29 December 2007

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

This post is a continuation of the Unitarian Universalist re-framing of the discussion questions at the end of 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.

The discussion questions for the book's Introduction can be found here:

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

Here are the re-framed questions for Chapter 1.

Chapter 1: Selling My Soul on eBay
(1) The author explains that after he became an atheist he continued to practice the core teachings of Jainism, his childhood religion. Would you expect an atheist to maintain any religious practices? Why or why not? Many Unitarian Universalists are adult converts coming from other faith traditions. Would you expect these folks coming to Unitarian Universalism from another tradition to maintain religious practices from their earlier faith traditions? Why or why not?

(2) Hemant writes, "I have noticed that as people grow older, they become much more reluctant to change ... Overall it seems that people fail to question beliefs that have become safe and comfortable." What impact does this tendency have on Unitarian Universalist faith communities?

(3) Hemant reports that Christian friends had cautioned him regarding prominent Christians who are often quoted in the news. His friends maintain that those spokespersons don't necessarily represent the views of most Christians. If you wanted to learn more about Christianity or another faith tradition, how would you find a reliable spokesperson for that tradition? What characteristics would you look for in this spokesperson? For folks exploring Unitarian Universalism, who would you recommend as a reliable spokesperson? Why would you make this recommendation?

(4) Hemant's first church experience was attending Mass at a historic Catholic church in Chicago. After observing the rituals, he was "convinced some of [the worshippers] had repeated the same motions their entire lives without really thinking about what they were doing." Do you feel that Hemant was assuming too much about the worshipers? Have you ever questioned the value of rituals or the genuineness of people as they are repeating worship rituals week after week? Why or why not? How do you think Unitarian Universalist rituals used in your faith community look and feel to newcomers?

(5) Think about a time when you were a newcomer in a social setting, a religious setting, or a cross-cultural setting. Describe some of the rituals that were unfamiliar to you. How did you feel in these settings?

(6) What are the rituals and traditions in your Unitarian Universalist community that could be confusing to a visitor? How would you explain the meaning behind these practices to a newcomer?

(7) When word of his eBay auction got out, Hemant was invited to be a guest on Kirk Cameron's radio program (Cameron is a TV actor who is now a Christian evangelist). Before the show was over, Hemant concluded that Cameron simply wanted to use his story to criticize nonbelievers. Why would a person use an antagonistic approach when talking with a person who holds different beliefs? Have you ever personally received this antagonism as a Unitarian Universalist? Have you ever seen Unitarian Universalists express this antagonism towards others?

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?

Priests brawl at Jesus' birthplace

Real life sounds like a Monty Python sketch ... read the CNN news article here.