So in what has to be one of the most surreal moments of my godlessness I was asked by a close friend of mine to speak to her Sunday school class about atheism. The kids are between 15-17 and "non-denominational." My friend has sworn that this isn't some sort of malicious attempt to convert me, and I trust her on that.
I said I would give the lecture.
So people of ThinkAtheist here's my question for you:
If you could tell young Christians (in the south no less) about your atheism what would you tell them?
This might help to break some ice - Ask them which of the following they think are Atheists or Christians -
Usually when speaking to a group one or two will come primed with questions they have been told to ask. Usually these fall into the Science / Evolution category. However politely inform them that you are only there to discuss beliefs or the lack of them.
It is worth noting that your audience, because of their age, will already believe that they are freethinkers and like to challenge what the older generation has told them. Remind them that most Atheists are so because they questioned what they were told and learned how to think for themselves. It is good to question and investigate the doubts one has about ones faith rather than accept that doubt are a sign of weakness and leave them unchallenged. Broaden that point out to include all doubts and not just religious ones. There is more than one book to read.
Here is the heart of it. It really is about thinking for one's self and not just believing what someone or some group says or believes. Question, question, question all theologies. One doesn't have to follow all the time. Lead or make your own path.
Carol, when discussing atheism/religion with a theist, I never attack god, as that immediately sets up the defense mechanisms. Instead, I attack the stories in Genesis, on which they were spoonfed as children, and demonstrate that they couldn't possibly be true - for example, there isn't enough water in, on, or above this planet to cover it to the depth of all of the mountain tops (+15 cubits!), so the flood story can't possibly be true. If one thing in the Bible, held up to be true, isn't, what are the chances that some of the other stories are false as well? Then how do we decide which is, and which is not true?
How about who wrote the Bible? Can we look at that and determine the integrity of the writer? The first five books, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deutronomy, were all written by Moses, right? I mean it says so on the very first page of Genesis, in my Bible: "The First Book of Moses, Called, Genesis." Wrong. At least four different groups - who lived at different times and different locations in the area formerly known as Palestine, wrote those first five books by piecing together folk tales that had been handed down for dozens, if not hundreds of generations, then woven together by a fifth group who redacted, or edited, the stories. These books are the foundation of the Bible, and what does the New Testament say about a house built on sand?
I would suggest they collectively create and offer a prayer, the outcome of which is verifiable. I'd be interested in what they could come up with.
Unfortunately Donald, the likelihood is great that they'll throw Matthew 7 at her, in which "Satan" told Yeshuah ("Jesus") to demonstrate who he is by throwing himself over a cliff so that god would send angels to save him, to which he responded, "Thou shalt not tempt the lord they god" - in other words, don't put god to a test. Since praying for a verifiable outcome would amount to testing god, though a good idea, she'd be opening herself up to a Matthew 7 response.
Three things I would use as themes:
Coincidence vs. caused events: How you believe that things can happen to you without there being a reason for them. Tell a story about bumping into a friend or losing some money. Ask the children if they think everything is predetermined. Maybe talk about the paradoxes of free-will and God's omniscience. Explain how our brains look for patterns in our surroundings. Maybe show them some ink-blot drawings. Explain to them that superstition is simply a way of rationalizing weird experiences.
First cause: How believers insist that everything must have a creator yet cannot explain the origins of that creator. "Everything is made by something, isn't it, boys and girls? So where does God come from?".
Talk about how children generally share their parent's/culture's belief. Ask them if they'd still be Christians if they were born in India. Start by asking them if Hindus are going to hell. >:-)
Start with a definition of Atheism and clarification that it isn't devil worship or science worship, but a lack of faith in any God. Then explain why you don't believe in God and why it's impossible to prove the existence of God. Then let them know that you respect their choice to believe in god but only wish that they respect your decision not to. Then allow for them to ask questions.
You trust her that she is not making an attempt to convert you, and I assume that she has the same trust in you by asking you to speak.
Personally, I would go about this by starting with what brought about my own lack of belief, and how the "just because" answers never felt right. Then I would move on to the differences between atheism and theism (which, as far as I can tell, the only real difference is that atheist are godless). I would also address the common misconception about atheist being Satan worshipers and also how most atheist go through an agnostic phase where they indulge and study many religions before coming to a solution that felt right for oneself.
I really would make it more educational and non-confrontational and end with answering any questions the class might have.
I agree that I should extend my friend's class the same respect she is extending me. I wasn't asked to give the lecture to win atheist converts but because she wants these kids to put a face to an idea. Many already know me from a puppet show I put on for them a few years ago (a show is a show is a show) and they like me.
My friend wants them to realize that religions that dehumanize others are wrong, different ideologies doesn't mean different species, and we all have to share this world.
I'm looking forward to the lecture to be honest, I want my kid to grow up in a world where disagreements don't have to escalate beyond respectful debate. Maybe this will help that a little.
Giving up Bronze Age beliefs doesn't mean the world comes to an end. Freeing your mind to reality is the ultimate freedom. Don't take ANYONE's word for truth, search for it on your own.
if you where worried that they were trying to convert you to Christianity, then it would be super hypocritical if you tried to convert them to atheism. i would talk about my journey towards atheism, what led you to be an atheist. i would try to do it in a non confrontational and hopefully insightful way, to give them an idea of the other side of the fence.
I'd love to hear how it goes for you. good luck.