Author encourages atheists to change image, volunteer

The author of “I Sold My Soul on eBay: Viewing Faith Through an Atheist’s Eyes” and the current chair of the board of directors for the national Secular Student Alliance spoke to a crowd of about 60 people at the School of Fine Arts on Monday.

Mehta’s talk, “Improving the Atheist Image,” discussed his experience of writing the book, the new direction of the atheist movement and how atheists can work to improve their perception in the media and in the public.

The evening was sponsored by the Secular Alliance of IU. A mixture of students and community members filled half the room during the speech.

Mehta said he was raised Jain, a religion preaching nonviolence. His family’s several moves while he was young made him think there was no God. He declared his beliefs in high school and became involved in the secular movement in college.

The author said he worked with atheists from all walks of life while in college, most of whom were formerly Christian and disliked their religion. His desire to know more about religions like Christianity led him to create his famous eBay posting. Mehta offered to attend the highest bidder’s church for $10 per day. The money was donated to the Secular Student Alliance.

The winning bid was $504. Mehta attended ten churches and chronicled his experience on the winning bidder’s ministry’s Web site. Mehta said he was amazed his blog created so much dialogue without backlash among the religious and the nonreligious.

The popularity of Mehta’s blog and the resulting media attention led to a book offer from Christian publisher WaterBrook Press.

“It’s grown into something much bigger than I thought it would be,” Mehta said.
He said more and more Americans are “coming out” as atheists, and the atheist movement needs to continue to work to improve its image.

Mehta said secular organizations need to move away from negative stunts and work to change the militant, angry stereotype. He pointed out recent positive events, such as the creation of a secular lobbying group in Washington, D.C.

He also encouraged atheists to give back to their communities by volunteering.
“It’s something we should be doing, because if we don’t believe in heaven, we should at least be doing something good on Earth,” Mehta said.

After Mehta finished speaking, he was met with applause.

Sarah Kaiser, president of the IU secular alliance, said she thought Mehta’s speech
connected well with audience members.

“I thought it was nice he brought in examples of what other groups have done to portray atheism in a positive way,” she said. “It was good for our group, and good for others to see.”

Carl Kanowsky, who attended the talk, said he thought Mehta was well-spoken and appreciated Mehta’s entertaining presentation.

“I really liked his positive message, which was the ultimate point,” Kanowsky said.

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