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Star Column on “Ask an Atheist/Ask a Christian”

From: cole m.
Sent on: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 5:12 PM
Dear folks:

This is scheduled to appear in print in Wednesday's edition. Thanks to everyone who is helping to put this event together, and especially those who helped me with this column. I arranged the panelists' names alphabetically by first name and so noted that in my draft, but that note does not appear in the final version, though the names remain. I know this will be a wonderful occasion. I regret that, as it turns out, I'll not be able to be present -- but please let me know how it goes. SPECIAL THANKS to Cole!


Atheists, Christians plan a friendly discussion

Posted on Tue, Apr. 17,[masked]:00 PM
Faith & Beliefs
Special to The Star

Friendly Christians and atheists are going to have a conversation, and you can participate. They call it “Ask an Atheist/Ask a Christian.”

Six panelists will ask one another questions and invite queries from the audience, followed by a social hour. The event, hosted by New Life Ministries, is at 7 p.m. Friday on the fourth floor at 1828 Walnut St. Admission is free. Donations will be forwarded to a public school charity.

I asked the pastor, Troy Campbell, why he thought the evening would be useful.

“While my core beliefs differ from atheists’, I am in favor of a cooperative approach because at our foundation we are finite individuals in search of truth,” he said. “Instead of wasting our time attacking the other at a personal level, it is a much better use of time to respect each person while still retaining the freedom to question their individual conclusions.

“While I am not advocating what some have designated as ‘pantolerance’ (accepting all ideas and conclusions as equal), I do accept and highly value a tolerance that communicates respectfully on the personal level while still accepting differences in opinion,” he said.

Skeptic Cole Morgan initiated the program. He says he has helped organize a dozen groups of skeptics, and he stays in touch with seven others. In 2010, Morgan wrote for The Star’s Saturday “Faith Walk” series, responses to which expanded his contacts. One was Gary McClintock, a member of New Life Ministries. That friendship led to this event.

Morgan is eager “to explain how we non-religious (people) live productive lives” without God and to change the negative view some folks have of skeptics.

He also wants to assure skeptics who feel alone that there are others in the community who share their doubts and that it is good for them to be open about their skepticism.

Jonathan Harrison, a member of the planning team, says, “This is not a debate. It’s a conversation, the kind you can have with friends old and new. In a society that reduces human beings into caricatures, we’re looking to make friends who believe — or disbelieve — as strongly as we do.”

The panelists are Bob Simak, Don Bell, James Larocca, Jesse Dirks, John Berger and Suzanne Terrell.

Regular readers know I’ve often advocated interfaith exchanges and that includes Freethinkers, as atheists, agnostics and other skeptics are sometimes called.

This program can show how folks with different beliefs can learn from one another when listening and friendship, rather than conversion, is the goal. Each of us is fallible. Sharing our limited experiences and insights can strengthen our sense of community.

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