Conversation Series: Cantankerous Old Atheist @ Starbucks

I was at Starbucks and overheard a conversation (more like a monologue) between an elderly gentlemen, 55[+], and a kid about 19-years old. The 19-year old was sitting in Starbucks reading his Bible when an older man sat next to him and almost “strategically” started conversation with him. As I eavesdropped after hearing key words that sparked the historian & philosophy guy in me (WWI, WWII, Germany, creation, evolution, Bible, God, Christopher Hitchens, and the like). What finally drew me into the conversation after listening to it for about 10-minutes off to one side while I was studying on the other-side (multi-tasking) was when the old guy, whom I had already realized was an atheist making a “coffee career” out of shaking 19-year olds faith, said:

  • “I don’t know how anybody today can believe in the Bible.”

At this point I asked if I could join the conversation, the answer was an emphatic “yes” from the youngster. After some feeling each other out in conversation… for instance, he liked Christopher Hitchens work on atheism but not on the stance against Islamo-Fascism, I liked Hitchens on his war stance but not on his atheism. I probed a bit to see if this “scientific” (his words) gentlemen looked at any other issue but his own, so I asked since he enjoys Christopher Hitchens so, I wondered if he listened to any of the debats he had with persons on the topic of his atheism? The answer was “No.” I asked if he had read any defense of the Judeo-Christian faith since he so vehemently opposed it – to the point of railroading youngsters in a coffee shop, the answer, “No” of course. I am sorry, but I make it a point to know and understand someone else’s position before I assail it. This “straw-man” approach will come up later.

I knew he had views on Germany, Christianity, and the like… so I had prepared some integrations of it in what I knew would be discussed. After a rough start on my part I fell into my groove. The old-cantankerous-atheist mentioned that he is a firm believer in separation of Church and State. I asked him where that phrase was found, he responded with that “it didn’t matter where it was, what do I think.” Anyone who knows me knows that this is an invitation I love to hear – like a vampire waiting to be invited into the house. (I should add an asside here: after I quoted a few thinkers on the subject he gruffed that this is why he doesn’t like talking to people like me. Because, he said, I talk of what others say and this makes me look like an idiot! This will come up later.)

I responded with that the Declaration smacks of religious philosophy, the Constitution was written with Natural Law in mind, Natural Law from the Judeo-Christian standpoint, and that I was religious and I vote, so there isn’t separation of church and state! There just isn’t a Federal Church. I challenged him to look into what many signers of the Bill of Rights (and the author of the First Amendment) and the Constitution did after that fateful meeting in Philadelphia and the signing of the Declaration later wrote in regards to their state constitutions. This was after he said the Founders were not religious at all and held contempt for religion. (I want to make an aside here, when people like this guy say “religion,” what he really means is Christianity.)

I merely challenged him to read the original state constitutions of the thirteen colonies and then say what he said (I didn’t inform him what those state constitutions said, but I will here for the reader):

On the day the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, they underwent an immediate transformation. The day before, each of them had been a British citizen, living in a British colony, with thirteen crown-appointed British state governments. However, when they signed that document and separated from Greta Britain, they lost all of their State governments.

Consequently, they returned home from Philadelphia to their own States and began to create new State constitutions. Samuel Adams and John Adams helped write the Massachusetts constitution; Benjamin Rush and James Wilson helped write Pennsylvania’s constitution; George Read and Thomas McKean helped write Delaware’s constitution; the same is true in other States as well. The Supreme Court in Church of Holy Trinity v. United States (1892) pointed to these State constitutions as precedents to demonstrate the Founders’ intent.

Notice, for example, what Thomas McKean and George Read placed in the Delaware constitution:

“Every person, who shall be chosen a member of either house, or appointed to any office or place of trust… shall… make and subscribe the following declaration, to wit: ‘I do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed forever more, and I acknowledge the Holy Scripture of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration.’”

Take note of some other State constitutions. The Pennsylvania constitution authored by Benjamin Rush and James Wilson declared:

“And each member [of the legislature], before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz: ‘I do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor of the Universe, the rewarded of the good and the punisher of the wicked, and I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine Inspiration.’”

The Massachusetts constitution, authored by Samuel Adams – the Father of the American Revolution – and John Adams, stated:

“All persons elected must make and subscribe the following declaration, viz. ‘I do declare that I believe the Christian religion and have firm persuasions of its truth.’”

