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Quote of the Day: The Atheist Who Pushed Me to Serious Christianity

 

Now if I’d really seen [God], really there, really alive, it’d be in me like a fever. If I thought there was some god who really did care two hoots about people, who watched ’em like a father and cared for ’em like a mother … well, you wouldn’t catch me sayin’ things like ‘there are two sides to ever question’ and ‘we must respect other people’s beliefs.’ You wouldn’t find me just being gen’rally nice in the hope that it’d all turn out right in the end, not if that flame was burning in me like an unforgivin’ sword. And I did say burnin’, Mister Oats, ‘cos that’s what it’d be. You say that you people don’t burn folk and sacrifice people anymore, but that’s what true faith would mean, y’see? Sacrificin’ your own life, one day at a time, to the flame, declarin’ the truth of it, workin’ for it, breathin’ the soul of it. That’s religion. Anything else is just … is just bein’ nice. And a way of keepin’ in touch with the neighbors. — Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum

When I first read this passage a decade ago, it struck me like the proverbial bolt out of the blue. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels are just funny stories set on a flat earth resting on the backs of four elephants standing on a giant turtle that swims through space, and yet here was a passage that so neatly encapsulated my frustrations with my church it could have been written for me. We were a church that seemed to exist for friends to spend time together while the world church leadership dragged us further and further into political correctness.

Sir Terry was a secular humanist, and throughout many of his books there are comments that suggest that he thought the whole notion of religion was silly and should be abandoned. And yet, his words had the opposite of the intended effect on me. Yes, I completely agreed with him that the watered-down, politically correct Christianity of modern times he was mocking is ridiculous, but my response was not to leave Christianity. Rather, I found a church that does believe in declaring the truth of the Resurrected Christ no matter how uncomfortable that makes the secular world.

So thank you, Sir Terry, for helping me become a better Christian, even though that wasn’t your goal.

Published in Religion & Philosophy
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  1. Profile photo of iWe Reagan
    iWe

    I find Pratchett’s Small Gods to be one of the most incisive theological works ever penned by man. No joke.

    • #1
    • June 18, 2017 at 7:22 am
    • Like11 likes
  2. Profile photo of ST Coolidge
    ST

    In too many (Protestant) churches the Holy Ghost is not welcome. You can usually pick up on that vibe right away. Run from churches like that as fast as you can.

    • #2
    • June 18, 2017 at 7:22 am
    • Like7 likes
  3. Profile photo of I Walton Member

    Chesterton said something along those lines about Christianity’s enemies being the best argument in its favor. There is truth in this. Anti Christian, anti-semetics make a strong case that it’s all true. The unambiguous existence of evil and the ease of becoming drawn into it, does as well.

    • #3
    • June 18, 2017 at 7:40 am
    • Like7 likes
  4. Profile photo of Seawriter Member

    ST (View Comment):
    In too many (Protestant) churches the Holy Ghost is not welcome. You can usually pick up on that vibe right away. Run from churches like that as fast as you can.

    I am an Orthodox Christian. One of the reasons for the Great Schism was the Orthodox feeling the Catholic Church did not afford the Holy Spirit due deference.

    Seawriter

    • #4
    • June 18, 2017 at 7:45 am
    • Like9 likes
  5. Profile photo of The Reticulator Member

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    ST (View Comment):
    In too many (Protestant) churches the Holy Ghost is not welcome. You can usually pick up on that vibe right away. Run from churches like that as fast as you can.

    I am an Orthodox Christian. One of the reasons for the Great Schism was the Orthodox feeling the Catholic Church did not afford the Holy Spirit due deference.

    Seawriter

    Are you speaking of the Filioque controversy? (If so, I had never heard it described in those terms.)

    • #5
    • June 18, 2017 at 8:44 am
    • Like2 likes
  6. Profile photo of Fake John/Jane Galt Thatcher

    iWe (View Comment):
    I find Pratchett’s Small Gods to be one of the most incisive theological works ever penned by man. No joke.

    I find much insight in Pratchett’s Hogfather also.

    • #6
    • June 18, 2017 at 9:19 am
    • Like2 likes
  7. Profile photo of Could Be Anyone Member

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    ST (View Comment):
    In too many (Protestant) churches the Holy Ghost is not welcome. You can usually pick up on that vibe right away. Run from churches like that as fast as you can.

    I am an Orthodox Christian. One of the reasons for the Great Schism was the Orthodox feeling the Catholic Church did not afford the Holy Spirit due deference.

