Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Alpha Course: Week 9, Why and How Should I Tell Others?

This is the ninth official installment in the Alpha course series, in which I recall my experiences as a Jewish-raised dude and now a Gnu Atheist who took the Alpha course with his Christian wife. Names have been changed to protect privacy.

At this point in the course, people are supposed to feel confident in their Jesus love and in Christianity. So much so that they may be ready to invite family and friends to join them at church. The focus of tonight's session, then, is to get people thinking about bringing their circle of associations into Jesus world. In other words, the message is "don't bring God into your home, bring your home to God."

Screw that. My notes for tonight's session:
  • We started with dinner, a meaty lasagna and salad. Brownies for dessert.
    • A few people in our group were missing. One man and his wife were not there, which was significant because the week before, the woman had said she was about to go for a biopsy. Those of us in attendance were concerned to know how the test went for her. 
    • Two of our group leaders were absent, both attending to very ill mothers.
  • Two songs, “Amazing Grace,” with “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” brought in, and another familiar tune whose name escapes me.
  • Tonight's DVD talk opened with Gumbel talking about his first attempts to share his new-found Christianity with others. 
    • He talked about going from over-zealous to fearful in talking about Jesus to people he wanted to bring into the church.
    • The rest of the lecture covered how to present the Christian message to others without seeming to pressure them. 
    • He talked about being personal rather than intellectual or argumentative. 
      • People don’t convert or get won through debates, he said. 
      • They open up to Christianity through personal connection and testimony. 
      • They may not be open to the resurrection, but they will not be able to dispute your showing how you are now much better and better off as a Christian. 
      • They will not be able to dismiss your claim to have felt the Holy Spirit fill you. 
    • In addition to being personal, Gumbel recommended being persuasive. 
      • People will have questions and maybe even objections. 
      • Have answers, but don’t be afraid to say you don’t know and will get back to the person. 
      • The key, Gumbel says, is love. 
      • The Christian wants, in love, to persuade others to Christianity. 
    • Next, Gumbel talked about inviting people to come to church or to a Christian event or to an Alpha course. 
      • The line of thinking here is that many people will be touched by seeing others engaged in joyous worship of God/Jesus or by participating in discussions of God/Jesus.
      • I stated to drift away at this point. 
        • The last argument I remember is Gumbel’s advice to pray for people to become Christians. 
        • He related a story of a kind of daisy chain of praying for people to become Christian--and those people later converted!
    • I would not be very comfortable for people to pray for me specifically to become Christian. 
      • It’s their right, of course, but I wonder if they would mind if I expressed a daily wish that they became atheists. 
      • The reciprocity I’m identifying here indicates the larger problem I have with the whole approach to tonight’s topic. 
      • While it’s good and loving and proper for people to share their Christianity, and to seek to bring more people into the church, it’s not clear that they consider it equally good and loving and proper for others to try “converting” them. 
      • For example, I have a personal testimony and experience on becoming an atheist. 
      • May I share it with them? 
      • May I lead them to the atheist blogosphere, the Atheists’ Alliance, the Secular Coalition of America, and the local meet-up groups? 
      • In other words, are they OK with doing unto them what they say is OK for them to do to others?
    • This problem of everybody proselytizing everyone else all the time is, I think, the real and best reason for religion to be a private affair. 
      • In a society that values individual liberty, one set of religious beliefs cannot be granted special privilege to occupy public space. 
      • One group cannot promote their religion at city hall while another group is prohibited from doing the same thing. 
      • So...the most peaceful solution is to have people come to their own conclusions on religion and to limit public displays of worship and evangelism.
  • None of this came up in small group. 
    • Instead we talked about an end-of-Alpha event in which we are asked to bring a friend. 
    • Get it? Tonight’s topic is perfectly suited to what Alpha’s about: making Christians. 
    • Otherwise, discussion was unremarkable--even thought there was probably more discussion from everyone tonight than at any other time before. 
    • The one idea that occurred to me, particularly as I heard the “new” Christians speak, was that people seemed to feel some relief at having made a decision that they could live with. 
    • I imagine that my new atheism gave me the same glow that the new Christians have. 
      • It’s nice to have come to a point where you say, “Yes, this is right. I know what this is about and I can now move forward.” 
      • I think “Is there a God” is an important question, and one must either determine whether it’s “yes” or “no” and then go with it. 
      • One cannot handle “I don’t know” indefinitely.
    • We closed with some personal thoughts on thankfulness--it being Thanksgiving week. 
      •  I offered no praise nor any thanks to God/Jesus.
      • Instead, I noted the maturation of my young children, the elderization of my parents, and the middle aging of me--and I declared myself bittersweetly thankful for change.


  1. I really hope that when you took your "friend" to the last meeting that it was your imaginary friend.

    I can just picture you indroducing your imaginary friend to theirs. "Spanky," cuz that's what you call him, "I'd like you to meet Jesus."

    Everyone staring in bewilderment at the spectacle.

    And then suddenly spin around and say... "Now you know how it feels!" Then run out of there with your dignity intact.

    I sure hope that's how it went down. ;)

    1. Sorry, no. No firends. I have spent most of Alpha in a facepalm and I'd need to stop that to bring a friend.

  2. The bringing a friend part, obviously intends to capitalize on the enthusiasm of the newly initiated, to recruit for the next Alpha class.

    Reading your post, I get a strong sense of inducting people into the cult, forcing them to identify publicly with their new relational group. It seems like something of a defining point between evangelicalism and mainstream christianity, something more more cultish/fundamentalist. Certianly less inclusive.

    This has been a great series on your Alpha experience, I have really enjoyed it. I hope it has been a positive experience for your relationship with your wife.


Feel free to comment if you have something substantial and substantiated to say.