These notes mostly apply to the preacher posse; the ones who are out there specifically to convert people to Christianity. They call this “street fishing”, witnessing, evangelizing, spreading the good word/Gospel; these are all different words for proselytizing.
As for the general public, there were some casual glances to our signs (many more simply enjoyed the music) and a few stopped to discuss what the signs meant and what the Resistance was about. Surprisingly, the majority of those we talked to were open to our ideas – several were actually favorable. More people were encouraging than hostile.
Usually, the believers have unique reasons why they believe, or they openly admit they aren’t looking to change their worldview any time soon. We always try to wish them well and thank them for speaking to us.
Unfortunately, a lot of the preacher types (those that are compelled to “share their faith” instead of exchanging ideas) appear to be exactly the same, spouting the same stolid lines and “arguments” that have little affect on people. Apparently, the Way of the Master camp tries to break out of this dowdy tack by their the use of fake million dollar bills and “The Good Person Test”. Clever.
This group also repeated their “Are you a good person?” quiz so often over the few hours I was there, I think I’ve memorized it:
“Do you think you are a good person? Have you ever said a lie? You’re a liar. Have you ever stolen something? It doesn’t matter how small, God will send you to hell for this sin. Have you ever used God’s name as a curse word? That’s called blasphemy. Have you ever looked at someone with lust? Jesus says that’s the same as adultery. Do you know the 10 commandments? Most people don’t even know…”
Hm, how much does a preaching job pay?
Despite the constant litany next to us, mostly ignored and occasionally challenged by the passersby, there were some people who did actually engage us (mostly Kazz) to show us the error of our ways and how we should believe in Jesus Christ Lord.
So here are 5 things that struck me as I listened to them.
#1 Labeling “my people”
One of the preacher-types actually referred to all atheists as Kazz’s “people”. It’s kind of a low blow to use the “you people” label. We all fall victim to this sort of generalization. I’m doing it now with this post, but this is because many preachers ascribe themselves to groups like Way of the Master or The Door or other groups of “True Christians”.
Etymologically speaking, you’d think that a Christian is anyone who believes in the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. There are certain sublayers that must go along with this, such as the historical existence of Jesus, his death, and his resurrection. Otherwise, what’s the point? Apparently the jury is still out on this one. Most fundamentalists believe that you still have to believe in the Old Testament and pretty much everything that happened after Jesus that is documented in the New Testament of the Bible. Except for the parts that you don’t. That’s where it all gets tricky.
My point here is that there’s more to Christianity than Jesus – that’s what makes it a religion. Atheism is simply, only, solely, wholly, nothing but a lack of belief in a god or gods. We therefor don’t adhere to any principles of behavior or other specific beliefs. We have no leader who dictates what’s right and what’s wrong. Atheists are also not always complete skeptics. Not all of us believe in Science as the one true path. Sure, you’ll find all this and more, but that’s because we’re allowed to be different people with diverse beliefs. The only thing in common is that we do not believe in any form of gods.
This leads to my next observation…
#2 A Creator doesn’t automatically mean your god is real
Generally the first question that people have after you explain atheism to them is “Where did we come from?” Because every logical 5 year old knows that something comes from something. Without getting into the explanation of where the universe came from, know that this argument is used a lot by preachers who are unwittingly opening up the door to countless gods who can claim the honor of creating our world. Most cultures didn’t have a concept of “universe” so we usually are talking about where the world came from. The moon, sun and other stars play a really minor role in comparison to the Earth. Think of them as the aquarium background of your fish tank.
Say one of the preachers has brow-beaten you to accept that yes, there is a Creator. But which one? Luckily for us, Wikipedia has a list of 99 creator gods. So pick your favorite. Mine’s the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but Pangu is also cool: Tell them that they worship a false god, because that big hairy giant awoke from the cosmic egg to create the world with the aid of animal friends.
They will fall back on the Bible. Show them the Wikipedia article.
Modern Christians will talk about the universe somewhat but they are usually unprepared for knowledgeable exchanges on the age of the universe. They will more than likely talk about some bullshit “scientist” who discovered how the accepted laws of the universe worked differently back in Biblical times. Usually, however, the answer to any inconsistency between science and the Bible is Satan.
