Richard Asks: A Dialogue (of sorts) With Two Christians: How Would You Have Responded?

I recently received an unusual email apparently from a young Christian girl. The subject line was “one Question,” but there were seven questions. The email address contained a male name, but the letter was signed with a female name. I had some doubts about the letter’s veracity, but I decided to respond anyway, and I’m interested in how you, the readers, might have handled it and the ensuing discussion with the girl’s mother:

Note: Letter writers’ names are changed to protect their privacy.

Hi Sir,
Do you Hate Christian?
Do you Hate there God?
Do you Hate when they talk to you?
were you ever a christian?
if so why did you stop being a christian?
What prompted you to start giving atheistic advice?
were you treated badly by christians?
if so not all christians are trying to force you to convert,
somtimes you run into a major christian & somtimes you have a christian friend & there only trying to convert you because they a scared for you they don’t want there friends to go to hell, you should try reading a few storys from Jesus freak and see what most christians would do for God its a good book try it.
PLease get back to me on this & i dare you to read Jesus Freak it’s eye opening.
By Megan

This was my private response to Megan:
Hi Megan,
Your subject line says “one Question” but you asked seven questions. Forgive me, I have a feeling that your email might be a prank, like a Poe, but I’ll answer your questions as if they are legitimate and earnest.

Do you Hate Christian?
No. I generally really like people of all sorts. I dislike some things that a few of them do.

Do you Hate there God?
I cannot hate something that I am not convinced exists. If you are not convinced that unicorns exist, your question is like me asking you if you hate unicorns.

Do you Hate when they talk to you?
Christians very seldom actually talk TO me. They much more often talk AT me. Many just turn on a tape player in their heads and run it. They don’t show any interest in getting to know me as an individual. I’m just some kind of object, target, or goal to them. When they do actually talk TO me, I generally enjoy the conversation, and they seem to enjoy it too.

were you ever a christian?
No.

if so why did you stop being a christian?
Never was. You can read my short bio on the Contributors page on Friendly Atheist. Click the “Contributors” button near the top of the page, and scroll down.

What prompted you to start giving atheistic advice?
Several friends asked me to, and when I started, I realized that there is a tremendous need. Many, many non-believing people are being treated with appalling cruelty by religious people. Many non-believers want to have loving, respectful relationships with their families, friends, and lovers, but religion makes those people drive the non-believers away. I get hundreds and hundreds of heart-breaking letters, far more than I can ever answer.

were you treated badly by christians?
No. I am very fortunate to have not been mistreated by anyone. Many of those people who write letters to me have been treated badly by Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, believers in every religion. Once in a while a Christian writes to me because he or she is being treated poorly by atheists. I try my best to help them too.

if so not all christians are trying to force you to convert, somtimes you run into a major christian & somtimes you have a christian friend & there only trying to convert you because they a scared for you they don’t want there friends to go to hell, you should try reading a few storys from Jesus  freak and see what most christians would do for God its a good book try it. PLease get back to me on this & i dare you to read Jesus Freak it’s eye opening.

Megan, I fully understand and appreciate that not all Christians are trying to convert me, that not all are the dreadful people mentioned in the letters I receive, and that there are all kinds of Christians. They’re people. Like all categories of people, some are wonderful, most are ordinary, and a few are  seriously malevolent. Their wanting to “save” people is too often used to  justify imposing their will on others, and sometimes they are willing to do  reprehensible things. They would have much more credibility if they just lived  as examples of people emulating Jesus, rather than pretending that they’re  superior, and looking down their noses at everyone else. Sadly, it seems that  the more religious Christians are, the less Christ-like is their behavior.

Your daring me to read Jesus Freak does not make me interested. I am not interested in what people are willing to do for their gods. I am very interested in what people are willing to do for other people, without any reward in mind from Earth or Heaven. I’m interested in the wonderful things that people do for each other just because they’re people, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with religion.

I hope this answers your questions to your satisfaction, Megan. I wish you well. Please be good to people around you just because they’re human, and just because you’re human, regardless of what beliefs might be in their heads or in yours.

Respectfully,
Richard Wade

A day later, I received this from the same email address:

Hi I’m Donna (Megan’s mom) My 14 year old daughter who lives her life loving on others is the one who wrote  you. I didn’t know until I got this. I appreciate your response. If you are right then you are right and nothing happens. But if she is right then you will go to hell. And after reading the bible, hell is like pealing all the skin off your body and dumping hot water on  what is left of you And that is the reason she cares. She cries at night sometimes thinking about people like you and in fact I’m sure  your on her prayer list if she wrote to you

Sincerely,  Donna

Smile, see the beauty. Open your eyes wide to the the joy that is all around  you. You are a gift take a leap and be a gift to others as well (Jesus loves you…. And me:)

And my reply to her:
Hi Donna,
Thank you for responding. I admire Megan because of her compassion and her caring about other people. I hope that she can extend those qualities to people beyond the considerations of their damnation or salvation. I hope that she can express her love for people by doing things to help them in the here-and-now, and FOR the here-and-now.

I think it is unfortunate that she has been taught to believe in a god who would hide his existence very, very well and then torture people forever just because they could find no reason to believe he existed, regardless of how lovingly, caringly, and selflessly they lived their lives. That would be far more monstrous than the worst human being I have met or heard of. That would be a god not worthy of worship.

You brought up the question of if you’re right or if I’m right, also known as Pascal’s Wager, an argument for belief with very serious flaws that I won’t go into here. Okay, if you are right, then there are many, many people just as sweet and caring as Megan who will suffer in divinely designed agony, and Megan will spend eternity crying for them, unless a lifetime of this horrid belief has eventually left her pitilessly indifferent to the idea of outrageously disproportional infinite punishment for minor and finite human failings.

If you think that Megan will be spared this eternal grief for others in hell while she is in heaven by being put into a state of sublime bliss, then she will have been divested of very important and beautiful parts of her personality, which include her empathy, compassion, and loving kindness for others. Those are among the qualities that make her a unique person. If those were wiped out by heavenly bliss, then for all intents and purposes, the Megan you know and love will have ceased to exist.

If, instead of you or me, it’s the Muslims who are right, or the Hindus who are right, or the Zoroastrians, or any of hundreds of other religions that have used the threat of suffering to extort unquestioning belief from their members, then it will be you, and I, and Megan too who will be screaming side by side forever, despite the fact that we all lived our lives practicing loving kindness, fairness, and selflessness.

This is the barbarism of the damnation doctrine, a sadistic and cynical manipulation that dehumanizes people, steadily wearing down their natural empathy that you see so beautifully expressed but misdirected in young Megan. I hope that she can see through it before she becomes aloof and callous about human suffering in THIS life. Please just encourage her to be a good person, which is defined by what she does rather than what she believes.

Respectfully yours,
Richard Wade

A couple of days later I received this from Donna:

There is no question hell is going to be a horrific place, but what I believe will be most horrific about it we be the knowledge that the loving God, creator and master of the universe loved you so much He endured the penalty of your sin, humiliation and death on a cross, to save you for all eternity and you are rejecting that salvation, the salvation that is available to everyone.  At that point you will be more aware of your sin and how it hurt yourself and others and will know that your condemnation is just and all you had to do was accept the free gift of salvation offered by a loving, merciful, benevelant God; but you chose to reject it. Deep down, you know God exists. You can see his handiwork throughout all nature. No response is necessary to me, you are not answering to me or anyone else but God. So I pray you will reconsider your stance before you become painfully aware of the truth, and it is too late for you.

Once more I replied:
Hi Donna,
By your phrase “No response is necessary to me,” I take it that you don’t want to continue any further dialogue. I assure you that this is my last response, because the dialogue has already stopped.

In your first email to me, you showed me the respect to speak as a unique individual addressing and showing interest in me as a unique individual. But in this last email, you have done exactly what I had described to Megan, where Christians usually don’t talk TO me, they talk AT me with prerecorded messages, as if there is a tape player in their heads.

You have completely retreated from personal communication, and instead have sent me a series of cliché statements that you have heard and read elsewhere, and that I have heard and read literally hundreds of times, word-for-word. You have not responded directly to anything I have said to you. I have listened carefully and responded thoughtfully to you, but you have apparently not done that for me.  Receiving a message from a machine or a parrot has very little impact on me, or on any human being who actually thinks original thoughts and wants to communicate with other human beings who think original thoughts. This is why your message fails.

For you to tell me that “deep down I know God exists,” is just as arrogant, insulting, and  condescending as if I were to tell you that deep down you know that God does NOT exist. Fortunately, I have learned better manners than that, and I don’t pretend to be able to read people’s minds. I show them the respect to listen carefully, take them at their word, and respond carefully.

I wish you and Megan well. Goodbye.
Richard Wade

To the readers: Megan was apparently using an email address that is not exclusively her own, so I have very little confidence that she has been allowed to see even my first response directly to her. That is another reason I have published this.  Since she has read Friendly Atheist at least once before, she might be able to read this.

