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Street Preacher Cage Match

The public Christmas tree lighting in Seattle is the day after Thanksgiving. I attended five years ago, and surprised to see a number of people carrying big signs with Christian messages. One said: “Thanksgiving is thanking God he hasn’t killed you yet.”

Ah, what a loving deity. That’s the religion I want to join!

I got into the street sign morass myself a few years ago. I’d seen Christian sign carriers on street corners in Seattle, and I thought it’d be interesting to make an atheist rebuttal. I didn’t want to get into a shouting match, and I didn’t want to be there without them being there as well. But it would be nice to have a polite atheist out there occasionally to give another viewpoint.

I found some great quotes and made a simple banner. With some help from the very talented Kyle Hepworth, it looked pretty good:

I made this into a 3′×5′ vinyl sign and built a frame made of small plastic pipes (side 2 is here). As I sketched out my plans to some atheist friends, I was surprised that some weren’t on board with the project. They thought it was too hostile, too in-your-face. With that thought in mind, I was concerned as I set up for my first day of being in public, but that worry vanished when I saw the sign that the Christians brought that day.

It has flames at the bottom with the text, “Repent or Else.”

In the battle for being offensive, it’s no contest. I throw in the towel.

The invisible and the nonexistent
look a lot alike.
— Julia Sweeney

About Bob Seidensticker
  • DrewL

    You have an interesting passion for proselytizing and converting everyone to your belief system.

    I can’t help but note the Dawkins and Lincoln quotes are singing a far different tune about morality than you were in your gay marriage op-ed. “No evil,” huh? And everyone should just do what feels good? I assume you’re rescinding your accusations of discrimination and wrongdoing by equality-denying religious folks. Discrimination feels good sometimes, you know?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      You have an interesting passion for proselytizing and converting everyone to your belief system.

      I got it from watching the Christians.

      As for your last paragraph, I can’t make any sense of it, sorry. If you want to have another try, I’ll look forward to reading it.

    • Jason

      It’s one thing to want to share your ideas. We all think we have good ideas. It’s another thing to want your beliefs institutionalized or used to indoctrinate children. Allowing gay marriage is an act of deinstitutionalizing beliefs. In other words, it implies that you don’t believe in objective morality and evil because you think people should allow others to make certain decisions (like whom to marry) on their own.

      I have to admit that I have not read Bob’s gay marriage op-ed, but I doubt he proposed and defended the metaphysical entity of evil. We can all use ‘evil’ in an everyday sense to refer to things that don’t feel good, disappoint, hurt, etc. This is not the same thing as positing objective morality and some sort of Satan figure, as most Christians do. In other words, saying that you disagree with something that you think hurts someone does not mean that you believe in objective morality and evil.

      Actually, I agree that Atheists (and even Bob) are sometimes guilty of contradicting themselves, but I don’t see that you’re making a clear case for that here. Can you construct a positive argument accusing Bob of contradiction without just poking holes or pasting a link?

  • RandomFunction2

    To Bob the broken (yet fabulous) atheist,

    Listen, I would like to discuss with you an argument for God’s existence I got, but I don’t want to divert any of your threads. What can I do?

    Broken RF2

    • Bob Seidensticker

      BRF2:

      Contact me by email using the information at the About page. I’d be interested in hearing your argument.

  • smrnda

    I don’t think intelligent, well-thought out points of view lend themselves to the type of sound-byte that would fit on a placard, and I seriously doubt anybody is really moved to deep reflection over signs people carry around in public. Getting another view ‘out there’ sounds like a great idea sometimes, but I know plenty of people who like certain religious or philosophical groups (like Buddhists) simply because they aren’t in everybody’s face about their beliefs.

  • Greg

    “As I sketched out my plans to some atheist friends, I was surprised that some weren’t on board with the project. They thought it was too hostile, too in-your-face.”