    Seawriter

    Likewise with Reticulator the filioque is not really an issue about importance of the Holy Spirit but about the spirit’s relation to the father. From my understanding the major issue is that of language. In Greek the word proceed (at least the one used in the creed) means to be created from (his origins are in God the father). The Latin word for proceed just means to proceed from like in English (he is a messenger and giver of life and just like the father and son is adored and glorified)

    But the filioque was not why the schism happened. Political difference and violence within the church was definitely the cause. Numerous differences in tradition and theology were imposed by Eastern Roman Emperors (a good example being the Iconoclastic Isaurians) as they sought to make the Orthodox Church little more than an organ of the state and said changes had permeating effects which through time have made our churches seperate.

    • #7
    • June 18, 2017 at 9:25 am
    • Like1 like
  8. Profile photo of Stina Member

    I Walton (View Comment):
    Chesterton said something along those lines about Christianity’s enemies being the best argument in its favor. There is truth in this. Anti Christian, anti-semetics make a strong case that it’s all true. The unambiguous existence of evil and the ease of becoming drawn into it, does as well.

    Didn’t Nietzie have a statement of similar persuasion? Something about how his philosophy, when embraced, leads to absolutely nothing? It gives no meaning and no purpose?

    • #8
    • June 18, 2017 at 9:34 am
    • Like1 like
  9. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    Thank you, Amy.

    This is an entry in our Quote of the Day Series. We still have three slots left in June if you would like to pull a quote to re-open old religious wars or just something that caught your eye along the way. It doesn’t even have to be religious. Our sign-up sheet is here, and it is still theoretically the easiest way to start a conversation on Ricochet. New members are definitely welcome.

    • #9
    • June 18, 2017 at 10:54 am
    • Like2 likes
  10. Profile photo of Hank Rhody Member

    “For who is there of all flesh who has heard the Living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and yet lived?”
    -Deuteronomy 5:26

    “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.”
    -Isaiah 6:5

    It’s telling that when people are confronted by the undeniable truth of religion that the reaction is sheer and unmitigated terror. God is not a pokemon to be kept in your pocket and released at need. If you’re going to church every week listening to a mild-mannered man telling you to be more mild-mannered then you’d do well to reflect on that.

    • #10
    • June 18, 2017 at 5:28 pm
    • Like7 likes
  11. Profile photo of Skyler Member

    Notre Dame and a drunk priest finally made me come off the fence and realize that I just didn’t believe in magic.

    Fr. George Wiskirchen was one of the band directors. He invited me to join the jazz band after his second alto broke his wrist. I was never the greatest, but I was a solid second alto. Don’t ask me to improvise, though. I had fun, but the second year I had to drop out because, frankly, my grades were suffering and I had no intention or expectation of making a living off of music. Marching and concert band were plenty (with hockey band as well) and something had to give.

    Fr. George was a bit put out by my quitting. One day I passed him on the quad and called out a friendly, “Hello Father George.” What I didn’t know at the time was that he was an alcoholic and I’m guessing he was drunk at the time. He response to me was “F(code of conduct) off.” It was not delivered in a friendly tone at all.

    I credit Fr. George for making me realize that my questioning of the existence of a deity was correct. Priests have no special knowledge of a divine being. They are either dupes or are duping others. How did the first person come to the conclusion that there was a magic being? The idea predates christianity. Somewhere along the line, people stopped being skeptical, or just granted someone else with the credibility they should not have been given.

    There is no god. Wishful thinking doesn’t make it so. Anyone who believes in a god is guilty of either hopeless naivety or is also a charlatan. But if it floats your boat, that’s okay with me so long as you don’t get in my way.

    Fr. George made me finally see the equation. When he passed away they asked all of us to write letters back explaining how he impacted our lives. I doubt they expected my letter. I do thank Fr. George for making truth clear to me. I still like Fr. George, and I never was offended by him, but he made me realize the truth that I was so reluctant to accept, and I was never again hesitant to see that truth. I’m guessing that some might call that an insult and out of place, but I do honestly hope that others can be likewise inspired. Besides, I doubt that family members won’t be mumbling prayers when I die, so I think my letter was fine. I’ll bet the priests of the Congregation of Holy Cross threw it away, though.

    • #11
    • June 18, 2017 at 5:45 pm
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  12. Profile photo of MJBubba Member

    The Gospel is only “Good News” if you are self-aware enough to fear the everlasting fate that awaits your eternal soul.

    The idea that the broken relationship between you and G-d has been healed by Jesus is Good News enough to light many spiritual flames.

    • #12
    • June 18, 2017 at 5:45 pm
    • Like2 likes
  13. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    Skyler (View Comment):
    There is no god.

