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A Short Conversation With A Christian

Portrait of Epicurus, founder of the Epicurean...

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

I went shopping Sunday afternoon at Meijer and as I was in line at the cashier, because I hate those self-checkout lines, the old lady standing in front of me and I started talking. Being a Sunday and this being a quite religious area she brought up the topic of religion. Specifically she brought up her pastor’s sermon from that morning that was about pagans, which Christians define as godless heathens and not Wiccans et al. To paraphrase what she said was that everyone who does not believe in god is a fool like Psalm 14:1 says, as it turns out that is the verse her pastor preached about, and in her opinion all ‘heathen atheists’ were brain damaged otherwise they would believe in god.  I decided that I couldn’t go on talking without telling the lady that I was an atheist and asked her if that made me a fool since I apparently wasn’t one before. In a comical twist she tried to claim that I wasn’t a fool but all the other god deniers were fools and again she added that in her opinion they were brain damaged. Guess being a glutton for punishment, since I am brain damaged, I kept talking to the lady. She asked me how I could have any morals being a god denier since in her opinion, and the teachings of the bible and her church, all good morals come from god. That pissed me off to no end because it is nothing more than foolishness to think so. My answer to the lady was a question, that is a time honored Jewish custom to answer questions with a question,  does the bible and your church teach that gods actions are all good? She looked at me quizzically and said of course, is your problem that you don’t know about god? I ignored that question and continued by asking her if that meant that all god’s acts were good and he was incapable of doing evil? I didn’t intend that question to address god’s supposed omnipotence but I guess any intelligent person listening would have understood it did. She said in a quite low voice that no god can do no wrong or evil. I then said if god’s actions can only be good or moral and he is incapable of evil or immoral deeds then he is amoral meaning he has no morals. She looked at me with a very shocked look. One that looked strangely like she was slapped in the face. Since we were still stuck in line I asked her to explain to me what type of good morals come from god. She told me loving my neighbor, not stealing, not committing murder and a few others I forget at the moment but they were pretty much most of the “thou shall not” commandments. I asked her since she believed in god and she kept these moral acts because of god, what would happen if he disappeared? Would she still love her neighbor, not steal and not murder? You had to see the pained look on her face as my point sunk in. She was finally done checking out and as she was leaving she said god bless you which at that point really irked me after our discussion so I quickly snapped back and threw on of my favorite Dan Barker quotes from Losing Faith In Faith: From Preacher To Atheist, a slightly altered version of the quote to fit the situation.. I said  “You believe in a book that has talking animals, wizards, witches, demons, sticks turning into snakes, food falling from the sky, people walking on water, and all sorts of magical, absurd and primitive stories, and you say that we are the ones that are brain damaged”? The cashier, wearing a crucifix that you couldn’t miss smiled at me and said I was right. Then in a totally unexpected twist after I was done paying for my groceries a man and his wife came up to me and told me he was the pastor of a local baptist church here in town and told me that he and his wife were quite impressed with certain things I said and my demeanor throughout the conversation. He also said that his congregation needs to hear some of the things I was saying and that a fresh outlook, even one from a differing viewpoint is welcome. He gave me his card and asked me to consider giving a guest lecture on faith one Sunday. As we walked out to our cars he told me he was really impressed with my using an old friends quote. Nice to know not all or rather be reassured that not all religious folk are totally unreasonable. Still have his card on my desk. Doubt I will give a lecture but it was nice of him to ask.

[tweetmeme source=”noreligionblog” only_single=falsehttps://noreligionblog.wordpress.com/2010/02/04/a-short-conversation-with-a-christian/]

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15 Responses

  1. Oh! I think you should go do a lecture at that church. One of the major complaints about those who calls themselves ‘Christian’ these days is that they are uneducated. (I personally believe that’s because the word is thrown around by people who thinks that it means they are good and go to church on Sunday, but that’s another issue altogether). This man you met wants to help educate his congregation on views that are different from their own, which is very important. You believe in science and intelligence and education (I gather from your blog) and true Christians do too (we are told to be good stewards of all God has given us, including our minds… once again, evolution vs. creationism aside because its a whole different issue). I think finding that common ground and having an intellectual discussion is important among human beings. We desire to learn, to understand, and to create something we can call our own. Show these people that you, too, want to learn and understand things and you do that through science, theories, and intellect. Its something they need to know, and as someone who so obviously disagrees with their beliefs it makes sense that you would want to present a well constructed representation of your side, seminar style. If I were anywhere in the area, I would attend and bring as many friends as possible. That’s just my two cents! 🙂

  2. I absolutely agree with anakalianwhims. I wish someone would ask me or better one of the many well spoken atheist I know in my town. Oh please go and then tell us what happened.

  3. Forgot to mark notify

  4. Biggest reason I hesitate is that I am not looking to promote an image of an evangelical atheist. Another reason is that while a Christian is supposed to “spread the gospel” and seek converts that is not what atheism is about. I do have two other concerns. One is that I am sure I would find it exceedingly difficult not to slip into a Sam Harris type rant and the other which is a public proclamation of my atheism out here is tantamount to a death sentence as far as employment goes. If I can see a way clear of those objections, I would love to do it.