    I didn’t find any of the assertions “too hostile” or “too in-your-face”. Some people don’t know the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness. Many people don’t even know the difference between an assertion and an argument. The quotes simply state a perspective, or perspective a group of people hold, and in stating that perspective it doesn’t threaten anyone or anything, certainly not on purpose. That is not the attention, the intention is to add another perspective that is rarely heard or seen.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Makes sense. Many Christians don’t care to have their special status questioned.

      The main thing I’ve found from hanging out at Westlake in Seattle is that most people don’t care to talk about it, which is odd for a religion built on evangelization.

  • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

    One of the things which I admit confuses me about quotes like Dawkins’s is that they are assuming a yardstick which they cannot possibly have access to without first having a yardstick. How does he know that his standard for measuring whether the universe is indifferent is at all reliable?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I reread the Dawkins quote and I don’t see what you’re concerned about. If you’re saying that to properly say this, one would need two universes, one with God and one without, and do a serious comparison, then I guess I see that. Still, it does seem that all the evidence in this universe points to there not being a god–at least not a god that gets involved in humans’ affairs like the Christian god.

      • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

        At a minimum, he never answers, “What would a universe look like which had a God?” And then he needs to answer the follow-up questions, “Why would such a universe look that way?” and “How has this universe failed this criteria?” Does he ever answer those questions?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          This quote is just the punch line to a longer discussion. I don’t know if he’s written an essay on that discussion, but it’s easy to imagine it. An objective reader of the Bible could sketch out the traits of a universe with a Christian God–for example, suffering would always be with a purpose that we would eventually understand here on earth, no one would suffer for someone else’s edification, prayers would be answered as promised, etc.

          We’re obviously not living in that universe, hence the observation by Dawkins.

        • JohnH

          ” suffering would always be with a purpose that we would eventually understand here on earth”
          This makes an assumption that there isn’t an afterlife in which the purpose is eventually understood.

          “no one would suffer for someone else’s edification”
          Where do you get this from the Bible which is all about people suffering due to other peoples sins?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          This makes an assumption that there isn’t an afterlife in which the purpose is eventually understood.

          Which again, IMO, is a rationalization. “God works in mysterious ways” is easy to take too far. Only if we assume that God exists and everything is for a greater purpose does this make sense. It’s not an argument.

          Where do you get this from the Bible which is all about people suffering due to other peoples sins?

          I get this from common sense. That’s the morality that I would follow if I were God.

        • JohnH

          Bob,
          “That’s the morality that I would follow if I were God.”
          I am very glad you are not God.

          “Only if we assume that God exists and everything is for a greater purpose does this make sense. It’s not an argument.”
          Well, yes, one would need to establish there is a God before moving on to other topics. “Letting Go Of God” makes fun of the Mormon missionaries for bringing up the claims of authority first but notice that they start with establishing there is belief in God and then moving on from there to things that are, in fact, the central claims to authority before ever getting to the purpose of life, where we go after death, and so forth.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I am very glad you are not God.

          Why? Would you act differently?

        • DrewL

          I get this from common sense. That’s the morality that I would follow if I were God.

          This has to be one of the most explicit expression of “moral protest atheism” I’ve seen.

          My moral beliefs demand X.
          God doesn’t do X.
          Therefore, there is no God.

          Fun stuff.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Another breath of fresh air from Drew!

          If you want to respond directly to something that I’ve said, I’m sure you’ll let me know. Or just do a drive-by.

        • DrewL

          Okay, let me rewind the thread since your scroll bar must be broken:

          Bob: An objective reader of the Bible could sketch out the traits of a universe with a Christian God–for example, suffering would always be with a purpose that we would eventually understand here on earth, no one would suffer for someone else’s edification, prayers would be answered as promised, etc.

          JohnH: Where do you get this from the Bible which is all about people suffering due to other peoples sins?

          Bob: I get this from common sense. That’s the morality that I would follow if I were God.