I’m grateful for your thoughts on any of this; how I handled it, how you might have handled it.

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    My responses are somewhat similar to yours.

    Do you Hate Christian? I don’t know that I “hate” anything. I view hate as an extreme, irrational dislike, strong enough to overcome reason. I don’t dislike Christians at all. I believe that they would be better people without their Christianity, and that the world would be a better place without theism and religion, so I do very much dislike religion, and of all religions, consider Christianity to be one of the worst.

    Do you Hate there God? I don’t believe there’s a god, so I have nothing to hate. I very much dislike the idea of a god, because I think it detracts from the value of humans.

    Do you Hate when they talk to you? I love reasoned discussion with people who have different viewpoints than I do. Unfortunately, I’ve encountered very few Christians able or willing to have that kind of discussion.

    were you ever a christian? No, I was never a theist at all.

    if so why did you stop being a christian? Never started, never had to stop.

    What prompted you to start giving atheistic advice? I realized that being outspoken about atheism is a way I can contribute to a better world (better in my eyes, at least).

    were you treated badly by christians? No. Of course, nobody goes through life with nothing but perfect social experiences, but any bad treatment I’ve received from anybody has been pretty minor. I suppose more of it came from Christians, but only because there are more Christians. No Christian has ever treated me badly because I’m not Christian, or because I’m an atheist (except for a few anonymous online trolls, of course… but who takes them seriously?)

    • Glasofruix

       Do you Hate Christian? I hate everyone equally.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

         Yup. I don’t hate them any more or less than I hate the rest of humanity.

  • Anton

    Hi Gang,
    Try as I could, I have been unable to find “hell” in the bible, at least not in the old bibles I have.  You would have thought that the translators would have at least known the meaning of “Hades” which figures in Greek mythology. For such a significant factor in Christian mythology you would think “hell” deserved a unique reference, especially since the Bible is supposed to be the word of God. I can’t image God being speechless or borrowing a part of Greek mythology when he was to have “inspired” man to record his words.

    • Mieke

       Didn´t Lazarus see his old “friends” in hell?

  • Glasofruix

    Daughter: Not every xtian is, like, proselytizing, but uh like, you should totally read this ossom book about jebus.
    Mother: REPENT FROM YOUR SINS YOU SINFULL SINNER OR YOU’LL BURN IN HELL FOREVER!!!!! Ps: gawd loves you.

    Aren’t there some bible passages to throw at them?

    • Gus Snarp

      Honestly, that part made the least sense of any of it. Not all Christians are big meanie proselytizers, but wanting to save people is also the mark of a good Christian… I’m not at all sure what she’s trying to say here. Which is it, bad Christians are always preaching to people, ignore them, or good Christians want to save people, love them for it…

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    My only extremely small comment is that ‘Poe’ isn’t a well enough known meme to use in a general correspondence such as this.  But neither of them seemed to care.

    I feel frustrated at the descent into chick tracts as well.

    My personal response would have included trying really hard to be a Christian at one point in my late teens, but no matter how much I “just believed”, it didn’t work.  You can’t make yourself believe something you don’t think is true.

    Maybe I’m a cynic, but I hold little hope she’ll be back to read this.  Her questions give me the impression she hasn’t done much research into what you say.  She didn’t cite any examples of things either you or Hemant has said that are hateful to Christians.  I acknowledge there are things that could be interpreted that way, but it seems like she was just making the assumption that an atheist must hate Christians.  And must lump all Christians into one group.

    Donna/Meagan: I find the worst part about the notion of hell to be the idea that a loving person would send someone they loved to eternal torture for anything.  I would be sad if my son rejected me, but I can’t imagine wanting him to suffer.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    I LOVE the way you praised Megan and basically said that Megan is too good of a person for her religion. That is some serious rhetorical Judo.

    • SDaltro_Brazil

      “Rhetorical Judo” was great!

  • Jochen

    I think you response was thoughtful and considerate. And I’m pretty sure you changed things for both of them. Planting the seed of doubt in a very friendly and professional manner, which is why this blog is so awesome.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=3203340 Michael Dann

    I call it “mission mode.”

  • zeggman

    I usually think I could have done better, even when re-reading my own deeply-considered statements after a little reflection, but I don’t think I could have improved on this at all. Richard Wade’s response to Pascal’s Wager, turning “if you’re right” on its head instead of the more common (in my experience) “if you’re wrong [and some non-Christian god sits in judgment]” was particularly on point, as was the observation that good people in heaven would necessarily suffer terribly for eternity as well, unless they ceased to be the people they are.

    The notion of heaven and hell is so logically nonsensical that, deep down, I have trouble believing that anyone seriously subscribes to it, despite their wishful-thinking desire to  see evil punished and virtue rewarded. Megan’s mom clearly has some serious filters in place, in what she allows herself to hear and what she allows herself to think. I do hope Megan, or other believers reading this exchange, will somehow be willing to hear and consider both sides objectively.

    • Stev84

      I just can’t believe that Blaise Pascal ever thought this was a good argument. He was highly intelligent, somewhat of a wunderkind even. Both an accomplished mathematician and physicist who made important advancements in both fields. He built calculating machines. In fact the original version of the wager is rooted firmly in probability theory. Granted, it’s a bit more complicated than what is bandied around by Christians today, but not by much when you strip away the fluff. Maybe it’s just another sign of how religion can blind even the smartest people.

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        There was an apologist on here a while back who ripped the atheist response to the wager, saying it was a very small part of what Pascal said and was interpreted incorrectly etc.  What he missed is that what atheists respond to is Pascal’s wager as presented.  If Christians are mis-representing Pascal’s wager, then it’s not up to atheists to correct it.  We respond to the argument given.

        I can’t find it now, and I can’t find anything other than the ‘standard’ wager online, so whatever the case, it’s kind of a red herring to say “That’s not what Pascal meant! (at all, at all)”

        • Stev84

          If you boil it down to its essence it says basically the same thing. But his setup and explanation are a lot more detailed. And he also considers some of the common objections, but very, very unconvincingly.

          He recognized that some people may be unable to believe due to their reasoning ability, but his solution to that doesn’t make any sense. He basically says that because the wager, by reason, compels one to believe, one’s inability must come from emotions and tells you to suppress them. That would then somehow be enough for God. When it comes to faith, he sees skepticism as a fatal weaknesses that prevent one’s salvation and condemn one to hell (which – like for Megan – is really his prime motivation). Sounds like his own religious experiences seriously bias him.
          His all too quick dismissal of other religions is equally ridiculous. He places the burden of proof on others to examine Christianity, while he accepts its claims without questioning.

        • Nordog

           I’ve always thought (at least as long as I can remember) that Pascal’s Wager was stupid.

          One either believes or one doesn’t.

          And as a “proof for the existence of God” goes, it’s very stupid, though I have rarely seen it presented as such.

  • noyourgod

    Richard – you are a saint, so to speak.  I think this “dialogue” will go into my top-10 (if not top-3) list of “how to respond to jackasses”.  Please note, the first two responses are *not* responses to jackasses – simply nice, well thought out comments. 

    Seriously – your assistance to those in need is impressive on many levels.  Kudos.

    (FWIW -the #1 is from PZ Myers – http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/08/i_get_email_63.php)

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      I like 
      http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/06/dear_emma_b.php myself.  And it’s not that I want PZ to be all warm and fuzzy, ’cause he ain’t.  Well, not warm anyway.  Well, at least not in the metaphorical sense when it comes to answering email.  But there’s the educational aspect.  It’s not just a push back, but it’s a push back in an alternate positive direction.

      • http://www.facebook.com/keithacollyer Keith Collyer

         If I wanted to persuade people or have a dialogue with them, then PZ is probably the last person I would send them to ;)

        • Baal

           Um, if you’re liking Richard and PZ you should note that they are very different on how they deal with folks.  They are both honest in their views but…

            PZ is largely willing to bend, fold and mutilate people for on single issue acid tests and moderates against viewpoint.  This makes PZ ‘fun’ when he rends trolls.

          Richard applies empathy and compassion and assumes folks mean what they say.  He’s also willing to respond by the same process regardless of viewpoints of the letter senders.

  • Onamission5

    I very much admired your responses, particularly the way you described the “tape player” method of speaking at someone rather than to them that the deeply religious often employ. I have been trying unsuccessfully to put the way that feels into words for ages and may have to borrow at least your basic ideas if not the whole package.

    • Onamission5

      If you don’t mind, of course.

      • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

        Not at all. Although my ideas are original to me, I’m sure they’re not the first time somebody somewhere has thought them. 

  • http://stochasticscientist.blogspot.com/ Kathy Orlinsky

    It seems like two different people wrote Donna’s two letters. As you mentioned, in the first, she seems to be genuinely engaged in a dialogue, but in the second she just quotes talking points. I wonder if she got scared that she’d gone too far in even saying :”If you are right then you are right and nothing happens. ” and felt that she had to back track.

