Mobile Information Booths
Several times a year, HAAM members set up information tables at public events, such as fairs, festivals, and universities. We always look forward to talking to people about what they believe and why they believe it. The purpose of our Outreach program is the promotion of Humanism and the separation of religion and government.
HAAM does passive outreach; we don’t stick pamphlets on cars or accost people walking by. People who stop by want to talk, and our job is to answer their questions. Our outreach promotes Humanism and the issues that concern humanists. We are also out there to let other Humanists and atheists know that they’re not alone, although sometimes it may feel that way in a predominately religious community.
FAQ’s about our Outreach program
The heart of our outreach efforts is our volunteers, and new volunteers who have never done anything like this before often have questions. They want to know just what happens at our booth.
If you’re not a HAAM member, but are just curious about what happens at these booths, you’re welcome to read along. Perhaps you’ll consider joining us in future, or stepping up to the table to chat at one of our upcoming events, or contacting us for more information.
So to that end, here are some frequently asked questions about Outreach in the Bible Belt.
1. What are the requirements for doing outreach?
A. Really the only requirements are 1) Be a paid member of the organization 2) Have a brain firing on all cylinders, and 3) Be nice… and a fairly thick skin helps sometimes. A large portion of outreach is simply to show interested people that they don’t have to feel like outcasts in a mostly religious community. That said, outreach in the Bible Belt is a little different than outreach in the general public. It’s important to understand that we are going to be approached by people who don’t share our beliefs, and who may want to challenge us and argue for their faith position. In such cases we need to remind ourselves that we probably won’t change this person’s mind; however, there are often others in the background listening to the argument, and we may have a positive effect on them.
2. Do you have to be intimately familiar with the Bible?
A. No and Yes; it all depends on where you want the conversation to lead.
No, because most of the claims of Christianity fail even before you even get to Scripture. The important thing to remember is that you’re out there promoting Humanism and rational thought. We’re not there for a debate but a conversation. Debates do happen but you don’t have to engage in one if you don’t want to.
Yes, because it may provide an insight into where the believer is coming from. But keep in mind that Christianity is not a monolithic belief; there many different sects, each with their own interpretation of their different versions of the Bible. Essentially the Bible can mean whatever the believer wants it to. Case in point: At a previous outreach, our booth visitors were a mixed bag of Christians from various denominations and the question was asked “What is the biblical definition of sin?” We were cut out of conversation in short order as the discussion quickly turned into an argument between the faithful about who had the proper Biblical definition of sin. Such is the quagmire of “biblical truth” and “absolute truth” – they both really amount to opinion.
3. Is there any kind of orientation or guidance on what to say or do when challenged on certain points/topics?
A. We can provide you with books to read and videos to watch that might be give you some different ideas on how to discuss some of the topics you may encounter, but it’s very much ‘learn by doing’. We are Humanists/Freethinkers – we don’t have a script to go by. It’s just you and your brain out there, and that is one of the great rewards of outreach, the amount you can learn. And there are no worries about getting into situations you can’t handle, as you’re never alone in the booth.
4. What kind of people do you get at the booth? What’s the experience like?
A. Well, to be honest – all kinds. People who come to the booth are as diverse as people anywhere. In the Bible Belt, we meet everyone from firebrand Bible-thumpers to Christians so nice you would think their mood was pharmaceutically induced. Some believers appear to be dumbfounded that there are people who don’t believe in God; it’s like they need to know how that’s possible. In the few years I’ve been doing this, I’ve been prayed at, prayed over, and prayed for, and been given many courteous reminders that where I’m going is apparently a little warmer. Others just wanted me to open my heart and let Jesus come inside me… ah, noooo!
I’m happy to say that the bulk of our conversations are positive, with people who really want to know who we are and what we’re about. You will talk to atheists and LGBTQ individuals who are very much in the closet. Many people will drop by and offer their support, or sometimes just a thumbs up and a wink if they’re in mixed company. You will make new connections and meet lots of good people.
Finally, there are those (and thankfully they are few) special people who approach us on occasion. Those who are recovering from religion. Those who are struggling with emotional stress because of religious belief or religious believers. Like the kid who would be homeless if her parents found out she is gay. Or the new atheist, who doesn’t believe anymore but in the back of his mind still has a fear of hell. These are the folks for whom the best we can do is offer comfort, e.g. a empathetic ear and maybe a phone number, an invitation to join us, or a link to an online support group for outside help. That’s why we started doing this; it’s the whole point of the continuing “You Are Not Alone” campaign we began several years ago. Of course, at the time it was focused solely on Humanists and atheists, but now it seems that anybody outside what is considered the norm in the Bible belt is included.
