An Interview with “the eBay atheist,” Hemant Mehta

27 10 2007

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Continuing to prepare for our upcoming panel discussion, “LOST: a candid discussion with those outside the church about those inside the church,” I recently had the distinct pleasure of getting to ask some of our questions of atheist Hemant Mehta. Mehta received national attention, including being featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, for his work as the “eBay Atheist.” His blog can be read at Friendlyatheist.com and his book “I Sold My Soul on eBay” (WaterBrook Press) is now in bookstores everywhere. He currently works as a high school Math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago.

 

 

First off, I’d just like to thank you for being willing to take the time to answer some questions for us. Something I’d like to know is when you say, “I’m an atheist,” what do you mean? What is the core understanding or assumption behind your beliefs/non-beliefs?

It means I do not believe in God or Gods or the supernatural. I believe the scientific method and empirical observations are the best methods we have to find the truth, whatever it may be. So far, that truth has not found any evidence that God or the supernatural exist.

Okay. So, there’s no God in your belief system. Where does humanity derive its morality, then? Do you believe mankind is able to be moral without a belief in God? Why or why not?

We derive morality from our society and our evolutionary upbringing. We cannot survive as a species without helping each other out.

Most people come to the understanding on their own (without God) that we should all do what makes us happy as long as we don’t stop anyone else from doing the same.

I think Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg said it best: “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

Those are very interesting beliefs about morality. Most people would just assume, “Oh. Atheist, huh? You’re just a morally bankrupt person.” I think your perspective helps dispel that idea a bit. What are your thoughts/beliefs about the historical/spiritual Jesus Christ and responses to his claims about himself?

From what I’ve read, I do believe he existed, though I don’t know if every story about his was actually about Jesus or an amalgamation of several different people. He seemed like a revolutionary guy, even though I have some problems with him (his patience with his followers, his dealings with his own family, etc.). And, of course, I don’t think there was anything truly divine about him. But he is a role model for everyone in many other ways. Anyone who can stand up against the status quo is someone we should admire.

What have been your experiences with Christians/the Church (the good, the bad, and the ugly)?

I occasionally get emails that are disturbing to read from Christians who want no conversation with me. They just want to do a “drive-by praying” and then walk away. I don’t get a lot of hate mail, though…

On the other hand, there are many Christians I’ve met who have praised my book and my approach. They say they appreciate someone who speaks honestly about what churches are doing wrong — they wish they could say it but that’s not always possible. They believe that separation of church and state is a good idea and they’re not putting a bulls-eye-of-conversion on my chest every time they see me. They enjoy the dialogue that arises between atheists and Christians and they want to see the church focusing more on community service than “saving souls at any cost.”

Atheists would have very little reason to complain if more Christians were like the latter group. To the best of my understanding, that latter group is closer to following Jesus, anyway.

I think it is a difficult balance to strike. On the one hand you have this vision of Jesus reaching out and helping the poor and downtrodden in society (community service)…on the other hand Christians have clear mandates given to tell others about what it is we believe about Jesus (saving souls at any cost). I think its really hard for many Christians to remember that while we can get out there and help the community, despite our best efforts, it is always up to God to save a soul. That being said, what do you find most attractive about the Church? Least attractive? Indifferent about?

Any church that encourages faith at the expense of critical thinking is going to be ignored (and should be ignored) by people like me. When churches use their money and power to help everyone, they stand to gain the respect of many people outside their faith. [However] When churches use the Bible as justification for their ignorant, hateful beliefs, they’re doing themselves a disservice. It’ll just bring more people to the “atheist side.” That’s why atheists love seeing someone like James Dobson or Pat Robertson in positions of power. They help us. I’m shocked Christians support guys like them instead of people like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and Jim Wallis.

Ha! You and I think a lot alike on that one. I know many Christians who don’t feel well-represented by the Dobsons and Robertsons of the world. Many are dissatisfied with the “business-as-usual/highly politicized” version of Christianity we are often attacked for. People like Bell, McLaren, and Wallis are definitely new and exciting voices for the younger evangelicals.

One last question. As a Christian, if Jesus’ bones were found the jig would be up for Christianity and we would be forced to change our minds about what we believe. What, if anything, could change your mind from what you believe now to what Christians believe?