This argument often leads to …
#3 Ignorance of science, misunderstanding of statistics
Most of the preacher’s information about science doesn’t come from actual scientists. It’s collected (or made up) and disseminated through websites like the Way of the Master, Living Waters, Ray Comfort’s blog and others. Honestly, I don’t think that the preacher possse knows much about science and they have no resources to refute what they read. The preacher sites may know better but I think that they are more concerned about converting the masses than actual scientific exchange.
Much of this “knowledge” is based on what “sounds” true and really ignores a lot of the mysteries that make science alive and vibrant. They work with half-truths and they make scientists (and policy makers that support them) sound like the evil dictators of the scholarly realm. The movie “Expelled” comes to mind. Ultimately, they care about what supports their faith in the Bible. So they will read what is appealing to them and they will misinterpret most attempts that anyone makes, or has made, to educate them.
That’s why you get grossly inaccurate statements like the ones we heard on Roosevelt at the Art Walk:
Scientists say 2 rocks collided and made the world.
Scientists say a rock killed the dinosaurs and made cavemen
Life can’t create itself
How does life come from rocks?
Why Christian creationists have an obsession with rocks is beyond me. Their own mythos says that people were made from dust and a rib bone. LITERALLY.
We also encountered a strange misuse of statistics. This is found usually in the percentages and in the meaning behind what the numbers. One preacher alternatively praised high numbers while similarly dismissing them. “Most people will tell you there’s a God. It’s innate.” That line (paraphrased) was used to tell us that we have no hope of convincing people there are no gods. So his point was that the majority is right in this. However, later on the same man said “98% of Americans call themselves Christians.” This is probably wrong in the %, and it usually comes from conflating high numbers and percentages: There are a lot of so-called Christians, and 98% is a high number so let’s roll with it. In this case, a majority of people is a bad thing – they aren’t REALLY Christians. So he gets to appeal to the will of the masses and decry them at the same time!
Additionally, he believes that the evil gays also manipulate their statistics – he doesn’t believe that it’s 10% and that they over inflate their numbers so that people will be more inclined to accept them. Since there’s no reliable “test” for Christianity or homosexuality, I guess all of us unbelievers will have to rely on taking people at their word.
#4 Refusal to exchange
As Amerist reported in the Roosevelt Resistance Report for Friday, two of the preachers who appeared deeply offended by our ideas (or possibly just the Jesus Pwned shirt) refused to take or even LOOK AT one of our tracts. It explained what atheism is, and I handed it to them after they expressed confusion – “I don’t understand” – over the concept of atheism. One of them snapped, “You wouldn’t take one of our tracts since you don’t believe in God.” I said that I would, because I liked the exchange of information and open communication between people. They still refused the atheism tract but they seemed to think the one on the Nephilim (angel-human hybrids) was perfectly fine. It’s in the Bible, after all. However, one of their group who was a little more engaging was skeptical that it was in the Bible.
I’m glad they finally started looking at some of our stuff, but initially they refused to look at anything that might challenge their faith. I think this tendency, unfortunately, is what reinforces the other observations listed here.
#5 A story
Most preachers have a personal story of why they believe. Something that convinced them and continues to keep them tied to their beliefs. One man had his “scarred” eyes “cured” by God, and another woman had claimed that she should have “died several times” without the intervention of deity.
I suppose that this is the main reason they find their belief so powerful: it appears the only explanation for “miracles” such as being healed or rescued from harm. Many people truly feel this way. It’s not up to me to say such things didn’t happen, because everyone has a different way of interpreting things that happen in their life. However, I think that unbridled and unchecked belief in miracles further removes them from rationality and encourages a distrust of science and self-imposed ignorance regarding coincidences, albeit strange ones.
If you believe doctors are wrong and God will heal you if you pray hard enough, I hope you never get cancer. If you believe that only the power of God can save you if you are in a desperate situation, I hope you don’t give up if he doesn’t appear.
There are more dimensions to the preacher posse than this brief list. Their worldview seems unnecessarily narrowed by their beliefs. To me, it seems that despite their scorn of scientists, they are the ones that need an explanation for everything – right now. And so their explanation for life, the universe and everything is the God/Satan duality. And I think that’s unfortunate.