door to door atheist evangelists

door to door atheist evangelists July 31, 2013
atheist evangelists cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward
Clicking on this image will take you to my online gallery of Sophia, paintings and cartoon art!

I see this in our future.

My post yesterday, “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church Really”, was in response to Rachel Held Evans’ article, “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church”. Later in the day my good friend, Hemant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist, wrote his own response, “Why Are Millennials Leaving Church? Try Atheism!”. You’ve got to read it.

I found it fascinating because it is evangelism pure and simple. A friend of mine called it proselytizing.

When I was a teenage Baptist and Pentecostal, we were made to do door-to-door evangelism. I hated it. Haaaaaaated it! Basically, what we were offering people was:

  1. An answer to their questions of meaning (the gospel);
  2. A community (the church).

This open appeal to people to become atheists has the same feel. As atheism gains ground and adherence, atheism can now offer the same thing: answers and a community.

Did you know that there are now sunday assemblies for atheists? And it’s growing.

One of the things I suspect is going on with millennials leaving the church is that many people are suspicious of particular parties and official groups. They are hesitant to pledge their allegiance to any one vender of meaning. I know I won’t. So my question is, why quit one group just to join another? It’s back to my perpetual plea, why labels?

Even though I suggest atheism’s strength would be found in its resistance to organize, I still appreciate Hemant’s article. He isn’t necessarily offering an organization, but he is offering an intellectual and ethical alternative that many might want and even need. Many members of The Lasting Supper are atheists and agnostic. In fact, just yesterday, I interviewed ex-pastor now atheist author of “Hope After Faith”, Jerry DeWitt for our podcast. He’s a member of The Lasting Supper as well. I invite you to come join us. (See what I just did there? Ya, my own kind of evangelism I guess!)

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  • Heather
  • Seamus King

    That…was…awesome! “I’m sorry! Were you enjoying your own private time and it was intrusive for someone to come bashing on your door pushing their beliefs!” Classic.

  • Seamus King

    Atheism and agnosticism are not the same, or similar. As an agnostic with no atheist leanings, I expect better from you, David. I have agnostic friends across the whole spectrum (including some with atheist leanings). We’re a diverse group who often aren’t taken seriously or respected by either side.

  • RD

    Totally agreed: “why quit one group just to join another?”

    But, you hit on what I think a lot of us unchurched/dechurched/exchurch people want to say:

  • quickshot

    You are still a group that seeks validation and probably some form of community, just like the atheists, progressive Christians, etc.

  • quickshot

    Great article. However, I think that atheists are tying one hand behind their back when they shun the label of “organized religion”. If they were to embrace the label, get organized, have more meetings, etc. then they would be a much larger force to be reckoned with.

  • bexgee

    The Sunday Asseblies are more akin to the Lasting Supper than an organized movement.

    Challenge is also temptation to commercialize by those in charge – see how Emergentt Chirch became author/speaker platform.

  • I think it is important for any shunned and disparaged minority group to “evangelize” just enough to raise their numbers or political clout above some threshold so that they will no longer be shunned and disparaged. Just think of the political success (relative to previous times) of African Americans, women, Jews, and Gay and Lesbian people. Once this minimal threshold is crossed, many of the atheist “evangelicals” will go back to doing other things.

  • Gary

    I would consider myself to an agnostic theist if I were feeling the need to label myself. I did not take david’s piece to be a slight against agnostics in any way. Is there something in it that I may have missed on my first reading?

  • Van

    In fact, atheism is NOT “gaining ground and adherence.” They would like us to believe that, but can produce no ‘unbiased’ empirical data to prove it. On a side note: I used to work with a professing atheist who constantly mocked my Christian faith. But one day I happened to hear him tell another worker that he insisted his children attend Sunday School every week at the neighborhood church. Go figure!

  • Pubilius

    That’s my issue with atheists having Sunday meetups and proselytizing– if the church really is the oppressive organization you say, why are you recreating it? (With all the politics, drama, and factionalism, just substituting one oppressive system with another…)

  • Brigitte

    Rex Murphy, a respected Canadian commentator, wrote an article in the National Post last week that highlighted the contradictions involved in atheists organizing themselves in a religious kind of mindset.