    My experience is that everyone has a different definition of what God is, even when they think they are the most orthodox of thinkers. I am nowhere near orthodox in my thinking. Perhaps your definition of God does not and could not possibly exist. Mine does. That does not make me a dupe or charlatan.

    • #13
    • June 18, 2017 at 5:52 pm
    • Like4 likes
  14. Profile photo of Skyler Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    There is no god.

    My experience is that everyone has a different definition of what God is, even when they think they are the most orthodox of thinkers. I am nowhere near orthodox in my thinking. Perhaps your definition of God does not and could not possibly exist. Mine does. That does not make me a dupe or charlatan.

    Perhaps, but regardless, I’m sure you’re a nice guy.

    • #14
    • June 18, 2017 at 5:53 pm
    • Like1 like
  15. Profile photo of Doctor Robert Member

    Skyler (View Comment):
    Notre Dame and a drunk priest finally made me come off the fence and realize that I just didn’t believe in magic…There is no god. Wishful thinking doesn’t make it so. Anyone who believes in a god is guilty of either hopeless naivety or is also a charlatan.

    Or has experienced the presence of God, which makes the case undeniable to that person.

    Did you ever return to saxophone playing, Skyler? One of my two God experiences occurred while I was playing in the high school Stage Band (jazz band). The other, in a more holy place.

    • #15
    • June 18, 2017 at 6:38 pm
    • Like4 likes
  16. Profile photo of Skyler Member

    Doctor Robert (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    Notre Dame and a drunk priest finally made me come off the fence and realize that I just didn’t believe in magic…There is no god. Wishful thinking doesn’t make it so. Anyone who believes in a god is guilty of either hopeless naivety or is also a charlatan.

    Or has experienced the presence of God, which makes the case undeniable to that person.

    Did you ever return to saxophone playing, Skyler? One of my two God experiences occurred while I was playing in the high school Stage Band (jazz band). The other, in a more holy place.

    Nah, haven’t played in years. It was never in my plan. I enjoyed it and disappointed a few teachers that I wasn’t going to go professional, but I know that I am just not a musician at heart.

    • #16
    • June 18, 2017 at 6:44 pm
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  17. Profile photo of Chuckles Thatcher

    • #17
    • June 18, 2017 at 8:44 pm
    • LikeLike
  18. Profile photo of Chuckles Thatcher

    Skyler (View Comment):
    Notre Dame and a drunk priest finally made me come off the fence and realize that I just didn’t believe in magic.

    Fr. George Wiskirchen was one of the band directors. He invited me to join the jazz band after his second alto broke his wrist. I was never the greatest, but I was a solid second alto. Don’t ask me to improvise, though. I had fun, but the second year I had to drop out because, frankly, my grades were suffering and I had no intention or expectation of making a living off of music. Marching and concert band were plenty (with hockey band as well) and something had to give.

    Fr. George was a bit put out by my quitting. One day I passed him on the quad and called out a friendly, “Hello Father George.” What I didn’t know at the time was that he was an alcoholic and I’m guessing he was drunk at the time. He response to me was “F(code of conduct) off.” It was not delivered in a friendly tone at all.

    I credit Fr. George for making me realize that my questioning of the existence of a deity was correct. Priests have no special knowledge of a divine being. They are either dupes or are duping others. How did the first person come to the conclusion that there was a magic being? The idea predates christianity. Somewhere along the line, people stopped being skeptical, or just granted someone else with the credibility they should not have been given.

    There is no god. Wishful thinking doesn’t make it so. Anyone who believes in a god is guilty of either hopeless naivety or is also a charlatan. But if it floats your boat, that’s okay with me so long as you don’t get in my way.

    Fr. George made me finally see the equation. When he passed away they asked all of us to write letters back explaining how he impacted our lives. I doubt they expected my letter. I do thank Fr. George for making truth clear to me. I still like Fr. George, and I never was offended by him, but he made me realize the truth that I was so reluctant to accept, and I was never again hesitant to see that truth. I’m guessing that some might call that an insult and out of place, but I do honestly hope that others can be likewise inspired. Besides, I doubt that family members won’t be mumbling prayers when I die, so I think my letter was fine. I’ll bet the priests of the Congregation of Holy Cross threw it away, though.

    I take it you posted this comment because you want to be persuaded otherwise?

    • #18
    • June 18, 2017 at 8:46 pm
    • Like7 likes
  19. Profile photo of Skyler Member

    Chuckles (View Comment):

    I take it you posted this comment because you want to be persuaded otherwise?

