27 December 2007

UU Discussion Questions For "I Sold My Soul on eBay" (Part I)

I just finished reading Hemant Mehta's I Sold My Soul on eBay: Viewing Faith through an Atheist's Eyes. Hemant is also the author of the Friendly Atheist blog.

Writing as an atheist who was raised as a Jain in an Indian-American household, Hemant's observations in his book allow us to ask what our congregations look like to newcomers.

At the end of the book, Ron Lee has provided discussion questions for individual reflection and small group discussion of the issues raised in the book.

The discussion questions provided by Ron Lee assume a more traditional Christian point of view and are not applicable for most Unitarian Univeralists. Many of these discussion questions are not applicable for Unitarian Universalist Christians as well.

What follows is my attempt to re-frame these discussion questions for use in Unitarian Universalist faith communities.

The first installment is for the introduction. The other questions for the rest of the book will be adapted in future installments.

Introduction: The Question of Faith

(1) One of the premises of this book is that Christians who want to communicate the gospel effectively need to listen to the target audience. After reading about Hemant's church visits, what did you find most surprising? Most helpful? Least helpful? For Unitarian Universalists, who is (are?) our target audience(s)?

(2) Hemant recalls a story his mother had told him, which introduced him to the idea that there are people who believed a different faith from his family and the author concluded that "anyone who believed in a faith different from that of my family was wrong." Think about the stories that we tell in our congregations to ourselves and our children. How do these stories portray those who are not Unitarian Universalist?

(3) Hemant describes skeptics as those who don't place confidence in "fables that are meant only to inspire." Are fables that are not literally and factually true useful for us an Unitarian Universalists? Where do we experience difficulties with fables in Unitarian Universalist congregations?

(4) As a child, did you accept the literal truthfulness of any fables (e.g. Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, etc)? How did you feel when you realized that these fables were not literally and factually true?

(5) The author asks, "Why are people unwilling to examine and question their beliefs?" How would you answer his question?

(6) Let's say that a visitor showed up at your congregation on Sunday morning and said that she had questions about faith, an openness to evidence that might contradict her current beliefs, and a curiosity about Unitarian Universalism and its message. How would you react to this? Do you think this person would be truly open to becoming a Unitarian Universalist?

(7) The author states that one of the purposes of this book is to "help improve the way churches present the Christian message." Do you think that an atheist's observations and questions can also help Unitarian Universalists present their message more effectively as well? Why or why not?

(8) As an atheist, Hemant immersed himself in Christian culture (visiting churches, reading Christian books, talking with Christians, etc). As a Unitarian Universalist, do you read books by authors with whom you disagree? If you have read such books, what have you learned about your own beliefs by reading the ideas of those you disagree with?

(9) The author describes stereotypes that are used to categorize atheists. What groups have you heard being stereotyped in Unitarian Universalist congregations? What stereotypes have others applied to you because you are a Unitarian Universalist?


h sofia said...

Hmm. Would you recommend this book for a young adult UU book group?

Steve Caldwell said...

I think it would make a good discussion group book.

Perhaps a young adult group could combine the book with a discussion group that also attends nearby non-UU congregations.

This would be the young adult version of "Neighboring Faiths" or "The Church Across The Street" -- established classic RE curricula for children where they learn about other faith communities and visit them.

The important contribution of this book is that it helps us see our congregation, young adult group, etc through the eyes of a newly arrived visitor.

Do we do things during worship and other church activities that make sense to us because we have been attending for a long time?

Do these same things make no sense and confuse our visitors and new members?

hafidha sofia said...

Hmm. Thanks for the input, Steve. I am going to think about this some more.