North Carolina’s constitution required that:

“No person, who shall deny the being of God, or the truth of the [Christian] religion, or the Divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office, or place of trust or profit in the civil department, within this State.”

You had to apply God’s principles to public service, otherwise you were not allowed to be a part of the civil government. In 1892, the Supreme Court (Church of Holy Trinity v. United States) pointed out that of the forty-four States that were then in the Union, each had some type of God-centered declaration in its constitution. Not just any God, or a general God, say a “higher power,” but thee Christian God as understood in the Judeo-Christian principles and Scriptures. This same Supreme Court was driven to explain the following:

“This is a religious people. This is historically true. From the discovery of this continent to the present hour, there is a single voice making this affirmation…. These are not individual sayings, declarations of private persons: they are organic utterances; they speak the voice of the entire people…. These and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.”

From a larger blog I did on the subject: Separation of Church and State

Usually my main point by showing this is that in the least there is a disconnect with what the authors of the Bill of Rights thought was the separation of church and state versus say, silver haired atheist guy sitting in Starbucks. But in his case my point is also that the founders didn’t abhor religious ideology nor philosophy (see another blog on this topic: Who Did the Founders Quote Most?).

The old-man spoke of there not being absolute truth (a self-defeating statement), and if there were… who’s truth would it be, he challenged. I asked the young Christian kid if his laptop was on-line, so I pulled up a quote and read it aloud to the old-man after introducing the fact that Fascism never “lived” in Germany but only in Italy. In fact, Mussolini had a master’s degree in philosophy and even wrote a book in regards to some of his philosophy. In this book Mussolini defined what fascism is, he said:

“Everything I have said and done in these last years is relativism by intuition. If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories and men who claim to be bearers of an objective, immortal truth then there is nothing more relativistic than fascistic attitudes and activity. From the fact that all ideologies are of equal value, that all ideologies are mere fictions, the modern relativist infers that everybody has the right to create for himself his own ideology and to attempt to enforce it with all the energy of which he is capable.”

Mussolini, Diuturna pp. 374-77, quoted in A Refutation of Moral Relativism: Interviews with an Absolutist (Ignatius Press; 1999) by Peter Kreeft, 18.

Taken from: Mussolini Defines Fascism

I pointed out that his view on truth fits better with Mussolini’s vision rather than the Christian’s vision.

Right around this junction is when he got a little miffed and threw out the most common objection I come across, one that is almost childlike in its emoting factor. You see, people rarely ever really think about what they say, nor do they follow what they say to their logical conclusion. He said he “Doesn’t like religion because it has killed more people than any other ideology.” I interjected that another way of putting this statement is that he “rejects the Christian faith and chooses his non-belief because of all the death Christianity has caused.” He didn’t object.

I responded.

You are wrong. And if I may show you how, if you take, for example, the 7 Crusades, the 3 Inquisitions, and the Salem Witch Trials, and ad all the people killed in the name of religion during those endeavors, the World Book Encyclopedia puts the number at a high of about 100,000 people killed. Since he is an atheist, I am sure he knows what the “father of the ‘God-is-dead’ movement” said on this matter? Nietzsche said that because God has died that the Twentieth-Century was going to be the bloodiest in mankind’s history. This nineteenth-century “prophet” was right. Just in the twentieth-century alone, non-God/secular movements have killed over 100,000,000 people. Some say 166,000,000 or so (see figure 1.2).

My point here is two-fold. If you want to throw around numbers in some kind of blame game, lets do it, because the deaths caused by people who misuse their position in no way deals with whether or not that position is true or false. Secondly, if one rejects religious philosophy because of the deaths it has caused, how much more must one reject non-faith — realizing that non-faith has killed more people in 100-years than all religions did in the 1900-years preceding it.

He then mentioned that Christianity was acting against their stated goals in killing people. I agreed! Only in the Bible do you have an example of a person who lived a life that the Christian can use as a reference point to re-align himself morally to. I mentioned that a major museum had to cancel a speech by Nobel Prize winning co-founder of the Double-Helix in DNA (one of the most important scientific discoveries ever) Dr. Watson. Why? I asked him, he didn’t know. I told him that it was canceled because Dr. Watson believes the Black people have evolved from a separate branch on our evolutionary tree and are less intelligent/evolved than the Caucasian races.

