December 21, 2009

Church Experiment #51: Atheist Meeting

My visit to Free Inquiry Group ( turned out to be one of the most interesting stops on this journey. I could write many pages about the experience, but I’ll try to keep it within reason.

First, I’ll give some background and details.

Local atheists erected a billboard in Cincinnati about a month before my visit. It read, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”

Not surprisingly, the billboard sparked a bit of controversy in Cincinnati, and the landowner eventually took it down because he received multiple threats.

My friend, Brad, saw the story and forwarded me the information. I decided it would be interesting to visit an atheist meeting (by the way, there was a debate during the meeting as to whether or not the word “atheist” should be capitalized; most argued it shouldn’t, so that’s why I’m not capitalizing it). The best choice seemed to be a group called Free Inquiry Group (FIG) that meets once a month. In December, they brought in a professor of philosophy from New York, so I thought that might be interesting.

To finish reading about this experience or any of the reflections from my 52 visits, please purchase the full book here.


Anonymous said...

When Christians say, "Did your computer always exist or did someone create it?" The correct answer is usually indeed a group of people created it. So take that monotheism.

And Pascal's wager is stupid.

Mike Brown said...

Quick argument against Pascal's wager - the wager, itself, is premised on what is essentially a theists understanding of God - that he rewards faith.

It's equally possible that whatever god exists prefers cold, hard reason to faith, and would therefore reward atheism, rather than faith.

Pascal's wager commits the logical fallacy of begging the question.

Lydia said...

OK, I guess I'm not so with it in the whole argument about God (based upon the previous two posts). Hmmmm I was reflecting to see if this bothers me, but you know, after 20+ years of serious searching for God, I found Him. For the last 14 years, I have known that I believe in Christ and the Holy Spirit, and I really I don't feel the need to get in circular arguments to feel comfortable in my relationship with God.

Steve, this was a great post. Thanks for including the atheist group in your experiment. I never would have thought of that -- it was really interesting, informative, and respectful of all groups.

I hope you have a Merry Christmas!

ylmurph said...

Ultimately you've got to concede that Pascal's wager is one of the great theistic arguments for gambling.

Anonymous said...

Point 8 - Yes, the church let me to doubt. I am so tired of being told what I think or ask about God is wrong! No one likes to be told they're wrong all the time.

Point 10. I currently attend a church that is all head knowledge and it drives me up the wall. I'd like to feel heart knowledge was worth something. I've had more acceptance from atheists on intuitive knowledge than I've ever had from Christians.

As for Pascal's wager - is believing because it's the better alternative really belief?

R said...

Just for the record, I know a fundamentalist Christian. This guy loves war and killing in the name of God. he finds it easy to spout venom and hate in God's name. There is a long list of people that he is thrilled to watch burn in hell for as long as it takes. It's frightening. It is a theology that you cant argue with. For a fundie debate ends at the end of a gun barrel.

The theology is chocked full of contradiction which seems obvious but, somehow gets missed by the actual fundie. Yea, if I grew up with fundie parents I might lose my faith too. Some Christians believe that the most destructive force facing the church today is fundamentalism. I would agree.

bound4glory said...

The problem with "Church" is that it lacks transparency. Greet people in the church with "How are you doing?", the typical response, "Good". When I try to tell people how I feel most tend to nod and move on with I'll pray for you. Yeah I'm sure of that. Why not pray right now?

We have isolated ourselves from the real world with our comforts. It is estimated that there are between 5 to 6 billion people who do not confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Wide is the road that leads to hell. The church is in crisis and non-believers can't tell the difference between us and the world. Who would want to become a Christian? When was the last time you witnessed a true miracle. In the days of the Pentecostal church it was the norm. Then, preach Christ, signs and wonders will follow. Now, preach Christ and wonder if anyone cares.

We need a world-wide repentance before it's to late. Don't see many churches weeping for the 5-6 billion lost souls these days. Geez when there is a call for a time a prayer typically only 2-5% of the congregants will show up. God help us.

