Atheists Use Popular Bible App To Evangelize Disbelief

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RNS () – Like many college students, Lauren has a smartphone loaded with some of the most popular apps – Facebook, Twitter, and eBay. And like many unbelievers, she asked not to use her full name because her family is unaware of her closet atheism.

One of the apps she uses most regularly is YouVersion, a free Bible app that puts a library of translations – over 700 – in the palm of her hand. Almost 115 million people have downloaded YouVersion, making it one of the most popular apps of all time.

But Lauren, a 22-year-old chemistry student from Colorado, isn’t interested in the app’s mission to deepen biblical faith and literacy. A newly created atheist, she uses her YouVersion Bible app to try to persuade people to move away from the Christianity she grew up in.

“I know a lot of atheists who have become incredulous by reading the Bible rather than just the fluffy stories they choose to tell you in church,” she said. “Reading the whole story with all its contradictions, violence and sexism, it should make you think, ‘Is this really what I believe in? At least it did for me.

Lauren is not alone. No one knows how many atheists have downloaded YouVersion and other Bible apps for smartphones and tablets, but it is enough that news of the phenomenon has reached Edmond, Okla., Home of LifeChurch.tv, the evangelical mega-church that has created the application.

“I’ve heard people use the app this way,” said Bobby Gruenewald, the church’s “innovation pastor” and the creative force behind YouVersion. “But I consider it a victory to bring the Bible into the conversation. I think this is a positive thing. “

Lauren said she uses YouVersion to debate believers about once a week, usually during a study break. Usually, she searches Twitter for someone who uses a Bible verse to support her belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. Equality in marriage, she said, is an issue for her.

“I usually search for one of the many passages in the Bible that refer to different types of marriage” – such as those of men with several women – “and then I screenshot it and send it to them,” he said. she declared. “Most of the time people ignore it, but I hope they took a look and are thinking about it in the future.”

Across the country in Pittsburgh, Pa., Tom Amon, a 37-year-old atheist, opens his YouVersion app every evening to engage believers in verse-on-worm debates via Twitter and the Internet.

“It’s free, it has good search features so I can search for certain words like ‘unicorns’, and there are a ridiculous number of versions,” he said of the app. “It’s supposed to be the Word of God, but when you go from version to version you see how much the text varies.”

Not all atheists with a Bible app use it to fight believers. Brian Abate, also from Pittsburgh, uses YouVersion on his iPad to follow online sermons from a local Presbyterian pastor he knows and admires – but whose church he left years ago when he lost his mind. faith.

“I can have the opinion of the church and then I will read it for myself and see the difference” between the translations, he said. “The most important thing for me is to see how much the version will change the direction of the passage. It can make a huge difference in how you interpret it.

Adam Wright, a 26-year-old nursing student in Southern California, downloaded YouVersion because he felt he needed to be more biblically educated. A raised Mormon, he never read the entire Bible; since he became an atheist a year ago, he felt he should know more about it.

“It helped me educate myself,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m a better atheist for it, but I’m definitely more informed than I would be without it. “

Every now and then, he pulls out his iPhone and the app to chat.

“There was a girl in my math class who had a tattoo on Jesus and I asked her if she knew Leviticus said you shouldn’t have tattoos,” he said. “She said it wasn’t true and I opened my app and showed her the verse.”

While it is not known how many atheists use YouVersion or other Bible apps, polls show atheists are among the most religiously educated Americans, overtaking Jews, Mormons and other Christians in a 2010 survey from the Pew Research Center.

But with Pew reporting that only 2.4% of Americans identify as atheists, all of them could download YouVersion and represent only a small fraction of his total users.

Yet with the proliferation of Bible applications and other religions, young people – who are most likely to use both personal technological devices and to be without religious affiliation – the use of Bible applications by atheists is likely to continue.

“Young non-believers love to have these discussions,” said Hemant Mehta, Chicago blogger and expert on young atheists. “They like to show that the Bible can say anything you want it to say.”

And Bible applications, he said, “make atheists stronger.”

“Nothing makes you an atheist faster than reading the Bible,” he said. “It’s one of those lovely side effects to have these free and readily available Bibles.”

But Elizabeth Drescher, a professor at the University of Santa Clara who studies the non-religious, is not so convinced. There is nothing new, she said, about atheists and believers using the latest technology – whether it is a leather-bound Bible, an online Bible, or an online Bible. ‘a Bible app – to engage and debate.

“All the kinds of things that people have always done in a different way than they are doing now with digital technology as long as there are applications to support them,” she said. “So yeah, people use these apps in the context of these conversations, but I don’t think these conversations are any more active than they’ve been over the past decade.”

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