I continued. This is what Hitler wrote about in Mein Kampf, that using Darwin’s thesis about the survival of the fittest and our evolutionary past, it is logical to rid (in this rat race evolutionists’ call “survival of the fittest”) the planet of such lesser animals or to view other people with such racist tendencies. Racist thinking is endemic to the theory of evolution. It is a logical outworking of it. In Christianity we have Acts saying we all came from one-man, we are all from “one-blood.” We sing, “Red, Yellow, Black and White, we are all precious in His sight!” We have a focus point to re-align ourselves with (the Bible) that the atheist doesn’t. We have an example in the life of Christ that evolution does not provide; evolution is in fact “red in tooth and claw.” Or as the quote I was referencing from Mein Kampf:

“The stronger must dominate and not mate with the weaker, which would signify the sacrifice of its own higher nature. Only the born weakling can look upon this principle as cruel, and if he does so it is merely because he is of a feebler nature and narrower mind; for if such a law [natural selection] did not direct the process of evolution then the higher development of organic life would not be conceivable at all…. If Nature does not wish that weaker individuals should mate with the stronger, she wishes even less that a superior race should intermingle with an inferior one; because in such a case all her efforts, throughout hundreds of thousands of years, to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being, may thus be rendered futile.”

(Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, translator/annotator, James Murphy [New York: Hurst and Blackett, 1942], pp. 161-162.) From a blog I did on the matter: Evolution’s Systematic Racism

The conversation wagged on for a bit more. I defended theistic thought at times – not wanting to inundate this angry man with “Biblical thinking” as much as I wanted to challenge his foundational thinking on certain topics. Hitchens came up again as did the Iraq war. So the old-man switched gears and quoted the commandment about “Thou shall not kill.” The young Christian kid quickly showed him that the Bible actually reads “Thou shall not murder.” Which was the crux of the reason he brought it up – his misunderstanding of it, applied.

He asked, with this commandment wrongly understood in mind, if I condoned the killing in Iraq. I simply responded that he was first arguing for a secular, non-religious government, and now he was trying to put religion into government actions. Which was he arguing for? That aside, I said he was committing a fallacy in his understanding about the Ten Commandments and the cultural, historical, theological context that they should be studied. I mentioned he should read some Dennis Prager writings on the Ten Commandments so he can better understand the Hebrew thinking behind such Scripture before he builds a “straw-man,” a false premise, and then attack something (the false premise) that no Christian or Jewish person believes… outside of his mind that is.

I mentioned that I have read Hitchens’ book God is Not Great, and almost every other atheist/naturalistic epitome written from ancient Greece up to the present, has he (I asked again) read any one good defense of the Christian Faith? Like, Unshakeable Foundations by Norman Geisler? He responded that he didn’t have the time nor will to read such stuff. (In other words, he was a closed minded bigot who went around arguing his point of view to the exclusion of all other points of view.)

I said “such thinking on your part would… well… make me think you were an idiot.” And on that note I left for work.

  • “Everything I have said and done in these last years is relativism by intuition. If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories and men who claim to be bearers of an objective, immortal truth then there is nothing more relativistic than fascistic attitudes and activity. From the fact that all ideologies are of equal value, that all ideologies are mere fictions, the modern relativist infers that everybody has the right to create for himself his own ideology and to attempt to enforce it with all the energy of which he is capable.” (Mussolini, Diuturna pp. 374-77, quoted in A Refutation of Moral Relativism: Interviews with an Absolutist. Ignatius Press; 1999, by Peter Kreeft, p. 18.)

My son boogied next door to the Starbuck’s where where he was getting a footlong sub-sandwich from Subway… you know those 16-year-olds will eat you out of house and home. Me, I had to have a “cup-o-joe.” As I was waiting for my venti java-chip frappachino with two add shots and caramel drizzled on the inside of the cup (yes, I am trying to beat the rapture), I noticed a guy reading a book. Being the bibliophile I am – (and Masters College being so close… brothers in the Lord and all that) – I accosted the guy and asked what he was reading. I was somewhat surprised to see he was reading the Urantia book. So my mind did a switch from a planned friendly conversation with a fellow seminary student to that of evangelism.

