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View Full Version : Interesting QA from Time.com


Matt_the_Hed
04-08-2010, 04:18 PM
The divide between the religious and nonreligious is a wide one — even more so in America, where Christianity and politics are so often intertwined. Atheist Gina Welch wanted to bridge that gap. So she went undercover for two years, joining a megachurch and revealing her nonbeliever status to no one. She eventually became a true part of the community, even going on a mission trip with people she now considers friends. Welch details her journey in a new book, In the Land of Believers: An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church. She talked with TIME about pastor Jerry Falwell and why even atheists can respect Christian evangelism.

Were you surprised at how you came to be part of the evangelical world?
It's very easy to roll your eyes at the whole culture if you don't have any stake in anyone participating in it. Once I developed friendships with people whom I cared about, it was easier for me to see the appeal. It's no accident that evangelical Christianity is as popular as it is. I even came to enjoy listening to sermons from Jerry Falwell, whose politics I was [initially] allergic to. The emotional, intoxicating experience of being at church and hearing that music, and the whole structure of a Sunday service, was moving to me. And I don't believe in God.

Did you have any misconceptions that got reversed?
Evangelism seemed invasive to me. I thought of it as an imperialistic arrogance — that they wanted to overpower people. My experience with evangelism was something very different. They felt that they could do something about the eternal suffering of others. I came to see evangelism instead as a kind of empathy. That made me feel like there was something in it I could respect.

How do you feel evangelicals are portrayed in the media?
The media often portrays evangelicals as brainwashed, simpleminded and angry. My book isn't the story of falling in love with everybody. There were some people who seemed to sit perfectly into the picture that I'd always had of evangelical Christians. For me what was missing from the media portrait was complexity.

At what point did you no longer feel like an outsider?
Jerry Falwell's death. I felt unexpectedly saddened. In my [nonreligious] world people were celebrating, people were exuberant. I felt that he wasn't being fairly represented. I'd grown this affinity for him simply by being intoxicated by his charisma. That sadness was unacceptable to show to people from my world because it seemed like it might suggest that I was supporting Jerry Falwell.

You talk a lot about evangelicals' mission to save souls. Did you ever get the sense that being a Christian was about more than just a pass into heaven?
I think that there are some people who are just motivated by the glory awaiting them in the next life, but the experience that I had of most people was that they were very concerned with being good in this life. They wanted to do as Jesus would do in this life.

Did you feel like they really did as Jesus would do? Were they really living what they said?
In many ways, yes. The selflessness that I saw there, the willingness to sacrifice, was very impressive to me. But I think there's [also] a lot of bigotry there that did not strike me as being synonymous with Jesus' attitude. I think their attitude toward the gay community — love the sinner, hate the sin — is very disingenuous because what it's like in practice is that they are both repulsed and amused by gay people. To me it's less important that they come up with a more palatable way of expressing their homophobia than that they get over their homophobia. Their prejudice needs confrontation.

Do you regret going undercover and pretending to be a Christian?
I regret it in that I think it hurt people I care about. I regret the blitheness with which I participated in religious rituals I just couldn't bring myself to take seriously. But I think that the ability for my book to bridge a gap between evangelical Christians and nonbelievers does mitigate to some extent what I did.

Do you hope nonbelievers will use this book to explore their own beliefs more?
I hope that it inspires people to be more conscious about what they believe. I had never stopped to think why don't I believe in God, or about a lot of my political points of view. Why am I pro-choice? Being around people who disagreed with me on almost everything, I had to re-examine every part of what I believed to make sure I believed it for a reason.

Jitterbug
04-08-2010, 04:27 PM
It's an interesting interview. I think it is basically saying that, "Hey, Christians aren't so bad!" which I know is true (for the most part - as with any group, you've got some bad apples in there and JERRY mother f#cking FALWELL is WAY at the top of the list.) The problem is really that the divide between the two groups is far too thick. For instance, even though she managed to salvage some friends out of the ordeal, I'd be willing to bet the majority of people that she had befriended decided not to be her friend after they discovered she was faking her religion.