  • klhayes

    We help people validate themselves.

  • klhayes

    A lot of atheists read the Bible and even go to church.

  • qo

    Since when are Sunday meet ups and proselytizing the equivalent of oppression?

  • Ton_Chrysoprase

    Seriously, you don’t see a difference between actively engaging with somebody by knocking on their door and posting something on one’s own blog? That’s a bit like an atheist going into a church and complaining about being preached at.

    I mean, you couldn’t even complain if atheists invaded your blog comments en masse as they are clearly a public forum designed for people to engage in discussions.

  • Pubilius

    hmm… a good point. I could say that fringe atheists would like to legislate their own morality and pass law/ordinances that restricts worship and religious expression, but at this point, that’s an admittedly weak argument. You’re right though, vicious proselytizing and shaming religious people (Internet trollism), while I believe rude and hurtful, doesn’t equal true oppression. Nevertheless, atheist gatherings will lead to division just as when any group of people gather and is not an improvement on the church– if you’re going to recreate church, do it better.

  • rg57

    I think atheists should be very careful about creating an alternative (to) church. It needs to be open to everyone, especially the “bad atheists” of the day, and needs to present ideas that are likely to be of interest to atheists, but not promote those ideas. In all cases, the presenter must either be knowledgeable (with credentials) or have ready access to someone who is, so that answerable questions can be answered in a way that is trustworthy.

    I think the community aspect is great. There needs to be a place where weddings and funerals, hospice and aiding the homeless can happen, without the usual vultures circling, and without simply being a dull municipal office.

  • I still don’t see it as proselytizing because the “atheist church” doesn’t care one way or the other if you’re an atheist. It’s about celebrating life, not creating atheists.

    More importantly, as the Sunday Assembly co-founder has said, singing, listening to inspirational talks, gathering in community, and celebrating life are not things unique to Christianity. It only makes sense that some atheists might want to partake in that without the religious element.

  • Brigitte

    Celebrate life: neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. There is none other who loves you this much and who celebrates your life. In this way true celebration is possible. We need this kind of depth to really appreciate life and each other.

  • hisgoodteenr

    Nonsensical response. See if this makes sense to you:

    Celebrate life: neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate usfrom the love of Zeus that is in demigod Hercules our Lord. Ther is none other who loves you this much and who celebrates your life. In this way celebration is posible. We need this kind of depth to really appreciate life and each other.

  • Brigitte

    The fact that people all over the world in great centers and in remotest regions have it seen necessary and desirable to worship, does not in the least contradict the truth claims of Christianity.

  • Brigitte

    You could celebrate the fact that people have such a devotional spirit. As Paul said to the Athenians: I see that you are very religious people. BUT you see, God does not need anything because he made everything. You cannot bribe him. — Good speech?

  • Lee

    I always find it funny when women are mentioned as a minority group, but otherwise I agree.

  • Sven2547

    I’ve compared the atheist Sunday assemblies to being like the nicotine gum people use to quit smoking. It fills a craving to ease the transition to a better lifestyle, which is fine. That said, I believe people shouldn’t lose sight of the goal: to live free of the cravings.

    Just my opinion, though. I know it’s an unpopular one.

  • I totally agree with your comment Hemant. I meant my post and cartoon as a compliment, not a challenge, to your original post. As the cartoon depicts, the atheists are friendly and mean well, and the parents are afraid because they don’t know how to deal with the prospect of atheism.

    I think atheists have every right to enjoy the privilege of gathering and organizing. Right now I see the strength of atheism being that it can be embraced by all groups and that you don’t have to sign a dotted line to belong. So, for example, when I am an atheist, I am one without having to subscribe to anything nor wholeheartedly reject Christianity. If pressed, I would say I’m always a Christian who wouldn’t claim belief or faith as a mode of thought I embrace, who has strong atheist leanings.

    Realizing most people won’t understand this, I’ll leave it at that.

  • Lee

    I cannot believe you posted this as an example of a good criticism of new atheism.

  • Brigitte


  • hisgoodteenr

    roses are red…
    violets are blue…
    when I flush the toilet,
    I think about you.

    your replies come across as the above, looks poetic but non sensical.