I prophecy that unless we change soon God will need to shake the tree harder to get some fruit. And this time it will take faith to survive.

Well God Bless and keep the faith.

Kitty said...

I’ve been keeping an eye out for this post for a little while. I was curious to what you’d find. I’m glad you had a semi-positive experience, despite Captain Sniffles.

I don’t adamantly deny that there may be something out there—it’s entirely possible, so I guess I might be towards the agnostic side of things. At the same time, I am not entirely sure there IS.

A few things that I can think about that might trigger the bitterness that you felt. Maybe someone did have a bad experience, or they have recently encountered a loss or disappointment and are still in the “angry” stage of that loss, looking for something to lash out at.

I think that many atheists and agnostics may begin feel defensive and yes, a little bitter. If the subject of belief comes up in conversation, it can go south incredibly quickly. Some atheists like to argue; others do not. It can be difficult to navigate a conversation once you have told someone who is firmly grounded in their beliefs that you don’t share them.

It’s different than just having different beliefs somehow, to explain—or feel like you have to justify—why you don’t have them at all. I want to clarify that this is not always the case. I have experienced this rarely, but sometimes it just takes a few bad conversations to really embitter someone.

Religion is such a touchy subject. Stating that you are not sure/or there is no supreme being to worship and guide you can be interpreted as a personal attack on someone else’s beliefs, rather than just professing a different theology. I’m not sure why. Maybe some sort of group validation theory would fit, if there is such a thing.

Lisa said...

Did you believe in Santa? A jolly old man that you never saw in person who magically knows when little boys and girls are good and bad and doles out rewards as such? Remember when you found out Santa wasn't real? Believing in God is a lot like believing in Santa. I see where the athiests are coming from. If you believe in something and then find out it isn't true, (i.e. Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Santa) you tend to get a little gun shy before you start believing in something without actual proof.

bound4glory said...

The undeniable fact is that Jesus existed, now the question for unbelievers...was he who he said he was...God in the flesh?

Like Steve said if the unbelievers are wrong it's a mistake that will cost them eternal separation from God and heaven, if they are right then who cares, off to nothing we go. I rather have insurance for assurance. Never know when you will take your last breath.

God bless and keep the faith.

Anonymous said...

Please hear this as a gently asked question, boundforglory. Are you saying I should profess belief just so I won't go to hell?

bound4glory said...

You don't profess belief to escape judgement, you profess belief because their is a God who created and loves you. He loves you so much that for a moment in time he allowed his Son to live on earth in order to die for you. This represented the greatest act of love that our Creator could show it's creation. Any parent who have children in the military can partially fathom what that means. Scarificing one self for the benefit of others.

Most people judge Christianity by the bad fruit, very few judge Christianity by it's good fruit.

I live a life of faith, trusting what Jesus did as truth. I would rather miss a few moments of pleasure on earth than miss eternity with those I love and who love me. If unbelievers are willing to take that chance then it's their choice and they have no one to blame but themselves.

Because of God's love my goal is to be like a fireman, rescuing people from the ravaging fires that will consume them for all eternity. And if I am ridiculed or stoned for trying to save those who God loves than I am willing to pay that price.

In the end all I have to offer is the truth written by men through inspiration of God's spirit. His Word has stood the test of time and has yet to be disproved. I pray all will see the love of God and his desire to spend eternity with those who want to love Him.

God bless and keep the faith.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

This was fascinating, and thank you both for going, and for posting at length about it! I do have one comment, though. You say:

"The idea that one or two people have all the answers, and so they teach us every week, is kinda silly. I believe real learning happens when everyone have a voice. Multiple perspectives lead to true understanding."

That, surely, is what happens in the small group meetings during the week? The main Church meeting on Sunday is to worship God - a purpose very different from that of your atheist meeting!

I have to admit that I don't believe in the god Richard Dawkins doesn't believe in, either! The problem with atheists - as indeed, I find with so-called "post-Christian" feminists - is that what they reject isn't what I've experienced God - and Christianity - to be!

Jen - Mom of 4 said...

