Scarlet ‘A’ for a Day


… or Creation Among the Atheists

Several weeks ago it came to my attention that the Secular Student Alliance (SSA), a group of people who would be considered atheist and agnostic, were planning a trip to the Creation Museum as a preface to a conference that would occur in the same area.  What started out as a mild curiosity became fascination and eventually action.  What would it be like to be a Christian and a fly on the wall as a group of atheists peered at exhibits that attempted to prove them wrong?  How would the creationist lecturer react to challenges and would he gloat when he wins a point? did not decide until the week before to take the day off to go.  So it was that I rode with my wife to the Creation Museum for what may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  I can honestly say that I was not prepared for what we experienced.

My wife had been there before, and as we pulled into the parking lot her first reaction was to how many extra security were visible.  She said that she did not remember  more than one or two officers on her last trip, but even before we left the car there were at least 6 clearly visible in front of the facility.

To ensure that we would be able to be included with some of the SSA members in the tour (and because we got $12 off on each of our admission prices) we signed up with the group.  What we did not know was that we would also get name tags with the SSA logo printed prominently on them.  We also had to sign an agreement which said that we would be respectful and appropriate during our time on the grounds.  Emails had gone out over the course of the days leading up to the event to ask the very same and to forbid those who would come for the sole reason of causing a scene from coming at all.  “We want to show what even as godless atheists we have morals.”

The Social Experiment

Not only were we wearing name tags which clearly said that we were there with SSA, but many were also wearing atheist shirts.  Most were subtle, in the sense that if you did not know what you were looking at you may not have even noticed.  I overheard some people (obviously not with the group) talking about the shirts and what they meant.  a_shirt_large

If you are familiar with the book The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne you will understand the reference.  The story takes place in a Puritan community where a woman is accused of adultery and as a consequence is forced to wear a scarlet letter ‘A’ for the rest of her life to identify her sin.  With the label she was also subject to ridicule and utter rejection by the rest of the community of Puritans (Christians).

While I did not have a T-shirt (a symbol anyway) it was obvious that there was a distinctive way that we were being treated because of the shared identification.  There were hateful glances, exaggerated perceptions, waxing surveillance by security, and anxious but strong ‘amens’ accompanying a lecture on “The Ultimate Proof of Creation” by Dr. Jason Lisle.

Is this how Christians treat people?  Is this how we follow Jesus’ commandment to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us?  I cannot help but think that many Christians are fearful of atheists.  It is a sort of xenophobia that runs along lines of faith and belief.  What we tend to forget is that atheists, agnostics, and evolutionists are people too.  If our attempt to preserve our belief means that we are treating these people like animals, are we really holding up principles that are based on a creation worldview?

There have rarely been times in my life that I have been ashamed of people that I call “brothers and sisters in Christ.”  This was one of them.  To be judged by people that share my beliefs because of the name tag I wore was appalling.  We forget that Jesus not only commanded that we love our enemies and pray for them, but he also sought out people who were rejected by the religious order, embraced them, spent time with them, and partied with them.  It was not a covert operation to get them to say the sinner’s prayer (which was not invented until the 20th century) and get them to change their ways.  Jesus knew that spending time with them was like good medicine: those who are well do not need a doctor.

What Then? … No Excuses

Do not miss this: belief must not be a reason not to engage in relationship.  This is not about being right or wrong.  This is not about having the answers.  This is not about their tactics and how they have been rude or dismissive.  This is not about a fundamental difference in the way we approach the world.

What this is about is relationship.  It is about listening to other inhabitants of the planet, regardless of what we believe about how we got here.  It is about having dialogue and getting to know one another.  It is about sharing a cup of coffee, a glass of beer, or a soda and enjoying one another’s company.  It is about realizing that we have more in common than we have in opposition.  It is about being like Christ, which in fact is the largest issue that keeps us apart.

SEE ALSO: Creation Among the Atheists: A Retrospective

About Aaron Gardner

Aaron is a counselor and student of the Bible, passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He lives in central Indiana with his wife, one-year-old son and their two dogs. View all posts by Aaron Gardner

141 responses to “Scarlet ‘A’ for a Day

  • Don

    Aaron – great post. I was curious to hear your story behind the story. It is truly sad that so many of us Western Christians are so much more concerned with being “right” than we are about being faithful. I often wonder if the Great Awakenings may have done more harm than good, at least to us here and now.

