manicstreetpreacher tells a parable for atheists
This is a true story.
I am returning home on the train on a Monday night in February 2009 having finished work, recorded an interview at Radio CityTalk about my live debate against a Christian apologist at Liverpool University the 19th of the month and a perfect stranger spots me reading my copy of Atheism: A Very Short Introduction by Julian Baggini.
It’s not that I need an introduction to atheism, long or short, but my opponent has reviewed the book in one of his online articles and I want check that he has not quote-mined it as he has done with Richard Dawkins and Charles Darwin in his book on religious meaning.
Anyway, this man on the train asks me why I am reading about atheism. Am I thinking of becoming one? I tell him that I already am one and indeed am representing the side in a debate with a religious apologist a week on Thursday at Liverpool University.
We begin a very interesting discussion that goes something like this.
He asked me if I am certain that there is no God. I reply I am certain to a factor of about 99%. The remaining 1% means that I am open to new evidence in the unlikely event that it ever arises, but otherwise I put God in the same category as I put fairies.
He then asks me if I know everything. I reply that I do not. Quite the opposite; I realise how much I know about how little I know.
The man goes on to explain that he is Christian preacher. That God speaks to him. That he has witnessed many miracles and knows of others that have done so as well. That Jesus Christ is his personal saviour and died for his sins and mine. That we are all miserable sinners and many of us will be cast into a pit of fire when he returns trailing clouds of glory.
To these points I reply respectively. I think he is a good man and would still be a good man whether he was an atheist. That people have claimed that other gods such as Allah and Zeus speak to them as well and this can in no validate the truth of the Christian doctrine. That healing miracles can occur by people chanting “Allah Akbar” equally as by chanting “Jesus is Lord”. That I never asked for the torture and execution of another person 2,000 years ago in another part of the World and I don’t believe that this will improve anything. That Jesus promised his disciples at Matthew 16:24 that his second coming would happen within their lifetimes and if it does ever happen, the fact that most of us are to be cast into everlasting fire makes it hardly an event to look forward to.
I asked him whether he had actually read all of the Bible and hauled him up on the barbarism of the Old Testament. Was God right to order his chosen people not leave alive a single child of the Amalakites in their conquest of the Promised Land? He says that the peoples of Canaan were wicked and the Jews were right to exterminate them. I ask him if genocide is moral as long as God permits it. He starts talking about something else.
It turns into such an interesting discussion that I decide to stay on the train passed my normal stop.
He gets off at a few stations further along and tries to end the conversation. I say that I have gone passed my stop and that this is such an interesting discussion that we should find a pub to continue it.
We end up talking for a good while in the foyer of the station. We argue about the evidence outside the Bible (lack of in my view) for prophesies. The evidence (again, lack of in my view) for many of the events and characters in the Old Testament and the Gospel narrative. Why wasn’t the Roman census in Luke recorded by any other contemporary sources? Why would the Romans perform just this one census requiring people to return to the home town of an ancestor who would have lived (which is doubtful in David’s case) over a thousand years ago. The morality (lack of in my view) of vicarious redemption by human sacrifice, which I feel is more like an updated form of scapegoating.
He makes the extraordinary claim that he’s not religious. He said that his relationship with God is different to organised religion.
Towards the end of exchange I give him a flyer of my debate and invite him to come along. He gives me a postcard for his church and offers likewise.
I finally discover that his name is Tim. He finds out that my name is Ed.
He then abruptly ends the conversation, saying that he has to get home to wife and children, but not before looking at me in the eye with a glint of terror saying that we are all destined for hell.
There in a nutshell is why I am not a Christian.
Compulsory love of an invisible celestial dictator, having to love someone and be afraid of them at the same time, is a grotesque concept that utterly negates both altruism and freedom.
It is a cancer on this species and we can no more emancipate ourselves if we shed its shackles altogether.