Here is a fascinating interview with Hemant Mehta, who went on-line at eBay and offered to go to one hour of church for every $10 offered.
During the interview, one question and answer really struck a chord with me. The interviewer, Heather Johnson, asks a particularly interesting question and Mehta responds:
HJ: Did you experience negative things while visiting these churches?
HM: I heard a lot of what I considered to be hate speech. Some churches led missionary trips with the intent to “convert Muslims,” as if that was the reason some countries were under-developed or impoverished.
Then, there were prayer services where people were asking God for things I figured they could just take care of themselves. You have a problem in your relationship? I think you should talk to the other person and work it out. You don’t like your job? Then work on finding one that suits your passions. I think atheists are a lot more confident than Christians in their own abilities to make things happen.
Basically, Mehta is right. Atheists ARE a lot more confident than Christians in the sense of being in the larger world and taking ACTION to change their own circumstances. This is why prayer meetings are all about gossip and illness, because for one, prayer meetings are where people find out the latest scoop on who’s ill or dying and second, no one expects God to ACTUALLY heal anyone, so it’s safe to pray this way. People who pray for a job and for housing and for other stuff like that won’t get anything unless they go out and look for it. Simple as that. With illness, there’s nothing you can do about it once the doctor’s have reached the limits of their knowledge and skill. It’s in the doctor’s hands! Therefore, I’ve always prayed for the doctor to use all her skill and knowledge to heal the person prayed for, not for God to miraculously heal anyone. More often than not, it just doesn’t happen. I’ve also only prayed for the ill person to have the strength and hope to cope with the illness. Positive thinking is far more common and powerful than expecting some kind of miracle.
Now some Christians are confident, yes, but if you ask me they are way too confident in what they think GOD will do, not what they themselves can do. They are cocky to the point of clownishness when they try to defend God’s “honor.” They expect God to have the last word, that He/She wants to send all those who disagree with God (and them personally) some terrible chastening illness or straight to hell just for thinking something different. But when it comes to doing something in the world, such as feeding the hungry or housing the homeless, they are frozen in place. Believing is one thing, actually doing is another. It’s all up to God to spur them to action. They purposely foster a childlike helplessness and fear typical of a ten-year old with their dad rather than foster a healthy grown-up decision making attitude toward life. I know this, because I still haven’t grown out of my fear of dear old “DADDY-GOD” after years with an abusive step-father and after years of fundamentalist indoctrination. The two automatically go hand in hand. I can probably accurately predict that most fundamentalists grew up in either an abusive household or at least extremely stern ones. It’s easy to transfer from an abusive household to God’s abusive church when you’ve just come from one. And, most of those from such households carry their abusive pasts with them to church, hence why so much of the same shit happens in churches too. Children are abused. Wives are beaten. Pastors have affairs with people they counsel. Same shit, different house.
Back to the interview, Heather goes on to ask another very important question of Mehta:
HJ: Hemant, you’re still an atheist, but you say you’ve learned some things through this experience. And you’ve wanted others—Christians and non-Christians—to join you as you went through the process of exploring Christianity and its churches. So, what do you hope Christians learn from your observations?
HM: Clearly, most churches have aligned themselves against non-religious people. By adopting this stance, Christians have turned off the people I would think they want to connect with. The combative stance I’ve observed is an approach that causes people to become apathetic—and even antagonistic—toward religion as a whole. Many evangelical pastors seem to perceive just about everything to be a threat against Christianity. Evolution is a threat. Gay marriage is a threat. A swear word uttered accidentally on television is a threat. Democrats are a threat. I don’t see how any of these things pose a threat against Christianity. If someone disagrees with you about politics or social issues or the matter of origins, isn’t that just democracy and free speech in action? Why do Christians feel so threatened?
You need to spread the message of Christianity—the message being what Christianity stands for—loving each other, helping the people around you. Those are things everyone can get on board with.
Also, atheists … we’re not non-believers. We do believe in a lot of things, but they come from other experiences and other encounters, not necessarily a book.
Excellent! Why are Christians so afraid? Why all the fear about what OTHERS choose to believe in? I am convinced that Christians want everyone else to believe what they do in order to convince themselves that they are right. That’s why some people are obssessive evangelists. They must convince themselves. If others come to believe, then they must by right!! Why else would they care what others believe or do? Because they don’t want others to go to hell? Riiiiigggghhhhtttt. I’ve never talked with a Christian that genuinely worried about that. Most Christians I know are downright gleeful that others will “get theirs” in the end. It’s the ultimate slap in the face to those who we think wrong us.
I’ll make a confession right now, the only reason I believe in hell is to assure myself that my abusive step-father and all other evil people who kill and torture children or who wantonly murder others will ultimately be punished and tortured themselves. That’s it. That’s the only reason. Personally, I could care less about heaven, which sounds pretty boring to me, unless my cats will be there and my hubby and the rest of those I care about. Otherwise, who cares? I certainly don’t want to sing and “worship” for eternity. Unless books and TV are there either, I’m not looking forward to it. But hell would be nice and just. So there, I’ve said it. So be it.
The interview concludes:
HJ: What are things you can’t get on board with?
HM: Religion tries to answer unanswered questions, ones that philosophers have struggled with for millennia. Atheism also seeks answers to the same questions, but when we don’t know an answer, we just admit it. My sense of logic prevents me from making a leap of faith where none is needed.
The idea of an afterlife is also troubling. The atheist view of death, which is that death is the cessation of existence, makes much more sense to me—considering the fact that I’ve never met anyone who died and then came back to verify what happened after death. The life that matters is this life, here on earth, the one we know for sure exists.
Amen to that, Mr. Mehta! My prayer is that we all are less concerned with what someone else believes and more concerned for our neighbor’s physical welfare. Ending abuse, poverty, homelessness, disease, and hunger will go a long way toward creating positive, healthy, and happy individuals in our society.