I have an idea to educate our faithful counterparts. Too often, religious folks post replies to blogs, youtube, etc, that are inflammatory fluff that do nothing to inform the reader or bolster their own argument. They quote scripture with the assumption that everybody believes it to be the word of God. They say things that make themselves feel good, but fail to shed any real light on the issue.
I see a need.
Atheists (of the confrontational and courageous variety of course!) should make attempts to teach our good faith-heads how to argue with atheists. I think this could be a good vehicle to plant seeds of rationality and incredulity among those who are most isolated. Here is how my idea works:
You (atheist's name here) contact a local church leader and say you're interested in teaching a lecture at his/her church about exactly what atheism is and how to argue against it. Tell the pastor that you are tired of hearing arguments which are nothing more than meaningless dribble (in nicer words though) from Christians leveled toward atheists. Tell him you know Christians are smarter than this (an assumption) and they should have better articulated, more concise arguments. You should back up your claim with quotes from Christians found on Richard Dawkin's site and others. Tell the good pastor that you don't feel this type of vitriol represents the love of Christ and his flock should be better at "loving thy neighbor". Tell the pastor you will not charge a fee for this service. Tell him there will be no "funny business" or de-conversion attempts.
How you can word your proposal so that you are not met with a tongue lashing is beyond my imagination, but it is doable. Be very kind and listen to his ideas if he bites.
Once a date and time is settled upon, hire a small security team to protect you. You are going to be in the lion's den and you need security. Make sure not to enlist local police as they can be quite biased and not of much help if things get sticky. Have cameras ready incase a member of the church later misrepresents or skews any part of the lecture, you will have video footage. A pastor gets an uncut copy afterwards, and an uncut copy goes directly to youtube.
Have "Better Know an Atheist" on the marquee and in local papers. Try to draw a large number of people to the event.
There would be a standard fully featured power point lecture, followed by a question and answer session where the speaker and audience may ask each other questions. It should be known that no shouting would be permitted, as all participants are adults. Unless of course children are present, in which case let them serve as examples of civility to the adults.
If I were doing the lecture, I would start off by sincerely stating my gratitude to the pastor and the congregation for being so open minded as to let an atheist in their midst. I would lay down the ground rules- no shouting, conversions in either direction, etc, and allow the pastor to open with a prayer.
Then I would try to make the audience as comfortable with me as possible. I would describe my twenty six plus years as a struggling born again Christian and outline the beliefs I held during that time. I would quote scriptures that helped me. I would speak their language, because for so many years it was my language.
Now to the meat.
I would read several scriptures that command us to love one another and our enemies. I would follow with quotes by Christians taken from Dawkin's "The Ugly" page, but with references to atheists or atheism replaced with references to a football team (preferably the beloved local team) and references to God or Christianity to those of the next town's football team and head coach. (note: It will take a smarter man than I to do this. I just tried it. The hatred and language doesn't translate well.) "This is what real people have said. Do you think these people are following God's commandments to love one another? How do these hate filled attacks on your home team make you feel? What would you say to this person in response? Could you control your own anger?"
"Now I have a surprise for you." Then I would replace the "football team comment" slide with the original atheist quote. "This is how folks like you talk to folks like me on a daily basis..." You get the idea.
The next part is still a little grey in my mind, but I would try to guide the audience members with some pointers on how to talk to atheists without resorting to hate filled language, and how this will in affect make them better arguers and better respected among peoples of all stripes. I would encourage them to follow God's teachings regarding being kind to one another, even if you disagree.
At some point, I would educate the audience of why I became an atheist. I would quote a lot of blood filled and rape/incest passages from one of their Bibles. I would tell them I don't see much love in the book, and could find better moral guidance in Moby Dick. I wouldn't force them to defend these passages on the spot, But I would simply make them aware of their existence.
"You can better argue your faith if you know what scriptures an atheist is going to quote." While I'm at it, I would cite countless contradictions found everywhere in one of their Bibles. Again, better to know what an atheist might say. You get my direction?
I would have to clarify that an atheist would not quote scripture because he/she believes God and his word are factual, and bloody, and evil. Rather I would educate the audience that the atheist is simply trying to say "I know you think you're holy and righteous and kind and charitable for believing every word of this book, but have you read every word of this book?" A militant atheist might not be so kind in their query.
Quoting scripture because you are trying to lay down a solid case for why you hate God is more akin to anti-theism. Atheists don't hate God any more than they hate trolls or dragons.
Any way, I'm off track here.
During the question and answer segment, I would allow participants to ask questions regarding how to talk to atheists, and in general, what atheists are about. How to keep participants from shouting is beyond me. Maybe the pastor can help in this regard. For each question asked by the audience, I would in return ask a question of the audience regarding something they believe. I would never resort to Dawkin's "you don't actually believe that do you?" as this is a device that is more likely to enrage the person being questioned rather than yield a thoughtful response. I would choose my questions carefully so that the audience might learn more about themselves, their faith, and their biases from their answers than I would.
I would close by asking the pastor to pray over the congregation (as he would no doubt do anyway). Then I would linger to talk directly to folks who would be interested in further discussion.
AT NO POINT would I ever raise my voice or insult an audience member or the audience as a whole. If offense is taken, it is only because someone had the intention of taking offense, not because I had the intention of offending. I would remain clear and calm throughout the entire session, and hope that the congregation would return the favor.
Note: I would leave science out of the discussion as much as possible. I would assume they know less about science than their own scripture. Unless you want to educate them on what exactly science is and does, in which case, go for it. But trying to win an argument with a Christian using science and evidence is like a Christian trying to win an argument with an atheist by quoting John 3:16. It only serves to make the quoter feel better about their own team.
Anyway, thats my idea. It's a little nebulous at the moment, but I will update this post as more ideas and clarification come to me. I hope someone (smarter than me) someday gives this a shot.
Tell me what you think. Good idea? Bad idea?