  • Glasofruix

     I think those questions weren’t asked in order to satisfy a curiosity but to confort the girl in her ideas. That’s how it works usually, you are being asked questions until you give an answer the other party consideres as a proof that they are right and you are wrong, thus making (for them) your other answers void.

    Here what’s been going on in her head probably:
    Do you hate xtians/god/budha/usa?   If “yes” (because for them nearly everything you respond is a yes) you are a prick/heathen/terrorist, and i was right about you.

    Were you a christian? This is a kind of “once you go black…” question either you still are a christian and you’ve been lost (read about jebus) OR you never knew the “love” of whatever divine imaginary friend i have (read about jebus more).

    if so why did you stop being a christian? The devil got into you, not inerested about your reasons.

    What prompted you to start giving atheistic advice? How dare you tell people that god does’n exist.

    were you treated badly by christians? Just because you’ve known a bad christian does not make all of them bad, trust me i’m a good christian.

    • BenZ

      If she was an adult used to apologetics, I’d agree that this is likely. However, don’t underestimate the honest curiosity of children, especially about religion. They see dissonance and ask questions so that they can better understand.

  • http://twitter.com/TimidAtheist Timid Atheist

    Thank you for showing kindness to that teen girl and her mother.  I applaud your reasoned responses and your patience.  Too often I see impatience and scorn as the first response to people like this.

  • GeraardSpergen

    To the real “Megan” – your mom is too far gone, but it’s not too late for you.  Stick around and don’t be afraid to question things that don’t make sense.  You can judge us in this community for yourself.

  • http://wading-in.net/walkabout Al Denelsbeck

    Richard, you rock! I wouldn’t change a thing, personally, and I can pick apart anything ;-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marcie-Miller-Spence/1322445534 Marcie ‘Miller’ Spence

    Judging by the spelling of the mother and daughter, I doubt if they even understood much of your email, much less gave it any thoughtful consideration.  Way to take the high road though!

  • Dan Dorfman

    It boggles me how anyone can describe the alleged “horrors of hell” (peeling skin, boiling alive, hellfire and pitchforks, etc) and in the same breath say “but/that’s why god loves you”.
    Seriously, those two concepts repel each other like oil and water. They are utterly mutually exclusive to anyone with a decent moral outlook.

  • T-Rex

    Mommy is close minded and desusional and by indoctrinating her child she is an abuser too. People like her should be avoided at all costs, lest the stupid be contagious.

  • chicago dyke, mediocre of lime

    as a public figure, this sort of response will only enhance your reputation for fairness and dignity. you did it really well, handling people who are obviously lacking in understanding of more than one essential thing. while i think the mom is lost, the daughter obviously heard some crazy shit about atheists and maybe got into an argument with one of her religious friends over what it really means or something like that.  that’s what’s so great about kids, they don’t know about hate yet and their minds aren’t fully shut. she reached out to what is probably a prime example in her community of ‘godless heathenism’ and maybe she heard some preacher damning in a sermon. the internet is beautiful! for a long time i have argued it will kill off a lot of religion, if not all of it. the adults are lost, but the kids with the time and basic brain power to do a google search (and thank the FSM is auto corrects for spelling now) can find out that some people believe in hell and jeebus, but some people believe in all sorts of different things that are as varied as flowers in the garden. i personally think that dinosaurs do it best, but there’s just a host of mythology out there that softens the grip os fundamentalist xtianity. the adults, luckily enough, are mostly too stupid to understand the full extent of the threat. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/ben.tousey Ben Tousey

    First of all, your response was brilliant, and nothing more
    really needs to be said. However… I can’t resist.

     

    My first response would be to Donna.

     

    I’m often the recipient of Pascal’s Wager, and whenever I’m
    asked, “What do you lose?” my response is always this: “You lose your soul.” And
    Donna is proof of that. When you give your life over to anything or anyone—you give
    your life away: including your conscience, your will, and your heart.

     

    This is why Donna is so comfortable telling you that god loves
    you, AND he’s going to torture you forever just to show you just how much he
    loves you. Their god is an alcoholic father and their psychology is that of the
    children of alcoholics. When god is sober, he’s loving and kind and giving… but
    when he’s on a bender, it’s hell-fire and brimstone in the most torturous way. To
    that end, most Christians suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome because of
    it.

     

    I think it was Meghan who said that many Christians are “loving,”
    and while I can partially agree with that statement, I ultimately come down
    here: they can’t be totally loving—not as long as they never call into question
    their god’s predilection to eternal torture, or his lack of concern to the
    suffering of humankind. Love does not torture, and love would not accept torture
    as a possibility. If a Christian has to convert me because they’re afraid I will
    be tortured, then there’s nothing loving about that… that’s fear, and
    naturally, that makes your motives suspect.

     

    Keeping with the hell meme: a loving god wouldn’t send anyone
    to hell. The loving thing to do would be to send you back and make you do it
    again until you get it right. Therefore, if God were truly loving, he would reincarnate
    you, rather than torture you forever.

     

    And finally, to Donna, “You show me one person—just one—suffering
    in hell right now, and I’ll consider your hypothesis.
     

    • eonL5

      Good stuff! I’ll definitely borrow the reincarnation rebuttal.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

        when I was a christian I believed in reincarnation, because hell seemed too cruel

    • Dubliner

      I think most Christians have evolved beyond the idea of ‘ hell as a place of torment’ meme. Those surrounding me see hell as simply not being eternally in the presence of their god. Mind you I’m Irish so maybe my experience is different from most Americans.

      I still find you argument resonates though. While most of my friends and family are little more than Catholic in name only, I do have one close relative who converted to the baptist church (very few baptists in Ireland ). When he uses Pascals Wager asking what would he lose if he’s wrong I feel like saying – “You’ve already lost. You’ve wasted countless hours twice a week sitting in a church praying to a fairytale entity while you could have been doing something useful and probably far more pleasurable. You’ve wasted a tenth of your income supporting someone doing something equally nonsensical when that money could have been used to improve the quality of life for your family or given to ease the suffering of others. And think of all the books you could have read and the knowledge you could have acquired if you’d put the time spent reading that monstrous bible into something else”.  

      These are the kinds of things I feel like saying but don’t because I don’t want to risk my elderly relative waking up to reality at this stage in his life and realising that he has wasted a significant part of his life on a will o’ the wisp. That could be very traumatic. Indeed I’ve seen that happen in another elderely man and it was heartbreaking for him. But with the young to middle aged I reckon we have a duty to try to help them realise before it is too late what a waste a life devoted the anticipation of the ‘next life’ is when we only have the one to make our mark on the world. 

  • Heathernicolern

    Thank you so much for responding to them like you did, Richard. I was raised in an evangelical, fundamentalist home – my mother is an evangelist’s daughter and my father is a Southern Baptist pastor.  I identify so much with the sentiments of the daughter who wrote you; she reminds me of the teenager I was, except that I knew how to use the correct forms of “their” “there” and they’re,” lol (I was homeschooled). I’m so thankful that you replied like you did, and that you posted your replies here; I also had the thought that she might not be permitted to read your responses in email form.

    So many people simply say that there is no hope for such people – but I’m living proof that if you TRULY care for people, and if you go about TRYING to make sense of the world, and ASKING people questions about why they don’t believe, your mind can clear up the years of indoctrination and slowly start to see the refreshing truth of a world where people must care for people, where there’s no divine force of any sort hovering around either testing or not bothering to help you and the others you see suffering in the world. I  am so grateful to all the friends who spoke to me about their differing beliefs, even though I always had a come-back which I’m sure was not anything they’d never heard before. I needed their input to have my own “aha!” moment; thank you for giving yours to this girl.

  • Mairianna

    Superb dialogue,  Richard.

  • Gus Snarp

    Well done, Richard. It’s the best you could have hoped to do, obviously. It’s fascinating, as you point out, how the mother retreats to spouting talking points after you so clearly showed the problems with her Pascal’s Wager view  and the doctrine of damnation. If the way you made your point based on her daughter’s compassion can’t turn someone’s mind from their indoctrination, there’s little that can. Truth be told, I think it did. Her last reply retreats because she is overwhelmed with cognitive dissonance and so uses the only defense she has left. Some day there is always the chance that the combined load of many moments like this will break through her defense. On the other hand, she may just prop herself up with a few more trips to church or reading things that confirm her viewpoint, and she’ll be her old self in no time. But really, well said.

    • ragarth

      I never liked the ‘cognitive dissonance’ argument for why evangelists tend to ignore arguments and preach at you. I think it more likely that they read the first couple lines, decide you didn’t suffer an instant conversion, and skim/ignore the rest before giving their ‘give up’ speech.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Claire-Stout/1241820429 Claire Stout

    I loved the way you answered.  Especially the last response with the mother.  

  • Matt E

    Well done, Richard. Well done. as Humans we are all both rational and emotional creatures (unfortunately much more emotional than rational). Religious people tend to cling to their emotional natures at the expense of their rational side. We atheists argue for rationality to the point where can be suspicious of or forget our emotional nature. I’ve always been impressed, while reading your posts and comments, in your ability  to argue with both reason and compassion. This time, you have surpassed yourself, my hat is of to you.

