Some of you may have been involved in "inter-faith dialogue" where different religious organisations meet together to explore what they share in common. One of the problems with inter-faith dialogue is that it plays safe over the tea and biscuits and rarely tackles the issues where religions differ.
When was the last time your religious group or society sat down for a serious chat with an articulate and informed atheist?
Atheists tend to make assumptions about religions and religious people make assumptions about atheists. Those assumptions are almost always wrong - on both sides.
Religious people often think that the "a" in "atheist" is short for "anti" so atheists are out to end/ban religion. Nothing could be further from the truth. The "a" stands for "not", atheists are "not theists", they don't believe in god. However, they fully support the right of anyone to believe what they like, as long as it causes no harm and as long as people are enabled to make a free and informed choice.
"Challenge the Atheist" provides an opportunity to find out what atheists think about the god idea, about what they believe, about how they run their lives and about how they can be "good without god." It allows religious groups to share their views of life with an atheist - and to have a go at converting the atheist to religion! (Warning: no-one has succeeded yet - you may be the first!)
Discussions between religious groups, and between believers and non-believers, often end with a slanging match - the religious groups quote different interpretations of their holy books (which are meaningless to non-believers) and non-believers throw up their arms and walk away in disgust.
"Challenge the Atheist" has never ended with a slanging match. Both sides of the discussion are capable of discussing ideas without taking things personally.
The atheist has studied many religious ideas and doesn't need to be told what all the verses in all the chapters of all the holy books are about - he may nod-off if you try this. He is interested in what you think, as religious people, not how well you can remember your holy texts.
The format can be anything from a general discussion of a specific topic (see the list below for examples) to a broad exposition of atheist ideas followed by discussion.
The preferred format is for the atheist to give a 20 minute presentation on why he is an atheist and what he believes. Questions and general discussion can then continue as long as you wish.
Who is the atheist?
Mike Lake has been an atheist all his life. He grew up on a dairy farm in Gloucestershire and has a degree in Psychology. He worked for Rolls Royce in Derby then became a teacher for six enjoyable years before setting up his own software company. Since he retired at the age of 50 he has invented several new products and set up new companies to manufacture and sell them.
He is an active member of Humanists UK and the National Secular Society and he was the founder of DASH: Derbyshire Atheists, Secularists and Humanists. He is the author of "No Need For God - a young person's guide to non-belief".
Each year Mike speaks to hundreds of school students as part of their RE lessons where he presents Atheist Humanism as an example of a non-theist world view.
He has taken part in debates and panel discussions at many colleges and Universities including Aston, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Derby, Durham, Leeds, Leicester, Manchester, Nottingham and Oxford. He has been invited to speak by Christian Unions, Islamic Societies, Atheist Societies, debating societies and many more.
How much does it cost?
Nothing. Mike does not charge for his time or expenses within 50 miles of Derby. Atheists enjoy being challenged!
What topics can be covered?
Topics covered in the past
- The Atheist world-view - why there is no such thing as "atheism".
- The big questions: creation, death and the meaning of life.
- "How old is the Universe?" God and evolution - theories or facts?
- How do we know what is true and what is an assertion?
- Can you be a good person without god? Personal morality v morality from holy books.
- Does anyone have the right not to be offended?
- "You can make fun of my ideas." Freedom of thought, speech and expression.
- Should young people be able to make a free and informed choice about belief?
- Should taxpayers fund religion by paying for faith schools?
- The role of women in religion.
- Male dominance of religions and attitudes towards sex, gender and sexuality.
- Atheist, secularist, humanist: the same or different?
- Religion and power: how religion is used for other aims.
- The role of religion is a secular society - is England secular anyway?
- Theocracy: good or evil?
- The rights of non-religious people in a theocracy.
- Why, throughout history, has religion been the major cause of conflict in the world.
- The views of an atheist on resolving the problems in Palestine.
- Consumerism, greed and capitalism - the contribution of religion.
- Why do people become religious?
- Why do some people need god and religion while others don't?
- Is there a gene for religion?