Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Alpha Course: Week 12, The End

A Merry Alpha Christmas to you, heh-heh-heh.
This is the twelfth 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.

We have arrived at the end of the Alpha course. Tonight is the Christmas party, and not so much a class. As you'll see, tonight's session very much resembles Week 1. The main difference between then and now is that our guests are the focus of attention. Alpha leaders are looking for participants in the next course. Those of us who have recently finished the course are now part of the flock.

My notes:
  • We are in the rotunda, as we were for Week 1.
    • A big tree, decorated with ornaments and lights, sits in the middle.
    • Dinner is potluck. We go up first for appetizers, then the main meal, then dessert. 
    • I take some pita bread and hummus, then stuffed chicken and lasagna, then some tiramisu and trifle.
  • On our table is a card advertising Alpha as a way to explore the meaning of life. 
    • The big question is “Is there more to life?” 
    • The card is for new people. 
    • We were supposed to bring new people and see if they might be interested in doing Alpha next spring.
    • My wife and I asked some folks, but we have no takers for tonight.
  • The church Alpha leader calls up two people to talk about the course. 
    • First is a woman who says she learned a lot. 
    • Next is a man from my group who says that he’d come out of his shell and now has more of a sense of peace. 
    • Then, a third person comes up. The woman volunteers to tell how she feels that Alpha helped her find joy in her life again, after losing her husband over a year before.
  • The DVD is an older lecture on the topic of Christmas. As usual, Gumbel delivers the talk.
    • Predictably, it starts on the materialism and indulgence of modern Christmas. 
    • But the true meaning of Christmas is Jesus.
    • The thesis of the talk is that Jesus really came, was born, and died for you and me. He gave us the best gift ever, the gift of being in a relationship with the creator of the universe.
    • The talk is structured around the three gifts of the magi. 
      • Gold for Jesus being lord.
      • Incense for the great stuff he did for us. 
      • Myrrh for his dying.
    • Within this structure, Gumbel argues that Jesus is real. 
    • Gumbel says he was an evidence-driven person.
      • Many other evidence-driven people have looked and concluded that Christianity is true. Take that, skeptics!
    • This talk mirrors the one from Week 1, except it’s shorter.
  • There is time for more mingling, but my wife is not feeling well, so we skedaddle. 
    • Not a great night. 
    • We really have not bonded tonight with our group.
    • We have not said good-bye in a properly.

To date, we have not been in touch with anyone from our Alpha group.

* * *

I have little to add to everything that I've observed, shared, and thought concerning Alpha. If I have any regrets, it's that I did not share what I think is one of my main theses:
It is possible for one to understand the religion--its beliefs, texts, doctrines, rapturous experiences, community, practices, and symbology--and still reject it.
Although I am a Jew by heritage and former practice, I know very well what it's like to be a Christian believer. What's more, the experience of Christianity is hardly the mystery its clerics and apologists say. One can comprehend all and everything about Christianity while also understanding that it's not true.

People needed to hear this argument to reinforce the idea that atheists know what they know. We who don't believe are not missing crucial facts. We are not deprived of the kinds of experiences that have brought them to belief. We are not emotionally blocked or angry at either God or "the Church." We know what they know--and yet that knowledge, we say, does not lead to Jesus. It doesn't lead there at all, and it never had to.


  1. Thanks for writing all this! You may remember ages ago I said I was writing up my own alpha experience? Well I've finally posted the first part of my residential weekend episode at my blog's new home: Enjoy!

  2. Thanks for this series: I read it all and it gives a very vivid, balanced and perceptive view of what Alpha is like.


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