  • hoverFrog

    If there is anything missing it is an explanation (unasked for really) as to why you don’t believe in gods.  There are plenty of reasons:  About evidence and how it does not lead to the conclusion of god(s), about how god(s) are unnecessary to living, about how some of the common argument for God are not convincing (Pascal’s Wager, the ontological argument, the argument from design, the first cause argument), the Problem of Evil, about how science is a better way of explaining things in reality that religion, about the lack of meaning in the term “god” or “God”, about how god belief can be seen as function of the mind and how it can be seen as a function of society and most importantly, how God is not apparent.

    I think that her core question (her “one question”) is that as an atheist why don’t you believe in God and she tries to explain it and offer alternatives and her own reasoning as to why this might be the case.  She misses the core question because she’s already in the mindset of Jesus being a good and merciful, all powerful , all knowing father figure.  It must be difficult for her to understand why others who reject belief in all gods cannot see how she sees her deity but that ability is gained through communication and understanding.  She has some empathy but maturity is needed to put that into place for others with genuinely different views.  It is unfortunately the case that a religious upbringing may quash this and turn her into a cardboard cut out Christian bigot who we’ve all come to know and mock as a stereotype.

  • Allison

    Thank you for responding to Megan the way you did and for posting the dialogue here in case she doesn’t get to read it in her e-mail.  I’m another who has never been Christian, and I confronted similar questions from my classmates on a regular basis when I was a teen. Unfortunately, many of my friends’ parents were rather like Donna and turned that hellfire argument upon me starting from the time I was a young child, impressing upon me that I had the responsibility not only to convert on my own but also to convert my entire family in order to save them from a terrible fate.

    Megan, if you are reading, I want you to know that I have been mistreated by Christians and it has happened in the process of “spreading the good news.” I understand that you are concerned about those of us who will, you think, be spending our lives in everlasting torment. Please, please do NOT pass this message on to small children with a responsibility to save the non-believing adults in their family. Please consider how much it pains you to think of what seem like otherwise good people in your life going to hell and how cruel it would be to bestow that sort of guilt upon a child’s head about his or her parents.

    I do indeed know that not all Christians are trying to convert me, as I have many Christians in my life, some of them clergy, who do not try to do so. Many of them believe that hell is separation from God or that it’s simply eternal death. Some of them don’t believe that hell exists.

    As a non-Christian, I have always wondered how pleasurable heaven could actually be if you are spending eternity knowing that people you love and people who have done wonderful things in this world are being eternally tortured. That doesn’t sound like happiness to me at all! Even the schadenfreude one might imagine in knowing that people who did truly awful things are suffering (and that doesn’t seem like something we should strive for emotionally) seems as if it would pale in comparison to the anguish I would experience knowing of the suffering of those who simply did not believe for whatever reason. Megan, I would like to ask you to search your heart on this doctrine as you grow, as I know it gives you pain. Even if you don’t feel uncomfortable reaching outside the umbrella of Christianity, you may want to do some research within Christianity, looking at what other denominations have to say and considering their points of view on the issue. Assigning people to be tormented forever doesn’t sound to me like the act of a loving being. I don’t believe that a good god would place this sort of burden upon your heart either, Megan, as you simply cannot save everyone.

    • Allison

       Argh, that’s “even if you don’t feel comfortable  reaching outside the umbrella of Christianity…” Sorry for any confusion I may have caused.

  • http://twitter.com/SigurdVolsung Sigurd Volsung

    I wouldn’t have sent the last email. Whether you should change your opinion or Donna should change hers, neither will happen as a result of that last message, and as you admit, Donna was no longer talking *to* you, but rather *at* you. At that point, there’s no true dialogue, so why are you still “talking”? It’s no doubt grounded in the human need to get the last word, which accomplishes nothing.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      I think that last letter wasn’t to Donna.  It was to everyone who will read this blog, including a lot of conflicted Christians.

      Often the real audience is the lurkers.

      • Onamission5

        As a former lurker (albeit an atheist one) myself, I heartily agree with you. I spent about a year, maybe more, following this blog off and on before I decided it was one to which I’d like to add my own voice.

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          Glad you did.

          • Onamission5

            Hey, thanks!

  • Nordog

    Richard, I think your responses were well done.  In fact I always think they are well done, even when I disagree with certain particular points within them.

    Donna’s second reply reminded me of a Christian I knew in my Navy days.

    Stationed aboard ship this guy comes up to me and asks if I had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

    I told him I didn’t believe in Jesus.  He proceeded to quote the Bible to convince me of Jesus’ divinity.  I told him I didn’t believe in the Bible either, that I thought both were at best fabrications.  

    He then began to quote the Bible in order to convince me of the Bible’s authority.

    My efforts to help him comprehend the idiocy of using the Bible to justify the Bible to someone who rejects the Bible were in vain.

    The guy was talking at me, not with me.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Wait, what?

      I mean, I know Christians who think large parts of the Bible are made up, and that Jesus wasn’t the son of God, but they do believe Jesus is not a fabrication.  Or at least, oh hell, I no longer think I have any clue what Nordog believes :-)

      • Nordog

         LOL!  Sorry about that Rich.  I should have been a bit more explicit.

        The story I told about the Christian sailor trying to convert me happened when I was an agnostic (some would say atheist, but not me or Neil Tyson,  lol) and about 17 years before I had a conversion experience to Christianity.

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          A Real(tm) critical thinker would have considered that possibility.

        • thebigJ_A

          So… you weren’t a Christian, then you were a Christian, now you’re not a Christian? Have I got that right?

          • Nordog

            Almost.  I told the Christian trying to “save” me that I didn’t believe in God/Jesus/The Bible around 1980.  Was at that time an agnostic (atheist?).  Basically remained that way until 1996, at which time I became a Christian.  I remain so today.

            • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

              Nordog,  I remember a Chick tract that said all moderate Christians are going to hell along with all the non-Christians.  I guess I’ll see you in Hell ;)

              • Nordog

                 LOL.  Well, if I get there first I’ll try to rustle up some cold beers for us.

                • Nordog

                   Oh, and I guess while I’m in full disclosure mode I must add that I’m not really a “moderate” Christian imo.  I’m just not a fundie/Bible literalist.

                • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

                  That will give us something to argue about over the cold beers.  BTW, I’ve been promised lake (of fire) shore property so come on over.  Just follow the Harpies.  They like to stop by for a pint when their shift is over.

            • thebigJ_A

              Ah, now I see. Thanks!

  • dangeroustalk

    No, I think you about covered it Richard. Great job!

  • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

    What really, truly gets to me is when Donna reported that her daughter stays up at night crying because some of the people she knows will be tortured for all eternity. This is no less than psychological abuse, and the one way to stop it is to stop teaching her this harmful nonsense. This is why, when people say “What harm are religious people doing?”, I fume in a silent rage and think about every possible case where a child is traumatized because she is being told, over and over again, that her friends that believe in different things (or at least don’t believe the same things she does) will all be tortured for all of eternity by the one being that she is supposed to love and worship.

    That is not only horseshit, but it’s harmful, psychologically damaging, abusive horseshit as well. They want us to respect their beliefs? Stop abusing your children, then we can talk about respect.

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

       Not sure I believe that bit about crying.  I think mom assigned a little writing assignment to Megan as part of her junior preacher merit badge or something.

      • Cobwebs

        I wouldn’t guarantee that.  Blogger Amalah, who was raised in a hellfire-and-brimstone household, wrote about the panic attacks she’d get as a child when thinking about other people going to hell, such as when her family went out to eat:

        I remember stressing about the fate of our fellow restaurant patrons to the
        point that I was unable to eat — what if that baby over there never heard
        about God? Would it be my fault for not talking to her parents today? Would
        she go to hell because I was too busy enjoying my clown sundae with the
        M&Ms at the bottom to plant the seed of faith in their hearts and would
        Jesus look at me sadly one day in heaven because I’d been the crucial part in
        his plan for that little girl?

        So I can see Megan being brainwashed into crying over strangers going to hell because she was “unable” to save them.  One more reason that introducing kids to the idea of hell should count as child abuse.

        • Onamission5

          As another chilhood survivor of one of those fire and brimstone doctrine churches, I could see this happening as well.

          One of my son’s friends (age 6 at the time) who is being raised as an evangelical told me a couple years ago that his “Mommy cries really hard when she prays.” He said she told him that she “Just loves Jesus so much and wants everyone else to love him too,”  and that’s an adult, so you can imagine the headfuckery that fundie dogma does to an impressionable child.

      • Lauren

        I wouldn’t automatically say that.

        I used to stay up crying at night about all the people going to hell, and the thought that I might go to hell as well (I was never confident that I was a good enough christian, even though, looking back, I was probably one of the most pious people I’ve ever me. As shown by the fact that I now feel terrible for saying that since it’s not humble in the slightest. Yay psychological screwed up-ness). 

