Monday, March 16, 2009

Open Letter to The Pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church

I wrote this letter to the pastor of the church that posts anti-atheist messages on it's marquis (after a short correspondance). I actually started to cry while writing it.
Heath,
I'd like to explain a few things to you, if you don't mind.

Why I'm an atheist:
Because I no longer believe that God is real.

That's it. I don't worship Darwin, I don't seek spiritual guidance from biologists, there's no rituals that I have to perform before I eat, The Theory of Evolution had nothing to do with my "becoming" an atheist, and I have never ever read The Orgin of Species.

However, I have read the Bible. Twice. From front to back and that had more to do with me not believing than any science class ever did. The clincher was reading Deuteronomy 21:18-21 for the first time. Even for Jews under The Law, I can not accept that commandment as being moral. I was a bit rebellious as a teen. However, I came through that period and became even closer to my parents as a young adult. According to the bible, I should have never been given that chance. I had to try to justify that commandment somehow. The only way that I could was to give up the doctrine of inerrancy. I later realized that the bible was not written by God and that it wasn't even written by men inspired by God. It was written instead by men inspired by power and greed. Verses like that one are obviously (to me) written to promote fear in people so that the priests could control them.

I realize that your sign was not intentionally hateful. But it may be subtly hateful, because it inspires an "us and them" mentality. I do not consider christians as being "them". Christians are a big part of my society and to be hostile toward christians would be counter-productive. I have to accept y'all as you are. I don't want to convert or prosyletize. There's no salvation in being an atheist. I just want to get along with my religious neighbors. However, it's hard to do that when I seem to have an undeserved reputation of being immoral, wicked and doing nothing good (Psalms 14:1). I am not a "them", I am an American, an Ozarker, and an Arkansan just like you and your congregation. I was even raised as a christian by a minister. I just happen to not believe in God anymore. I just don't buy it anymore. I am no longer convinced.

You may be interested to know that for a long time I still attended church after I no longer believed. I was trying to believe. I was trying to do the "right" thing. Instead I was having such terrible feelings of guilt. Not guilt for being a sinner, but guilt felt because I just couldn't find that switch to throw that would make me believe. I realized that belief is not a voluntary thing. Either you believe or you don't. So, I stopped lying to myself. Sure, claiming to be an atheist is not very comfortable, but at least it's honest. Keep that in mind. Because, someone just like me may be sitting in your congregation every sunday and the more you make non-belief sound bad the more guilt, shame, and depression someone in your church may feel. Please be gentle to that person.

Your sign comes on the heels of a slight personal tragedy. My wife's family discovered that I am an atheist and they over-reacted a bit. I really felt scared. I love my neices and nephews. I was so afraid that my in-laws would no longer let me spend time with them. I still don't know how I stand with them. I am playing it cool, trying not to invoke any discussion about it. My wife's family knows me well, so I really shouldn't fear being cast out by them. I've associated as an atheist for about two years and they have had no problem with me for all that time. I have not tried to indoctrinate thier kids (and I won't). So, why should they have a problem now? What I'm afraid of is that one of my sister-in-laws will get some bad counseling. They both have pastors that they talk to and it would be a shame for them to ban thier children from my wife and I over advice given from someone who does not know me. Also, it would break my heart. My wife and I have no children, so the frequent visits we used to get was very welcome. Sadly, I fear that those visits are going to be rare now. The only reason I can see for this is that atheism is seen as something bad when it really is not.

That brings me to what I call Postive Atheism. It's not a religion. It's just the view that atheism is not a bad thing. That's what I want to promote. If I can get the message that it's OK not to believe out, maybe, someone who just happens to not believe won't have to endure the guilt and heart-break that I have had to bear. It's not about de-converting anyone. It's about reaching those who are already non-believers and letting them know that they are not alone and that it's not a bad thing to not be convinced.

Robert Madewell
Proud to be superstition-free!

36 comments:

Lorena said...

Very touching, Robert. I hope you don't mind that I advertised on my blog.

If you have a problem with it, I'll remove it right away.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Wonderful letter! I came here via On Leaving Fundamentalist Christianity.

