A Run-In with a Street Preacher

I ran into a street preacher, whom we’ll call Fred, a week ago. He dropped some pretty crazy gems that I just had to share. (Note I’ve tagged this entry with “Responses,” indicating it contains answers to common conversion efforts.)

Starting Off with Atheists in Foxholes

Fred begins by saying something generic and attempting to hand me a flyer for his church. “I’m an atheist,” I say, taking care not to begin with “Sorry” — I’m not going to apologize for my rationality!

“Oh, we’re all atheists!” Fred exclaims, then leans forward: “But if you jump out of a plane, who do you think you’ll be praying to?”

Never mind I’ve been skydiving, no gods involved. I play along. “Perhaps, but it wouldn’t necessarily be your god I was playing to.”

Fred maintains his conspiratorial stance and shares his Secret with me: “Well, there’s only one God, you know!”

“But there’s no proof,” I say.

“Exactly,” Fred says in an attempt at argumentative Aikido. “That’s why it’s all about faith!

Being a guy who attempts to have rational beliefs this doesn’t sit well with me. But at least this guy knows, in theory, that faith a the lack of evidence… or does he:

“But if you look at all the prophecies…”

Not a Real Christian

One of my absolute favorite things to hear Christians say is “Oh, they aren’t real Christians.” (That’s the No True Scotsman fallacy, and for whatever reason, Christians, especially evangelists, love it.)

Our friend Fred doesn’t let me down.

After Fred encourages me to just take the flyer and consider converting, I mention that I was raised Christian, I know the stories, and I’m never converting, and he becomes a bit excited. “What were you raised as?” he asks. “Because I thought I was raised Christian too, but I wasn’t!”

“Catholic.”

“Me too!” Fred shares. “Well that’s something we have in common!”

“If Catholics aren’t true Christians,” I ask, “Tell me, what religion would you have been in, say, 1,000 A.D.?”

Fred didn’t have an answer, but religious fragmentation and the chronologically & geographically determined nature of faith are things I’ve thought about before.

The Loving God’s Hellfire

We discussed theodicy in an amusing way.

“If God loves me, as you say,” I asked Fred, “Why would he make me, knowing I, as a rational thinker, would have to reject Him, causing my damnation? Why would he make so very many people who would just go to hell? Heck, how could Native Americans go to heaven before Europeans came over?” I asked rhetorically.

“Well we have to choose. Do you want us all to be boring automatons?” Fred started. I could see where this was going already. The spectre of “free will” is always used as a counter to the problem of evil.

“Here’s the thing,” I say. “You clearly believe that for us to have free will, we have to be able to hurt each other.”

“Yes.”

“Why is that necessarily true? Wouldn’t a perfect God be able to create a world with free will, without letting us hurt each other?”

Fred isn’t convinced — that isn’t, of course, how our world works, but if you’re an omnipotent, loving creator… “I don’t think so,” Fred says.

“But isn’t that what Heaven is?”

“No, everyone is Heaven is sinless.”

“Tell me, Fred. Are you going to heaven?”

“Yes.”

“Have you ever hurt anyone?”

“Well, I’m sure we’ve all said some things —”

“So are you just going to be an automaton in Heaven, then? Or can you hurt people in Heaven? See how I just made you argue against yourself? It just doesn’t make any sense,” I say, referring to Christianity.

I consider this a slam-dunk argument against typical Christianity, proving my point about theodicy and free will and how a loving, all-knowing, all-powerful god can’t exist in this world. Yet our preacher friend is wholly unfazed, resolute in his mission to convince others that something he knows is unprovable is not only the Truth but also the Only Way.

“The Holocaust was God’s Plan”

“You know why the Holocaust happened? Because the Jews – well, most of ’em – refused to recognize their own Messiah, their own savior,” Fred shared.

I was so shocked by this claim of Fred’s that I have a hard time remembering what prompted it. Perhaps it stemmed from our discussion of why there is evil in the world.

“You know what I think? I think the Holocaust happened because this guy Hitler used the Jews as a political tool,” I counter. Never mind the role the Catholic Church played in this atrocity for now. Never mind that Hitler was a Christian.

“You’re thinking little picture, I’m thinking ‘big picture,’” Fred says.

“Oh, so what then, God leaned down — ” I cup my hands to my mouth and bend forward — “and whispered, ‘Hey, Hitler! Have you heard about these Jews? They’re really pissing me off!”

“Well, no, I don’t believe God talked to Hitler.” Of course not. Hitler couldn’t possibly be a true Christian, could he? It’s cognitive dissonance in action: Fred likes God and Christianity; he hates Hitler, thus he can’t imagine Hitler being Christian or supported by God, even when it logically follows from what he’s just said.

By now I’ve had enough of this offensively uncritical guy. “So God just caused the Holocaust indirectly, with magic? I don’t believe in magic. Have a nice night,” I say, walking off.

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