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Indian in US auctions soul, sparks debate
rediff Features Desk | March 10, 2006 14:34 IST
An Indian-American student has sparked an amazing chapter in the age-old debate of atheism versus religiosity, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.
It is a chapter about a bizarre auction, an intriguing series of church service reviews, and resultant spotlight on whether evangelism needs reform.
Hemant Mehta, a DePaul University graduate student, put up his atheist soul up for grabs on e-bay, saying he would attend an hour of church services for every $10 of the winning bid.
'This is possibly the best chance anyone has of changing me,' wrote the 23-year-old Mehta on the web site.
Jim Henderson, a former evangelical minister who believes that evangelising defeats its own cause by offending people, won the auction, which was robustly contested between sceptics wanting to retain one of their breed and the believers trying to rope in one more.
Henderson made the Indian-American math student an offer as curious as the auction: He asked Mehta to attend about 15 church services -- which Henderson would choose. And Mehta had write about them on Henderson's Christian web site, off-the-map.org.
According to the The Wall Street Journal report, Henderson told Mehta: 'I'm not trying to convert you. You're going there almost like a critic… If you happen to get converted, that's off the clock.'
In return, Henderson's $504 would go to the Chicago-born Indian-American math student's Secular Student Alliance, a group that has 55 chapters in the US and other countries.
So Mehta, a Jain by birth, attended the services and provided a straight from the heart blog commentary, ranking priests and pointing out when they were being silly.
The Wall Street Journal says the 58-year-old Henderson 'is part of a small but growing branch of the evangelical world that disagrees with the majority's conservative political agenda, and wants the religion to be more inclusive and help the disadvantaged.'
Mehta's unusual service reviews sparked outrage as well as interest. While some pastors wrote in to thank Mehta for the honest evaluation, some rubbished his remarks as usual atheist cynicism.
Readers of Henderson's web site were equally divided. Some thought Mehta's (and Henderson's, in giving him a platform) approach was much-needed, while others cried blasphemy.
Mehta's reviews were brutally honest. Like what he wrote after a church communiqué asked people to pray for a new church building and a bigger parking lot: 'That's what you're praying for? Do they think a god will change parking restrictions? Will a god change the price of nearby property? Will a god add another level to a parking structure?'
After about eight church services, Mehta told The Wall Street Journal that he was not a believer yet, but that church wasn't as bad a place as he thought it was.