  • Brigitte

    Great answer. Something one can really sink one’s teeth into.

  • hisgoodteenr

    thanks! Glad I’m able to drive the point. I wish there are believers that can both be conversational and sensical at the same time.

  • Christine

    You obviously know different atheists than I do. Those I know care very much about converting me and others to atheism.

  • Brigitte

    hisgoodteenr, do you have some trouble with the English language or are you a computer with standardized answers? If not, perhaps you would like to try and answer a question in a sensible fashion to inject some intelligence, even though mine is apparently deficicient: why do you think it is that people all over the world have felt the need to worship, and even current secularists seem to fall to idol worship of the dumbest kind, movie, rock and sports stars; they are like todays demi-gods of the “cultural” Olympus (since you brought up Zeus). And why will even Hemant Mehta “celebrate life”, even though we have no idea what “life” is? Or perhaps, someone will define “life” for me. Are we talking straight materialist biology, or are we talking sex and pleasure, or art and beauty, frienship and sacrifice, or what? And how did we get any of this from inorganic materials?

    Even respected non-theist Thomas Nagel says that Richard Dawkins and his high-pitched rhethoric miss the boat completely. We have no idea how we got life, how we got mind, reason and meaning… In fact, in my mind, as in Dawkins’, atheism should propound a complete meaninglessness. As he says the universe has no purpose. So what is there to celebrate about “life”? Is it not a spiritual activity at heart to celebrate “life”? Or are we really talking about agnosticism?

  • hisgoodteenr

    too verbose but still non sensical. wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve heard that before. Do you really understand what you’re saying? I’d say no but that’s just a guess.

  • Lee

    this is one person’s comment on the article: “axelbeingcivil

    • 4 days ago−

    It’s pretty disquieting that a man who ran for political office and appears on the news regularly can’t muster enough empathy to realize that atheists, like any religious person, has feelings; feelings like soul-searching, the quest for meaning, fear of death and the unknown, and so on. It’s also upsetting that he can’t do basic research and figure out that chaplains, as opposed to army therapists, can have private conversations about concerns, battlefield fatigue, and so forth, without reporting it up the chain of command but therapists cannot.

    Atheist soldiers – or even simply non-religious ones – must either risk their careers talking to a therapist or go and seek counseling from someone who does not share their religious leanings. We’d never ask a Muslim to go to a priest just like we’d never ask a Christian to seek out an imam, yet the moment atheists ask that someone be made available so that they need not suffer in silence, they are merely bitter people, angry at the religious for what they have.

    Please, Rex Murphy, do your research next time and show a little empathy. Works like this only embitter.”

    There are other, less antagonistic (and thus less hypocritical) criticisms of new atheism.

  • Shary Hauber

    We should be free to think and respond where we are right now. Don’t like to be forced into loyalty to a label. Not setting limits on myself is freeing and sometimes scary. But it is the only place I can be and still be honest with myself. I want to also allow others the same privilege. My way will not even always be the right way tomorrow.

  • Brigitte

    You are saying a therapist would be fine, except in the military he does not have a duty to maintain confidentiality and that is the main problem? One would expect any kind of therapist to have a responsibility to maintain confidentiality. ???

    A chaplain is not the same as a therapist, though. A chaplain will, or I’d expect to, (I’ve never been in the military or had a chaplain myself, but I did look at a hymnal/handbood for a military chaplaint today at a music and worship conference) –offer to pray with you, or suggest Psalm readings, etc. or give the sacrament.

    How would you expect the atheist chaplain to provide comfort and strength other than a therapist would (if it could be confidential.)

  • Seamus King

    So, in my defense, I hadn’t had my coffee and had been awake for less than 20 minutes when I read this and made this comment. I owe David a sincere apology for being overly harsh about something that is my deal. Most atheists I know think I’m an idiot or disingenuous because I won’t own atheism, and most religious folk I know consider me an atheist. My bad completely, David. I appreciate and respect your work tremendously.

  • Personally, I have great respect for agnostics, atheists, progressive Christians, and everything in between. IMO the important thing is that the beliefs do no psychological or social harm.

  • No problem Seamus. The way you talk about yourself is the way I usually talk about me.