    • I think you could find a way to explain your side with out being an evangelist about it. This is about the exchange of world views, about getting to know your neighbors, and learning something about/ from each other. I think the last thing the church would think (knowing that their pastor invited you) would be that you are looking for converts. It sounds to me like the pastor may be trying to set up a symposium of sorts – and if you decide to go, you could set up your speech to mimic that kind of setting. Friday Symposiums are the only real thing I miss about college…

      Btw: I didn’t know being an atheist was an employment death sentence – I work with so many of them! But now I am curious, do employers seem to discriminate on that basis? What are the statistics? I’m inspired to go do research now. I don’t know this Sam Harris so I have nothing intelligent to say about him, but I’ll go look him up too.

      • Where I live in Northwestern Michigan atheism is a definite detriment to employment. I affectionately call this area fundagelical central. So many fundies of all sorts, I had a couple knock on my door Christmas day to invite me to an open house at their church and a couple of Jehovah’s witnesses decided interrupting my New Years dinner was a great opportunity to talk about god’s creation.

        Sam Harris is the author of End Of Faith and Letter To A Christian Nation.

  5. Understood. I look forward to a day when such hostility is a thing of the past. One’s belief or lack thereof has no bearing his ability to do a job.

    • Ironically, an atheist runs our religion section in the used bookstore where I work. I love discussing the choice of titles with him… he mocks them all – but he’s clever about it, so I don’t mind.

  6. So, I was thinking about your discussion with the rotten old lady. (And yes, I kinda think she was rotten, based on your description!) And it reminded me of something my sister wrote about one time. I know you’ll disagree with the Christian view, but I think it may answer your question to the old lady about the Thou Shalts and all that… because whether you agree with what she is saying, I think it is a good way of explaining what it is Christian’s believe. (I’m not trying to be preachy, I just wanted to add some world view perspective from the eyes of Christian – not the eyes of a ‘religious’ person who calls herself christian because she listens to sermons on Sunday.)

    My nine year old daughter was learning about the teachings of Buddha and Confucius in her history lesson today. It was easy to see the similarities between them and the Old Testament Proverbs; some of the wise sayings were identical after translation. Puzzled by the fact that these ancient heathens would have such good morals she questioned, “Isn’t this just like the gospel?” And so I replied:
    Oh no my daughter, this is not just like the gospel. It is however just like the law. You see it is easy for people to see that it is wrong to steal and it is good to be polite and every culture longs for children who obey their parents. But these are rules for us to follow. Whether it was the children of Israel or the people of Asia, following these good rules, perfect rules in fact that are right in any time or culture, no one is saved by these rules. Even Abraham was not saved based on his success in following all of God’s instruction. Rather, Abraham had faith and it was credited to him as righteousness. You have learned the catechism question asking, ‘what did Christ undertake in the covenant of grace?’ The answer is that ‘he kept the whole law for his people and paid the penalty due their sin’. Jesus taught that “You have heard it said ,’Do not murder’, but I say that if anyone hates his brother he has committed murder in his heart.”

    This is the gospel: understanding that sin is not simply in our actions that people can see, but it is rooted in our hearts and minds; therefore God’s Holy law cannot be kept. Jesus kept it not only in his actions, but even in his heart and mind. Then he paid the full penalty due our sin. This is the gospel. This is grace.

  7. Hi friend noreligion

    I appreciate that you talk with reason and present your views in soft words. This is a quality that every human being should develop. I think you should have accepted the offer of the Christian pastor. You could if you like hide your identity; and I think nothing would have happened to your job. You are not applying for a new job.

    I love Jesus and Mary as mentioned in Quran.

    I am an Ahmadi peaceful Muslim

    • Hide behind a screen like on a talk show? how would that be possible in a live setting and what negative image would that promote. And yes, about 30% of this area is seeking new employment since jobs seem to thin out as the snow begins to fly.

  8. Hi Phil,

    Got here through the link on WillHumes blog.

    I’ve never even heard of the phrase ‘evangelical atheist’ before, that’s a good one.

    But just wanted to say that although the ‘fundagelicals’ as you put it might be on the “One of us! One of us!” bandwagon, not all Christians are obsessed with spreading the gospel and seek converts.

    My upbringing came from two liberal Christians. The two most important words for my parents were “Love” and “Serve”. “Jesus” and “Believe” weren’t the real biz-niz. And I can think of no time when they actively tried to convert new sheep or go on saving-missions.

    That being said, even I’ve shed that group and adopted the agnostic badge. We might be just at the start of the movement, but people are starting to wake up from their hardcore religious trances.

    If you are unwilling to take up the pastor’s offer, do you know anyone else that might be willing? The conversation does need to be pushed along after all, or at least be kept up, despite the earplugs some may still have…

    • No other atheists in the area that I know of that can take up the offer. I am sure there are one or two around but I am pretty sure none of them are ‘advertising’ the fact.

  9. Andrew you are so correct. That is a conversation I so look forward to hearing.

  10. I love that we have all been able to come discuss the topic of religion and belief so calmly and respectfully as adults should. I thank you all for the conversation and look forward to future (and more in depth) discussions.

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