Friday, Aug. 29, 2014

Atheists, Mormon scholars talk religion

By Whitney Evans, Deseret News

Published: Wed, April 16 10:00 p.m. MDT

 Two groups of roughly 300 came together Wednesday night to create understanding between groups commonly seen at odds at Salt Lake City Main Library's Nancy Tessman Auditorium.

Two groups of roughly 300 came together Wednesday night to create understanding between groups commonly seen at odds at Salt Lake City Main Library's Nancy Tessman Auditorium.

(, Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV Chopper 5)

SALT LAKE CITY — Two groups came together Wednesday night to create understanding between groups commonly seen at odds.

Two professors of history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sat on a panel with two atheist experts for a discussion to dispel misconceptions and seek understanding.

A debate seeks a winner, where discussions seek understanding, explained panel moderator Paul Reeve, a University of Utah history professor.

“We are seeking understanding tonight, and that is the purpose for our panel here,” Reeve told a crowd of roughly 300 at Salt Lake City Main Library's Nancy Tessman Auditorium.

American Atheists hosted the panel as a lead-in to its national convention that begins Thursday in Salt Lake City.

“We’re hoping that we can use this as a stepping stone to reach a healthier Salt Lake City,” American Atheists President David Silverman said.

The panelists addressed questions about the biggest misconceptions about Mormons and atheists, the future of religion and how the LDS Church teaches its history.

BYU church history professor J.B. Haws said he believes the biggest misconception about the LDS Church is that it’s exclusionary.

“I think what gets missed is just how expansive the salvation model is in Mormonism,” Haws said.

Silverman disagreed, saying he has heard many stories of exclusion in his position with the American Atheists.

Richard Holzapfel, an author and LDS Church history professor at BYU, said the actions of a few people do not reflect the LDS Church’s doctrine.

Reeve said one of the main tenets of the LDS Church is to let people worship how they feel is best. He suggested that Silverman may not have heard about some of the more positive, inclusive situations.

The most common misconception about atheists struck a similar chord.

“I think the greatest misconception of atheism is that we’re not nice and/or immoral,” Silverman said.

Atheists choose their morality, where religious people say they are moral because of their faith, he said.

Silverman said he believes information available on the Internet will lead more people to abandon their faith, making religion a “nonissue” in the future.

He described religious people as “victims of brainwashing” and said he sees a humanitarian need to spread atheism.

The panel also included Joanna Hanks, an author, ex-Mormon and former polygamist.

Reeve said he thought the night's discussion went well — “for the most part.”

“There were times in which I think the atheists perpetuated stereotypes rather than tore them down,” he said.

Haws expressed gratitude for the panel and said he hoped to convey that many Mormon beliefs are rooted in compassion.

“Deep-seated beliefs are hard to capture in short quotes and media pieces, and that’s what makes this (panel) valuable,” he said.

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com, Twitter: whitevs7

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1. KellyWSmith
Sparks, NV,
April 16, 2014

There are a few reasons why I can see there are Atheists in the world:

1-Strange things taught and promoted as truth (a 3-in-1 God without body, parts or passions?),
2-Terrible things people do in the name of religion (virgins for martyrs and honor killings?), and,
3-Those who don't want to believe in God and have to face the consequences of their actions.

When people are told to have faith in things that are not true or see the actions of those who claim to be "directed by God" it can lead to some not having any belief in God. We can hope that they will someday learn the truth and recognize where things went wrong.

But the last group is different and in reality they are as puppets doing whatever the adversary wants them to do. There is still hope for them but something drastic has to happen for them to want to repent.

In the end, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ, and there will be no atheists in the next life, but a lot of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.

2. Cats
Somewhere in Time, UT,
April 16, 2014

I think this is so funny that the atheists are coming to Salt Lake to confront religion.

Do they actually think that the fact of having their convention here will cause people to suddenly stop believing in God?

They have absolutely nothing to offer anyone except despair and hopelessness. Christ offers love, hope and blessings for those who choose to follow. I have learned for myself that following Christ is the ONLY way to find truth and happiness.

3. Joggle
Somewhere In, HI,
April 17, 2014

Atheists are simply having a convention to mostly let other atheists know that they have support, in order to gain understanding, and to provide information. Religion has had a strong voice in the world for centuries while atheism's voice has often been silenced. They are having a gathering to celebrate their belief in reason, science and the power of the human mind. They are discussing topics of interest like separation of church and state, science education, equality, rights for women and the influence of religion on politics, among them. They want people to know that atheists are not the horrible people that are portrayed by many people who do not understand atheism. Atheists also wants others to realize atheists can still have high morals, live happy lives, have values, help others and other positive attributes and still be atheists. As an embattled minority that's frequently the target of prejudice, atheists benefit when they make their existence known to wider society. It shows the world that they're real people, and more to the point, that they're good citizens - friends, family, neighbors, coworkers - rather than a murky shadow onto which religious believers can project their worst untrue stereotypes.

4. Vince Ballard
South Ogden, UT,
April 17, 2014

I can only wish them the best, but the belligerence and lack of respect shown by atheists generally does not bode well for any reasonable relationship between atheists and any kind of religion.

5. george of the jungle
goshen, UT,
April 17, 2014

My Mom told me to look for the good in people. I think both are after the greater good. Desire, belief and expeditions makes the magic. Imagination, attitude and perseverance makes things happen.