  • BenofSoCal

    Richard, I thought your response was brilliant.  It’s too bad that the mother didn’t have the courage or the conviction to answer your first response with more than another christian “sales pitch” nor even consider the second.  You certainly carried the day, here.

    • Nordog

       Did the mother have a lack of courage or conviction?  Perhaps.  But more than that, imo, she seemed to demonstrate a complete lack of intellectual imagination and curiosity.  That’s tragic.

    • edward

      I tend to think that she was simply incapable of understanding his response.   His response was sophisticated with a few large words that the average American would find unintelligible without a dictionary.   The President of the US speaks at a 9th grade level for a reason.

      • Heathernicolern

         I noticed the same thing. This paragraph, especially, caught my attention:

        “You brought up the question of if you’re right or if I’m right, also
        known as Pascal’s Wager, an argument for belief with very serious flaws
        that I won’t go into here. Okay, if you are right, then there are many,
        many people just as sweet and caring as Megan who will suffer in
        divinely designed agony, and Megan will spend eternity crying for them,
        unless a lifetime of this horrid belief has eventually left her
        pitilessly indifferent to the idea of outrageously disproportional
        infinite punishment for minor and finite human failings.”

        At first I smiled in delight – such an amazingly well-written description. Then I groaned – this is exactly the sort of writing that even college educated people in this country say is “too” . . . whatever (flowery, etc.). Our education system is a failure, and I think that the idea that a lot of people simply aren’t capable of reading and comprehending such writing is probably quite correct.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gaudess Holyhell Kelly

    that was a brilliant response.  I am trying to work on respectful, knowledgeable responses to extreme religious people.  I get very emotional and can not be indifferent.  I hope to have your conversational skills some day.

  • dantresomi

    to be honest I would have ignored the entire email. It seemed phony from the start. it wouldn’t surprise me if the “mom” was the originator of that email and is now back tracking. I agree, she just shot back things the average christian says. Nothing new here. 

  • teressa81

    Very classy response.  I enjoyed reading this exchange – I hope the young girl is able to read it. 

  • I_Claudia

    I can only wish that my response could be as good as yours. Speaking to
    Donna seems to be a waste of time, she is too far gone. I would
    seriously doubt that she even has much of an interest in converting you,
    as she has put very little effort in being convincing. As you often say
    Richard, people sometimes argue not to convince, but to express. Donna
    has the microphone on but the speakers off. Pity. I feel dreadfully
    sorry for her daughter, who has obviously beein indoctrinated into the waking terror of hell.

    On the off chance that Megan can read this I would like to answer some
    of the questions, since there seems to be at least some honest curiosity
    there:

    Do you Hate Christian?

    Certainly not. Most Christians I’ve met are very nice people and I judge
    them as individuals, as I hope they will judge me for my character and
    not just think I have to be bad because I’m an atheist. Now, that’s
    different from not liking some of the things done in the name of
    Christianity. When Catholic priests hurt little boys and girls and then
    the Catholic Church protects them, I hate that and will fight it if I
    can, but that doesn’t mean I hate all Catholics.

    Do you Hate there God?

    Have you read Harry Potter? Do you know who Voldemort is? Maybe your mom
    doesn’t let you read Harry Potter but I’m sure you’ve read books where
    there is a bad guy. I “hate” the Christian god the same way I “hate” the
    bad guy in a fairy tale. I don’t think the Christian god character is a
    good being, because no good being would condemn people to eternal pain
    and suffering. I know you’re afraid of some people going to Hell. I’m
    sure you’re really worried that people who are nice, people who you like
    and maybe even love, may end up in Hell. Why should nice people have to
    suffer forever? I think that is one of nastiest inventions ever, and
    only an evil god would invent it. I don’t think the god or the hell is
    real of course, it’s just make believe, but I do think the idea is evil.

    Do you Hate when they talk to you?

    Not at all. Like I said before most Christians I’ve met are very nice and polite in person (online, not so much).

    were you ever a christian?

    Never. I was born, like everyone is, without a belief in god and I never got one.

    were you treated badly by christians?

    I’m very lucky because I live in a place where most people are either
    atheist, don’t care that much, or are very relaxed liberal Christians
    who just want to worship on their own and don’t want to impose their
    beliefs on anyone. Of course, I have been “treated badly” by Christians
    in less direct ways. Whenever Christians say that atheists can’t be
    moral, which is a terrible and hurtful lie, or whenever I hear that
    people would discriminate against atheists, or whenever I see Christians
    taking their particular doctrine and trying to force other people to
    live by it against their will, like when they don’t let two women in
    love get married, that makes me unhappy, even though it doesn’t touch me
    directly.

    if so not all christians are trying to force you to convert,

    somtimes you run into a major christian & somtimes you have a
    christian friend & there only trying to convert you because they a
    scared for you they don’t want there friends to go to hell, you should
    try reading a few storys from Jesus freak and see what most christians
    would do for God its a good book try it.

    I understand that some Christians are very afraid people they love are
    going to  hell. In fact, it’s one of the aspects of religion I think is
    the absolute worst, because it makes people so scared of something there
    is no evidence exists. The problem is that when you try to convert
    people because you are so afraid for them, you aren’t actually
    respecting them at all. Imagine I was always on your case about not
    wearing blue. The blue monster will get you! You can’t wear blue he’ll
    come and get you! Day in and day out, ignoring you when you say you
    don’t believe the blue monster exists. If I still didn’t stop, would you
    think I was being respectful of you and your beliefs, or trying to
    impose my own without caring what you thought? Speaking as an atheist,
    though I don’t think it would make me a Christian for other reasons, the
    best thing a Christian can do to convince others is to lead a good,
    giving upright life. Lead by example, not by words.

  • monyNH

    The only thing I would feel compelled to add is to ask both mother and daughter to spend less time praying and more time learning how to spell and use correct grammar.

    Other than that…awesome.   :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=750428174 Paddy Reddin

    I can only applaud you sir.  An eloquent, thoughtful and rational response.  I know I would have been considerably more snarky, which is why I don’t give advise.

  • pagansister

    Most folks have covered my thoughts—your responses to Megan were great—and also to her mother. (“heaven help her with that mother leading the way!).  Was obvious Donna was giving the standard lines! 

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    Megan and Donna,

    Richard often says that what is important is what a person does, not what they believe.  I definitely agree.  According to a subset of Christian scripture (the subset the evangelicals pay attention to) God is mainly concerned with what you believe.  Putting aside for the moment the question of the existence of the supernatural, I would challenge you to ask yourself why you believe the written word of scripture.  What is it about this collection of stories that holds so much weight for you?  How do you know that any of the supernatural references are true?  I would challenge you to consider that just perhaps scripture is just stuff that superstitious people wrote down long ago that kind-of took on a life of its own over time.  Urban legends gone amuck. 

    As Richard said, try to talk to people (not at people) and get to know them as people, not as some kind of target or opposition group to convert and join your club.  You may be richer because of it.  If there is a God, He/She may even like you better because of it.  As a first step perhaps try having a person relationship with God without a personal relationship with scripture. 

    I don’t hate God or even the God concept.  I just find very distasteful the elevation and worship of an antiquated document that was written (and interpreted) in such a way as to allow so many of its followers to do many very harmful things to their fellow man.

  • brianmacker

    What a horrible mother she is for teaching her daughter such hateful nonsense.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    I just feel bad for the kid, being brainwashed into a death cult.

  • Ken

    Once again we have the fundamental problem of blind belief without ever examining the evidence.  I sympathize with Megan, but she, and her mother, are probably never going to even think about contrary doctrine until some truly horrifying event rocks their world.  Meanwhile, they will continue to persecute non-believers in the name of god’s love.  Seriously, don’t any Christians even read their own propaganda?  I mean, Saul was slaughtering Christians until god struck him blind and forced faith down his throat.  Many of the rest of us have begged for faith in the past and gotten zip.  Even Mother Teresa didn’t really have faith — it was more a dogged determination to continue doing what she hoped would work without ever getting even the faith she wanted.  Optimism and hope are fine, but if you NEVER get any results from it, maybe it’s time to start asking serious questions and stop blaming fictional forebears for all the evil in the world?

  • thebigJ_A

    I feel so bad for that poor girl (assuming she exists, of course). All that good inside her is being twisted, like it was for her mother. 

    Oh, the things we could accomplish together, all of us, if it weren’t for these futile, dark superstitions disguised.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ORRVVC5R2QWLTXEM6SX5L6BORE Jay Arrrr

     “… and all you had to do was accept the free
    gift of salvation offered by a loving, merciful, benevelant (sic) God; but you
    chose to reject it. “And because I had the audacity to reject this “free gift”, this loving, merciful gawd will peel my skin off and pour hot water on me for ever and ever, Amen…

  • http://twitter.com/butterflyfish_ Heidi McClure

    Richard, you amaze me with your patience and kindness. It’s disappointing (but not surprising) that Donna went into playback mode at the end there.

