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.