I'll keep an eye on your blog. Good stuff!

The Rambling Taoist said...

I too came visiting via Lorena's blog. Great letter. Very heartfelt and to the point.

I can also sympathize with your situation a bit as my wife & I are childless (by choice). We live far away from our nieces and nephews who, as it happens, live in Arkansas! However, if we did live close by, we might be subject to the same worry you have.

Reluctant Blogger said...

Ah yes, this spoke to me. I am not religious at all but sometimes the whole atheist thing scares me just as much at the religious groups do. The people who speak seem almost as evangelical and likely to form into a clique that is exclusive and offputting to those who prefer not to congregate under a label.

But what you have said here does not alienate me at all, or worry me that atheists are taking the wrong route or going over the top.

I actually panic every time I write a comment on an atheist blog because I am not terribly well informed and am worried I will either upset someone or they will leap at my throat (which is exactly how I would feel on a religious blog). But generally atheists do not - they are more open to criticism and willing to discuss matters.

GCT said...

Robert,
Nice letter. Will you keep us updated with any developments?

prodigaldaughter2 said...

This is so well said, I have a few friends I am going to send here to read it. Thank you.

Mark Morrison said...

Hello Robert it's been a while since I have posted here. You really caught my eye with this post.

You said the back breaker was Deuteronomy 21:18-21 ? I find it hard to believe that you base your whole non belief on that small passage. Robert so much more points to the existence of God than just His Holy Word. Just look around you, we've talked about the beauty of sunset and sunrise. We are to complex to have happened by chance.

Robert,Maybe some day you will find a walk with God, until then I do pray that you get to continue your relationships with your neices and nephews. Kids are a blessing to us all. I know, my wife and I have four.

Good Luck and God Bless.
Mark Morrison

Robert Madewell said...

Mark said, "I find it hard to believe that you base your whole non belief on that small passage."

No Mark, there's a bunch of verses just like that one. In both testaments. Of course it wasn't just the Bible that turned me from religion. There's several things that contributed to it. Like when I would ask a pastor about that verse (or others) and he'd dismiss my question or answer it in an unsatisfactory way (usually implying that I'm stupid for asking). I'm actually refering to my Dad, but he's not the only one who's done that. Heath's response is not that good either. I'm going to post it tonight, if I get his permission.

GCT said...

"We are to complex to have happened by chance."

Good thing no one posits that we arose through chance processes alone. If you are going to dismiss evolutionary theory, don't you think you should at least know what it says first?

Anonymous said...

Robert you are being to nice. People of religious belief do not intend to be. It is my way or the highway. (not everyone )They do not consider the alternative to be the one to look at the facts but it is the non-believer who must or except blind faith. To ignor the pure fact of evolution and say gods did it is to disregard what is self evident. This is ever more popular for gods would have been a process of evolution. To except the concept (Gods) of it just is or outside of our ability to know is not good enough with the sciences known today. That they are scared shows in the lack of self consciece confidence lashing out. Anger, intolerance, bigotry, threatening, you are going to be punished. Even to the extreme of our own families. Such is the merits of religion and all it's horrors. Some lagacy.
ibex

Mark Morrison said...

GCT said...
"We are to complex to have happened by chance."

Good thing no one posits that we arose through chance processes alone. If you are going to dismiss evolutionary theory, don't you think you should at least know what it says first?


Your joking right ? Big Bang ring a bell ? I have a good understanding of the evolutionary theory, and have been told so by atheist. Before we go further please give me you understanding of where we came from if not from a creator.

Thanks
Mark Morrison

Robert Madewell said...

Mark,

To say that there is no way that complex things (such as life) can come about by chance is kinda like an argument from personal incredulity. Just because you can't imagine that it happened doesn't mean that it didn't happen.

The chance of life emerging is actually 100%. Think of it this way. If you draw a poker hand and get 4 kings and an ace, you could say that the chance of doing that is almost impossible. But, what if you have lots and lots of time. You draw the hand and if it's not 4 kings and an ace, you replace the cards, shuffle the deck, and draw again then if it's not 4 kings and an ace, you reshuffle and draw again, and do this until you get 4 kings and an ace. What is the chance of getting that impossible hand now? 100%. Eventually given enough time, you'd draw the hand you want.

