By: Donovan Baker (4th Listener)
I got on the plane and pulled out my paperback copy of Baptized Atheist. The lady next to me immediately said, “I know David Smalley. How do you like the book?”
Thinking I am sitting next to an atheist and we should have a great ride talking about stuff, I still proceeded cautiously, because you just never know. I asked, “Really? How do you know him?”
She replied, “He has a radio show.”
I said, “Yeah, he does! Do you listen to it too?”
“I have,” she replied, “but just some parts. I hear about it through Focus on the Family.”
BINGO! I said, “I am a bit confused. How is that?” I was, of course, aware of this. After all, I am the Fourth Listener.
She explained that they mention him and his radio show and have discussed things that he has said and even hears exerts from the show. She then asked me again about how I am enjoying the book.
I said, “It is a great book and he took a similar route that I did, but his was much more researched. It tells all about how David went out searching to be a better Christian.” I paused to let that soak in for a second. “But, after lots of research, things began to not make sense to him. He ends up finding out many things he was not being told and then started discovering that certain things in the bible were actually disturbing and contradictory. So he continued on his quest to find experts to help him understand and give him good explanations for these things, but the answers were just not there. Or I should say, they were either not there, or they turned out to not really be good answers.” I looked right at her and said, “You know…’god works in mysterious ways’ or ‘we can’t possibly understand his plan.’ Those are not answers; those are things people say when they have no answer.”
She had a brief look of shock, then curiosity, and then it hit. That glimmer of ‘I am going to save this poor soul’ hit her eyes. She asked, “So which are you?” pointing to the book?
“Me? I am both. Baptized Roman Catholic and now an atheist.” At this point we went through the usual are you sure you believed and I told her a brief version of my attending many different churches, Sunday schools, getting confirmed as a Catholic, and eventually ended up being a Born Again. I told her how I felt really close to god and all of that. I explained that I just had too many questions, so I then started reading about other religions and eventually read their “holy” books and of course, the bible, 3 separate times. She seemed somewhat satisfied with that (even though they never really are), and then started asking me what was it that wasn’t being told or was not being answered.
Instead of telling my specific journey, I decided to take her on David’s. I did this figuring if nothing else, she could read the book on her iPad (that was in her lap with the Kindle app running) as confirmation of what I have said, and use that text to go research it for herself. But for any of this to happen, I still have to ensue some kind of doubt. We went through the Osiris and Horus story and I explained there were a half a dozen of these like stories predating the bible to my knowledge. She seemed determined that this is just not true. When she said that she didn’t agree with that, a guy sitting in front of us turned around briefly and looked at us both. She was kind of loud when she talked and I was really keeping my voice down.
So we continued on though the usual items. We hit the flood with her believing scientists say there really was a world flood. We discussed the Grand Canyon and how there is no evidence of that ever happening and that she should look that up again. She agreed to do that. We talked about how some guy,recently, built an ark to prove it was real. So I pointed out the animals would not fit in there, how is 7 people going to feed those animals, and still shovel all that waste out that one window on top and questioned her on how did these animals that are only one location specific get to those places. I said for me, he just proved that could not have happened. We discussed evolution and she had no real answer for that except that it can’t be true because she can’t see us still evolving today. I tried to explain it to her by mentioning she had a tail and how evolution doesn’t happen instantly with explanations of both, but she was sure she was in the right.
I did convince her that any further research she does from now on, should be done by scientists that have no dog in the race. She agreed that it makes no sense to read articles by atheist (activist) scientists or Christian scientists, if she truly wants to know the best answer without bias.
I learned early on, that if you are discussing a point that they refuse to open their mind or consider, you move on. The goal is to find that one or two things that hit home for that person. For me, that is what makes a successful encounter. However, she mentioned she could not see evolution, so I jumped ahead to David’s ‘Jaycee Dugard realization’. When I mentioned her name (and was about to present it just like David did in the church) she said she knew who that was. I recapped it anyway and then asked her if god watched. She hardly hesitated and said “Most certainly he did.”
As I still let the thought sit there for a bit, I finally asked, “And you are ok with this all-powerful being just watching and allowing that to continue for 18 years?”
Then she said it. “Well, god has a plan.”
I replied, “Besides the fact that I already mentioned that ‘god has a plan’ is not an answer, but more of an excuse to not deal with something,…please tell me in what way is an 11 year old girl needed to be THAT abused and mistreated for THAT long ever going to be part of a good plan? What could an 11 year old possibly due to deserve that under any circumstance?” I got my first, ‘I don’t know’ with the real look of doubt.
We hit several other items from David’s book. She did completely agree in the separation of church and state and that religion has no place in government. Then things moved on to the bible itself. She said, “I just don’t know how you can’t believe in the bible, because the message is so clear and simple.”
I had so many ways to go about this, but I chose the path of how the book became the bible, the whisper game, and the translations and revisions. She agreed on how the New Testament was formed. She did not like it when I asked her why she did not follow the New, New Testament of the Mormons. She said that was a cult. I replied that is what they said about your new testament when it started.
Then she told me Peter witnessed Jesus’s resurrection. I told her to check that again. She looked for a while in her Kindle app'd bible and when she showed it to me, I pointed out that he was clearly retelling the information and that he was not a direct witness. This REALLY bothered her, and it hit doubt number two. I know she will go check on that again.
I then hit her with the, ‘If it is so simple of a message’ then why do thousands of sects believe different things, why do other religions exist, why do they all argue with each other, ESPECIALLY those of the same sect? Why do you and I read the same passage and we hear different words, like your Peter reference. It is anything but simple. Why is this book such a constant state of debate? She looked stunned and kept saying it was simple, and I kept listing contradictions and things like the mama bears killing 42 kids in Kings II. She never even knew that was in there. Then I asked her if she were in Abraham’s situation and god asked her to kill her son, would she? She fought it in her mind, dropped her head, and said no. I stopped, nodded, said “I couldn’t either, even if I knew god was real.” No loving being of any power should have to ever ask a parent to do that. Doubt number three.
We were quiet for a moment. Finally, she asked, “Why do I only look at the negative side?” This is confirmation to me that they do realize it is not perfect and they do have doubt in there somewhere.
My answer was, “When I was believer, I was not objective. I always remembered the positive and good things. I blocked and ignored anything that wasn’t supporting my belief. That is an incorrect way to view anyting in life. Now, I look at it all objectively. When I speak with a believer about this stuff, I know that they are likely to be coming from that same way of looking at this stuff as well. You did not know about the bears killing children over name calling, you don’t agree with slavery, killing your own son when asked is not an option, what else have you not looked at objectively? That is for you to discover. That is what I did; that is what David did. Read a little at a time from the beginning. Deep down, you already know the real difference between right and wrong in the world. Consider what you read and make your decisions based on that.”
We spent the rest of the trip discussing where we were from and the usual warm wishes for the Holidays. She said Merry Christmas and I said Happy Holidays with a wink and we both laughed. The entire thing was very nice.
After letting her go ahead of me to get off the plane, the guy in front of us was holding back in his seat. As I went by he grabbed my arm, smiled, and said, “Dude, you killed that.” I smiled back and said thanks.