  • turquoise07

    I want to enourage Donna and Megan, in the name of  The Lord Jesus Christ; I stumbled upon this site whilst searching for  something quite different. Keep strong in the Lord, hold on to your faith at all costs and do not be swayed by these mostly humanistic comments, they appear so concerned for your welfare but are actually quite the opposite.  Remember the many learned men and  scientists who have come to faith, believing the Word of God to be  absolute and Holy, remember all those who have been persecuted and died for their Christian faith. My husband and I came to faith in middle age, not through any indoctrination and after 15 years of studying  God’s Word, we know it is the truth, it is all that matters and God has worked in every area of our lives and our young daughter. The Bible says that true Believers and Christian family values will fall away in these End Times and we see Biblical prophesy happening before our eyes in Israel and on our daily TV News. We don’t support the ‘feel good’ ecumenical Christianity that thrives today, it struggles to be different from the world it should be set apart from.
    The introduction to this site had the words ‘Sadistic cynical manipulation that dehumanises’ I am afraid my upbringing could not be better described and I had professional, well thought of, non believing parents.
    Megan, I don’t know the book ‘Jesus Freak’ but I heartily recommend ‘Holiness’ by J.C.Ryle.
    Pray for those who have posted on here and have not understood your longing for others to come to saving faith in the Lord Jesus. Jesus spoke much about hell, saying the only way to Heaven was through Him, if we repent and turn from our sin and accept that He died for us; God is loving and merciful but also holy and righteous.

    ‘The fool has said in his heart there is no God’ Psalm 14:1
    ‘Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering (for He is faithful that promised)’ Hebrews 10:23.
    May the Lord bless, guide, strengthen and protect you both.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      My friends, if you’re going to respond to turquoise07 at all, please take the high road. 

    • Onamission5

      We don’t just seem like we are concerned for her welfare, honey. We genuinely are concerned, because there is quite a bit in those emails to be concerned about.

    • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

      turquoise07,

      You recommend the writings of J.C. Ryle. 

      J.C. Ryle says stuff like “That faith in Christ is the root of all holiness – that the first step towards a holy life is to believe on Christ – that until we believe we have not a jot of holiness…”

      Of course a lot of people will disagree with Ryle. Obviously people of other (or no) faiths will disagree but many modern Christians would disagree as well.  Many Christians accept the idea of “many paths to heaven”.  Of course the path most atheists take is to live a good life because that is just the right thing to do. 

      I think it is a good thing that many modern Christians cherry-pick the parts of the bible that they think are moral and ignore the bad parts.  For example, my wife is Christian and doesn’t believe in hell or the miracles claimed in the bible.   She views it all metaphorically.  She believes atheists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and others can be good people and that God is cleaver enough to figure it all out.

      If you simply define “holiness” as having beliefs in line with a narrow interpretation of Christianity, then keep recommending Ryle.   The larger community recognizes a much larger world out there.  It is dangerous to blindly follow others or the words of others.  Scripture is just the words of others.  These words shouldn’t be unduly elevated and worshiped.

      • turquoise07

        Thank you for your comments, I am afraid we shall have to agree to differ but here is my response.
        I believe that the bible is the Word of God; that God has used and inspired men through out the ages to record and preserve His Word.
        ‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for  reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness’ – 2 Timothy 3:16
        I believe the Word of God is the living Christ.  ‘And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ – John 1:14
        Therefore, I believe that a ‘cherry picking’ faith has no eternal value and only serves to deceive and provide false hope and security in this life.
        If we accept an ‘all inclusive’ faith that denies the existence of hell and the miracles of God then we have to deny the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:13-14  ‘Enter in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many there be that go in there; because strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leads to life and few there be that find it.’
        If  most are on their way to heaven, why does Jesus say there are ‘few’ and why give such a severe warning?
        If we do not need to repent and have our sins forgiven by the blood of the Lord Jesus and strive to be holy; if He is not the only way to heaven, then why did He die on the cross and rise from the dead?
        God’s Word says that in the end days there will be little sound teaching from His Word  ‘For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will urn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths’ – 2 Timothy 4:3-4
        Perhaps Ryle was one of the last great teachers, I do not think there have been many since. Ryle says that a faith that costs nothing is worth nothing – ‘Such a religion as this will never save your soul. It will never give you peace while you live, nor hope while you die.’ JC Ryle
        If people rely on living a ‘good’ life, Jesus says  ‘No one is good, except God alone’ – Mark 10:18
        ‘And all our righteous acts are as filthy rags’ – Isaiah 64:6
        Finally, I agree with you when you say ‘It is dangerous to blindly follow others or the words of others’ – that is why I can only say – follow the truth in God’s Word.

        • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

          turquoise07,

          Your scripture quoting only “works” for people who already believe all scripture is God’s Word.  For people (like myself) that think scripture is merely the opinion and written beliefs of the people that wrote the scripture, then it only becomes a literary document that sheds some insight on what ancient people believed and thought.  It doesn’t actually provide any evidence on the existence of the supernatural or what God wants.  It only tells us what people back then thought what God wants. 

          I view Christian scripture exactly like the Mayan book of the dead.  Both are documents that tell us what the respective people thought and believed. If a modern person of Mayan descent tried to convert me into the ancient Mayan religion by quoting passages from the Mayan book, I would only find the quotations interesting from a literary historical perspective.  They wouldn’t convert me.  Neither do your quotations from your particular holy book. 

          Who knows, though.  Perhaps they would work on Megan and Donna.

      • Nordog

        Well, Jeff, it looks like I’ll see you there.

    • Baby_Raptor

      Jesus said nothing about hell. The one reference that could be taken as such actually refers to the city trash dump. It’s just one of several things that modern Christians accept being told without actually studying the book they claim to live by. 

      If you wish to believe a certain way, that is your right and I support it. But please learn to respect the rights of other people to NOT do the same. 

      Also, I can’t speak for others here, but leave me out of your prayers. I had my experience with Christianity, and it left me badly scarred. The last thing I want is someone praying to that god for me. 

      • turquoise07

        Thank you for your comments, there are so many references to hell in the New Testament, I give a few:
        ‘And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched’ Mark 9:43 -Jesus speaking
        ‘But whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hellfire’ Matthew 5:22 Jesus speaking
        ‘Fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell’ Matthew 10:28 Jesus speaking
        ‘Ye serpents, ye generations of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?’ Matthew 23:33 Jesus speaking
        The purpose of my post was, hopefully to encourage the mother and daughter who were the original subjects of the discussion; I respect the rights and opinions of others and am under no illusion that anything I can say or write can change the hearts and minds of others, I believe only God can do that.
        I am sorry that you feel scarred by your experience of Christianity, but that is just what it was, an experience packaged by man. We have stopped attending an organised church as after much searching, we have failed to find one that consistently preaches the Word of God and we have had our share of distressing experiences at the hands of so called men and women of God. I believe a lasting and meaningful faith can only come from a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, founded on personal scripture study, prayer and genuine repentance.
        I am interested in your concern that anyone should pray for you, if you do not believe in the God of the Bible but I appreciate that a person may consider it an intrusion and possibly even offensive and for that I am sad.
         

        • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

          turquoise07, you said:

          The purpose of my post was, hopefully to encourage the mother and daughter who were the original subjects of the discussion; I respect the
          rights and opinions of others and am under no illusion that anything I can say or write can change the hearts and minds of others, I believe only God can do that.
          This statement is self-contradictory. If only god can change the hearts and minds of others, then why are you here speaking to Donna and Megan, as well as to us? Whether you’re encouraging other Christians to disregard “humanistic” (I would call them humane) appeals , or praying that the atheists be saved, you just said that all of that is entirely futile and superfluous because what is in hearts and minds is exclusively in God’s hands. Why do you think it is appropriate for you to voice your opinion and preference to an all knowing, all powerful being who already knows everything that everyone will ever think and do?

          If you try to fix this contradiction with the philosophical wild card of “free will,” then you’re saying that God is not all knowing, because we can make a free decision that he did not foresee, and he is not all powerful, since we can make a decision that he would not prefer.  Our puny “free will” trumps the Almighty’s expectations and preferences? Really?

          • turquoise07

            Hello Richard, I believe that God works through our communication with others and our lives, by the power of His Holy Spirit, we do not know how and when He will work. Followers of Christ are called to be obedient and to proclaim the Gospel of Christ.
            Pre election and free will have always been issues of tension in the Christian faith (the conundrum of Calvinism verses Arminianism)  and I humbly admit that I have struggled to fully understand this area but I believe the Word of God is revealed to those who persevere in their faith and I trust that I may continue to grow in understanding. 
            We can not process God with our limited human minds and impose our values and standards on Him, God is not up for evaluation by man. God says:
            ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’ – Isaiah 55:9

            • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

              turquoise07,  You’re acknowledging that the concept you believe in is deeply flawed with an irreconcilable contradiction that hasn’t been resolved in thousands of years, but you insist that it makes sense somehow on some plane of understanding that we humans are just too stupid to grasp. The scripture you quoted is tantamount to telling someone who has asked an embarrassing question, “Don’t worry your pretty little head about it.” I don’t think you’d accept such an insulting, condescending dismissal from a doctor, a teacher, or a politician, but you accept it easily, with childish naivete from a preacher. Elsewhere in your scripture, you’re told to be as a little child. This is the ploy of any con artist, to convince you that the abandonment of clear and careful thinking is a virtue. I don’t think that your high tolerance for cognitive dissonance is a virtue. It’s intellectual dishonesty, and it’s irresponsibility.  