I said in my book it would take an actual, literal miracle. Since writing that, I’ve gotten far too many emails from people explaining their “miracle” stories to me. It was easy to explain their “miracle” in natural terms, though. I’m getting to the point where I’m not sure anything would change my mind.

Even if I don’t believe in God, Christians could very easily change my mind about their image. Right now, it’s all too easy to pigeonhole Christians into the conservative/Republican/anti-gay/anti-women bunch. When you hear a Christian speaking out against bigotry and for science, it’s a wake-up call to anyone who thinks Christians are monolithic in their thinking.

Thanks so much for being so candid with us, Hemant. I think you hit the nail on the head on a lot of different things you said and the Church needs to be willing to hear those things. We might not agree on the ultimate question of God and Jesus, but I think Christians will benefit greatly from some of the things you’ve helped make us aware of.

Photo courtesy of The Chicago Reader

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“LOST” on the streets of royal oak

16 10 2007

In preparation for our upcoming House of God panel discussion, “LOST: a candid conversation with those outside the church about those inside the church,” five of us–Amanda Robinson, Dwayne Dalton, Teddy Lehmann, Ashley Marchese, and Calvin Moore–hit the streets of Royal Oak to interview and record people about their thoughts on Jesus, God, Christianity, Christians, and everything in-between. In a week or two we’ll have the videos up for your viewing pleasure. We just wanted to share a few pictures Ashley took for us. She’s got a real eye. Thanks Ashley.





Up Next–LOST: a candid conversation with those outside the church about those inside the church

17 09 2007

 

 

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What do you think of when you think of people who aren’t Christians? Do you think of them as lost? Wandering? Kindling to stoke the fires of hell? What do you think/know about God? Jesus? Evangelism? Think an atheist would have the same answers? A wiccan? A gnostic? Our next House of God (November 12, 2007) is a step away from our normal format. Instead of interviewing 4-6 ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we will be sitting down with 5 individuals to whom that Gospel is targeted, but have chosen a different path instead. This is a rare chance to get inside the head of people who don’t necessarily think and believe like we do and see just how we are percieved by those outside the Church–the good, the bad, and the…well, you know.





underwater: a conversation about water baptism–C. E’Jon Moore’s reflections

11 09 2007

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So, the first House of God Sessions event has come and gone. Admittedly, I’m no closer to making up my mind on the subject of baptism. That’s not to say none of our panelists were convincing. Quite the contrary. I thought each of them said many things of great weight.

As I expected, a lot of people sided with whoever they already believed like. If I could pick a perspective I was most impressed with, however, it would have to be the position of the Salvationist—which stymies me, because I couldn’t agree with their position less. But, there was something about Cherri Hobbins’ willingness to even be here. Coming in, she had to have known it was going to be like throwing herself to the lions (a fact she even alluded to during our morning session). But, she got me thinking. What is the efficacy of baptism?

Salvationists find no efficacy (effectiveness, usefulness, worth, value) in the practice of baptism or communion. They believe that Jesus Christ is the sacrament. While I do not agree with the Salvationist position that either practice is optional nor do I agree with the [classic] Church of Christ position that baptism is necessarily subsequent with/integral to salvation, there is something to be said for viewing Christ as the sacrament.

When I take communion, Christ is present—whether symbolically or bodily (depending on where you fall on the Protestant/Catholic spectrum). In that sense, he is the sacrament. When I enter the waters of baptism in obedience to his command to do so, he is present. In that sense, he is the sacrament.

What did spring from this conversation for me was that obedience is important. All of the panelists agreed on that point. All arguments of how one hermeneutically understands how that obedience is to be interpreted, obedience to Christ was constantly stressed as proof positive that one is not only a believer, but a disciple. So, when all is said and done, I now realize a bit more how much my obedience to Christ is tied intimately to how I love him.





Click. Listen. Tell us your thoughts.

10 09 2007

THE PODCAST IS LIVE! CHECK IT OUT. THEN CHECK BACK AND TELL US YOUR THOUGHTS!

