I will be dealing with two rather wide-ranging questions in this week’s Readers Mailbag: What is it like for me, a public agnostic/atheist, to give a talk to believers in a church? And what did Jews believe about the afterlife in the time of Jesus?
Dr. Ehrman, do churches hire you to lecture on Christianity knowing that you’re an atheist? Do you ever get tempted to say, “Let’s be honest here. I think all of your cherished religious beliefs are baloney, but I’ll humor you for the next couple of hours.” That’s how I feel when I tell someone that they can accept the Theory of Evolution and still believe in God, even though, deep down inside, I know that Evolution and God mix like oil and water, so I simply humor them.
Ah, right, this is a good question. As it turns out, I do get asked to speak in churches on occasion. Sometimes, of course, it is in order to have a debate with a conservative Christian apologist. In those cases I am invited so that the people attending (good conservative Christians themselves) can watch me get trounced so that they can be assured that I don’t know what I’m talking about. (!) But other times I am simply asked to give talks, as was the case with the Coral Gables video that I posted yesterday. How does that work, given the fact that I’m not a believer and I am being asked to speak to people in a church?
The first thing to stress: whenever I get an invitation, I respond by asking, “Are you *sure*? You do know I’m an agnostic don’t you?” Normally I get asked, though, by pastors who know exactly what I think and believe, who have read my books, who think that it would be good for their parishioners to hear me. In fact, I not infrequently get asked to speak during a worship service (e.g. by giving a sermon). I draw the line there. I really don’t feel comfortable in the context of Christian worship any more, and I don’t think it is right for me as a non-believer to speak in worship contexts. So I simply will not do that.
But I’m happy to talk to members of a congregation in any other context (including adult Sunday School). I’ve never ever felt like telling people that their beliefs are baloney. That is mainly because …
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