08 January 2008

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

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)

The discussion questions for Chapter 4 can be found here:

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

The discussion questions for Chapter 5 can be found here:

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

The discussion questions for Chapter 6 can be found here:

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

Chapter 7: The View From a Larger Pew
(1) Is there anything in these critiques that gave you insight or a new perspective on how Christianity comes across to non-believers? If so, what were those insights? How do you think your Unitarian Universalist congregation comes across to newcomers?

(2) Did you think any of the author's criticisms were unwarranted? If so, which ones and why?

(3) Hemant noticed that on Sundays, Second Baptist Church in Houston has as a service geared to young adults geared to young adults and it begins "precisely at 11:11 AM, a time that holds a superstitious significance for some young people." Were you aware of this superstition? How do you feel about a church starting a service at a time that has a superstitious meaning? Do you think a superstition would work with Unitarian Universalist young adults? Why or why not?

(4) Hemant was curious about one church's twenty-four-hour prayer hotline, so he called the number late at night and got an answering machine. He wasn't experiencing a crisis and he doesn't believe in prayer, but still he was concerned about getting an answering machine and not a human being. How do you feel about a hotline that is manned by a machine? Do you think that Hemant was taking this too seriously? Why or why not? Do you think that your Unitarian Universalist congregation should have a prayer or crisis hotline? Why or why not?

(5) When Hemant took note of the worship team at a church in Houston, he realized that "it was apparent that the younger, more attractive singers stood front and center. This was a technique more appropriate for an advertising campaign than a place of worship." How would you respond to the author's observation? Are marketing concerns compatible with faith? Why or why not? What would you think if your Unitarian Universalist congregation did this?

(6) Hemant read on a church web site that "' ... after meeting at Rolling Meadows High School for seven years, God supernaturally provided our current church home ... in Rolling Meadows.' Unless the building suddenly appeared out of nowhere, I figured there had to be a better word to describe how the congregation came to occupy its current building." How do you feel about the word choice on the church web site? Does the word supernaturally throw you? Have you seen similar examples in Unitarian Universalist congregations ("Miracle Sunday" fundraisers, etc)? Can you see how it might confuse someone who is not familiar with church jargon?

(7) "One of the main problems I had with larger churches is the lack of intimacy between the pastor and ... what's the word ... pastees?" Hemant writes. "Here, though, that problem was eliminated by the pastor approaching us, being one of us." The author is referring to pastor James MacDonald, who walked down among the people in the congregation as he was preaching. Does it surprise you that the connection made by a pastor's simple act was so impressive to a newcomer? What does this say about the need for congregations to do more to establish a connection and to create a sense of intimacy during worship services? Would this simple act happen in your Unitarian Universalist congregation?

(8) At a church in the Chicago suburbs, Hemant was distracted by frequent quotes from the Bible. "It was as if the pastor felt we wouldn't believe forgiveness was mentioned in the Bible unless we heard it repeated, verbatim, from the Bible." How would you respond to that observation? Have you ever experienced anything similar in your Unitarian Universalist congregation with the Bible or other references cited in the pulpit?

(9) To some Christians, Hemant observes, "Preachers such as Joel Osteen may appear 'watered down' due to the fact that he doesn't mention Bible verses as frequently as other pastors." This criticism would rarely be directed at most Unitarian Universalist ministers. Are there religious writings that Unitarian Universalist ministers "over-quote" or "under-quote"?

(10) Hemant refers to an anecdote one pastor told and claimed was true. Later, the author was unable to find the story on the internet, but he located a similar story which was said to be a legend. Hemant comments, "I would expect a pastor to do more thorough research ... His claim that the story was true without giving reference caused this pastor to lose credibility in my eyes." Would such an incident cause a pastor to lose credibility in your eyes? Why or why not? Given the ready availability of internet fact-checking sources like snopes.com and even the possibility that a congregant might even research this in mid-worship with a PDA or iPhone, should a pastor carefully research any "urban legends" mentioned in a sermon?

(11) During a service at a Colorado church, Hemant comments, "For several minutes at a time it was hard to see past the man in front of me whose arm was raised in praise and blocking my line of vision." Have you ever been distracted in church by the worship habits of others? If so, what was distracting about the situation? What would you recommend as a solution to such distractions?

(12) The author was impressed by the ethnic diversity of the group that attended a Sunday-night service at The Moody Church in Chicago. Segregation is common in many churches. Have you ever thought that segregation a damaging testimony to those outside the church. Does your Unitarian Universalist congregation have de-facto segregation in worship and other activities?

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