On atheist “evangelism”

[more on my Unbelieveable? experience]

Sheridan Voysey, the Aussie Christian broadcaster I spoke with last week, has posted the first of a couple posts on his podcast experience.  This first post is one worth checking out, as he gives 5 specific tips on how to talk to an atheist (or a Christian).  It’s good advice for anyone to take, especially if you are interested in building up positive relation between yourself and whoever you’re speaking to. I don’t have much to add to what he wrote about in his post, but in reading it, there were a couple points I thought needed a little more clarification.

Here’s how he describes me to his readers:

Rebekah’s story is an interesting one. Growing up as a pastor’s kid, with many members of her family in active missionary work or Christian service today, Rebekah went through two Bible colleges and umpteen churches before announcing herself an ‘apostate’ (her description) after a series of life events. Today she is a something of an evangelist for the atheist cause. She runs atheist small groups for former believers, runs secular holiday camps for kids, writes on atheist/skeptic/freethinking parenting and contributes to atheist blogs.

The part that stood out to most to me is Sheridan’s description of me as “something of an evangelist for the atheist cause.” After getting over the triggering qualities I usually associate with the word “evangelist,” I don’t think it’s an accurate way to describe my involvement in the atheist movement.

I looked up evangelist in the OED, and nearly all of its definitions refer to religious teachings, preaching, and spreading of the gospel to the unconverted.  That said, in 1993, an additional definition was added: “A zealous advocate of a cause or promulgator of a doctrine.”  Even so, I don’t think I should be counted as an atheist evangelist, because I don’t see my end goal to be one where I deconvert others to the “good news” of nonbelief.

Now I’m sure there are several people who will regard me as “zealous,” due to the subject matter of what I write about online and what I talk about in person, if only because I tend to get a bit passionate in talking about certain issues. [I recently discovered my Bible college roommate on FB cut me off from connecting with her — it’s not the first time someone from my past-believer life has chosen to end friendship with me]  But I don’t think of myself as on a mission to get everyone to see the world the way I do (I left that goal behind when I rejected Christianity) — and if having passion equates one to being an evangelist, then the word itself is going to get diluted in meaning pretty fast.

The motivation behind my involvement in the atheist movement isn’t to spread nonbelief, but moreso to foster community amongst people who are already nonbelievers.  For me, it’s not enough to call myself an atheist, because I’m so much more than that label. If I were only involved with specifically “atheist” endeavors, I could see myself getting bored pretty fast — because one can only dissect religion and other illogical beliefs for so long.

So, I find other ways to get involved.  For example, I meet with other irreligious parents in our Secular Family Network, and trade ideas about how to raise our children without the influence of a religious institution.  This weekend, in fact, is our annual freethinker summer camping trip! I’m already looking forward to spending time enjoying the outdoors with the friends I’ve made as a result of being in this group.

For me, it’s more about the community and not so much the spreading of ideology.  I know that I can’t persuade anyone out of their faith, and so it’s not my main goal. This isn’t to say that I’m not happy to talk about religious issues, raise questions, and occasionally poke fun at the hypocrisy and absurdity of some religious dogma — but that’s not the same thing as saying my intentions are to convert others to nonbelief.

5 thoughts on “On atheist “evangelism””

  1. Hey Rebekah.

    Glad you like the post. The ‘evangelist’ bit was just an echo of a Candaian Atheist post I read of yours where you described yourself as a ‘bit of an evangelist for non-belief’, and because you’re quite passionate about it (ie, not ‘luke warm’, to use a good biblical phrase!). Nothing more intended than that.

    Take care, and good to be in conversation.

    Sheridan

  2. Fair enough! I should be more careful with my words. Your post caused me to stop and think, and write, so that’s a good thing! 🙂

    That said, I think it’s important to rethink some of the labels that are often used when believers describe atheism (and some atheists). Too often I’ve heard “atheist fundamentalist” tossed about, and it’s inaccurate.

  3. Hey Becky,

    Sometimes I think of you as an atheist evangelist as well. You were/are (?) part of a group that put up signs on the buses to have people think about religion/atheism and, presumably, try to convert some people from religion. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I just got some more Jehovah’s Witness literature in my mailbox and just seeing a bus ad is a lot less invasive than that.

    I also think you are zealous which means showing zeal or “Great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective”. Being zealous isn’t a problem I don’t think as long as you realize that most people will not share your same energy or enthusiasm over what makes you tick. I am guessing a lot of your energy comes from your upbringing in religion. My family was religious but it was half-hearted. We were sent to Sunday school and occasionally went to church as a family but church was not our lives. Our social group also didn’t revolve around religion so it’s been a nebulous force in my life. Today I wouldn’t say I’m 100% atheist but I also wouldn’t consider myself religious either. And that’s about all the energy I really care to spend on the issue in my mind and I don’t feel the need to discuss or examine it more.

    However get me started on net neutrality, CRTC regulations or the like and I could ramble on for HOURS about it. I’m a zealous evangelist on both issues, most likely due to my profession and general interest in media. So I say embrace the evangelist label and don’t shy away from it. 😉

  4. Hey Todd,

    Yep, I’m still a part of the local atheist group in town. One thing I really liked about the ads we ran on the buses was its message: “Don’t Believe in God? You Are Not Alone.” The ads weren’t aggressive in their message, but just let other nonbelievers in town know that there are others out here in Saskatoon who don’t believe in the supernatural. It was more of a recruitment message than a deconverting one, I think.

    But, I hear ya on me showing zeal. I won’t deny that I can get really passionate about some issues, and I should be happy to accept that label.

    Remind me to pick on you later about net neutrality — I could use a Todd rant. <3 ya.

  5. I seem to recall “someone” cutting ME off on FB. It’s okay, Becky…I still pray for you and I still believe that someday you will return to Jesus. He still loves you…always will. One day you will see that He really is the way, the TRUTH, and the life.

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