The universe has had 14 some odd billion years to work with and there's trillions of planets in this galaxy alone. I think given those odds, it'd be an extremely unlikely chance to not have life in the universe.

Mark Morrison said...

Robert I have heard that argument before. But it doesn't hold water because you start with what? to make every thing? Please explain where we came from in your words.

The Rambling Taoist said...

Mark,
Who the hell cares where anything came from? God? Evolution? Outer space? They're all theories. No one knows and, for that matter, no one will ever know.

We're here. Life exists in some form. So, make the most of it!

GCT said...

Mark,
"Your joking right ? Big Bang ring a bell ? I have a good understanding of the evolutionary theory, and have been told so by atheist. Before we go further please give me you understanding of where we came from if not from a creator. "

No, I'm not joking. I don't care what you claim some atheist told you.

A) The big bang is NOT part of evolution and has nothing to do with the complexity of lifeforms. Even so, the big bang does not necessarily suggest that some god had a hand in anything.

B) Evolution does not posit chance alone, and to suggest so - as you did - shows a tremendous lack of understanding of evolutionary theory. There are random mutations that help provide the changes that natural selection then works on (RM is one of the mechanisms, not the sole one). Natural selection is NOT a random process.

C) You are displaying god of the gaps reasoning. If someone can't explain to your satisfaction how we came about, then you automatically default to goddidit. Yet, this is logically fallacious, as you have to present positive evidence for your position, or you have to eliminate all other possibilities, which is impossible to do.

D) When you ask where we came from, do you mean life or humans? Humans arose as an offshoot of an apelike common ancestor that we share with other primates (chimps, apes, monkeys, etc.) A chromosomal fusion event occurred which resulted in us having one less chromosomal pair and a significant split from our cousins. We have located this in location and timeframe (see Ken Miller's testimony in the Dover case against ID). We have mountains of evidence for this and for evolution in general.

E) If you mean where we came from, as in how life generated at all, then that is not part of evolution (which you should know if you actually know as much as you claim to). Never-the-less, Miller and Urey showed that amino acids can form from pre-biotic mixtures not only in their groundbreaking first experiment, but in subsequent experiments that explored other atmospheric mixtures. Further, it is posited that life arose near volcanic vents, which would place the first life away from any potential negative effects of the atmosphere to begin with. Lastly, life would have built up from smaller building blocks that continued to assemble and gain ever more complexity to the first cell. No one posits that a cell simply popped out of nowhere.

Robert Madewell said...

Mark said, "Robert I have heard that argument before. But it doesn't hold water because you start with what? to make every thing? Please explain where we came from in your words."

Mark you just blew my mind by demanding that I explain in my own words! Tu quoque!

Seriously, we start with matter that was created during the big bang. That matter is what everything is made of. Beyond that, we don't know. The BB most certainly had a cause, but we (as in the human race) really don't know enough to even speculate what that might have been. Saying "Goddunit" is just speculating about something that we do not have enough information on. Also, "Goddunit" discourages investigation. Why would you need to experiment and study if you already have the answers. "Goddunit" encourages willful ignorance.

Robert Madewell said...

Mark,

Furthermore, why am I (as an atheist) required to know everything in order to reject faith in your god? Is it the old "God of the Gaps" theology? If so, your god is getting very small. He'll no longer be the god of the universe, instead he'll be the god of the flagellum or the god of the undiscovered particle. There's alot that I personally don't know. Is God going to hide in the gaps of my personal knowledge?

GCT said...

"The BB most certainly had a cause, but we (as in the human race) really don't know enough to even speculate what that might have been."

We should be careful in talking about what "caused" the big bang. Causal declarations are dependent on time, which did not exist until after the big bang. So, we can't really say that we know the big bang was "caused" at all.

Robert Madewell said...

You're probably right GCT. Apollogists seem to like to point out that we don't know what caused everything. Then, they'll claim that all the stuff that we don't know had to be because of God. My point is that we really don't know. By "we", I mean everybody. Even the apollogist don't know. All they know is what they have been told and what a 3000 year old book says. A book written by bronze age priests is not a reliable source for scientific information.

