Recently I became aware of a thing called ‘Interview an Atheist at church’ (http://interviewatheists.wordpress.com/about/). I hesitate to call it a campaign because I don’t see the kind of support and momentum that I would expect from a campaign. It is an interesting idea though, one that I think warrants support and wider publicity.
From I can tell it was originally hoped that it should be a specific day in the year. Though comments seem to imply that when it’s happened it’s been on whatever day is convenient for the parties involved.
This is something I would support. I’ve been in enough churches over the years to know that very few Christians actually understand what drives and motivates atheists. Hearing one speak in Church under these conditions would help with that and may even prompt further questions which would mean having a dialog with an atheist. Something precious few Christians have done in any meaningful way.
I don’t think a specific day is necessarily the best way to go about this, due to personal commitments or Church calendars. Though it is, in all probability, the best way to get it publicised wider. Personally, I would accept any invitation to take part in something like this.
Would I have been so supportive in my Christian years? That is highly unlikely. The objection that I see is that the front of the church is for teaching and for the work of the church. This sort of activity would bend the church to the will of atheists and that would be seen as a bad thing. Also, increased dialog with atheists means that wavering Christians are more likely to take on board what they say and could turn away from faith. An outcome that my old Christian self would have seen as unacceptable this reason on its own would be enough to kill the idea.
Now I’m on the other side of the fence, I think it is important for the Christians who see atheists as morally deficient, illogical brutes, to actually have a positive engagement because it is when those Christians get vocal that the most damage is done. If something like this can stop that sort of lie, then that’s a result and that would be my motivation for supporting this.
But what about conversion?
This I think is the big underlying issue. The Christians would likely think that the atheist wants to convert someone. This comes from the basic idea that all Christians constantly receive in sermons and bible studies; basically all conversations with the unsaved should be seen as a stepping stone and opportunity for that person to get a glimpse of God and eventually lead to their conversion and salvation. With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that the Christian will think that the visiting atheist is thinking the same thing. The honest atheist will admit that to see someone shed their faith would be an exciting bonus. It’s this clash, or potential clash, of belief that seems to be the biggest challenge here. An undercurrent of mistrust is highly possible.
For something like this to work, any mistrust should be addressed first and the focus should be on conversation and acceptance. That would require more than just a one off event where a church pastor gets an interesting atheist for a brief chin wag. To properly dispel myths and establish greater respect and dialog requires more commitment than that.
In the back of my mind I still can’t shake the feeling that most Christians would see this as an opportunity to convert another sinner and the atheist would become a project. Maybe it’s because I know how Christians think and I’m jaded by that and its stopping me from seeing the wider opportunity.
Maybe it’s me who needs to have some myths exploded! 🙂