THE SADC

https://sadcrc.wordpress.com/diverse-city-podcast/ <—this is the link!!





underwater: a conversation about water baptism (TV spots)

31 08 2007

Without further adieu, here are the TV spots for the first House of God event at Rochester College taking place on September 10, 2007! Kudos to freshman extraordinaire, Grant McClure for putting these together for us! Check them out and drop in for the conversation that night! YHWH’s peace.

Student Action Diversity Committee

Spot #1–How does your church practice baptism?

Spot # 2–Why did you get baptized?

Spot # 3–Do you believe baptism is necessary for salvation?





forward thoughts on a Myspace forward…

30 08 2007

myspace.gifLike many others I am a part of the popular networking site, Myspace. One of the popular things to do on the site, is to post bulletins which can be seen by those who are your friends. This is one of the bulletins that I came across. It’s headline read “I’m not racist, but it’s true.” It reads as follows (warning: very offensive language ahead):

You call me:
“redneck”
“Hillbilly”
“Slaker”
“Cracker”
“Honkey”
“Whitey”
“Gringo”
“Sage”
and you think it’s OK.

But when I call you:
jungle bunny
spear chunker
coon
wet back
jiggaboo
porch monkey
sand nigger
rag head
towelhead
Camel Jockey
Gook
Spook
NIGGER
KIKE
slant eyes
rice picker
border jumper
beaner
or Chink
you call me a racist.

–You have the United Negro College Fund.
–You have Martin Luther King Day.
–You have Black History Month.
–You have Cesar Chavez Day.
–You have Yom Hashoah
–You have Ma’uled Al-Nabi
–You have the NAACP.
–You have BET.

–If we had WET(white entertainment television) …we’d be racist.
–If we had a White Pride Day… you would call us racist.
–If we had white history month… we’d be racist.
–If we had an organization for only whites to “advance” our lives… we’d be racist.
–If we had a college fund that only gave white students scholarships…you know we’d be racist.
–In the Million Man March, you believed that you were marching for your race and rights. If we marched for our race and rights…you would call us racist.
–Did you know that some high school students decided to make a club for only the white students because the other ethnicities had them. they all got sent to court for being racist but the african-american, Latino, and Asia clubs were not even questioned.
–You are proud to be black, brown, yellow and orange, and you’re not afraid to announce it. But when we announce our white pride, you call us racists.

I am white.
and
I am proud.
But, you call me a racist.

Why is it that only whites can be racists?
Now watch, I’ll be racist for reposting this
So what? no-one will re-post this for fear of being called racist

if you agree w/ this than repost saying “I’m not RACIST but its true.”

Now I’m not going to lie, I’ve had many thoughts about this bulletin, ever since I’ve read it. My main concern was how many people had posted it, before I saw, and how many more re-posted after? I know just from the suite that I live in that, the voice of this bulletin, is shared with many. Now, it’s NEVER o.k. to call anyone outside of their given name. People learn this from early ages from their parents and teachers. But yet, a comfort zone has been established to where it has suddenly become o.k. and normal to call others outside of their names. I am of no exception to this. I am guilty of calling others names outside of their own as well as others calling me names outside of my own. However, when WE start to call each other names that degrade the race that others come from, WE become more sensitive, because then these are insults that don’t just affect us, but our families and ancestors as well. This can cause a world of hurt, anger, and pain. I feel that this will continue to be a problem until WE can rid of the comfort zone of calling each other outside of our given names. The other part of this bulletin that really got to me, was where the bulletin kept on repeating “you have….., you have…….” I’m pretty sure that Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black History Month are holidays and festivities that “we” as a nation recognize because of great things that Martin Luther King Jr. and many others in the black community contributed to this nation. This country recognizes many days for the many great men and women that have served OUR country well. And WE celebrate many holidays that show exactly how many different and amazing cultures are represented here. From Christmas, to Christopher Columbus Day, to St. Patrick’s Day, to Kwanza, to Wright’s Brothers’ Day, OUR country is a pool of people from different backgrounds and places, but WE live in one country together to try to make ONE people. But this country has a long way to go. In order for this country to become a WE, WE need to put a stop to the you’s and I’s of one another. But once again, I am just one person, part of a big nation, with one voice, but I hope that maybe my one voice might make a small impact even just on one person.