For those who do not know what the Urantia book is, I suggest a few stops online, as well as reading my intro to the new age:

The year 1989 saw an end to the URANTIA Brotherhood and a beginning for the Fifth Epochal Fellowship. In a letter dated 9 November 1989 all members of the Brotherhood were notified that a shake-up at headquarters had taken place and things, including the name, had changed. While the group has a new name, its doctrines and purposes remain as they were “originally established,” (p. 3).

Of all the cultic systems in all the world, none is more intricate than that of URANTIA! This organization has Orders of Trinity Beings, Supreme Beings, Ascending Beings, Sons of God, Universe Power Directors, Michael class (a very important group) and nearly ad infinitum. Within each Order there may be anywhere from a few thousand to many million beings (The URANTIA Book, pp. 330-344). Various sections of this 2,097 page book were sent to earth by the “Orvonton administrators” (p. 354), and the “…Nebadon commission of twelve acting under the direction of Mantutia Melchizedek,” (p. 1319).

The doctrines are nearly as hard to understand as the source from whence they came. As with many groups which do not appreciate the thought of Jesus being the Only Begotten Son of God, URANTIA has an interesting solution to this problem. They teach, prior to His Earthly life, Jesus’ real name was Michael of Nebadon. They state, “Our Creator Son (another Order of beings) is the personification of the 611,121st original concept of infinite identity of simultaneous origin in the Universal Father and the Eternal Son.”The Michael of Nebadon is the `only-begotten Son’ personalizing this 611,121st universal concept of divinity and infinity,” (Ibid, p.366; parenthesis added). In other words, Jesus (Michael) is the Son of the Son of God and the Father in the sense that when these two beings had a simultaneous original thought for the 611,121st time, Jesus (Michael) was begotten.

The Brotherhood does have a similarity to other groups in that they teach, “There dwells within you a fragment of the Universal Father, and you are thus directly related to the divine Father and all the Sons of God,” (Ibid, p. 448). However, unlike many other cults which teach they are the only true church, the URANTIA teach, “We believe in every church and in all forms of worship,” (URANTIA Brotherhood Bulletin, Vol. 6, No. 1, p. 4). With this attitude in mind, and in their own peculiar way, they hope to unite “…all world religions and all world religionists,” (Bulletin, Supplement, p. 1).

Now that you are caught up, I will continue. I sat beside the guy and mentioned that the Urantia book was an interesting read. He asked if I had read it, I mentioned that I had read large swaths of it. Naturally he asked what I thought of it, I said my feelings were mixed. I then asked him if he believed in reincarnation of the soul, he eventually answered yes.

This is important, almost any new age religion or Eastern religion adherent you meet you can break their religious view down into the lowest possible denominator, which in this case is pantheism. Almost all pantheists believe in reincarnation, here in the West they would believe in classical reincarnation: souls that revisit the earth and are punished according to their built up karma. You do not have to worry about side issue, you can have one line of attack for hundreds of religious views, and it will work.

I made mention of the Killing Fields and the fact that during the mass slaughter of people in Cambodia, people were fleeing (these people being Buddhists) into neighboring Buddhist nations. This influx of people created refugee camps. You would think that fellow Buddhists would be concerned about their own, but they were not. Because the Buddha taught that you are your own island, and you must work out your own karma. So these fellow Buddhists viewed these refugees plight through the lens of Eastern ideology. In other words, these people were starving and being killed and dying because of something they did in a previous life. It took many Christian organizations to come in and feed, clothe, and provide shelter to these Buddhists.

I then mentioned that this is why the holy men in India can walk by those who are maimed, starving, uneducated, and the like, and walk right by them. Why? Because they are in that predicament because of some built up karma. This is why it takes a Mother Theresa to literally adopt the city of Calcutta. As he was ingesting this, I continued my challenge:

I mentioned that the Urantia book was a message given to the author by an alien civilization through the means of automatic writing (where the author allows a spirit or some being to write through them while they are in an altered state of consciousness). I politely engaged him in conversation, challenging him at one point with this:

“The Urantia book was given through automatic writing, so too was The Book of Laws by Alistair Crowley (Alistair saying a spirit at the Great Pyramid gave this writing to him), as well as some of the writings of Carl Jung. However, even though these books/messages were given by ‘spiritual’ means as a way to properly view reality, they contradict each other… how do you delineate what is true, in other words, do you have a way to judge which of these books/messages is true and which are false.”

