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May 05 2014

Hey, Atheists and Agnostics — Want To Join Our Church?

So I’m on a Meetup list for atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, and skeptics in the San Francisco Bay Area. On my Meetup profile, I listed my interests as Agnostic, Atheism, Secular Humanism, Freethinker, Freedom From Religion, Critical Thinking, Separation of Church and State, Skeptics, and Atheists.

So I got this invitation to join a meetup group — New Community of Faith’s, Rainbow Community Center. They had this to say in their invitation:

We are an Open, Welcoming and Affirming family church believing that Christ calls everyone without prejudice or distinction to love and worship God. Whoever you are; wherever you are on the journey; whomever you call family— you are welcome in our Community of Faith! We also hold a number of different events just to bring people and community together. Such as game days, music festivals, dances, and many other events….

And in the list of topics and interests that they’re about, they listed Agnostic and Freethinker. Which, I assume, is the reason I got the invitation.

So here’s what I wrote back.

*****

Do you get that it’s inappropriate to invite atheists and agnostics to a group that worships God and believes that Christ calls everyone? I am an LGBT person, and I appreciate that you want your group to be welcoming to a wide variety of people. But atheists and agnostics get religion shoved in our faces every day, and it is not particularly “welcoming” to open our email inbox and get one more shove.

We do not worship God or anything else, and we do not believe that Christ calls us (or anyone else, for that matter). This isn’t because we experienced prejudice or were made to feel unwelcome. And believe me, it’s not because we were unaware of the religion option: religion is overwhelmingly dominant in our culture, and it is impossible to ignore. The reason we do not worship God is that we think God does not exist. We have considered the possibility — again, in our culture it is impossible to ignore — and we have come to the conclusion that the God hypothesis is implausible at best. If you want to work in respectful alliance with non-believers, a good first step would be to accept this basic fact, and not treat atheists and agnostics as people who would love to attend church if only we found the right one. Thank you.

*****

Thoughts?

16 comments

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  1. 1
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    I wonder if they send Muslims the same message. If not, then I suggest they transfer their understanding of not inviting Muslims to not inviting non-religious peoples.

  2. 2
    screechymonkey

    Get ready to send them a link to Why Are You Atheists So Angry?

  3. 3
    Al Dente

    Somehow I think they fail to understand what agnosticism and atheism are all about.

  4. 4
    Michelle

    Great response–respectful and honest. That you contacted them at all is a good thing. Too often, I let offers like that slide by, only giving them by omission the further impression that what they are doing is ok.

  5. 5
    johnu

    I generally don’t say I don’t “think” god exists. I say I see no compelling evidence for any sort of god. And, being basically a bad person, I also say that even if was clear that the Christian god did exist, I probably wouldn’t worship it anyway, because it must be a pretty puny god if it needed the likes of evangelical Christians to work its will in the world.

  6. 6
    Blanche Quizno

    That was a terrific response.

    I’m perpetually astonished when Christians think that the only reason we aren’t Christians is because no one has ever told us about the “good news” or invited us to church. Don’t they realize that anyone raised in Western culture is *immersed* in Christian references and imagery? How can we be unaware of Christianity when there’s a church on every street corner (or, increasingly, in every strip mall or industrial building complex)?

    Don’t they realize that many, if not most, of us unbelievers were raised in Christian families? Does it not occur to them that many, if not most, of us identified ourselves as “Christian” at some point in our pasts?

    When someone (typically online) realizes I’m a non-believer and advises me to read the bible. I typically respond that I’m confident I know more about the bible than s/he does.

  7. 7
    Scr... Archivist

    Greta, I think you gave a fine reply. I also appreciate the fact that you left open the possibility that they might “want to work in respectful alliance with non-believers”. Sometimes we can do that, and reminding them of ways that they can be respectful is worth noting.

    But the more cynical side of me thinks their invitation is just another way to work down the checklist as they follow the Great Commission.

  8. 8
    Kevin Kehres

    I agree with Scr…Archivist @7.

    Your response is spot-on. It will probably fall on deaf ears.

    I wonder, however…do they have any idea at all that you’re not just an atheist, but a prominent atheist activist who has actually written books on the subject?

