On August 14th I was given an opportunity to speak to meeting group at a local church. I cannot recommend this enough. It was a very informative meeting for both the class and myself. I will be the first to say I found it a refreshing and pleasant experience. It was good to chat with a group of millennials about atheism and humanism.
In the case of talking with people who have not met someone like me before I find it easier to introduce myself as an atheist. Most people don’t know what humanism is but they have heard what an atheist is. Humanism isn’t something that churches talk about, it doesn’t grab headlines. People are not aware of what it is. What does get attention is atheism. Particularly the type of atheism that gets headlines and draws attention.
One of the early explanations I gave is that there are different types of atheists just as there are different types of Christians. From there I was able to talk about agnostic atheism and how one can have a level of uncertainty about your conclusions but feel confident enough to believe yourself to be justified in that conclusion. However, I also point out that with sufficient reproducible and testable evidence I am perfectly willing to change my stance on any given point.
Once I had explained enough about the basics of atheism I start switching to humanism. In my opinion, atheism explains so little of what I am. It really only says what I don’t believe rather than what I do. When a Christian asks an atheist where he gets his morals it is a legitimate question. Atheism merely states that you don’t believe in the existence of gods or other supernatural creatures.
Humanism is a stance that shows where morals outside of a religious context can come from. By introducing myself as an atheist and switching from there once the basic questions were answered allowed me to show others that atheists can have strong moral structures and also that we’re not all that different. In many ways we share common experiences, goals, and desires.
In all, we spent over an hour together talking. I did a quick introduction of myself and my history growing up as an atheist in Chattanooga and then I let them ask questions. I think this format worked far better than preparing a large presentation and lecturing. This was more of an introduction to someone who was outside their normal range of experience and I wanted it to be as pleasant and friendly as possible.
I want to say that they were a very friendly and wonderful group of folks. There was no anger, no judgment, no hostility. They were all honest questions. They really wanted to know more, to understand what my experience was like. They truly wanted to understand and learn. They were all open-minded and curious. I could not have asked for a better experience.
For my part it was an enlightening experience. While I didn’t know quite what to expect, I trusted my friend Charles would not put me into a hostile situation and I was justified in my trust. These were all wonderful people to talk with. We all had a good time and I answered some tough questions. I hope I answered to everyone’s satisfaction.
It was hard to call it at the end of the session. I know there were more questions to be answered but we were out of time. I very much enjoyed this experience and I hope the opportunity comes up again either there or at another church. This is the type of experience I want to bring to people. I want to expand people’s horizons. To talk to them and let them meet someone outside of their normal range of experience.
If the opportunity comes up and you’re willing to take it, I cannot recommend it enough. You’ll need to be able to answer questions honestly and have your research prepared ahead of time. There are some great questions but it is important to be able to refresh yourself on the toughest parts of being a humanist and an atheist.
I feel I learned a lot in how to communicate my thoughts, opinions, and conclusions. I hope I was able to provide an adequate introduction for these people into atheism and humanism.