  • Shamelessly Atheist

    What this is about is relationship. It is about listening to other inhabitants of the planet, regardless of what we believe about how we got here. It is about having dialogue and getting to know one another. It is about sharing a cup of coffee, a glass of beer, or a soda and enjoying one another’s company. It is about realizing that we have more in common than we have in opposition. It is about being like Christ, which in fact is the largest issue that keeps us apart.

    I couldn’t agree more. Well, except for the ‘Christ’ part, of course. But to Ken Ham and his minions we atheists are bogeymen, inherently immoral and evil. Their fear is palpable in the extra security. But I challenge Ham to look at a lineup consisting of believers and nonbelievers, follow them around for a day, and point out which is which. We atheists are just like everybody else. And we’re everywhere.

    Some, like me, are outspoken as being atheists. Keep the religion out of politics and science, don’t force values on everyone else that we might not necessarily share, and we’ll get along just fine. One need not be an atheist to be secular (another myth born out of fear). As Christopher Hitchens says, just leave us alone. Is that too much to ask?

  • Aaron

    I just have to say that I am honestly moved by your comment!

    But to Ken Ham and his minions we atheists are bogeymen, inherently immoral and evil.

    That is exactly what was so difficult. I am planning on writing an entire post about just that issue, but to sit in a lecture that was titled “The Ultimate Proof of Creation” and to be told that atheists are inherintly amoral, immoral baseless nuts was nearly too much for me to stomach! What does that have to do with their message that creation is true?

  • thomas2026

    It was great to see that there was a Christian with me that I didn’t know about. It was interesting eh? We should hook up by email.

    pax Jesu,
    The Thomas Society

  • Euterpe

    I label myself as a “theistic agnostic” (that is, I don’t believe that knowing if there is or is not a god is possible, but I choose to believe in a god.) I am also a big fan of science and also evolution. Although I do not follow the bible as literal truth, I do not see evolution in opposition to god’s word.

    I am, in short, a moderate who tends to side with skeptics on many issues.

    Thank you very much for posting this, and for having an open mind. I think that there are very good things in Christianity, but that extreme beliefs tend to get in the way. I am very glad to see that, like me, you are trying to focus on our similarities, and not our differences.

    The skeptics have a grassroots movements, “skeptics in the pub,” where people get together, have beer, and talk. Sometimes there’s a speaker, sometimes not. I wouldn’t mind attending one of these someday and buying you a beer there. I think you have a lot of interesting things to say and we could learn a lot from each other.

    Dialogue for the win!

    Love, Euterpe

  • Gordon

    A comment showing some insight from a thoughtful person. Thank you for your post.

  • Love Thy (Atheist) Neighbors: What Jesus Taught Aaron Gardner and His Wife at the Kentucky Creation Museum « Prometheus Unbound

    […] way through a group tour of an anti-evolution museum! Here’s how Aaron put it at his blog: What would it be like to be a Christian and a fly on the wall as a group of atheists peered at […]

  • humblemonkey

    Aaron, thanks for this article. My small comment turned into a rant which I will post on my blog 😉

    Have you heard of James W. Fowler,? He talks about Christians going through Seven Stages of faith (I’ve just written a blog post on it). The ‘atheist-bashing’ people you describe in your post sound just like Stage 3 of Fowlers’ progression- ‘the loyalist’.

    Loyalists are conformists. They are acutely aware of what others expect of them and how they view them. This is a ‘tribal’ stage with a clear idea of what it means to be part of your particular group, and clearly defined boundaries of who is in or out. They have a strongly held but uncritical faith, often unable to explain why they believe things beyond referring to some external authority – “the Bible/my pastor says so.” Unfortunately, Fowler believes most adult Christians (in the West) are at this stage. I think this is an important part of the faith journey, but a poor place at which to finish it.

    As for the Creation stuff… well, all Christians seem to sit along a ‘spectrum’ of beliefs when it comes to how exactly the universe and life came into being.. from those who adhere strongly to a young earth theory to those who accept the current model of evolution as the way God chose to work (which is the official line of the Catholic Church). What I find interesting is this – that, as far as I can tell, the place a Christian locates themselves along this spectrum seems to have absolutely NO correlation to how well they imitate Jesus or how transformed their life is. None.

