I was blogging about attending an Alpha Course. Then I upgraded my laptop’s hard drive, and lost a bunch of recordings in the process. Then I found a backup, but it’d already been months since I took the course… and it was a pain to try to remember everything we talked about.
So… I’m doing it again. But this time, I’ll be blogging each week immediately following the meeting.
Why? I guess I’m just a glutton for punishment. Maybe I find it fascinating, in an anthropological sort of way, to find out why people believe what they believe.
In any case, I think this is going to be a very different experience than the last one. Ideally, the Alpha Course is supposed to be set up as a series of dinner/video/discussion events. The last course I took was basically just the video and the discussion, and we skipped a few of the weeks in the schedule. This time around, we started with a quick fifteen minute chat session where everyone got to know each other, followed by a dinner of pasta, salad, and pie for dessert. Judging by the topics discussed at dinner (the latest technology, reasons to support the legalization of marijuana, etc.) I got the feeling that this church was much more liberal than the one that held the last Alpha course. The people are no less dedicated to their beliefs, however; they just seem to be more easygoing about them.
After dinner, the group – about twice the size of the last course I was in – gathered down in the church’s sanctuary to sing a couple of songs and then watch a video by Alpha course ‘head honcho’ Nicky Gumbel. The video was all about how we can get more out of life. Apparently, everyone (really?) gets the feeling that they’re missing something from their lives, and though they might try to fill the hole with a never-ending quest for the next big thing, that Jesus is the only thing that could every really satisfy that desire. This strikes me as a little odd, because it seems to imply that there’s something wrong with always wanting more out of life and striving to find things that make you happy; that the right way to live is to give up on finding things that make you happy and ‘settle’ on Jesus. The only part of the presentation I agreed with is that rather than constantly worrying about the future, we should live in the present. As far as I’m concerned, I find satisfaction in life through the constant search for new, exciting experiences.
Nicky also said that it can’t be the case that people benefit from Christianity as just a ‘crutch’; that it has to be true for everyone or not true at all. I tried desperately to find in his words an acknowledgment that beliefs can be comforting regardless of whether or not they’re true, but it was to no avail. He actually seemed to be implying that a belief could only bring you comfort if it was true, which should come as a surprise to members of every other religion if Christianity were true.
I missed this video the last time around, which disappointed me because we were told in the second week about how the video had provided so much evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. In reality, the ‘evidence’ presented is as follows:
- A Christian historian has said that the resurrection is the single best attested-to fact in history (really? four non-eyewitness accounts is enough to confirm a miracle?)
- Lots of pioneering scientists, like Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, and so on believed in the resurrection (relevance?)
- Even some lawyers have been convinced.
Not a single mention of actual evidence. I was dumbfounded. This was the basis upon which the entirety of this series was constructed? A series of irrelevant/flimsy assertions, followed by a lot of happy-slappy talk about how “the message of the Gospel is that God loves you” and how belief in Jesus can bring you comfort? I honestly came into this night’s course hoping to be presented with some actual evidence, so I’d have something to talk about in the discussion later, but there wasn’t really any need to respond.
The discussion was awkward, which I honestly expected from a first night where we’re split up into small groups with people we don’t know at all. The leader was soft-spoken and none too charismatic, and people seemed reticent to answer questions about their impressions of Nicky’s talk. We warmed up a little during an icebreaker where we talked about what three things we’d bring to a desert island; always the pragmatist, I said “a boat, a supply of fuel, and a supply of food”
There was a lot of talk about how everyone’s Catholic upbringing was spiritually unfulfilling and lacked any sort of personal connection to God, and how joining ‘bible-believing’ Protestant churches had changed that for them. One young man talked about how he’d been a rebellious kid who drank, did drugs, and caused trouble, but how he was a “real rebel” now because he was a Christian. He did seem to be earnestly interested in changing his life for the better as a result of his conversion, but to be fair, the sort of improvements he talked about were just as well aligned with Buddhist teachings as they were those of Jesus. It seems that he was mostly drawn into Christianity as a result of a friend who invited him to play basketball at the church (with the caveat that there would also be a Bible study after the game). I did mention that I was a born-again Christian turned atheist, to surprisingly (reassuringly) little reaction.
We’ll see what next week brings. Judging from the way things went last time, we’ll gradually get more comfortable opening up to each other and asking questions about things.