          God doesn’t conform to Bob’s common sense morality; therefore there is no God. That’s your argument. Again, fun stuff.

    • Jason

      God cannot be both omnipotent and loving in a world with pain and suffering. Of course believers will claim that God gave humans free will and so they brought it on themselves, etc, etc. But still, if God is all knowing, all powerful, and built the “hardware” for free will himself, he messed up pretty bad by creating all this suffering–that is, if he is really the God of love as Christians often claim. At the very least it seems like you would have to say that God makes mistakes. Or, you have to admit that he endorses a certain amount of pain and suffering. He can’t be the god of love and be all powerful. Given that pain exists in the universe, I’d say that doubting God is perfectly reasonable and the better default position.

      • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

        God cannot be both omnipotent and loving in a world with pain and suffering.

        Why not?

        he messed up pretty bad by creating all this suffering

        How so? What if this is literally the best of all possible worlds? A Christian would say that it is. The theology is that the amount of suffering in this world is exactly how much is needed for the best end and the most happiness.

        Or, you have to admit that he endorses a certain amount of pain and suffering.

        Jesus was crucified. That’s more than just an admission, it is a central tenet.

        He can’t be the god of love and be all powerful.

        You have defined a God of love as being one who can suffer no suffering. Where did you get that definition? How do you justify it?

        Given that pain exists in the universe, I’d say that doubting God is perfectly reasonable and the better default position.

        That statement doesn’t really work though, does it? Leaving aside the fact that you have tied the terms “love” and “without suffering” without either scientific (which has no notion of love and no real definition of suffering) or philosophical (which does not disallow for their simultaneity) justification, you have also tied loving as a necessity of existence for God. The existence of God and the question of whether God is loving are two very different questions.

        Whether doubting God is reasonable as a default or not, that evidence is very poor.

        • Jason

          “Why not?”

          If I were all powerful, I wouldn’t let you suffer.

          “What if this is literally the best of all possible worlds? ”

          Then God’s not all powerful because he couldn’t create a perfect world. I guess he could be most powerful. In other words, God must be pretty limited if this is the best he could do. At least he could have limited suffering to stuff like stubbing your toe.

          “Jesus was crucified. That’s more than just an admission, it is a central tenet.”

          Exactly. Not to mention all the millions of other people crucified throughout antiquity. Oh yeah, and then there’s stuff like genocide, torture, child molestation, debilitating diseases, etc. According to believers, God let all that happen, and your best response is, “What if that’s the best he could do?”

          “You have defined a God of love as being one who can suffer no suffering. Where did you get that definition? How do you justify it?”

          I could accept that a loving god allowed some suffering as a means to a better end, but the problem is that God supposedly created the whole situation that allowed the suffering to start with. Could you elaborate on this point? I think you need to explain how an all loving perfect God could ever endorse any suffering.

          “That statement doesn’t really work though, does it?”

          You seem to be making a very simple thing very complicated. I understood the original issue to simply be whether the universe as we know it suggests the existence of God or not. Since we’re talking about the Christian God who is generally thought by believers to be all loving and all powerful, I just wanted to point out that this is totally inconsistent with some of the most basic information we have about the universe–namely, that there is something like pain or suffering in the world. You can always find a theological way around this, but of course then you are opting for a MORE speculative answer. I’m just using basic logic and empirical observation.

          Can you think of one example in your life where you would willingly allow someone you loved to suffer in a huge way if you had any ability to stop it?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I’ll try to add to what Jason has already said. Hope I’m not being too redundant.

          The theology is that the amount of suffering in this world is exactly how much is needed for the best end and the most happiness.

          If you assume Christianity is true, then this kind of rationalization makes sense. Otherwise, not so much.

          Jesus was crucified.

          God needs a blood sacrifice. Jesus died … but not really.

          Two more problems that vex Christians.

          The existence of God and the question of whether God is loving are two very different questions.

