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: