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)
The discussion questions for Chapter 1 can be found here:
UU Discussion Questions For "I Sold My Soul on eBay" (Part II)
The discussion questions for Chapter 2 can be found here:
UU Discussion Questions For "I Sold My Soul on eBay" (Part III)
The discussion questions for Chapter 3 can be found here:
UU Discussion Questions For "I Sold My Soul on eBay" (Part IV)
Chapter 4: What the Nonreligious Believe
(1) The author identifies the deciding factor in his de-conversion: "I could no longer follow the logic in [Jainism's] most fundamental claims ... But when I reexamined life using the reasoning of atheists, everything started to fall into place." Does atheism have more authenticity than a belief in God? Why or why not? If you are using this discussion guide with a group, please have people share their responses. Would an atheist raised in a Unitarian Universalist congregation have this de-conversion experience?
(2) Hemant writes, "I appreciate the honesty of an answer that admits 'We don't know for certain.'" He seems to feel that atheists, more than Christians, are willing to admit that they don't have all the answers. Do you feel that most people come to Christianity hoping to get all their questions answered? Do you feel that most people coming to Unitarian Universalism are also looking for answers? If so, what do you think those answers are?
(3) Here is the author's definition of doubt: "Doubt for me had to do with giving serious consideration to certain religious beliefs and teachings and finding heightened confusion rather than explaining life as I knew it." What do you feel about the suggestion that religion may create confusion? In what ways does Unitarian Universalism heighten confusion? In what ways does Unitarian Universalism reduce confusion?
(4) Here is one example of a traditional Christian teaching that Hemant cannot accept: "There is the belief that murderers who 'accept Jesus' will go to heaven when they die but someone like Mahatma Gandhi, who used nonviolence to combat India's caste system and to fight for the country's independence, went to hell because he was a Hindu and not a Christian ... How could someone who took another human's life reap greater eternal rewards than a person who dedicated his life to helping others?" How would you personally answer Hemant's question? Do you feel that an early Universalist theology of universal salvation (e.g. a loving God would not condemn anyone to eternal punishment) would provide a different Christian answer for Hemant's concerns? Do you feel that a later Universalist theology (e.g. there is no hell -- heavens or hells are situations we create through human agency in this life) would provide a different Christian answer for Hemant's concerns?
(5) Hemant points out that atheist parents show their children how to "think critically about what society tells them," so they can avoid being deceived by the messages of the culture. Have you ever considered that atheist parents would be concerned about how the culture might corrupt their children? If you are a Unitarian Universalist parent, have you taught your children how to think critically about popular culture? Do you think atheist parents would approve of the messages we teach in our Unitarian Universalist religious education programs? Why or why not?
(6) The author states that when atheists support efforts to remove the phrase "under God" from the Pledge of Alliegence or to remove a nativity scene from public property, they are not motivated by a hatred of religion. "Our real motivation is to respect constitutional guarantees against governmental establishment of a particular religion," he writes. "If atheists truly sought to remove religion from public life, I would imagine we would fight to change the line in the Pledge of Allegiance to 'One nation, under no God, indivisible.'" What do you feel about this statement?
(7) Hemant refers to "the most fundamental question there is: what is the meaning of life?" Does it surprise you that an atheist thinks this? Hemant says that an atheist answer to this question is "all people choose the meaning in their lives." What do you feel about this view? Do you think it's true for Unitarian Universalists as well? Why or why not?
(8) Hemant reports that in every church service he attended, he asked himself, Does Christian faith answer the big questions of life in a more satisfactory way than nonsupernatural explanations do? As a Unitarian Universalist, how would you respond to this concern? Do you think that we provide answers that are compatible with nonsupernatural explanations? Why
or why not?