Here’s some bio information, and then a question. I grew up in an evangelical Christian church. Bible-believing, but not quite pentecostal. I started college as a double major in physics and english, but then dropped out because I felt God’s calling to the camping ministry.
I had already worked at a camp in Maine for one summer, and it was a life-changing experience. I loved (and still love) everything about it. The strong sense of community, a beautiful environment, the new and unique activities, the opportunity for participants (staff and campers) to step out of who they are and try on a new persona.
I thrived on making camp an inclusive, welcoming and loving place. I always felt that my strength was in making everyone, even the most reclusive, non-sporting kids, feel like they were part of the group. I wanted them to feel that their opinion mattered, that they were important and that they could do or try anything they wanted to, even if they thought were no damn good.
My weak area was witnessing. Although my camp was fairly low-key on the wide spectrum of religious camps, it was still a Christian camp. Bringing kids to Christ is one of the main goals of any Christian program, be it explicit or not. Now it just so happens that the positions I eventually took (Recreation/Resource Director and Program Director) didn’t really have too much direct “spiritual” interaction with the kids, so it became a non-issue for me. But I still remember my early summers as a counselor, and those awkward Thursday nights, when I was expected to make the hard sell for Jesus. I’m not a “sales” kind of person, and it was even worse when dealing with something that I felt was so personal and private.
But now, I don’t know, things are different. I guess since my de-conversion, I really feel like I want to help others see the positive side of the rationalist, naturalist worldview. I don’t think that direct evangelism route “Have you not accepted the lord Jesus as your savior?” really works well. On the other hand, the web, this blog and podcasting give us valuable tools to put a message out there. It’s incredibly exciting and I’m not going to lie to you, I want a piece of the action. I can get behind rationalist evangelism.
The question is this: There are a LOT of people out there who feel the same way. The recent flood of atheist books The God Delusion, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and Letter to a Christian Nation (Vintage), makes that clear. Also there are a huge range of critical thinking, skeptical and rationalist podcasts out there. (check out the my blogroll and podcast links on your right –>) Each of them take a different tact. There are abrasive, clever, sarcastic, ironic, dry, challenging and funny hosts and authors all trying to do get the public to start asking serious questions about the place of religion in public and private life. It’s about the questions, really, not the answers.
So my question is two-fold. For the heathens out there, “What type of message was most effective in reaching you and sending you on the path of critical thinking and skepticism?” and for the religious, “What types of message turn you off the most when people are being critical of religion, and what types make you stop and think the most. ”
In short: “What is the most effective way to make people seriously and critically evaluate their beliefs, religious or otherwise?”