          And the God of Christianity is said to be loving. Since a loving god obviously doesn’t govern this universe, the Christian god doesn’t exist.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          If I were all powerful, I wouldn’t let you suffer.

          So… you’re arguing, “I know best, therefore I am right and find suffering completely incompatible with love.”

          Then God’s not all powerful because he couldn’t create a perfect world.

          I’m going to ignore the problem of using the word, “perfect” here (the word actually has a very specific definition in philosophy). This does not, however, do anything to advance your point beyond, “I don’t like suffering and I think God should not have it.”

          I could accept that a loving god allowed some suffering as a means to a better end

          And how do you know that this isn’t to a better end? For that matter, how do you know which suffering is “too much” suffering?

          but the problem is that God supposedly created the whole situation that allowed the suffering to start with.

          Perhaps, however, the best end, the one where the most sentient creatures are experiencing the most joy involves a world where they had to suffer?

          You seem to be making a very simple thing very complicated.

          Not at all. You are the one who said that the existence of God is dependent on an unrelated claim.

          Can you think of one example in your life where you would willingly allow someone you loved to suffer in a huge way if you had any ability to stop it?

          When my four-year-old son had a glass splinter once, my wife held him down and I had to try to dig through the blood to get the splinter out or it would have been much worse. He kicked. He screamed. I’m sure it hurt him quite a bit. When it was over he thought that we were extraordinarily mean for doing that, but he did not know of what would have happened had we let the splinter stay in his body.

          What if all of the suffering from this life is no different from the removal of the splinter? We have no outside scale after all. At most the argument needs to be, “I would expect less suffering from a world with a benevolent deity” but then you need to be able to define some sort of range of “how much less?” You mention that stubbing the toe, but why is this an acceptable amount? Any attempt seems, at least to me, like an attempt to measure miles using a teaspoon, but you seem to have found a way around this so please explain.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          So… you’re arguing, “I know best, therefore I am right and find suffering completely incompatible with love.”

          Is there an alternative? If God exists, he gave us this brain to use. If God-given morality applies to us, why does God get a pass?

          When my four-year-old son had a glass splinter once …

          You’re not God. Humans must do things through natural means. God isn’t bound by such limits. He could have removed the splinter and healed the wound and removed the pain in an instant. But he didn’t.

          “Well, God must have his reasons” is a meaningless response until we know that God exists. It merely shores up Christianity by discouraging questioning; it doesn’t actually provide evidence that it’s true.

          What if all of the suffering from this life is no different from the removal of the splinter? We have no outside scale after all.

          Where does the evidence point? That God exists, that suffering makes no sense but we’ll find out when we get to heaven? Hardly. The evidence says that there’s no God–no Christian god, no Hindu god, no Scientology god.

          At most the argument needs to be, “I would expect less suffering from a world with a benevolent deity” but then you need to be able to define some sort of range of “how much less?”

          The world would be a better place if God prevented all birth defects. Who could pretend that the suffering and slow death of a child born with debilitating birth defects is a net positive?

        • Jason

          IT said:
          “And how do you know that this isn’t to a better end?”

          I don’t. How do you know? Of course this is the point. Since I don’t know there’s a heaven, I’m not going to live my life like it’s a sure thing. I’m not saying there’s definitely not a better end. Only when someone makes definite claims for absolute certainty does a speculative possibility undermine them. You are trying to use speculative possibilities to make an argument. All you can show with this is that I can’t be sure there’s no better end. But again, I’m not arguing that I’m sure. I’m arguing that you can’t be sure that there is a better end. Not holding a belief is not the same as denying a belief. True Atheism is really an extreme form of agnosticism.

          “When my four-year-old son had a glass splinter once, my wife held him down and I had to try to dig through the blood to get the splinter out or it would have been much worse.”