Your right about the big bang, I supppose. However, I have read some fascinating ideas about the big bang. It's all conjecture of course, but there are some very cool alternatives to "Goddunit!".

GCT said...

Too bad Mark Morrison hasn't come back to teach us all about evilution.

Mark Morrison said...

sorry for the delay in my response to your post. A family member was very sick. Now on to the post.

Robert you said.
Seriously, we start with matter that was created during the big bang. That matter is what everything is made of. Beyond that, we don't know. The BB most certainly had a cause, but we (as in the human race) really don't know enough to even speculate what that might have been. Saying "Goddunit" is just speculating about something that we do not have enough information on. Also, "Goddunit" discourages investigation. Why would you need to experiment and study if you already have the answers. "Goddunit" encourages willful ignorance.

Question to rule out any possibility is to commit willful ignorance ? Do you agree with this statement ?

Mark Morrison said...

Robert Madewell said...
Mark,

Furthermore, why am I (as an atheist) required to know everything in order to reject faith in your god? Is it the old "God of the Gaps" theology? If so, your god is getting very small. He'll no longer be the god of the universe, instead he'll be the god of the flagellum or the god of the undiscovered particle. There's alot that I personally don't know. Is God going to hide in the gaps of my personal knowledge?

Your not required to know everything. I was just wanting to get a understanding of your position. You sound more agnostict than atheist. As for the God of the gap theology, I'm not familiar with it. I use personally use The Bible,personal experience, and creation to support my beliefs.

Robert Madewell said...

Mark said, "Question to rule out any possibility is to commit willful ignorance ? Do you agree with this statement ?"

No, I don't agree. I can rule out some possibilities due to lack of evidence. However, to rule out any other possibility because they contradict my religious world view is most definitely willful ignorance.

Mark, there is a fuzzy line between atheism and agnosticism. The only people who seem to worry too much about those definitions are the fundamentalist christians that I talk to. They never want to think that this nice little hillbilly is an atheist for some reason. I say you can be both an atheist and an agnostic at the same time.

Mark Morrison said...

Robert Madewell said...

Mark said, "Question to rule out any possibility is to commit willful ignorance ? Do you agree with this statement ?"

No, I don't agree. I can rule out some possibilities due to lack of evidence. However, to rule out any other possibility because they contradict my religious world view is most definitely willful ignorance.

Mark, there is a fuzzy line between atheism and agnosticism. The only people who seem to worry too much about those definitions are the fundamentalist christians that I talk to. They never want to think that this nice little hillbilly is an atheist for some reason. I say you can be both an atheist and an agnostic at the same time.

If you agree that not much is known about creation or the big bang then ANY possibility should be open. To deny that is to be narrow minded. Robert you were worried about not getting to see your nephews and nieces because of their parents views. But at the same time you slam other people because of their view. I still like you and hope it all works out for you. But I can't argue you into a relationship with God.

Thanks for your time and God Bless.

Mark Morrison

GCT said...

Mark,
"sorry for the delay in my response to your post. A family member was very sick."

Sorry to hear about your family member.

"Question to rule out any possibility is to commit willful ignorance ? Do you agree with this statement ? "

Do you rule out FSM, Baal, Thor, Zeus, Allah, Krishna, IPU, leprechauns, floating teapots, etc.? For all intents and purposes I'm sure you do. Of course most of us atheists allow that there may be a god up there, but due to lack of evidence we see no reason to entertain the possibility, just as we don't entertain the possibility of leprechauns. Bring some actual evidence and then maybe we'll treat your pet beliefs as having some validity.

"As for the God of the gap theology, I'm not familiar with it. I use personally use The Bible,personal experience, and creation to support my beliefs."

You actually are familiar with it, since you use it. If we don't know how the universe formed, claiming that it was god is god of the gaps "reasoning."

"If you agree that not much is known about creation or the big bang then ANY possibility should be open."

