"If you ask millennials what comes to mind when they think of Christianity, when they think of the church, they will tell you it's anti-gay, anti-doubt, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-sex education.... we really don't care what the church is for when you have that much baggage."
--Hemant Mehta, in an August 2013 appearance on CNN to discuss the rise of atheism among millennials
Hemant Mehta was born on February 25,1983, in Chicago, Illinois. His family practiced Jainism, an Indian faith that espouses vegetarianism, meditation, non-violence, and anti-materialism, among other tenants. Although Jainism is closer to humanism in terms of cosmology than the Abrahamic religions (Jains reject the idea of a creator God), Mehta became an atheist as a teenager. "At age fourteen I was asking questions," he recalls. "When the answers failed to satisfy me, I searched elsewhere for different answers and found wisdom in atheism. And I am far from alone in that experience."
While attending the University of Illinois at Chicago, Mehta formed the student group SWORD (Students Without Religious Dogma). He graduated with honors in 2004, double majoring in math and biology. And while he had personally replaced religious devotion with skepticism, he was still interested in religion and why people were unwilling to examine or question their beliefs.
In 2006 Mehta was considering the value of sharing the atheist viewpoint with those who follow various faith traditions, not necessarily to turn them away from religion but to improve their religious practice. This idea, along with the fact that he had never attended a Christian or a Muslim worship service, or many other types, led to an eBay auction where he offered to attend worship services chosen by the highest bidder. A former minister from Seattle, Jim Henderson, closed the auction with a bid of $504, and he asked Mehta to attend various services and write about his impressions. The auction received major media coverage, including from the Wall Street Journal, NPR, and the Chicago Sun-Times. Mehta became known as the "eBay atheist" who'd "sold his soul."
His book on the experience I Sold My Soul on eBay: Viewing Faith Through an Atheist's Eyes, was published in 2007. That same year Mehta began teaching at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Illinois, where he taught math and coached the speech team for seven years, earning a master's in math education from DePaul University in 2010 and national...