It’s a daring experiment – and it works. WaterBrook Press, known for being a Christian publisher, decided to publish a book by atheist Hemant Mehta. Known as The Friendly Atheist, Mehta made headline news in 2006 by selling his soul on eBay for $504 (US). The catch was this – the winning bidder would have Mehta go to church for a month. Mehta went to dozens of Christian churches in several different states. The result of his observations is “I Sold My Soul on eBay: Viewing Faith Through an Atheist’s Eyes” (2007).
The main goal of the book is to let Christians see what they look like to an atheist. In this way, they know how to appeal to unbelievers, who are presumably the same people they want to come to church. The end of the book has discussion questions for Christian reading groups. In one way, “I Sold My Soul on eBay” is a subtle debate that never turns into name-calling.
The Writing Style
One of the best reasons this book works is that Mehta is such a good writer. He’s able to pare a long story down to the essentials in an engaging and interesting manner. He also has a background that most Christians are unfamiliar with. He was raised a Jain. So, not only do you get to learn about Christianity and atheism, but Jainism as well.
Mehta also has a great sense of humor. In the first few pages, he reveals how his name is pronounced as well as why he’s now an atheist. He also is brave enough to reveal that although he’s an atheist, he’s a fan of big-toothed Texan televangelist Joel Osteen. He also has great descriptions of the way people sit and look at their watches while in church without being catty or mean-spirited.
No to Conversion, Yes to Conversation
Mehta is still an atheist by the end of his church-going experiment. (That isn’t giving anything away – trust me.) But he still talks to some of the people and pastors of the churches that he visited. By meeting the polite and educated Mehta, hopefully he has helped to shatter the Christian myth that atheists are dangerous, dirty, left-wing lunatics.
Although this book is primarily aimed at Christians, atheists, pagans and just about anyone else will also enjoy the book. It’s a good way to get to know how the religious and irreligious think without having to risk your neck and reveal your opinions. Really – do you want to go into a Baptist church and announce that you’re an atheist, agnostic or Pagan and expect to get out unscathed? It’s a way to help lean back and marvel at the complexities of human culture and art.