              I want you to understand that for me, this is about integrity, and I’m very earnest and sincere in my convictions. It’s also about my nature. I’m not only unwilling, I’m also incapable of kidding myself into accepting contradictory beliefs sitting side by side in my head.  Once it’s okay to lie to myself, it will be okay to lie to anyone else. I will not go down that path.

              • turquoise07

                I appreciate your comments and those of others on this site;
                as a person trying to follow Christ, it is a constant challenge to examine how
                we live and communicate our faith to others. I have lived my life without God
                for many years and to my shame, I joined with those who mocked the Christian
                faith when I was at university.

                I have made my choice to follow the Lord Jesus and I hope
                and pray that until my dying day, God will enable me to follow this path.

                In relation to your comments, I believe there are many
                things about God and His Word that will not be understood, whilst we are in the
                present life. I am afraid I have little faith, trust or expectations of
                doctors, teachers and certainly not politicians! In occupation, I am in a
                career that would be considered to be at the upper end of the medical
                profession and I know what fallible, inadequate people we can be. We home
                schooled our daughter (now continuing strong in her faith at college) and
                thankfully, we rarely visit a doctor.

                Sadly we have little confidence in the preachers of today,
                do not attend an organised church and examine any preacher’s words against the
                scriptures.

                Your reference to blindly accepting a preacher’s words are
                ironic in consideration of our past circumstances, we actually left our first
                church where we were looking into the Christian faith – we asked the minister
                about the information we had gained concerning God’s literal account of
                Creation in Genesis and also about the existence of hell; he told us not to
                worry about such things, just to concentrate on loving Jesus and when we
                persisted he told us ‘not to rock the boat’. We left and realised that we had
                to think, pray and search the scriptures for ourselves, we could not rely on
                others, regardless of their degrees in theology /divinity.

                I do not believe we have a blind faith, based on feelings
                and ‘feel good’ evangelism; over the past 15 years our journey in faith has
                taken us through:

                The doctrine of heaven, hell and repentance; Creation
                Science; History of Israel and the Jews and the present day events in Israel;
                Biblical prophecy; the historical evidence for the existence of Christ and that
                He is who He said He is (information also coming from non-Christian historians
                such as Josephus); the authenticity of the bible and historical manuscripts,
                linked to the study of Hebrew and Greek and not least the incredible
                testimonies of Christian Believers, throughout the ages. Our world dating
                system is founded on the birth of Christ; the days of the week, our justice
                system, the very framework of our society is rooted in God’s Word, although
                this is fast being eroded. When Britain and America put God’s Word first, I
                believe God abundantly blessed our nations because the bible was at the heart
                of their constitution.

                When I was starting this journey of faith, one of the books
                to impact me was ‘Mere Christianity’ by CS Lewis, a former professor at
                Cambridge University and once an agnostic, he said:

                ‘A man, who was merely a man and said the sort of things
                Jesus said, would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic –
                on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg –or else He would be the
                devil of hell. You must make your choice; either this man was and is the Son of
                God; or else a madman or something worse.

                You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill
                Him as a demon or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let
                us not come up with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human
                teacher. He has not left that open to us, He did not intend to.’ – CS Lewis

                When all is said and done and accepting that God’s Word
                calls us to study and search the scriptures, I do not believe that faith in the
                Lord Jesus Christ can be learned or reasoned out, it is ultimately about
                ‘faith’ and that, I believe, is the most precious of all gifts from God.

                I do not intend to post again on this site; if the debate is
                about appealing to others with intellectual words then I am sure you will
                always have the upper hand. I do not doubt your sincerity or integrity but I
                believe it is possible to be sincerely wrong.

                I genuinely hope and continue to pray that something I have
                placed on this site may encourage, help and be of eternal value to someone but
                this is in God’s hands.

                I had intended to give the scripture about accepting Christ
                as a child but you are there before me, so I finish

                ‘There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it
                leads to death.’ Proverbs 14:12

                 

                P.S. – I find it interesting (and frustrating) that I have
                experienced extreme computer problems (the screen blacking out several times,
                causing a long, nearly completed post to be lost and today, an almost complete
                inability to type onto the post boxes), as soon as I come off the site, I have
                no problems and I have not experienced this before. This has resulted in the
                posts taking many hours longer than they should have but it’s helping my
                perseverance!

                • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

                  turquoise07, I thank you for your thoughtful answer, spoken as an
                  individual to an individual. I also thank you for your patience and
                  perseverance with your difficulties in posting your comment. I sometimes have similar problems. This is an enormous website, and this particular post has over 107 comments that can only be displayed in groups of 50. I think that the software is stressed to its limits and sometimes has glitches. It consistently does odd things to copied and pasted text. I’ve learned the hard way to copy my comments just before I post them, just in case they vanish inexplicably.

                  My best wishes for a long and happy life to you, your husband, your daughter, and family and friends.

            • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

              We can not process God with our limited human minds and impose our values and standards on Him, God is not up for evaluation by man.

              That’s the crux of the response whenever one tries to point out that the emperor doesn’t appear to be wearing any clothes.

              Presume not God to scan, the proper measure of Man is Man

              Mysterious ways indeed.

              It’s almost as if God is really Raven or Loki, teasing us all the while smiling at our confusion.

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    This has already been up for a few hours, but on the off-chance that “Megan” happens to read any of the comments, I’d like to share and answer her questions as well.  Since we’re all very different people, we all will have slightly different answers and if Megan truly is curious, I’m happy to waste a few minutes and share my thoughts in the pursuit of understanding.

     “Do you Hate Christian?”
    I make it a general rule not to hate anyone.  I might strongly dislike somebody, I might dislike their ideas, but there are very few people in this world that I could honestly say that I’ve hated.  If there’s only a few people I can say that about, it’s safe to assume that I don’t hate Christians as a whole.  Many of my friends and family are Christian.  I also don’t group and lump people together, but you addressed that in another question so I’ll just say that there are bad people in all groups and good people as well.  Hating a whole group of people based on something so silly as belief isn’t any good for anybody.  Not good for the person doing the hating and not good for the people in that group who aren’t bad.  I judge people on their individual merits.  For example: I don’t really know you, Megan, but I don’t hate you because you’re Christian.  If I did, I wouldn’t be writing these answers to you.

    “Do you Hate there God?”
    No more than I hate Santa, Zeus, the Easter Bunny, ghosts, or the Tooth Fairy.  It’s kind of hard to be scared of or hate something that you don’t think is real.
    “Do you Hate when they talk to you?”
    Since a large majority of the town I live in is Christian, it would be a very hateful life to live if I hated when every Christian talked to me!  I’d have to hate when my sister, my niece, my aunts, my in-laws, and my best friend talked to me if that were the case!  I don’t like when people talk *down* to me or talk *at* me, but if they’re actually having a conversation with me, that’s fine.  Like Richard said, the problem is that sometimes, some people don’t understand the idea of talking TO somebody instead of AT them.  I don’t mind when my Christian friends talk about religion or any of that, provided that they respect the fact that I’m not looking to be converted and not looking to make them change their minds either.  I love talking to people of any faith, as long as they respect my views the same way that I try to respect theirs.

    “were you ever a christian?” and “if so why did you stop being a christian?”
    This is the question (and follow-up question) that made me actually want to respond to you because Richard didn’t have the experience of being a former Christian.  I do.  I was raised in the Catholic faith until I was about 9 when I decided that the math wasn’t working for me.  All the things I was learning in church went against everything I knew in my heart to be right.  When I would question what we read, I was told to shut up and listen because as a kid there was no way I could understand what I was talking about.  That never sat well with me and after that I decided to stretch my legs and see what other churches were like.  I was a kid, so it followed kid-logic that Jesus is supposed to be nice, but maybe the people at my old church were just doing it wrong.  I attended different services in many different denominations.  Every single flavour of Christianity that was available to me, in my area, I tried.  Methodist, Lutheran, Wesleyann, Quaker, heck, I even sat in on a Mennonite service with a friend just to see if it would be a better fit.  I really *wanted* to believe for a long time.  So much so that after finding no home or love in any of the churches I visited, I studied books of many other religions.  I read and read and searched and searched.  I couldn’t make what I saw in front of my nose mesh with what any of the supposed ‘holy books’ said.  I questioned for years until I finally had to admit that the answers weren’t there and learned to believe in myself instead of the supernatural.  Now that’s just my opinion on things and how I feel.  I’m not bagging on you or your religion here, just saying  why *I* left and what made me do it.  Your life and choices are yours to make; mistakes and all as far as I’m concerned.

