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Opinion: Simon Clare, @Horsham_Skeptic

Monday evening saw the premiere of my new talk, An Atheist’s Guide to the Alpha Course, at the Tanners Arms.

As the day of the talk drew near, I grew more and more nervous about how it was going to be received. I had made a point of inviting Christians along to hear me out, as well as the Skeptics in the Pub regulars. Echo chambers full of people we agree with are not very useful, so I wanted to make sure both sides in the debate were well represented.

I was amazed to see the pub absolutely packed out (that’s the power of The Resident! – News Editor). Somewhere between 50 and 60 people were there, roughly half of whom were atheist and about a third Christians.

Local vicar Hadge Hughes came along, as well as an Alpha course organiser from Crawley and other very passionate Christians. All of them made valuable contributions to the Q&A session and I was so pleased that they were brave enough to join us. On the other side of the divide we had members of the British and Irish humanist associations, as well as representatives of the West Sussex Humanist Society and Brighton Humanists.

You won’t be surprised to hear that we never did quite manage to sort out the question of the existence of God, but then that wasn’t the intention. The greatest success of the night was that this range of views was represented with enthusiasm and passion, without it descending into a brawl.

I emphasised the notion that it is our humanity that drives our individual search for meaning, whether we are theist or non-theist. Both sides can recognise the humanity in the other’s pursuit of the good life and it is this common humanity I want to bring attention to, rather than the differences we are all too familiar with.

We all tend to limit our exposure to those who do not agree with us. This is why I encourage atheists to go on the Alpha course. We are fortunate that Christianity has provided us with a short course that gives us a real sense of what faith means to people. In this environment, atheists can be left with a meaningful understanding of the role of faith in people’s lives and hopefully show believers it is possible to be good without God.

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