Former Pastor Turned Atheist Writes a Letter to the Skeptical Community

Bruce Gerencser is a member of the Clergy Project, as am I. What follows is an excerpt of what he wrote. See what you think:
If the goal is for skeptics to move the United States towards becoming a true secular society where science, reason, and rationality are the norms, then they MUST change their approach.

Let me say at this juncture that I am not suggesting that educated, economically flush, white collar people deny who they are. To suggest they be anything other than what they are is bigotry. However, I would like to suggest that a change of approach is in order.

First, the skeptic community must change how it is perceived. As long as they are perceived as arrogant, argumentative, educated god-haters, the people who make up the majority in the United States will turn a deaf ear and blind eye to them. They must come down out of the ivory towers and walk among the uneducated. They must be seen as normal, every day folk, as people who understand the plight of the uneducated, working class community.

Second, the skeptic community must simplify their language. Again, if the goal is the greater good of the United States then the skeptic community must learn to talk in the language of the commoner. They must develop relational skills that help them understand the people they are trying to reach. Their books, blogs, and the like must be written in a way that a high school educated person can understand their arguments. Regardless of what one may think of Bart Ehrman, he has mastered the ability to take complex arguments and make them accessible and understandable to the uneducated. Neil Degrasse Tyson is another person who has a unique ability to make complex matters of science accessible to those lacking a science education.

Third, the skeptic community must stop its bombastic, over the top, rhetoric about Christianity. Deny it all we might, we are far too often viewed as angry, argumentative, mean-spirited assholes. The very kind of people that many of us left behind when we deconverted. I don’t intend to get into the whole accommodation vs. confrontational debate. I know that accommodating religion is rarely the answer BUT I also know that the confrontational approach rarely works. Oh it might stir the faithful and make them think what people of power we are but back in the hinterlands of America such an approach is viewed as offensive and does little to change anyone’s mind.

Fourth, the skeptic community must make their events more accessible to working class people. In my survey of the skeptic community and their annual events and conferences I found that the conference fees and associated costs were quite expensive. Lowering these costs would allow more people to attend and result in more people being reached with the gospel of skepticism. The skeptic community could learn a few lessons from Evangelicals on how to effectively have conferences and events that are priced right and reach a lot of people. As long as conference costs are high, working class people will not be able to attend.

Fifth, the skeptic community must realize that there is a part of the Unites States called the Midwest. Rarely are conferences and events held in the Midwest. The skeptic community seems to love the coasts, and while I understand this, I must point out that a vast number of people are being ignored by continually holding conferences and events only on the East and West coast.

Sixth, the skeptic community must become more diverse. Where are the Hispanic, Asian, and African-American skeptics? Yes, I know the few that are……and that’s the problem…they are so few every skeptic knows of them.

The skeptic community has fallen into a trap that I often saw in my days as a pastor. There are those speakers that seem to speak at every event. They become the royalty of the community and far too often their words are treated as god-like. In E.F. Hutton like fashion, when Richard Dawkins speaks everyone listens. Again, this reinforces the notion that the skeptic community is for a certain class of people.

How about mixing it up and inviting speakers that don’t fit the typical skeptic profile? How about inviting speakers that no one knows? Some of the best preachers I ever heard were men who pastored 50 people at a church on the backside of some hill in West Virginia. One preacher’s conference I attended made sure it balanced the program with big-name and no-name speakers. This sends an important message to the public……everyone has a voice that matters. Right now, in the skeptic community, it seems the voice of a handful of people matter. The rest of us? Sit down, listen, buy our books, see ya at the next gig, or so it seems.

Seventh, one the most effective means of outreach is the printed page, be it magazine or books. Every author or publisher wants their material read by as many people as possible. As a blogger, I want my writing to be read everywhere by as many people as possible. If the skeptic community really wants to reach out beyond the faithful then they are going to have to make their materials more affordable, even if this means less profit. Again, what is our objective as skeptics? Magazine subscriptions that cost 30-50 dollars a years are beyond the reach of working class people. I know it is expensive to publish a magazine, but somehow, some way, the subscription cost must become affordable for people who do not have the means to pay 35 dollars for a magazine published 5 or 6 times a year. Again, religious publishers have this figured out and they make their subscription costs quite affordable for everyone. The skeptic community must find a way to do the same. Link.