    “were you treated badly by christians?”
    Often and sometimes still am.  For the most part people are decent to me even if they know I’m an atheist, but there are some that really need to read their Bible instead of just listening to their pastor and drawing conclusions that fit what they want to do.  I’ve had people whisper behind my back, some even draw their kids closer to them when I walk by on the street.  I’ve been spit at, told repeatedly that I’m going to hell (with complete play-by-play of how the Devil is going to show me the error of my ways), accused of worshiping the devil (how do you worship something you don’t believe exists?!), accused of being a witch, and told that I should be shot, burned at the stake (a personal favourite of mine), hanged, and even sexually assaulted before I’m killed.  Yeah, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve been treated badly by some Christians.

    “if so not all christians are trying to force you to convert,

    somtimes you run into a major christian & somtimes you have a
    christian friend & there only trying to convert you because they a
    scared for you they don’t want there friends to go to hell, you should
    try reading a few storys from Jesus freak and see what most christians
    would do for God its a good book try it.
    PLease get back to me on this & i dare you to read Jesus Freak it’s eye opening.”

    True, not all Christians I encounter are the “in-your-face” types that threaten and are mean, but if your friend is trying to convert you?  They’re not your friend.  A friend will respect you, ALL of you.  If you are trying to convert your friends, you are not a friend and have no business pretending to be somebody’s friend.  When you actively seek to convert people to your way of thinking, you’ve turned yourself into a salesman, not a friend.  Something tells me that if you had a friend that was Muslim and they tried to convert you, you’d probably say that they weren’t a very good friend, but because YOU believe in what you’re pushing, that makes it ok.  We both know that it doesn’t make it ok or fair.  That’s a big no-no in the friendship game.  It’s one thing to share your feelings, thoughts, or beliefs with your friends, but it is another thing altogether to actively seek to convert them. 
    As for the bit about Jesus Freak, I’ll be happy to read that after you’ve gotten some actual history courses under your belt and fully understand the historical significance of persecution of minority groups and a little father along in math classes so that you can fully understand the fact that Christians in the US aren’t a minority, nor persecuted.  I don’t say that to be mean, I say it to be honest.  You’re young, you haven’t had the *time* to learn much of the world, but now is a great time to start.  There are books that I read when I was a kid that I thought were so ground-breaking and inspiring, but when I look back on them now, as an adult with much more experience, I laugh at how very naive and silly I was as a kid.  I know, I know, you hear the same junk from grown-ups all the time about how so much changes when you get older and you probably (like I did) refuse to believe it because everything you’re feeling right now is enormous and all-consuming.  Ah well, like all the grown-ups that told me and I ignored, I’ll say it anyway and risk being uncool.I wish you the best of luck and I honestly hope that your questions were for real and in a true attempt to understand the world around you a little better.  At risk of sounding any less cool: Stay in school, learn everything you can about everything.  Seek understanding and never be afraid to ask the big questions or the little ones.  And remember that not all atheists are the same, just like all Christians aren’t the same.  *big hugs*

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Something just struck me in reading your response.

      Do you Hate when they talk to you?

      I wonder if Meagan is feeling the hurt of trying to share her love and care for someone, only to have that person snap back in anger and frustration.

      • Heathernicolern

         Very good point, Rich.
        I hope, if so, that she listens to enough people explain why so many atheists seem angry that she eventually understands why they lash out, and learns not to take it personally, but to see the flaws in a belief system that causes so many so much pain.

  • JWH

    Do you Hate Christian?

    Not as a whole.  But I think that some Christians, citing to their faith, will commit evil acts or incite others to commit evil acts.  This is not unique to Christianity.  You can see it in the extreme adherents to nearly any faith.
    And I do respect a number of Christian friends of mine.  You always hear about Christian demagogues, disrespectful Christians, or Christian politicians.  You seldom hear about the Christians who practice their faith without an audience present, or those who are thoughtful and introspective about their faith and discuss it in rational terms with others.
    I have even known friends who draw a great deal of strength and comfort from their faith in a higher power.  I disagree with their beliefs.  I also think that they give themselves far to little credit for their quiet strength.  But I respect them mightily.

    Do you Hate there God?

    No.  I believe there is no god.  But if I assume for the sake of argument there is a god, I don’t think I could give that deity the unconditional love that Christianity envisages.  There is far too much evil in the world, far too much caprice in nature.  I think that if such a god existed, I would want it to account for some of the evil in the world.   

    Do you Hate when they talk to you?

    No.  In general I get a long fine with Christians.  Aside from religion, I find I have a lot in common with many Christians.   We root for the same sports teams.  We live in the same communities.  We care about some of the same things.  So, no, I don’t hate it when they talk to me.  And if they say “God bless you” or similar phrases, I accept their good wishes as just that.  
    I have a problem with Christians who see conversation as an opportunity to proselytize.  That sort of thing is rude and disrespectful of my beliefs.  I make no secret of my own religious views, but I don’t seek to impose my views on others.  I appreciate it when others show me the same courtesy.

    were you ever a christian?

    As a child, yes.  

    if so why did you stop being a christian?

    My revulsion at religious demagogues was my first step on this path.

    What prompted you to start giving atheistic advice?

    Skipped.

    were you treated badly by christians?

    Not really, no.

    if so not all christians are trying to force you to convert, somtimes you run into a major christian & somtimes you have a christian friend & there only trying to convert you because they a scared for you they don’t want there friends to go to hell, you should try reading a few storys from Jesus  freak and see what most christians would do for God its a good book try it. PLease get back to me on this & i dare you to read Jesus Freak it’s eye opening.

    I’m not going to read the book; I have enough on my plate already.  If somebody is frightened for my eternal soul, I can empathize with the concern.  But such a person should understand that faith, or lack thereof, is a very intense, personal thing.  Outside forces — great personal tragedy, for example, may push a person one way or the other, but ultimately faith, and a change in faith, must come from inside.
    If a person really wants to bring me into his faith, he should consider this metaphor:  His faith is like a room with a warm, crackling fire.  But even if this person considers this a cozy, desirable environ, not every person agrees. If he wishes to invite someone in, he should invite that person — once, and assure his friend that the door is always open.  Then the guest will come in his own time, or not.
    Constantly hectoring a person to come to this room, to visit, to stay, is not likely to convince him.  If anything, this approach will lead a person to grow even more resistant to a Christian’s blandishments.  

  • http://thefloatinglantern.wordpress.com/ Tim Martin

    Richard, I want to be more like you. Well done.

  • Deanna

    I believe in God…but I also believe that we are already in hell. “The Fall” has already happened and there will not be a second one. Richard, you are not going to hell because you are already there…we all are until we decide to drop this role playing non-sense in this world and go Home to our loving Father. No one is in danger of torture any more than they are at this moment in time. God will love you forever whether you believe in Him or not. He does not NEED our belief in Him to to be Who He is. He IS Love. Just like the sun doesnt decide who to shine on – it just shines…God doesn’t decide who to love…He just loves. So, believe or don’t. It really doesn’t matter. He loves you anyway. The only difference is, I think, you suffer more if you don’t allow yourself to receive His love. It is unspeakable and far beyond what this world can offer…but if you don’t want it, then you don’t want it. Your loss. But you can always change your mind and His love will call gently to you until you do.

    • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

      Deanna,

      Your version of Christianity is fairly harmless and I commend you for it.  I wish more Christians looked at things the way you do.

      • Deanna

        I think you’d be surprised how many do!!! Christians who throw hell around as a scare tactic are just afraid themselves. I love what Saint Teresa of Avila said..she said that the people who are afraid of the devil scare her more than the devil himself! LOL! I’m with her on that one!

  • Molly J. Schneider

    Responding here without reading any of the below comments so please forgive any duplication in reply. I believe your last response to Donna was in full right. She deserved to be told that she was in the wrong for not listening and turning her tape recorder on. I think that was most appropriate… however… I’m not  sure Donna needed the first response. I believe your response to Megan was full of right, and respectful and honest  and worthy. When her mother replied… I think you could have left it at that. Instead you pushed a Jesus freaks buttons and got her “Christ attack” turned on and she went off. 
     Speaking as a Christian who doesn’t believe in Hell and has the utmost respect for people who choose a different path and that that path deserves just as much respect as my religion does, I think you had a lot of good things to say, but to your question “How would you have responded?” I don’t think Donna needed a response from the beginning. She is obviously set in her ways and was gonna talk at you… no matter what you had to say. 

     Thanks for sharing though!
    MJ

  • Don Gwinn

    I admire your approach, Richard.  I think anger would have gotten the better of me quickly, and I would have written something easily dismissed.  If Megan and Donna exist, Megan is unlikely to be finished with thinking about this issue.  If she ever sees your responses, they may yet have a great effect on her, even if it isn’t fully realized for years.


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