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Christians and Athiests Can Get Along!! (Article)

Old 05-13-2007, 03:17 PM
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Christians and Athiests Can Get Along!! (Article)

Christians and atheists start a calmer dialogue By Jane Lampman, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Thu May 10, 4:00 AM ET



Wednesday night on ABC-TV, two televangelists took on nonbelievers from the Rational Response Squad in a bid to prove the existence of God (see "Nightline Face Off" on ABCNews.com).

The TV polemics come in the wake of a rash of bestselling books by atheists challenging religion. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, among others, go beyond questioning God to charge that religion is a plague that needs to be eliminated. Their vehemence, some suggest, is in response to Chris*tian attacks on evolution and stem-cell research.

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

Amid the rising heat of this latest culture clash, though, a few people on both sides are finding calmer ways to engage, seeking to build bridges and even learn from one another. 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.

So both are willing to sit down together in different venues, discuss their divergent perspectives, and, in some cases, jointly visit church services across the United States. As a result, they are sparking a growing Christian-atheist dialogue on the Web.

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.

Jim Henderson, a former Evangelical pastor from Seattle who moderated the atheism discussion, has been getting an earful for some time. Frustrated at his inability to draw more people to his church, Mr. Henderson set out to learn how "the unchurched" respond to various kinds of worship services what it is they find appealing and what leaves them cold. He began to pay nonbelievers $25 to go to a church and tell him what they thought.

"I also became intrigued by why evangelism bothered everybody, including me," he says in an interview. "I decided to devote my life to reimagining evangelism ... how to do it and be 'normal.' "

Soon, he got wind of an auction on eBay in which a student at the University of Illinois in Chicago proposed "selling my soul" to the highest bidder. Young atheist Hemant Mehta had been raised in Jainism, but left the faith in his teens. Mr. Mehta was curious about Christianity and whether it could provide any evidence for the existence of God. Wondering if he might be missing something, he offered to attend church with the winning bidder.

High bidder takes atheist to churchWith the top bid of $504, Henderson asked Mehta to visit 15 churches, fill out a survey on each one, and share his perspectives on Henderson's website (off-the-map.org).

The experience has changed the lives of both men. Mehta, now an honors graduate in mathematics and biology, has not converted, but the two have become friends. Mehta has started his own blog (friendlyatheist.com) and travels to speak to churches and humanist organizations. He has written a book "I Sold My Soul on eBay" that explains why he is an atheist and gives churches advice on what it would take to reach nonbelievers.

Henderson has gone on to pair with another atheist, Matt Casper, for further church visits across the US, and they've written "Jim and Casper Go to Church." Both books offer insightful, revealing, sometimes humorous critiques of what a variety of Christian services, in churches of different sizes and denominations, look like to the uninitiated.

Henderson also conducts interviews with men and women who are non*believers 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."

Henderson's experiences have led him, with his "Off The Map" venture, into "something larger than evangelism," what he calls "otherliness." Otherliness "the spirituality of serving others" involves "drawing people into the idea of paying real attention to each other, of listening." He wants to teach individuals and groups of all kinds how to do a much better job of listening to those they interact with.

For his part, Mehta is still open to "any compelling evidence of the existence of God." He describes positive elements in some churches, such as top-notch speakers and impressive community outreach. "The more work churches do for everyone, the more respect they'll get from outsiders," he writes.

Yet churchgoers are missing the mark, he says, when they think non*religious people lack a basis for ethical values, look down on non-Christians, or fail to speak out against religious leaders who make outrageous public statements.

What would convince him? A miracle.During church services, they often fail to explain traditions or rituals, which leaves visitors confused. "Why is the structure of the service always the same?" Mehta wonders.

Zeroing in on "what it would take to convert me," he says a church would need to appeal to his sense of reason, challenge him to think more deeply, and allow for asking questions. "I wasn't confronted with a new line of thinking that challenged my commitment to scientific empiricism," he writes. Also, he'd want a church where "men and women lead on an equal basis."

Most important, he states, what would convince him would be "a miracle an undeniable miracle that has no natural explanation."

While on their tour of the most prominent megachurches and stylistically innovative churches, Mr. Casper asked Henderson, "Is this what Jesus told you guys to do?"

The 30-something father of two is generally unimpressed with the multi*media "killer" church services they attend. Articulate in explaining his reactions in detail, he, like Mehta, also finds in the predictable format of services that "certainty is boring, certainty is closed off."

When a healing is mentioned in one Pentecostal service, though, he reacts strongly. If that man can heal, he says, "why is he ... hanging out in this building?... Get out there, then! There are people who need your help."

Saying that he loves the teachings of Jesus, along with those of other important teachers, Casper concludes: "The question that just came up for me again and again ... is, What does the way Christianity is practiced today have to do with the ... words and deeds" of Jesus?

For Henderson, Wyman, and Mehta, the value of talking and listening to those with differing worldviews has become crystal clear.

Pastor Wyman has been reaching out to non-Christians in Salem, and particularly to the large neopagan community here (attracted, no doubt, by Salem's identification with witchcraft in Colonial times). His stereotypes about witches were often wrong, he says. Having formed respectful relationships, he's now being asked to come to pagan events to speak about Christian perspectives.

"Christians for quite some time have been creating events and trying to draw people into our little box, and we call that 'outreach,' " he says. "This is an exciting opportunity people are opening, listening, and seeking out spiritual things."
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Old 05-13-2007, 09:23 PM
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Understanding does not equal agreement, which I think is a block for many people. This might not be too clear, but I have found that a number of people are not willing to understand, lest they feel compelled to agree. Agreement is not necessary, though. I understand where a number of my Christian friends are coming from, what their intentions are (often the same as my own), but disagree with the why and some of the how. Still, understanding is better than not. It leads to less hate, less fear, hopefully less violence.

I'd rather, as most people, that everyone share my views. I understand it's not possible, but also that a lot of people who have vastly differing views than mine mean absolutely well and, more importantly, do a lot of good in the world.

Too much is time is spent trying to make it a black and white issue, but it is not so.

Sorry for the ramble, I'm a bit sun-dumb.
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Old 05-15-2007, 09:18 AM
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Very interesting article, thanks for posting it.

I was raised in a strict, almost extremist christian home. It took me many years to undo the fire and brimstone, do it 'right' or go to hell malarky. I beleive in a HP, and I ain't it! LOL........I view the Bible as historical doucument. I have morals and a kind heart and lovehelping people. I do not hate christians, and atheists do not intimidate me or threaten me. I think it is awesome that these two groups are striking a helpful dialogue and tolerance between them. I don't think anyone has a monoply or ownership of G-d. Loving one another............THAT can be done by anyone!
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Old 05-15-2007, 05:02 PM
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Anybody can get along; the question is will they?

Thanks Tyler.
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Old 05-16-2007, 06:14 AM
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Old 05-16-2007, 03:14 PM
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Interesting article. Despite the fact I'm an atheist I have relatively no problems with even my most devout friends (one of my best friends is a priest - we've known each other practically our entire lives). I have gotten into debates with a few fundamentalists in the past but those debates were really futile and a big time waster in the end. The majority of people in my life are believers. I'm the only atheist in my very catholic family, they always do those intercessory prayers for me.
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Old 05-19-2007, 10:31 AM
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The problem, seems to me, with both Christianity and Islam is that conversion is a part of their fundamental belief system - at least for some of the manifestations of those two religions. So the question - can we get along? has one simple answer - not until you stop trying to convert people.
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Old 05-19-2007, 06:45 PM
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The same might be said of athiesm...

Shalom!
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Old 05-20-2007, 01:05 AM
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Yup - and the types of atheists who want to convert people to their point of view --------

should realise how similar they are to the people they purport to oppose.
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Old 05-20-2007, 09:18 PM
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It is unfortunate that often times the most militant of atheists are the ones who stand out the most, just like with the theists. Those who shout God the loudest are often the ones who are the most memorable - and not in a good way.

The idea of an all loving forgiving God, the idea of angels, and the idea of a pleasant eternal life are all nice concepts. I just don't believe in them. I've never once had a problem with God. I have however had some minor run ins with his fan club.
That being said I've never once felt the need to join any atheist organization. The idea of joining an organization based on something I don't believe in just seems silly to me however I can understand for some to share ideas and thoughts with others who lack a belief, may be an important thing. For me it's not.

I don't care what other people believe in. Personal belief systems are what people make of them. I do however feel if ones personal belief causes them to harm another person in any way, either physically or emotionally then that belief should either be abandoned or seriously reevaluated. Nobody has a right to harm another human being over a differing religious belief or lack thereof.

I can see both sides. As an atheist, I just want to be left alone to live my life in peace without people trying to push their personal beliefs onto me. However as a family member and friend of many religionists I can understand that according to many of their doctrinal creeds they are almost required to recruit. I was once madly in love with a Christian boy. Things would have been perfect except for the fact that he was constantly riding me to see the Light. His light, his way, his faith. I attended church with him to support what he held sacred but in the end that was not enough. Anytime he asked me to join his religion I responded "What you're asking me to do is be thoroughly dishonest with myself and I just can not do that".

Nobody should ever allow themself to feel less because of others and nobody should ever allow others to feel less because of them.
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Old 05-21-2007, 08:30 AM
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I've always been an atheist, and it was never an issue until I started trying to find help for alcohol and drug dependence...

If I'm militant now, that's mostly why.

But I guess I'm not as militant as the many who are no longer on this forum...
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Old 06-14-2007, 12:26 PM
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I guess it comes down to mutual respect.
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