He was caught off guard I am sure because this is a poignant question that 1) has never been asked of him, 2) gets him to think internally about whether he has ever questioned his own thinking on the acceptance of such an occult text, and 3), how does he judge truth. This is the answer I got:

“There have been studies where people are hooked up to machines and when presented with truth they somehow know it to be true, likewise, I just know the Urantia book to be true.”

This answer is similar to those adherents of Scientology and also the “burning in the bosom” that Mormons experience. It is just that, experience, which are subjective at best. I then asked the gentlemen if he bases truth on his feelings, to which he responded positively to. I didn’t press the issue as I had already challenged his thinking on other issues (I used some examples from a paper I did – I attached it if you are curious), but I could have continued with this line of thinking by comparing Hitler’s feelings on truth as compared to those of Mother Theresa.

I hope this short brush with this guy will help you formulate a response to a self-refuting worldview, here I will post the end of a paper I did for my world religions class, enjoy (references have been removed for ease of publishing):


~ Adapted from an online debate many years ago ~

The law of cause and effect to which on the “spiritual” plain is called Karma. One writer says of the law:

Karma simply means that there remains naught after each personality but the causes produced by it. No “personality” – a mere bunch of material atoms and of indistinctual mental characteristics – can of course continue as such, in the world of pure Spirit.

The fundamental idea behind karma is that of action followed by reaction. The Bhagavad-Gita, one of the best-known Hindu scriptures, defines it quite simply as “the name given to the creative force that brings beings into existence” (8:3). Thus, it may be viewed as the fundamental creative action that is perpetuated in each individual soul.

Practically, karma is somewhat like Isaac Newton’s law: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Mark Albrecht continues:

It could be pictured as a set of moral scales; all the bad deeds piled up on one side must be balanced by good deeds on the other.

Yet it is more complicated than that. Perhaps the best way of picturing karma and its relationship to rebirth (reincarnation) is something like this: Each person is a sort of electronic sensor or microphone with a wire hooked up to a great computer in the heavens; the computer is ‘God’ Each thought, motive and act, as well as all the things that happen to us, are relayed back to the computer and filed away. Upon death the data bank in the computer is activated, and the ‘readout’ of our next life or lives, is cranked out and handed to us. If our negative karma (deeds, thoughts, motives, circumstances, and so on) outweighs our positive karmic pattern, we are assigned a more miserable existence in the next round, and vice versa. We have nothing to say about it. There is no mercy, forgiveness or court of appeals.

Earlier Albrecht made the point that:

Hinduism and Buddhism teach that humans can only achieve final liberation from the round of rebirths by this doctrine. Only through the pitfalls and travails of the human condition can a soul earn sufficient merit to warrant its release or liberation (Sanskrit: moksha or samadhi). Thus, a soul must evolve through various life forms to the human state, the evolutionary plateau where moral lessons are learned through multitudes of reincarnations.

If you are born into a family that is well off, and you have a good family relationship, then you are being rewarded for some good work[s] from a previous life. If you are born into a famine-ridden area, destitute, or mentally or physically incapable of caring for yourself, then you are in retribution for the “cause and effect” law of karma. This is the reason that there is no firm “right or wrong” in this life according to Eastern thought. All people who are treated unfairly or unjustly — like slaves were in America, racial wars, famine and disease in undeveloped nations — are merely reaping what they sowed in a previous incarnation. In addition, to interfere with this process — outlaw slavery, end racial strife, feed and heal the hungry and sick — is to interfere with a person’s karma, which is strictly forbidden in the eastern philosophies! (Alternatively, doing so has no intrinsic value – e.g., no real positive moral benefit.)

It is laughable that some defend this doctrine tooth and nail. However, if really believed, they would come to realize there is no real good or evil! The Inquisitions, the Mumbai terror killings at the hands of Muslims, as examples, were merely the outgrowth of the victim’s previous lives. Therefore, when those here defend karmic destiny in other posts speak of the horrible atrocities committed by “religion,” they are not consistently living out their philosophy of life and death, which are illusory. The innocent victims of the Inquisitions, terror attacks, tsunamis, or Crusades then are merely being “paid back” for something they themselves did in a previous life. It is the actions said persons did prior that creates much of the evil upon them now. So in the future when people who are believers in reincarnation say that Christianity isn’t what it purports to be because of the evil it has committed in the past, I will remind them that evil is merely an illusion (Maya – Hinduism; Sunyata – Buddhism) to be overcome, as karmic reincarnation demands.