Fascinating and terrifying stuff: “Can Religion Justify Bullying Children?” (a talk by Sean Faircloth.) If you’ve got a spare half hour or so, I highly recommend giving this a watch. Never let it be said that fundamentalist Christianity isn’t a threat to nonbelievers or believers of other stripes.
Last night at Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York, I carpooled over with a couple of friends from the Capital Region Atheists & Agnostics meetup to attend a debate between Matt Dillahunty, president of the Atheist Community of Austin and regular host/co-host of The Non-Prophets and The Atheist Experience, and Jay Lucas, an evangelical Christian apologist and director of The Isaac Backus Project, which is described as “an apologetics ministry dedicated to equipping and encouraging Christians to declare and defend the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The following are pulled pretty much verbatim from the notes I took during Frank Turek’s talk back on the 11th of this month. There was a lot more that I objected to about what Frank said – largely, his misrepresentation of the state of our current scientific understanding of things – but I couldn’t possibly write it all down fast enough. So… here goes.
Hemant Mehta, best known as The Friendly Atheist or The eBay Atheist, recently paid a visit to the Secular Student Alliance at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New Yok. Hemant’s original claim to fame was an eBay auction where he offered to go to the religious service of the buyer’s choice for one day per $10 spent. The media spun this as Hemant “selling his soul,” and after he tipped off a few key blogs and local media organizations, his auction quickly made the international news. Atheists and Christians squared off in a bidding war over the deal, and Hemant fielded dozens of questions in response, both off-the-wall and serious.
The winner of the auction, a former evangelical minister from Seattle named Jim Henderson, tweaked the deal a bit and offered to send Hemant to several different churches around the country, from tiny home churches to Ted Haggard‘s massive megachurch. Henderson runs an organization called Off the Map which (at the time – the focus has now changed) hired non-churchgoers to attend local churches and write up critiques of their experiences. Jim asked Hemant to do the same, and to post them online. The result surprised both Jim and Hemant: People from all along the religious/irreligious spectrum responded almost entirely positively, often finding common ground in their recognition of parts of what Hemant articulated.
In his talk at RPI, Hemant went into great detail about this project, its aftermath, and what he has been doing since then. Hemant is now chair of the Board of Directors for the SSA, a role which lets him play an active role in supporting secular student groups across the country. He is also a math teacher in the Chicago suburbs, a role which led to his coming under attack as a “dangerous influence” for kids from a extreme conservative Christian group called the Illinois Family Institute. Hemant described how that came about and how his life has changed (or not) as a result of it.