Friendly Atheism is needed

I Sold My Soul on eBayHemant Mehta has a site: The Friendly Atheist, and has written a book, I Sold My Soul on eBay: Viewing Faith through an Atheist’s Eyes .

There’s an interview with him on the latest Point of Inquiry podcast, and indeed, he is very friendly and outgoing and positive. He talks about his various visits to churches, from the small house-groups to the mega-churches and discusses the very drastic differences he’s experienced in attitude and creed and ethics of the various congregations.Hemant Mehta

I won’t waste time here trying to relate the interview. Like Richard M. Price, he’s a positive influence the non-theist community desperately needs! (Even moreso than Price, who, while very positive and supportive of religion, can still be crotchety and persnikity–Mehta however is totally positive and open minded and good natured.)

Read his brief interview of the Skepchick: A Kinder, Gentler Atheism? The written text, of course, does nothing to convey his bright attitude and fascination with topics, so I really recommend taking the 20 minutes to listen to his PoI interview.

Here are some interesting bits from his Skepchick interview and his Web site:
His site:

The goal I’m aiming for in the book is to get Christians to talk to non-Christians and understand why we believe what we do. Even if the ultimate goal is to “save” everyone, Christians would be doing everyone a service if they focused on reaching out to people as friends instead of “liberators.” I mean, most atheists feel compelled to teach others how to rely on evidence and reason, but at least in my case, that’s not my primary goal when I meet someone new.

It’s not an easy balance to reach. But some Christians turn people away from their faith simply because they force it upon everyone they meet. Same thing applies to atheists who earn a bad reputation by namecalling everyone who has any inkling of faith in them.

From Skepchick:

And while atheists certainly donate time and money, we’re much more likely to sit around and debate some issue at a meeting than we are getting out there and helping our communities. That needs to change. Speaking of the money, we know many Christians tithe and give 10% of their income to the church. That’s not so noble if they’re being forced to do it. But so many Christians give more. Not only that, giving to the church is a part of their budget. If atheists want to grow in number, they need to be supporting the national groups that are out there.

In terms of prayer, churches can offer mental consolation. And for many people, that’s all they need. They need hope. Reality can be too harsh for them. Churches can offer guidance (albeit in a wrong direction), and in many cases, they can support people through building shelters and schools. I know one church that offered free tutoring to every child that shared the church’s zip code. Churches can help. But it’s nothing that a secular community can’t provide if we had the resources. A tight-knit community of friends can also help just as much as the church, if not moreso.

I think atheists and liberal Christians should work together to promote separation of church and state and other shared values. The first steps are similar for each side. Atheists need to understand that there are Christians out there who share our beliefs about issues like stem-cell research, gay marriage, etc. And the Christians need to help quell the negative stereotypes about atheists that so many people get from their churches or through Christian leaders. We have to be willing to talk to each other, and without those walls coming down, that’s not likely to happen.

Closing out on a personal note:
I’ve said before I recognize my own cynicism and negativity in my criticism of irrational or magical thinking, lack of critical thinking. Part of it is a deep-seated insecurity (I was once a very un-critical thinker–a believer in both the Christian myth and the supernatural,) and partly due to displaced sadness and frustration. I watched a video clip recently of a program James Randi did, where he discusses the debunking of faith healer televangelist Peter Popoff where they played on top of video of Popoff doing his very charismatic faith healing before thousands the audio that was captured of his wife feeding him information on people over a radio transmitter. The way he has a huge auditorium of people eating out of his hand, praising the lord and saying hallelujahs while he gets elderly arthritis crippled women to walk a few feet without a walker all charged up on emotion and adrenaline and dopamine, at the same time you hear his wife feeding him names and ailments and personal information collected from prayer cards–it made me cry. The evil that people commit, taking advantage of innocent people, taking advantage of people’s hope and need and pain and emotion, in order to gain power and money, makes me sick.
I see that, I read about an elderly couple in India who were recently murdered by villagers for being witches, a teenage girl in the Middle East ambushed by men and stoned to death for dating a boy of the opposite Islamic denomination, I know people who reject and condemn family members because of their “living in sin” and other modern, middle-class Christians who demean and insult whole groups of people and individuals directly because they aren’t living by their own version of belief–and it makes me mad. All this unnecessary hate and derision and division and death and pain and suffering all from religion and uncritical belief. And the..angst and sadness about it just makes me to angry at people who check their brain at the door and accept myth and belief that persecutes people or makes enemies out of people or allows people to be willing to give up money and property and self-determination to others–because it doesn’t have to be that way!
It doesn’t have to be that way.

I wish I could be more like Hemant Mehta in my secularism. I wish I could look at the situation and see the good and the positive and the hope for a better, brighter tomorrow. I do have hope for that. But what I generally see is the hatred religious person X has for person Y who doesn’t believe what they believe. The hatred group A has for group B because their interpretation of a Bronze Age text is different from theirs. I see people rejecting science and reality and reason, and fall prey to pseudoscience and magical thinking and superstition because they’re willing to believe the stories written during a period of religious turbulence and extreme wanton primitive superstition endemic in a culture.

I wish I didn’t care so much that people are hated by others because they’re different. Because they don’t follow the traditions of a primitive and superstitious people. That people are killed. People are persecuted. People are disowned or rejected. People are crushed under unnecessary and irrational guilt and fear. Conditioned to believe and feel they’re nothing, corrupt and disgusting and sinful and evil at birth, unless they believe a nonsensical story about god sado-masochistically killing himself to prove to himself he needs to make an exception to the rules he set up dealing with a condition he created damning people he created for being the way he created them to be.
The whole thing makes me so sad and angry. I can’t find peace while this is going on like an epidemic all around me. I feel it’s inhuman, unconscionable of me to allow it.

It’s tantamount to allowing child abuse to take place right under your nose and looking the other way. How do I find peace in this?!