On Tuesday, I was in Dallas taping a couple episodes of Life Today, a Christian talk show.
I was with my friend Jim Henderson. You can read his thoughts here.
My observations from the weekend:
- When going out for lunch with Jim and the book’s publicist Joel Kneedler, I saw a store called Mardel Christian and Educational Supply. It was like an Office Depot… but for Christians. Their vision is “to see the product [sic] we sell and donate provide people with the hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord.” I’m sure my new stapler will bring me closer to God.
- Before the show’s taping began, there was a two hour getting-to-know-you dinner with the hosts, other guests, and the show’s producers. When I walked into the room, I saw two large framed pictures of George W. Bush. This would be my first warning for what I was about to get into.
- Bush was a guest on the show back when he was the governor of Texas, and apparently, the show’s host James Robison is still in frequent contact with him. He made references to giving Bush a call soon. To pray with him. (I suppose that is among the better options we have in Iraq at this point…) Robison said we needed to praise Bush and added we shouldn’t have been in Iraq, but now that we’re there someone needed to help. And that someone included him, praying with Bush. Karl would be called, too. (Karl? we asked) Rove, he answered. Karl Rove. Meanwhile, I ate my bread and kept my mouth shut.
- The Robisons (James and his wife/cohost Betty) had a conversation with the other guests first, before coming to me and Jim. During that other conversation, there was dialogue about how the “gay choice… and it is a choice!” was a problem that could be solved by a federal marriage amendment. In any other place, the argument would start here. I figured that would be a bad move right now as the interview had not happened… I ate more bread.
- After hearing about the problems of gay marriage, the Robisons asked the other guests how their church/ministry is doing. The guests talked about how their church was trying to adopt public schools. Then they started to vent: Some group was fighting in the Supreme Court last week for standing to sue the government! Apparently, these people were against Faith-Based Initiatives! Robison added that these people just didn’t want to let Christians help others… I was still eating bread trying to decide whether I should say, “Those are my friends, Dan and Annie Laurie!” Meanwhile, Jim and Joel were stifling their laughter… they heard me talking about this case during lunch.
- The other guests asked Robison who the Republican nominee for president should be… answer: Mike Huckabee. Though Robison added that was a long shot.
- May I add how difficult it was to take notes on all this, since people were close together at the table, I was sitting right next to James Robison, and my notecards were in the next room? I was trying to write (without looking) on a piece of scrap paper, underneath the tablecloth… I don’t think anyone saw.
- Before Robison started talking to me, he presented me with a gift. Had I heard of Ravi Zacharias? he asked. Yes, I said. (He’s a famous Christian Apologist and I’ve heard some of his lectures, read some of his books, etc.) Well, Robison responded, you may want to listen to these CDS [he presents me with a 4-CD collection of Zacharias' lectures]… You’ll like him a lot… He has the same background as you. And I’m thinking: Same background? I think he means we’re both brown.
- After dinner ended, we were all told to pray. Everyone bowed their heads and closed their eyes… which gave me a good opportunity to look around the room and see the other 10 people praying… and take in the fact that I have rarely been in a room surrounded by this many hard-core social conservatives. It also gave me a chance to check my notes that were hidden underneath the table.
- Before we left dinner, Robison ran through a few questions he wanted to ask me during the interview. He just wanted to know if those questions were ok, and if there were any I wanted him to ask. Afterwards, he asked his wife if she had any questions. She said she wanted to ask where my morals came from. I know it’s a common question a lot of Christians have, but I’m still surprised when I hear it. Is it so shocking that I can be a good person without God?
- The other guests had their interview first and I was in the Green Room watching the TV in there. The cameras panned through the audience, and I could see the backs of their heads. I knew some friends from a local college atheist group were coming, but I wasn’t sure where they were sitting… all of a sudden, sitting in the back row, I saw a mohawk. Bingo! That’s gotta be one of mine! Meanwhile, standing next to me, the jaw of a producer of the show fell to the ground.
- It didn’t get on air, but all the college atheists were wearing their “Atheists and Freethinkers Society” shirts underneath their sweaters/hoodies/what-have-you. I was also wearing my t-shirt from the James Randi Amaz!ng Meeting 5 conference underneath my blue dressy shirt. Our little inside joke.
- The interview went well, I think, and the hosts were very fair and gracious in promoting our books and asking us questions that let us explain what we were doing. It won’t air until around April 25th, so I’ll post a reminder in due time.
- At one point, Robison picked up my book to hold to the camera. There’s a yellow banner at the top of the cover that reads “Foreword by Rob Bell, best-selling author of Velvet Elvis“… I guess Robison just saw certain words and announced to the cameras that his guest (me) was the “best-selling author of I Sold My Soul on eBay” If he wants to say that, I won’t stop him!
- During a short break from the interview, the Robisons, Jim, and I talked about the negative reaction that might come from viewers seeing an atheist on the show. They do a lot of good work sending food to Africa (without preaching the Gospel to them, they said) and they were (not seriously… but possibly) afraid donations might slow down after this airing. This led to a series of jokes (I was poking fun at it, too) on how I’m going to ruin the continent. In fact, I Doomed Africa will be the title to my next book.
- It turned out that a number of audience members (about a third) were atheists. Besides the college group, there were also members of the local Metroplex Atheists group present! Among them were TXatheist and Meagan (thanks for coming!) who frequently comment here. Robison starting talking to audience members, and asking them if they felt he was fair to atheists during the interview (audience nodded in approval) and asked questions about atheism that we didn’t get to during the interview. I thought the students he spoke with were articulate and respectful in how they presented their answers. It was great to watch from my end. Talking to the students later, they said they had a surprisingly good time at the show.
- One Christian audience member came up to me afterwards and said I had changed his views on atheists– we weren’t so bad after all– which was one of the nicest things I could’ve heard. That was sweet.
So long story short (and I say this after you’ve already read everything), I had my apprehensions, but it turned out to be a pretty nice experience. I can’t wait to see how the episodes turned out. (They ended up filming two shows with Jim and me, one focusing on my book, the other on his.)
[tags]atheist, atheism, Life Today, Dallas, Texas, Christian, Christianity, Jim Henderson, Joel Kneedler, Mardel Christian and Educational Supply, Office Depot, Jesus Christ, God, George W. Bush, James Robison, Betty Robison, Iraq, Karl Rove, gay marriage, homosexuality, Tony Evans, Lois Evans, Freedom From Religion Foundation, FFRF, Supreme Court, Mike Huckabee, Ravi Zacharias, Republican, James Randi, Amaz!ng Meeting 5, Metroplex Atheists, Atheists and Freethinkers Society, University of Texas at Dallas, Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, I Sold My Soul on eBay[/tags]