    Well, that makes sense.

    ?

    • #19
    • June 18, 2017 at 8:49 pm
    • LikeLike
  20. Profile photo of Larry Koler Member

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    There is no god.

    My experience is that everyone has a different definition of what God is, even when they think they are the most orthodox of thinkers. I am nowhere near orthodox in my thinking. Perhaps your definition of God does not and could not possibly exist. Mine does. That does not make me a dupe or charlatan.

    Perhaps, but regardless, I’m sure you’re a nice guy.

    He is — definitely.

    Relationship with God comes before you go to church and even know about priests. Church is where you go when you want support for a faith that you already have come to by knowing God in whatever way He has made Himself known to you. Don’t argue with those who have faith if you don’t — God has His own plans for you.

    • #20
    • June 18, 2017 at 9:10 pm
    • Like3 likes
  21. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    Larry Koler (View Comment):
    Don’t argue with those who have faith if you don’t — God has His own plans for you.

    Maybe God’s plan is that he argue so those with faith clarify their arguments. Possibilities are endless.

    • #21
    • June 18, 2017 at 10:22 pm
    • Like3 likes
  22. Profile photo of I Walton Member

    Skyler.

    The Christian story is hard to believe, I don’t find it credible by itself, but the notion of a magical being is a secular thought; it’s not of the church. If you are open, not to belief, but to appreciation of what Catholics actually teach, you’d enjoy watching Father Baron’s video’s, “The Word on Fire.” First they take place in some of the most beautiful architecture on earth, secondly you’d see that these aren’t driven by charlatans or victims of charlatans. I don’t see the relevance of an alcoholic priest or a child abusing one, or a lying deceitful warped priest. Nor do I find it easy to ignore the role Christianity played in Western culture, the scientific revolution or what it seems to do for some individuals. The morality, mores, attitudes toward other people, family, habits of mind it attempts to foster and which are passed on by family culture and religious institutions may just be emergent systems, Darwinian, but therefore they are at a minimum evolved essentials to the civilization that they fostered and as they disappear it’s not surprising that civilization seems to disappear with them. And that as people lose faith they lose faith in life itself and it doesn’t help them live well or flourish. Does this mean there is a God? No but neither does it mean the notion is nonsense. To assert with such confidence that it’s nonsense ignores much to much. It’s simply too narrow.

    • #22
    • June 19, 2017 at 5:34 am
    • Like2 likes
  23. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    I Walton (View Comment):
    Does this mean there is a God? No but neither does it mean the notion is nonsense.

    Atheism is as much a religion as any other. Agnosticism, on the other hand, can honestly be non-religious.

    • #23
    • June 19, 2017 at 6:01 am
    • Like4 likes
  24. Profile photo of Curt North Member

    I feel myself and my family trapped in one of the very watered-down PC churches Amy mentioned in her final paragraph. It’s easy to say “run from these churches”, but we’re a part of the tapestry so to speak, we’re involved, and our local Pastor is a great guy, he consciously makes attempts to keep his services local, traditional, Christ centered.

    Yet we know that pastors, especially good ones, are in high demand. No doubt one day he will be called up to a larger church, a bigger city, bigger treasury, bigger congregation. When that day comes there will likely be a reckoning of sorts with our local church, my wife and I both feel that. Until then we have to trust our gut and stay where we are, try to keep things as stable as we can for ourselves and our fellow congregants, most of whom likely have no clue just how ultra left the national church leadership has really become.

    Good article @amyschley, thanks for the post.

    • #24
    • June 19, 2017 at 6:10 am
    • Like5 likes
  25. Profile photo of Skyler Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    I Walton (View Comment):
    Does this mean there is a God? No but neither does it mean the notion is nonsense.

    Atheism is as much a religion as any other. Agnosticism, on the other hand, can honestly be non-religious.

    That is a ridiculous, but nonetheless common, assertion.

    • #25
    • June 19, 2017 at 8:20 am
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  26. Profile photo of Could Be Anyone Member

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    I Walton (View Comment):
    Does this mean there is a God? No but neither does it mean the notion is nonsense.

    Atheism is as much a religion as any other. Agnosticism, on the other hand, can honestly be non-religious.

    That is a ridiculous, but nonetheless common, assertion.

    If one might ask how do you define religion?

    • #26
    • June 19, 2017 at 8:36 am
    • Like1 like
  27. Profile photo of Amy Schley Member
    Amy Schley Post author

    Curt North (View Comment):
    I feel myself and my family trapped in one of the very watered-down PC churches Amy mentioned in her final paragraph. It’s easy to say “run from these churches”, but we’re a part of the tapestry so to speak, we’re involved, and our local Pastor is a great guy, he consciously makes attempts to keep his services local, traditional, Christ centered.