Those questions alone could fill the day, and you should cultivate good answers to them. However, by far the most common and repetitive questions we get come from the faithful. So here are ten questions I can guarantee that you will be asked at Outreach.
1. So you don’t believe in God? Really?
Yes. Really. I don’t know why this question is so popular. I suppose it may stem from a lifelong belief in God as a foundation for one’s worldview, and not being able to understand how someone could function without that. For some of our visitors, this is literally their first encounter with an atheist, so we need to make it positive.
2. You can’t make a tree, so where did it all come from?
In reality we don’t know where the universe came from, and the religious don’t know either (if it came from anywhere). To insert a god to fill in this gap in our knowledge is what is called, in rational discourse, the argument from ignorance. Also, as this question shows, many people confuse the origin of the world/universe with the Theory of Evolution. And evolution comes up so often, we have developed brochures about it.
3. Where do you go when you die?
This is a really popular question. Make sure you have thought about an answer.
4. Pascal’s Wager!
In outreach this question often takes the form of the question – “What if you’re wrong“? As a Humanist outreach worker, if you don’t know what Pascal’s Wager is you’d better start googling. This one comes up a lot; in fact, we have actually kept score cards in the past.
5. Have you ever read the Bible?
I’ve always found this one puzzling; do people think that if we did would we become instant Christians? With over 30,000 different denominations of Christianity, I don’t know how reading the Bible would give us any clear insight. The irony is that many, many atheists have shed their beliefs because they DID read it.
6. Where do you get your morals from?
We have a handy little brochure about this one, too.
7. No God – so you believe in nothing?
You can prepare for this question by thinking about what you DO believe in.
8. What trauma happened in your life that made you an atheist?
Some believers cannot fathom living life without their god(s). They default to the position that something terrible must’ve happened to tear you away from God, or that something must’ve made you hate God. These people like to look for somewhere to place the blame for your lack of belief. Because it couldn’t be that the Bible makes no sense, or that the concept of God is incoherent. They don’t understand that we cannot be angry at a god that we do not believe exists, or that a great many of us never believed in any god(s) in the first place. Our non-belief stems from reason and evidence, not trauma and calamity.
9. We’ll pray for you.
Yes, I realize this is a statement and not a question, but it’s one you should have an answer for. I often suggest that people take five or ten dollars and donate it to a non-religious charity of their choice, because it will do so much more good.
10. The Bible says…
Yes, this isn’t a question either, but it is good to have a reply about why you don’t believe the Bible is an authority on anything.
Whatever your experience is in the booth I can tell you it will be a memorable one. To quote a line from a famous movie. Outreach is “like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Outreach has its up and downs but in the end it is incredibly rewarding. I have really just touched on what we do, but if your goals include making this world a little better place or showing people that they don’t have to feel like outcasts in a mostly religious community, you’ll fit right in.
– Pat Morrow, Outreach Coordinator
“Ask an Atheist” Speaker Program
Are you curious about Humanism, atheism or agnosticism? Or only have a vague idea of what these terms mean?
Are you wondering what atheists believe, what humanism is, or where non-believers get their morals from?
We can help with that.
HAAM’s Ask An Atheist program aims to help clear up some of the misconceptions and stereotypes about atheism, and encourage courteous dialogue between believers and nonbelievers.
Of course, it’s not just about atheism. We welcome questions on a variety of topics. Learn more about humanism, atheism, secular morality, critical thinking and the awe and wonder of the natural world.
We value great questions, and open and honest dialogue, and are happy to share our experiences and point of view with a variety of people. Our program is intended to be an opportunity for the general public – particularly people of faith – to approach non-theists and ask questions about secular life.
If you are interested in learning more about our group, drop us a line.
We’re happy to give presentations or to participate in panel discussions or other formats. We have speakers who would be interested in coming out to your church, classroom or private group. We can tailor a talk to suit your group.
So go ahead – ask us anything!
If you would like to invite a speaker to your organization, coffee group, church, or school class, we have volunteers available. Or maybe you just have questions of your own right now. In any case, feel free to contact us and we will answer promptly.
We look forward to meeting you!