Hemant Mehta gave an engaging performance at the AB Secular Conference, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He spoke on what atheists can learn from churches. Although I’ve read a good deal of Mehta’s posts on his blog the Friendly Atheist, this is my first time hearing him speak. I had some vague ideas about how he might tackle his topic, like emphasizing community-building and charity work. The most compelling part of his talk, however, focused on capturing a larger chunk of the religious “nones” by mimicking what churches do best.
Mehta’s suggestion for growing the atheist community caused some discord among those in attendance, but he did an admirable job of addressing the concerns of some particularly passionate audience members. He essentially brought the focus back on helping people who might otherwise leave their churches if not for the benefits they gained while remaining in the more stable religious community.
One audience member raised an important if dispiriting point that maybe atheists do not want the movement to grow. Putting that possibility aside, I think some atheist influencers like Mehta, have made too much of trying to capture the churched atheist when most atheist groups fail to win the closer-fit atheists, e.g., “firebrand” atheists who see little point in being part of an atheist organization or broader movement.