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)
Chapter 5: The View From a Smaller Pew
(1) As you read Hemant's critiques in Chapter 5, were you tempted to think that if he only understood what churches are trying to do, he'd be far less critical? If so, do you feel that's a valid objection to some of his critiques? In light of the fact that many Unitarian Universalist congregations are also smaller congregations, do you think that any of the small church observations would apply to Unitarian Universalist congregations? Why or why not?
(2) Did the author point out anything about these churches that surprised you, concerned you, or challenged you? If so, which observations elicited such a response -- and why?
(3) Is there anything in these church critiques that gave you insight or a new perspective on how Christianity comes across to nonbelievers? If so, what were those insights? Do you think that any of these insights are also applicable to Unitarian Universalism?
(4) Did you feel that any of his criticisms were unwarranted? If so, which ones and why?
(5) Do you feel that any of his comments need to be given careful consideration by the leadership of your church? If so, which comments and why?
(6) Commenting on a pastor in Chicago, Hemant writes, "Pastor Laura made sure we knew there was a tie between what we heard in church and what we would be challenged by in the coming week outside of church." His implication is that other sermons he heard did not make this connection. Do you agree that such a connection is essential? Why or why not?
(7) Pastor Laura asked people in her congregation to write on one side of a piece of paper "what they felt before they were rescued by Christ, and on the other, what they felt like afterwards ... I had to wonder: was being down, lonely, or desperate a prerequisite to finding God?" How would you answer Hemant's question? Is being down, lonely, or desperate a prerequisite for wanting to join a Unitarian Universalist congregation?
(8) In DeKalb, Illinois, Hemant visited an Evangelical Free Church. He had some fun with the name of the church: "Maybe it's free of evangelicals? Or does it mean that no one has to give an offering?" Have you ever thought that some you have taken for granted -- even something as basic as the name of a church -- can be confusing to an outsider? What do you think would be confusing to a newcomer in your Unitarian Universalist congregation? Would the long multi-syllable "Unitarian Universalist" label that is grounded in our theological heritage be confusing? Would the term "church" (used by many Unitarian Universalist congregations) and the Christian associations that some non-Christians have with this term be confusing?
(9) "I noticed something I hadn't expected at a church in a smaller community," Hemant writes. "Most of the families chose to sit by themselves with empty seats surrounding them ... I didn't notice a special bond connecting these families." What would you say to explain the seating choices made by these families? Have you observed this pattern in churches you have attended? Have you observed this pattern in your Unitarian Universalist congregation?
(10) At another church, the author notes, "It seeemed as if the entire room was full ... except for a ten-seat perimeter around where I was sitting. I didn't know if it was because I was sitting with a notebook, writing, or because I was an unfamiliar brown person in a sea of whiteness, but only when the other areas became crowded did anyone choose a seat closer to me." What's your theory to explain why the regularly attending persons left a buffer of empty seats around this first-time visitor? What do you think of Hemant's suggested theories? What do you think would be Hemant's experience if he visited your Unitarian Universalist congregation on a Sunday morning?
(11) At a Presbyterian church, Hemant questions the purpose behind what he calls scripted readings (liturgy). "If it was meant to energize us about God, you never would have guessed from the dull responses given by the congregation. If it was meant to be a prayer, it gave no evidence of being heartfelt." Does it surprise you that an atheist is troubled by what appears to be a lack of fervor and sincerity in church? How would you respond to the author's observations and questions? What do you think Hemant would think about the liturgy choices and implementation of them in your Unitarian Universalist congregation?
(12) Hemant sums up his criticism of the use of written prayers: "If I wanted to feel close to God, the prayers would have to come from within, tailored to my own struggles, hopes, and gratitude. A scripted prayer took away from all that." How would you respond to his critique? What do you think would be his response to liturgy in your Unitarian Universalist congregation?