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?

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.

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.

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