President's Column: Reaching Out to Religious People

By August Berkshire
 
august_head.jpgHow important is it to dialogue with religious people? I like to say that I don’t care what people believe; I care how they vote: what they believe affects them; how they vote affects me. But since what religious people believe often affects how they vote, we can’t ignore what they believe – at least so long as they are numerous enough to sway elections.
 
You might say there are generally two types of religious people: liberals who support separation of state and church, and conservatives who want to use the government to try to force their religious views on the rest of us. I think our goal should be to not alienate the former while doing what we can to turn the latter into the former.
    
Minnesota Atheists has succeeded in getting invitations to speak at Christian high schools, colleges, radio shows, and churches – not just debates but presentations about atheism. In addition to making our case, we are so friendly and thought-provoking that we often get invited back to continue the conversation.
    
When we speak to religious people and groups, we can’t expect to convert many of them to atheism. Instead, by being logical and friendly, we might be able to change their minds in other ways. 
    
We might be able to convince them that it’s okay to question their religion – that following the road of doubt can lead to a happy, purposeful life (as opposed to what many of them have been taught, that a life without god-belief is fearful and meaningless). 
    
We might also be able to convince them that, since we lead ethical lives and support their Constitutional freedoms, they don’t have to fear voting for an atheist.
    
A couple of years ago I was on a Christian radio show and was asked why I wasn’t angry and ridiculing, in keeping with the supposed stereotype of atheists. I replied that the reason was quite simple: Atheists had won the intellectual war; we had the best arguments and the more education a person had, the more likely they were to be an atheist. We hadn’t won the emotional war or the political war, but we had won the intellectual war, and I was here to spread the good news.
    
Minnesota Atheists will be forming a Speakers Bureau to increase our outreach into the community, including engaging with religious people of every persuasion, as we continue our efforts to make atheism mainstream.
  
If you would like practice dialoging with thoughtful, friendly religious people, there are two groups that get together regularly to discuss similarities and differences between atheists and theists. I encourage you to check them out:

Secular Bible Study
This is a group that Minnesota Atheists co-founded: the Secular Bible Study. They meet every other Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. at Trinity United Methodist Church, 2511 Taylor St. N.E., Minneapolis. They often expand their talks to religious ideas in general.  Sign up for their Meetups at http://www.meetup.com/Secular-Bible-Study.

Science & Religion Roundtable
This group meets on the 4th Thursday of the month at 7:00 p.m. at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, 511 Groveland Ave., Minneapolis (on Lyndale Ave. on the south side of Loring Park). This is a book club that tackles the cutting edge of religious apologetics, pro and con. And the religious people there are just as likely to agree with us as disagree. 
 
To get on their mailing list, e-mail NCPST@lists.luthersem.edu or go to the website
https://lists.luthersem.edu/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/ncpst. You can download a PDF of their latest schedule at www2.luthersem.edu/NCPST/Roundtable-2011-Jan-Apr.pdf.


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