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Alternate Activity 1: Engagement (60 minutes), Workshop 19: Atheism and Agnosticism—Not in Temples Made with Hands

In "Building Bridges," a Tapestry of Faith program

Preparation for Activity

  • Ask your minister for recommendations for one or more guest who are atheist. Members of the congregation would be best.
  • Once contact is made, invite the guest(s) to share their faith journey with the group. Make sure they are comfortable answering questions the youth may have. If the guest is an atheist activist, also ask that they share some of the ways in which they have advocated for related social or political issues.
  • Remind youth that, although this engagement does not involve an organized church, it is a long-standing faith tradition. The guest's generosity and trust deserve the same consideration and respect offered any other faith group.
  • Optional: Instead of engaging with a guest, the group could engage with an outside group. Atheists Meetup Groups is a website that helps you find atheists groups and free thought societies near you. As always, contact the group ahead of time to inquire about visiting. Find out what youth should expect and anything else they should know before visiting. If your contact is willing, set up a time for them to talk to the group before or after engagement. If pursuing this form of engagement, process the event using the general questions in the program introduction, Implementation.

Description of Activity

Participants interact with an atheist guest.

Share with youth this starting list of questions to augment, if necessary, those naturally prompted by the guest's comments.

  • What do you believe in?
  • Would you describe your beliefs as a faith? As a religion?
  • When did you become aware that you did not believe in God? Was it a moment, or a longer process? Was it liberating? Was it scary?
  • If you used to believe in God, has that change altered the way you look at the world? Do you interact with other people differently?
  • If you are a life-long atheists or agnostic, was your family atheist or agnostic? If not, what was that like?
  • How do you feel about fervent believers?
  • Do you try to convert—or convince—people not to believe in God?
  • Have you ever been verbally attacked for your beliefs?
  • If you have children, how do you answer their religious questions? Do you tell them you think your conclusions are best, or encourage them to draw their own conclusions?
  • Is there anything you would consider a sacred text?
  • Do you participate in worship? If so, what are you worshiping?
  • From where do you derive your moral code?
  • Robert Ingersall said, "Belief is not a voluntary thing. A man believes or disbelieves in spite of himself." Do you agree with this? Would you believe in a higher power if you could?
  • [If the guest is UU] What is it like being a UU and an atheist? Do you always feel at home in UU congregations? How does your atheism feed your Unitarian Universalism and vice versa?
  • Do you know atheists who do not attend any faith community? Do you think they experience their atheism differently from you because of this?

After the guest leaves, ask participants for their first impressions: what did they think of the experience? Continue discussion with questions such as:

  • Have you had in-depth discussions with atheists about their beliefs before?
  • What is appealing about atheism?
  • What could make atheism unappealing?
  • People's religious beliefs generally are in concordance with their strongest held values, providing validation and comfort. How would belief in God give people validation and comfort? How would believing there is no God provide validation and comfort?

Thank participants for their thoughtful participation.

For more information contact web@uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Friday, November 15, 2013.

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