To an extent. We should not actively engage possibilities that have no evidence or ones that are logically disproven. Nowhere did anyone say that god could not have caused the universe, or at least a god (the omni-max god and many variations are logically incoherent and disproven). That doesn't mean that we should believe that this is what happened. It is up to those who would have us believe that goddunit to present a case that this is so.

"But at the same time you slam other people because of their view."

Who did he "slam" and how?

Robert Madewell said...

Mark, I'm sorry if you see my criticism as "slamming". I, however, do not consider criticism as "slamming", "attacking", or "persecution". Those euphemisms for criticism make it sound violent.

Offense is not my goal, but it may be an outcome of my criticism of Christianity, because christians are often too easily offended. If you are offended by criticism of your beliefs, (what else can I say) don't read the criticisms.

Mark Morrison said...

Robert said,

Mark, I'm sorry if you see my criticism as "slamming". I, however, do not consider criticism as "slamming", "attacking", or "persecution". Those euphemisms for criticism make it sound violent.

Offense is not my goal, but it may be an outcome of my criticism of Christianity, because christians are often too easily offended. If you are offended by criticism of your beliefs, (what else can I say) don't read the criticisms.

Don't worry Robert I don't mind criticism. By the way I didn't notice a response from you to my last post.


If you agree that not much is known about creation or the big bang then ANY possibility should be open. To deny that is to be narrow minded.

Would you agree with this statement and if not why?

Robert Madewell said...

Mark said, "If you agree that not much is known about creation or the big bang then ANY possibility should be open. To deny that is to be narrow minded.

Would you agree with this statement and if not why?"


No I don't agree completely. Because, you use the word ANY. If you would say "plausible possibilities" instead of "ANY possibility" then we might get somewhere.

I do not think that it is practicle to consider any possibility. If we did that, then we'd have to consider the possibility that "Azathoth, that daemon sultan, lies in wait at the "center" of the universe gnawing hungrily while cursed musicians whirl and dance ...".

I do not rule out the possibility that something intelligent created the universe. I do not think it's likely, but it may be plausible and that's a big maybe. However, all the logical arguments and all the conjecture do not explain anything about that creator. We could come to the agreement that it's possible that a god-thing created the universe. Now, how do you proove that that god-thing is God? That's my problem. What makes you think that it must be your God?

Let me put it another way. I am open to the possibility of the universe having a creator. I just don't see any reason to assume that it is your God. Also, it may not be a god in the sense that you could worship it and ask it for a new job or to heal that annoying callus. When I say that I don't believe in god, I'm not saying that no god exists at all. I'm just saying that I don't believe that one does. I can agree that it's possible. Even then, I don't believe that your God exists.

Here's something else to think about. If scientists found a being that created the universe, would you automatically label it as God? IOW, Just being a creator is not the only claim you guys make about God. Would you wait to see if it meet the other claims before you started praying to it and asking it for a new car?

Mark Morrison said...

Thanks for the response Robert.

Now that we know that you are "open" to the possibility of a creator. I know that you say the possibility is a small one but it's nice to hear you say it at least. It does show that you have an open mind.

Robert you ask how can I know that it's my "God". I can only respond with my personal experience. First let me give you a little background on my self. I grew up in Church and made a "statement" of faith at a early age. I wasn't saved I just went along with the crowd. I was not a Christian in anything but name. I didn't repent because I didn't know what "sin" was. It wasn't until after I had left the Church and became a very bitter person towards all things religious that I came to understand sin. I repented of my sin and was saved in 1998. How can I know that I was "really" saved this time you ask? It is the personal relationship that I now have with God that I never had before. Yes, He cares about me and my problems. He has revealed Himself to me in even the smallest of things. I look at sunrise and sunset much different now.

He also cares about you and your problems. You want to paint God as this monster that goes around killing babies and laughing about it. That's NOT God. You use Old Testament and some New Testament verses out of context to back your claims.

Robert it's not to late. Have a one on one talk to this Pastor. Make him answer the "hard" questions. If he is a real man of God he will do this and more.

There is more to you than you are letting on and I can't help but to like you.

Robert, I thank you for your time and I do Pray that you come to know Jesus.

Mark Morrison

The Rambling Taoist said...

Mark,
Jesus is dead (if he ever really existed at all)!