Matt_the_Hed
04-08-2010, 09:13 PM
I don't think the point of the article or the book is that "hey Christians aren't that bad". But I do think it shows the value of being able to put aside ones presupistions and explore what someone else beliefs and what you believe. People can be just as bigoted toward Christians as they feel some Christians might be. Isn't assuming that a whole group of people have the same faults that some individuals have in fact bigotry?

And I wonder if anyone of us would be interested in maintaining a relationship with someone who used us and exploited us for profit, regardless of what they believed.

This isn't the only book I have heard of recently of this ilk. Thee is another called the unlikely disciple I think. While I believe this approach does create some havoc in the lives of the people involved, I believe the exchange is good. It would be better if we could start with frienndship and mutual respect instead of espionage though.

Jitterbug
04-08-2010, 09:42 PM
I don't think the point of the article or the book is that "hey Christians aren't that bad". But I do think it shows the value of being able to put aside ones presupistions and explore what someone else beliefs and what you believe. People can be just as bigoted toward Christians as they feel some Christians might be. Isn't assuming that a whole group of people have the same faults that some individuals have in fact bigotry?

And I wonder if anyone of us would be interested in maintaining a relationship with someone who used us and exploited us for profit, regardless of what they believed.

This isn't the only book I have heard of recently of this ilk. Thee is another called the unlikely disciple I think. While I believe this approach does create some havoc in the lives of the people involved, I believe the exchange is good. It would be better if we could start with frienndship and mutual respect instead of espionage though.

I agree with everything you've said, but I see it from the other side of the microscope. Most atheists and agnostics I know went through a revelatory experience in which they began to question their belief structure. It's rare that I run into a non-believer whose parents were non-believers and so they just naturally fell into that belief system. Usually I find that they had come to a cross road and examined the beliefs they had been saddled with by their family and discovered it wasn't for them. The reason I bring this up is that I believe this is untrue for most Christians (and merely changing from one denomination to another doesn't seem the same as utterly altering your beliefs.) Christians, or religious people in general, seem to be very close minded to what other people are saying or thinking. This is of course a harmful generalization, and one that I try my best not to impose on people before I get the chance to know them, but it's a recurring theme.

My point is: most atheists and agnostics have spent time in Churches, debated the idea of a God, and have come to their ultimate decision to not believe. I believe that most Christians have not given the proper amount of time or energy into trying to understand atheists and agnostics - it seems that they are quick to dismiss and hate and fear and shun. I can honestly say that if I had been approached by an "atheist" who just wanted to be my friend and hang out, then one day they said, "Surprise! I was really a Christian and I wanted to get to know your way of thinking!" I would be pretty cool with that, because at least it would be a Christian that gave a shit enough to listen!

All that being said, I think that is why these sorts of conversations that we have, Hed, are so valuable. You are one of the VERY VERY VERY few devout Christians that I have ever met that is interested in what I have to say, and not just in a 'Humor Him' sort of way either. These are the types of conversations that SHOULD be happening - not just between Believers and Non-Believers, but between Christians and Muslims and Jews and Hindus etc etc. Far too few people make any effort to understand their fellow man.

Keep the conversations coming, Shepard Book!

Matt_the_Hed
04-08-2010, 09:56 PM
Without taking the time to appropriately qoute you, I think you make an excellant point. The progression into Atheism is one of questioning ones presuppistions.

In all honesty no diplomacy I FUCKING HATE being lumped in with a duche bag like Fallwell or the other old shit head that says stuff like "God hates Haiti".

There abosultely are bad Christians and you know what, they probably aren't really Christians at all.

I'm very tired.

Matt_the_Hed
04-08-2010, 10:01 PM
Keep the conversations coming, Shepard Book! __________________

PS. As the great Theologian Biggie once said... I love it when you call me big shepard.