over again many unnecessary apologies. My only response to an apology is that I would prefer action. I think the biggest takeaway from this for the students was when I challenged them that if only 9% of Christians are these crazy dominionist fundamentalists then why aren’t the other 91% cleaning house? Why was I doing their job for them as an atheist? I don’t know how many took it to heart but maybe there’s a movement starting to stop this fundamentalist threat. I don’t know. It could be just business as usual. Time will tell.
One answer from Adam that made me shrug was when he stated that true Christians should evangelize otherwise they really don’t care. I suppose that’s true and actually is the case. I later (unfortunately not on video) stated there is a difference between evangelization and unwanted proselytization – ESPECIALLY if you hold a position of authority over another individual.
No means no.
When I first told some of my friends and family about this offer to speak they told me to disengage immediately and that they were extremely worried for my safety. I understand – with the mission of CRUmilitary as it is I fear that organization as well. One family member even told me if it wasn’t New York he would advise me to go packing heat.
It turned out quite well. Some of the questions I received from these students were challenging, others were some of the same arguments of apologetics that I find so overplayed year after year — after all I used to argue them from that standpoint not so long ago.
Here are some of the questions with my responses:
What about Christianity is unappealing to people of other beliefs?
I cannot speak for people of other beliefs, personally. My thoughts would be that Christianity has an imperialist history that is not easily forgotten around poorer parts of the world.
When people say they desire proof of God, what would that proof look like?
I don’t think such a proof exists. Once the supernatural is shown to be natural it no longer has any spiritual value. It is a catch-22.
What do you say to people who tell you they’ve experienced God in an individual way?
I understand. I grew up with those experiences. But I believe it is merely neural synapses that are reacting to internal and external stimuli.
How do you explain the experience of beauty?
I’m not sure that is a religious question.
If you believe there is no god, what would you say is the purpose of life?
Purpose is what you make out of life. I think that is a foolish question. What is the purpose of life for one who grows up in abject poverty, is subjected to atrocity, and dies in pain at a young age without having ever experienced joy. Does god intend that? Is there a purpose for that?
What about the unconstitutional religion/christian involvement in the military makes it harder to be in the military?
The hardest part currently is that the dominionist christians have now attempted to destroy the message for equality and have trumped up false allegations of their own “persecution”, mirroring websites that are similar in name, pushing forward press releases, and working with lying congressman to legalize religious bullying. They have failed thus far but that doesn’t mean it won’t succeed in the future. All it takes is one success and the military will fall back decades in progressing towards equality.
I wonder how evidence for the supernatural can be recognized if learning is based solely on scientific inquiry? I wonder what other forms of inquiry might reveal evidence for or against the supernatural?
It is a catch-22. There can be no evidence for the supernatural based on scientific inquiry. Once it is shown through the scientific method it is downgraded from supernatural to natural. That is precisely why religion should be left out of science classrooms. They are not symbiotic.
What is the motivation for atheists to convert people from Christianity, and is there the same motivation to convert those of religions other than Christianity
There is no motivation to deconvert anyone to atheism. That’s a false premise. The motivation of the current atheist movement was a reaction to 9/11. Prior to that atheists were quiet because they felt religion wasn’t really harming people anymore. Today atheists feel obligated to speak out against it because they fear another religious attack could be coordinated by someone with even more powerful weapons in the future…perhaps even nuclear. – Sarah Palin is a prime example. She is a dominionist and almost became Vice President of the United States with access to nuclear codes.
From what do find purpose in life?
Do you think it is important to think about afterlife?
No. I prefer to think about how I can better life here on earth. I would prefer to concentrate on making “heaven on earth” and let the afterlife sort itself out….because at the end none of us really have control of that.
Do you feel a need to explain pain or find a reason to comfort others?
I do not explain pain. I cannot. Life is rough. The majority of life-forms on the planet live very rough, suffering, and painful lives. We as humans are fortunate that we have created societies that minimize that.
I feel compelled to comfort people. I believe it is innate in human beings. There is some evo psych to go along with that although I am not an expert on the subject.
Do you believe in any absolute form of creation?
No. I’m open to suggestions.