It would be like me inviting you over to dinner to meet my mother who, by the way, died in 1992! Oh, what a spirited conversation you could have with her ashes that I keep in a Mason jar in my dining room!!

GCT said...

When in doubt, proselytize, eh Mark?

I thought you were going to educate me on evolution?

And, have any evidence? Sorry, but your personal feelings don't actually count as evidence.

Mark Morrison said...

GCT said...

When in doubt, proselytize, eh Mark?

I thought you were going to educate me on evolution?

And, have any evidence? Sorry, but your personal feelings don't actually count as evidence.

Since I was talking to Robert I will not bother with the first part.

Now you said,
When you ask where we came from, do you mean life or humans? Humans arose as an offshoot of an apelike common ancestor that we share with other primates (chimps, apes, monkeys, etc.) A chromosomal fusion event occurred which resulted in us having one less chromosomal pair and a significant split from our cousins. We have located this in location and timeframe (see Ken Miller's testimony in the Dover case against ID). We have mountains of evidence for this and for evolution in general.


pardon me while I finish laughing at your mountain of evidence. please provide this evidence, oh sorry you can't. At NO point in time can you show a split from ape to man. Do mutations happen sure that much is evident. But your talking about jumping species and sorry but you can't show that either.

Mark Morrison

Mark Morrison said...

The Rambling Taoist said...

Mark,
Jesus is dead (if he ever really existed at all)!

Sorry but No, He's very much alive.

It would be like me inviting you over to dinner to meet my mother who, by the way, died in 1992! Oh, what a spirited conversation you could have with her ashes that I keep in a Mason jar in my dining room!!

At least your mom and I could have an intelligent conversation.

Mark Morrison

GCT said...

Mark,
"pardon me while I finish laughing at your mountain of evidence. please provide this evidence, oh sorry you can't. At NO point in time can you show a split from ape to man. Do mutations happen sure that much is evident. But your talking about jumping species and sorry but you can't show that either."

You're serious, aren't you? I thought you were going to learn me about evolution, and here I find you making the claim that we don't have mountains of evidence? What over 150 year's worth is not enough for you? The fossil record is not enough? You want macro, how about Tiktallik? How about the well developed lines of whales, horses, etc.?

You wanna talk about hominid evolution? Sure, let's talk.

Try this link:
http://www.aclupa.org/legal/legaldocket/intelligentdesigncase/dovertrialtranscripts.htm

It's the transcript from the Dover trial. Click on the Day 1 AM session and read pages 77-86. This explains in detail compelling evidence of human and ape common ancestry.

Also, go here:
http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/

You'll find more evidence than you can hand wave away.

So, when do you start teaching me more about evolution? I'm eager to learn more.

The Rambling Taoist said...

Mark wrote, "He's very much alive."

Great! Would you send me an up-to-date photo of him? I'll be interested to see how he's holding up after approximately 2,000 years! Whatever the guy is doing, it would make for a great infomercial.

Robert Madewell said...

Taoist said, "Great! Would you send me an up-to-date photo of him? I'll be interested to see how he's holding up after approximately 2,000 years! Whatever the guy is doing, it would make for a great infomercial."

Hey! I can answer that one! Mark doesn't have an up-to-date photo of Jesus. Why? Well, it seems that 2000 years ago Jesus went to heaven and stopped taking calls. Since Mark hasn't died yet, he hasn't actually met Jesus yet. Well, sort of, Jesus talks to Mark through some warm and fuzzy glowy feeling in his heart (not the blood pumpy thing, but the other heart) and if he has enough faith, he can know for certain that Jesus is alive somewhere outside of the universe and time.

Of course, faith is a tricky thing. Seems that it only takes a mustard seed portion of faith to rearrange geography, yet no one can ever get enough faith to throw that mountain into the sea. Seems that a mustard seed portion is quite a bit actually. Because, thousands of hungry children who pray every day for a little bit of food can't seem to pool together enough faith to make food (or even a mustard seed appear).

Faith is Mark's best evidence that Jesus is still alive. You see where faith can get you.

I think it's funny that being in heaven and not existing look alot alike to me.