          So even if you could have prevented him from getting the splinter in the first place, you wouldn’t have? The key word in my question is “willingly”. It was not your fault your son got the splinter and you didn’t do it willingly. You willingly helped him get out of pain the best you could. And that’s exactly my point. God is apparently capable but doesn’t help. If you had magic powers like God, wouldn’t you have eagerly used them to prevent the splinter problem in the first place or at lest made getting the splinter out less painful?

          I also think your example is a little weak because its a fairly tolerable example of relatively minor pain that didn’t last very long and can be justified as a life lesson. Let’s try this hypothetical that gets more to my point: When your child is ten years old, you find out that he is developing an illness that will not kill him for many years but will cause him anguish everyday of his life. That night a friendly witch appears to you and says she is willing to grant you one miracle. Is there any chance you would decide not to “willingly” help the child?

          If God has the ability to perform miracles, isn’t it odd that he doesn’t perform one every time someone faces suffering like this? When you compare this kind of suffering to a splinter, you are not doing justice to the severity of pain that is experienced in the world.

        • DrewL

          Bob you’re getting awfully indignant here about a non-existent being who isn’t conforming to your moral code. I thought morality was just personal opinion; why all the fuss?

          Whatever happened to…
          I insist that you keep your commitments to me, that you follow the basic rules of civility, and so on. When you don’t, I’m annoyed not because you violated an absolute law; you violate my law. It ain’t much, but it’s all I’ve got…

          …and all your arguments about no one being able to access objective morality? And now you’re putting God on trial for not conforming to moral criteria? Where are these coming from???

          And why are you so tacit about your subjectivism all of a sudden? You need to drop in about 17 “according to my own standards” qualifiers in this thread. What you’re really arguing is that the world has too much suffering according to Bob’s personal opinion on exactly how much suffering the world should have. And that this God fellow seems to be cruel and heartless according to Bob’s personal criteria of what a morally good God would be.

          Once you add in these subjective qualifiers of you criteria, I should warn you: it’s going to sound a bit like a 13-year-old girl who filled out an online dating profile of “My Idea of the PERFECT DREAM GUY.” Only this is how you approach deities, not cute boys in junior high. Quite an approach, I must say.

  • smrnda

    On god, gods and suffering, I had to add something.

    Someone says god made a world that seems imperfect because, if we could only know his plans, we’d see it’s really the best it could be.

    Really? I mean, aside from how much this insults anybody who has actually suffered when people appropriate other people’s trauma to turn into talking points that there’s some ‘greater purpose’ to all of this (an easy thing to say when it’s not you who is suffering) it’s basically built on the idea that a loving god uses people like playthings, puppets or characters in a play. When people try to promote the idea that there’s some purpose behind suffering, it’s either to excuse the lack of progress made in alleviating it, or something you tell some oppressed person to keep them down (pie in the sky.)

    The other thing is there’s always the claim that god’s plans really are perfect, we just don’t realize how yet. The problem is there’s not necessarily such a thing as the ‘best plan’ since people all have different feelings, preferences and priorities. The only way I can see god making everybody happy is if somehow people are stopped from thinking, since you get a little bit of conflict even among people who love each other about what’s the highest good or priority, and that’s a good thing – it shows people have personality, they aren’t just empty vessels.

  • Pingback: Street Preacher Cage Match, Part 2

  • Kristen inDallas

    The science teacher in me wants to point out that the Sagan and Dawkins quotes are a huge disservice to the field of science, which a lot of folks find pretty awe-inspiring, once they sink their teeth in. I think from a “rationality wins” stadpoint some guy doing the same thing the crazy street preachers do isn’t going to win any converts. Far more effective would be the simple sign that reads “Dear Street Preacher. You aren’t doing us any favors. Besides, it’s almost December. Go inside, or find a cave if you prefer. You’re supposed to be hibernating right now. Love, God and his homeboy St. Darwin” This sign would not be held, but leaned up against an empty chair across the street.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Yes, science is awe inspiring, but I’m missing the problem behind the Sagan and Dawkins quotes.


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