  9. 9
    Sastra

    I liked your response.

    The only suggestion I might make is to add in an invitation for their members to attend a local atheist meeting. It’s also very open! We welcome all people who doubt and question the existence of God! We analyze and deconstruct the faith-based so-called “truths” of every religion! Come one, come all. Happy, happy.

    They’d either get the point … or show up and make for a very interesting meeting.

  10. 10
    cafeeineaddicted

    I can imagine they have gotten a few people to turn up, or even join the church, so given their idea that “God calls all” they figure that spam evangelism beats good manners if it saves a few souls (and the ones that are bothered… well its not like we’ll meet them in heaven after hours for drinks, so who cares what the heathens think)

  11. 11
    Steve Caldwell

    It’s possible that this is just sloppy programming on the meetup.com site. Your meetup.com profile had Freedom From Religion” and “Separation of Church and State” in it.

    If the New Community of Faith’s, Rainbow Community Center folks asked meetup.com to send an invite to everyone in the community that had the words “religion” and “church” in their profile, you would get their invite because those words are in the profile.

    One of the corollaries of Occam’s Razor is one should not assume malevolence when simple stupidity can explain what happened.

  12. 12
    Greta Christina

    It’s possible that this is just sloppy programming on the meetup.com site. Your meetup.com profile had Freedom From Religion” and “Separation of Church and State” in it.

    If the New Community of Faith’s, Rainbow Community Center folks asked meetup.com to send an invite to everyone in the community that had the words “religion” and “church” in their profile, you would get their invite because those words are in the profile.

    Steve Caldwell #11: I really don’t think so. The thing is that the group’s “interests” or “topics” or whatever Meetup calls them included “Agnostic” and “Freethinker.” I suspect that the invitation went out to everyone in the Bay Area who listed those as their interests.

  13. 13
    David Diskin

    I’ve found that a lot of religious people like to use the word “freethinker” to describe themselves, in that they believe they are free from dogma even though they believe in Jesus and the Bible and God and all of that.

    It’s like when someone says “Oh, I’m not religious! But I am Christian.”

    For us, that gets our eyes rolling, but that’s probably why this group used “freethinker” in their group description.

    As for their use of “agnostic”, I think that’s probably to try and reel people back into the church. They also list “questioning religion” in their terms, too.

    Meetup doesn’t screen these when they are sent out — if you self-label yourself with an interest that matches an interest of a new group, you’re going to get the email notice.

    Greta is certainly right to call them out on their use of the word “freethinker” to describe themselves — though I suspect it’s more out of ignorance of the word than malice.

    For me, I’m more offended in their use of an apostrophe in their name, “New Community of Faith’s”.

  14. 14
    Crimbly

    Methinks they included agnostics because a church’s mission is to spread their gospel, and agnostics would be a good target – so then they thought “oh what the hell, lets include freethinkers too because there is overlap between agnostics and freethinkers”. No point just preaching to the choir for them.

    I agree with Steve Caldwell in that the group had no malicious intent. Still, your response was very polite, I hope they don’t send you another invitation! :D

  15. 15
    Peter Taylor

    The use of the term “agnostic” is a wildly misunderstood term, the vast majority of people I speak to believe that an agnostic is someone who isn’t sure if there is a god or not, someone who sits on the fence and this is reinforced by people who are on the fence in regards to their beliefs who also use the term to describe themselves. So it wouldn’t be surprising if this church thinks that agnostic is another way to say lapsed.
    As to the response by Greta, it was a lot more reasoned and polite than I would have been. ;-)

    They see nothing wrong with solicitation, whether that be by email or directly in your face on the street, can you imagine the hoo-ha if atheist groups were to do something similar? Or started asking for deathbed conversions to atheism?

  16. 16
    Andrew T.

    I’d be dying to see the church’s reaction to your response.

  1. 17
    Mid-Week Religious News Report, Part 2 | Evangelically Atheist

    […] So I’m on a Meetup list for atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, and skeptics in the San Francisco Bay Area. On my Meetup profile, I listed my interests as Agnostic, Atheism, Secular Humanism, Freethinker, Freedom From Religion, Critical Thinking, Separation of Church and State, Skeptics, and Atheists. [Read more] […]

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