The eBay Atheist
Hemant Mehta auctioned off an opportunity to save his soul on eBay. Specifically, the 23-year old atheist pledged that he would spend one hour in a church service for every $10 in the winning bidder's entry. The group Off the Map placed the winning bid on their very own atheist (50 hours of his time anyway). It was a natural as the group had already spent five years paying folks to attend a church and fill out a survey as a means of gathering data. Since then, the group and their pet atheist have been on the front page of The Wall Street Journal and were featured on Fox's The Big Story.
An example of one of his church visit reports is this from his last visit, which was to Vineyard Church of Evanston
The sermon was spoken by a woman, Debby Wright, who was visiting from a British Vineyard church. She told stories of how the church had helped people back home (as opposed to a sermon talking about a Biblical passage). The stories were powerful, but as a skeptic, I did question some of them. For example, she told one story of helping a prostitute back home. The prostitute had a baby (I think she did, anyway… the point is that a baby was involved). The baby got sick. They all prayed together. The baby got better. Her conclusion was that the prayer worked, and obviously I disagreed– I would think there’s a natural explanation for it.On Joel Osteen, Mehta writes
However, I did like her stories of her church just doing random acts of kindness for homeless people and those less fortunate, even though it was in the name of Jesus. In general, I’m never really interested in the reason you do good things, but I’m glad you’re doing them. I wish more churches were more like that. And it doesn’t matter if it’s because of Jesus, Allah, or No One that you do these things. Clearly, her group was helping people out. And for that, she should be commended. Atheists do this, too, but not as often as we should.
Well, first the positive. I enjoy watching Joel for the same reason many Christians don’t watch him– it’s Christian-lite! He’s not solely dependent on the Bible to make a point. Instead of using the Bible to write a sermon, it always seems to me that he wrote the sermon with a life lesson in mind, and then consulted the Bible to back up his points. And I walk away from watching him thinking, “I do need to make better use of my time!” instead of “I should read Mark because Chapter 2 (or whatever) said some interesting things about Jesus.”The eBay Atheist reaches the conclusion on Osteen's method
Christianity works best for non-believers when we hear stories that sound like something we would see or do. Joel tells me to not be dishonest by telling a story from his college days (Hey, I went to college, too!) and then supports his message with a story from the Bible. Dobson tells me I shouldn’t be dishonest because Proverbs 6:16-19 says so (as he does in the April issue of Charisma). Period. Who would I be more inclined to listen to?The eBay Atheist Blog is here. You can also read The eBay Atheist Update, Hemant's Church Surveys, a lot more media links on the story, and Hemant's personal website: The Friendly Atheist.
So, you may ask, did it work? Well, if by work you mean Off the Map got publicity for their marketing dollars. Then yes, it worked. Or if you mean did OTM get a discussion going on how Christianity looks to those on the outside, then yes, it worked. But as for Mehta and Christianity, The Wall Street Journal article ends,
With about half his obligation to Mr. Henderson fulfilled, Mr. Mehta says he's no closer to believing in God, although he does admire churches for the communities they create. Church, he has decided, is "not such a bad place to be."