Is there anything you miss about Christianity? A theory once true and is now untrue or a concept/thought that is irrelevant now… both mentioned community is lacking in atheism. Do you miss that at all? Maybe there is nothing or it isn’t listed, but is there anything you miss about Christianity?
I was very influential in my Christian community. I miss that to a degree. It might sound self-serving….but that’s the truth of it. I didn’t sugarcoat tough subjects and was respected for that, so people often came to me for advice. I enjoyed being a leader. The atheist community is much looser and lacks authority or a chain. It’s based more upon reasoning and freethinking so the communities are different.
One thing I don’t miss is the overarching sense of guilt ingrained in me through Christianity. I constantly felt guilty for having natural sexual impulses, for being jealous, and for a multitude of other sins I was guilty of. I no longer feel guilty for that and thus I do not mentally punish myself for that. I think the concept of sin is very harmful to the psyche of natural normal human impulses.
What would you consider the highest form or method of discovering truth? Would you consider it a system based primarily off your sensory and intellectual
I think the highest form would be the scientific method and peer review. After that I would say that philosophy would be a good second (sans sophism).
Wonder question: you come from believing backgrounds, do you think that losing your faith in God might have been part of Gods plan to do good things through you like coming here and speaking what was on your heart on the subject?
If I believed still then yes. LOL. This made me smirk. I have been told by friends who are believers that they think I am like the Apostle Paul – persecuting or going after Christianity now only to be a giant witness for it later…. I think it’s a load of BS but it keeps them smiling.
Wonder question: Do you think that maybe your personal beliefs and the beliefs of those around u ou were so different that it turned you off to God and if so, what could be done to understand that.
I don’t think so. I still held a strong belief for God even after leaving that environment. It was my studying of history and the construction of all historical texts that caused me to stop believing. Sometimes I still think dominionism is normal and don’t realize how extreme it is even with it presented before me. My friends making comments about how unconstitutional it is makes my brain realize just how brain-washed I still remain sometimes. I believe I would have lost my faith under any circumstances.
If you could do or be anyone as a career, even if it’s physically impossible, what would you do?
Fake answer: Sean Connery
Real answer: Sci-fi author
Hey, I was wondering what influenced you (aside from the person who “destroyed” your faith) to make the decision to disbelieve in Christianity? Was it just that conversation or did something else happen?
That conversation challenged me to learn more of my own faith. That in and of itself did not cause me to lose faith. It was merely the catalyst that caused me to research. The subsequent research led me away from faith.
Who do you think Jesus is/was? What do you think about the claims of His miracles in the Bible and other ancient texts?
I believe Jesus was one of the many jewish “saviors” of the time who was put to death by the Roman Empire. He just garnered a larger following after his death (with purported miracles and additional stories perhaps compiled from exploits of the other “saviors” of the time)
What do you believe about the value of people? Do you think that you actually behave about what you believe about each person’s value?
I believe all people have value. I believe I do my best to ensure that everyone I interact with is not devalued. I do pick and choose nowadays which is more than I can say before. There was a time in my life when the people closest to me were the ones I ignored the most and I helped strangers more than my own loved ones. Nowadays, I help my loved ones without question and have become more of a cynic towards those I am not personally invested in.
Why do you think that authenticity should be correlated with perfection?
I don’t believe authenticity should correlate with perfection. Authenticity should correlate action and intent. Words are cheap – that is what I always saw.
Hi, I’m wondering why authenticity was such a factor in your turning from faith or not coming into faith when authenticity is divorced from fact like you said? If an authentic Christian would not turn you towards theism, why did inauthenticity turn you off to theism?
Authenticity would not turn me towards Christianity. It would give me cause to respect the individual, though. I believe that inauthenticity (or hypocrisy) naturally turns all humans off….not much to be done to change that. No one respects a hypocrite.
I spoke the next weekend at another church, which were also blown away and upset by the fact that Christians are trying to take over the military and the US Government. I threw the same challenge towards them. If they don’t want a Christian version of Iran (and don’t think it can’t happen here – retired Generals are calling for a military coup!) then they need to stand up and silence these people in their own religion. If the 91% stand up to the 9% (That’s a statistic from Focus on the Family – calling the 91% “not real christians”) then I think we might have a chance to bring civility back to the public sphere. It won’t make their religious mumbo jumbo any more respectable – but at the very least tolerable.