Steve great post as always! I was very interested in this post since my Hubby is an atheist. I have to agree with you - Hubby and I share the most fundamental beliefs and we both are disapproving of the fundamental Christians and atheists.

I do think part of the problem that is that both extreme sides can be unwilling to listen to each other. I even admit that there are times when Hubby and I fail to clearly listen to each other when debating religion - it is truly a touchy subject!

I think that the one problem that most churches have is the fact that they are not encouraging people to have a relationship with God, but have enslaved them to the rules and edicts of the church. We miss out on the wonder of God when that happens.

There are times when I struggle with the idea of someone going to hell for non belief. Especially when that person acts more christian like than a fundamental christian! Pascal's wager is an interesting argument, but the argument itself is what rankles a lot of atheist (especially my Hubby) - why believe just to believe? For a number of them it's just someone telling them what to believe - again.

Thanks for a great post and I'm looking forward to your 2010 experiment!

Solmead Fairdale said...

Pascal's wager is also wrong because it only posits two possible states, no belief and belief in the Christian God. The problem comes up with the argument in that as I stated the original argument assumed a Christian God, but in reality there are many different "gods" and philosophies about life after death that people believe in and that require different things you must do/believe in order to follow that path that you end up having to bet on 1 out of 100's of paths instead of 1 out of 2 paths.

Granted I'm a Christian going to a non denominational church, and I tend to be liberal.

troy luginbill said...

This was perhaps the best of the bunch and I have greatly enjoyed the blog. Thank you for your time and effort on this.

As I can see from the comments many don't agree with your presentation of why aethiests should believe in god for many logical reasons. The only reason I have is this (as presented to me by an aethiest to whom I presented the same argument). "to worship any divinity, creator or pagan, would be doing that being a disservice and being false in your own belief. Any good god would reject your worship based upon hedging your bets and I am not sure a god that accepted worship "just in case" would be one that should be worshipped. I have only one life, there is nothing after I die, so why would I spend it questioning my beliefs 'just in case'."

Why then do we ask aethiests to believe when it is obvious they are not comfortable? This zealousness is what focuses them to be more anti-christian than aethiest in their beliefs.

I wrestled with my faith for many years. I live in a community with ALOT of churches (once held the record for the number of churches per capita in the US.) If you don't go to church in this town you are considered unchristian. It took me 10 years and a great number of questions, biblical and non-biblical to realize that I was not wrestling with my faith, but wrestling with everyone elses faith.

If aethiests do something good because they want to, why should we as christians tell them to stop because they aren't doing it because christ told them to. Is kindness something that only works when the means have to justify the ends?

Anonymous said...

If there is no god, then the atheist loses nothing, but gains a full life here on Earth, which they may live ethically, morally and with every bit of optimism that the Christian claims is reserved only for his ilk. Also, if there is no god, the Christian thinks they lose nothing, but in reality they lose out on fully living the one life they have by following unnecessary, unnatural restrictions.

On the other hand, if there IS a god, the Christian thinks he gains everything because of his life of sacrifice and piety, and thinks the atheist is cast into flames for not believing. However, given the sheer number of gods humanity has chewed through in the last 40 centuries (about 3,000 all counted), or even given the current number of “active” gods, the probability of choosing the right one is vanishingly small.

And if religion has taught us anything, it’s that each god is viciously jealous. Picking the wrong one is much more likely to incite God’s wrath and ship you off into the lake of fire. If there is no god, atheists, who do not swear obedience to any particular brand of god, would likely fare much better in his judgment.

Anonymous said...

Hey I like all of your posts. Great experiment. Must say though that if God excludes good people from his presence because their searching led them to an intellectual decision to not except supernatural theism I have a serious problem with that God. We know there are plenty of reasons to question the storyline. Salvation can't be about having the right thoughts.

Anonymous said...

but in reality there are many different "gods" and philosophies about life after death that people believe in and that require different things you must do/believe in order to follow that path that you end up having to bet on 1 out of 100's of paths instead of 1 out of 2 paths

Yes. It was a bifurcation fallacy.