A Reasonable Atheist

a loose buckle on the bible belt

Highlights from Hemant's talk at Harding University

Last night at Harding University, my wife and I attended Hemant Mehta's talk. For those who don't know, Harding University is a Christian College sponsored by the Church of Christ.

Hemant's talk drew a fairly large crowd, I think it even surprised him. His talk was very engaging, and presented in Hemant's unique 'friendly' non-confrontational style, which is one of the things I admire about him.

After the talk, one of the professors from the university, Monte Cox, had a 'discussion' with Hemant, however it seemed more like an impromptu debate to me. He asked some good questions for the most part, but some of his questions seemed as though he was really grilling Hemant. He was asking some pretty heavy handed philosophy questions to Hemant. I felt this was a little out of line, since the professor had read Hemant's book and should have realized it isn't a heavy book on the philosophies surrounding the atheism/theism debate. I feel Hemant is more the "everyman" of the atheist world, He is not Dan Dennet, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. Hemant is more down to earth and this professor should have realized that and asked some questions that were more on topic.

Then they opened up the floor to questions. Some of these were typical of what you would expect. There was an old man who asked him the "747 question". Some questions were much better questions, like a gentleman who works with kids in special education and asked about "purpose" and "meaning" in life. I think Hemant handled these questions well.

The best part of the night in my opinion was actually after the talk. Several students came up to talk with Hemant and ask him questions. Among these were a group of Harding students on the more "liberal" or "moderate" side of Christianity. These students were more interesting in having a dialogue. Most of these were already familiar with the basics of atheist thought. After the talk, these students, Hemant, my wife and I went across the street to a small coffee shop and sat in the cold drinking coffee and having some of the best dialogue I've ever had with Christians.

However, it was obvious to me that these students were the minority at Harding. One student, John, commented as the night came to a close that he was glad he got to talk about some of these issues because if he spoke about these things in school, he would probably get kicked out.

This made me realize something. We atheists have something in common with these moderate Christians. The fear we sometimes feel when in places where fundamentalist conservative Christians are in high numbers, is the exact same fear these students feel. The same fear of speaking up and speaking your mind. The fear of free thought and inquiry. In the U.S., especially in the southern United States, freethought, skepticism, doubts and other such "virtues" of the skeptic, humanists and atheists, is severely repressed. I respect and admire these students for what they were saying. I would proudly call them "freethinkers" a label I usually only reserve for atheists.

I'd like to thank my new friends, for a wonderfully engaging night of discussion. I hope we can do it again sometime.

Here's a link to Hemant's write up of the night:

Friendly Atheist ยป Highlights from Harding University

6 Responses to “Highlights from Hemant's talk at Harding University”

  1. # Blogger Just Thinking

    Thank you for the post. It is very encouraging...  

  2. # Blogger David M Manes

    I am a student at Harding, a liberal, a skeptic, a humanist, but not an atheist. We are definitely a minority here, and it is unfortunate.

    Hemant Mehta's talk last night was very interesting and I hope we can have more discussions like that.

    I think one fundamental similarity that we have is that we are both willing to question. We may come up with different answers, but we are still united against those who repress questioning and free thinking.  

  3. # Blogger that atheist guy

    Thanks for the report! I'm curious about the heavy philosophy questions Hemant was getting. I guess this won't be going up on YouTube...

    Hey, how's the atheist Bible study going? You aren't slacking off are you? ;-)  

  4. # Blogger Brett

    atheist guy,
    I'm the student at Harding who helped organize the event

    I wouldn't call the philosophy questions Hemant got "heavy," necessarily, but you could tell where they were going. One from Monte Cox was related to whether there are absolutes in math, or in the physical world (and if that relates to moral absolutes). Another question (from an audience member who may have been a faculty member, I'm not sure) was "have you, in your experience, ever known order to come out of chaos?" which was followed up with the 747 question.

    I'm not sure if the video will be available on YouTube, but we did have it recorded and will be making copies available (possibly as DVD's?.. not sure yet). Hemant will probably note on his blog when those become available.  

  5. # Blogger that atheist guy


    Thanks for the additional info!  

  6. # Blogger JT

    What happened to the Genesis study? Are you giving up after just one chapter? I was truly looking forward to going through it with you, because I never read the Bible all the way through either. It's so much more fun when you have someone to think with. Will it help to reveal my identity? Here you go.  

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