    I tried for years to do my little pit to push my church to a more orthodox position. It was a bit like pushing on a blob.

    When the world church came down with a new revelation that basically said “we’ll let gays get married, but if they don’t want to, that’s okay, because fornication isn’t really a sin anyway,” I was already looking for a way out. But yeah, it was still hard. I loved those people and I didn’t want to walk away from the friendships. I didn’t want to alienate my family, as we’d been Community of Christ/ RLDS for five generations. In the end, it came down to we were wanting to start a family, and I didn’t want to be in the position of needing to re-preach to the kids on the way home from church every Sunday.

    • #27
    • June 19, 2017 at 8:37 am
    • Like5 likes
  28. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    I Walton (View Comment):
    Does this mean there is a God? No but neither does it mean the notion is nonsense.

    Atheism is as much a religion as any other. Agnosticism, on the other hand, can honestly be non-religious.

    That is a ridiculous, but nonetheless common, assertion.

    Not at all. If I say there are dragons, that is a statement of faith. I have never been in the presence of a dragon. I have never been bitten by a dragon. Yet, I believe they exist. If you say dragons don’t exist because you have never been in the presence of a dragon or been bitten by one, that is just as much a statement of faith. If Lon Lee Alle says, “Dude, dragons totally exist and one bit me!” That is not a statement of faith, since he has been bitten by a dragon.

    Likewise, an atheist asserting that God does not exist is making a statement of faith. The atheist has never seen God, does not think he has ever been in the presence of God, and therefore precludes that God exists, even though the universe is much larger than the atheist’s brain can hold. The existence of God is not falsifiable. Now, it also may not be scientifically provable, but that is a different point. That is why atheism is just another religious faith.

    Agnosticism says, “I don’t know.” Now, an agnostic may swing towards the atheistic as Richard Dawkins does. (Yes, he has admitted that he is really an agnostic.) Or an agnostic may for one reason or another lean towards a belief in God. But the agnostic admits to not knowing for sure.

    Any atheist who does not admit that it is a faith is probably lying to himself and may also be a religious supremacist. Of course, he might not admit that either.

    Now, I don’t care if you are an atheist, but don’t delude yourself that it is not based on faith just as much as Christianity or Islam or belief in pixies and elves.

    • #28
    • June 19, 2017 at 8:47 am
    • Like7 likes
  29. Profile photo of bridget Member

    I Walton (View Comment):
    Chesterton said something along those lines about Christianity’s enemies being the best argument in its favor. There is truth in this. Anti Christian, anti-semetics make a strong case that it’s all true. The unambiguous existence of evil and the ease of becoming drawn into it, does as well.

    About ten years ago, I was very much an atheist and arguing with one of my deeply religious friends about faith and Christianity. His argument was that atheists were borrowing morality from Christianity, and could not assert any independent basis for it.

    My response was that reducto ad absurdum is, just as in mathematics, a valid proof: one only need to look at a world absent our traditional notions of morality to see that it is needed. Ergo, the thesis that we are borrowing morality was wrong, since one could develop an independent basis for it.

    My friend’s response was to ask me whether or not Christianity “just happened” to include the best possible system and set of rules for human flourishing, or if it is because our Maker (who understands us perfectly, having created us) devised those perfect rules.

    • #29
    • June 19, 2017 at 9:05 am
    • Like2 likes
  30. Profile photo of Skyler Member

    bridget (View Comment):

    My friend’s response was to ask me whether or not Christianity “just happened” to include the best possible system and set of rules for human flourishing, or if it is because our Maker (who understands us perfectly, having created us) devised those perfect rules.

    Yeah, it just happened. After taking on the traditions and culture and beliefs of the Jews, the Greeks, and those that came before the Jews and the Greeks. There were any number of ways religions could have developed, Christianity is just one of those ways that happened.

    Arahant (View Comment):
    Likewise, an atheist asserting that God does not exist is making a statement of faith.

    Good grief. Give it up. Atheism is, by definition, the absence of religious belief. It’s a definition. You might want to argue that I’m not really an atheist, but that won’t get you anywhere either. Why do so many christians and other believers of magic feel this compulsion to tell atheists what they really truly believe deep in their hearts? I’m guessing it’s because it makes their own decisions to believe in something without proof to seem more valid.

    • #30
    • June 19, 2017 at 1:50 pm
    • LikeLike
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