    So why do we care so much?? To me, the creation debate seems like a terrible black hole that sucks up christians time and attention, where they could be focused on better things, like helping the single mum next door can’t feed their kids. Instead, a Creationist or Evolutionist can sit at their Apple Macs eating fried chicken as they argue with each other over the internet, while the mum next door starves. As Christians, why don’t we just accept that God somehow made this amazing complex world around us, and move on? C’mon people, we don’t have to be right, we just have to be in right relationship. Jesus doesn’t need defending… he just needs us to be his body.

    If the starving single mum example seems far-fetched, we must at least heed the words quoted from ‘Shamelessly Atheist’ above:

    “.. to Ken Ham and his minions we atheists are bogeymen, inherently immoral and evil.”

    ‘Shamelessly atheist’, I’m so humbled that you take the time to read blogs like Aaron’s and comment calmly and insightfully on them. I feel your pain, and I personally apologise on behalf of all insecure, defensive, myopic Christians who constantly forget that the line that seperates Good and Evil does not run between groups of people, but inside every human heart.

    I’m always reminded of a great quote from Shane Claiborne:

    “Whenever someone tells me they have rejected God, I say, “tell me about the God you have rejected”. And as they describe a God of condemnation, of laws and lightning bolts, of frowning gray-haired people and boring meetings, I usually confess “I too have rejected that God”

    Perhaps, as Aaron says, we have more in common then we think? I believe it is time for a new, more open-minded dialogue that doesn’t demand that the ‘other’ use the same vocabulary as us, but begins from a common ground of respect and truth-seeking. It’s just a pity there’s no coffee on the internet…

  • Euterpe


    Can you suggest other blogs writtten by moderate Christians (regardless where they are on the creation spectrum)? Your blog was linked to a skeptical blog that I read, which is how I found you, and I certainly wouldn’t mind reading more of this type of stuff.

  • Shamelessly Atheist

    If you take those two (creation and atheists must be immoral) in a vacuum, then of course they make no sense. But pan your camera back a bit and take a look at the bigger picture. Look at it from the point of view of biblical literalists who see anything inconsistent with their world view as a slippery slope to evil. If atheists can be moral, then what need is there of religion or of God? What good is it? And evolution is an atheist doctrine (ignoring the glaring fact that many Christians accept evo…). Most Christians don’t have a problem with this, even though I actually agree with Ham that this should be the case. Obviously, Ham and I are both wrong on this because the facts speak for themselves. The difference between he and I is that I understand there is something that keeps this slide from happening in most people (for some, this is indeed a route to atheism) even if I don’t understand what it is. Some ex-Christians have tried to explain it, but I’m much too much the skeptic to understand it.

  • Nick

    Aaron, I humbly thank you for your words. As an atheist myself, I am usually questioning why there is so much ‘xenophobia’, as you put it, directed toward those like myself. I think one of the reasons is that most of those on your side of the spectrum choose to ‘know’, rather than believe. In other words, they are 100% sure that what they believe is the truth, and so see those who do not conform to that belief as mindless idiots….something that I have never seen on the atheist side (although I will say that it is certainly possible).

    I’m always curious what Jesus would do at this time in the world. He’d probably be appalled at all of those who drift so far from his teachings.

    Once again, thanks.

  • cicely

    You “get it”. Thank you.

  • justelise

    I don’t believe in gods, even though I was raised in a Christian household, and was forced to go to Lutheran School through the 8th grade. I have started exploring Buddhism. I am also biracial (black/white), and my parents are immigrants from the Caribbean. I feel as out of place as you did with the atheists at the Creation Museum:

    1. In the black community, which I’m apparently too white to be a full member of.
    2. In the white community, which I’m apparently too black to be a full member of.
    3. In the atheist community, which is more accepting, but is still very racially homogeneous (Caucasian).
    4. In the Buddhist communities (both Western and immigrant), which are both still very racially homogeneous (Caucasian and Asian, respectively).
    5. In the Caribbean community, since I was born in the U.S.
    6. Among the Christian children I went to school with, because I was never given enough evidence to turn me into a believer.
    6. Among my friends who are second generation American (or third, fourth, fifth, etc.), as my parents are immigrants.

    I am not saying this to start a “who experiences the most prejudice or oppression” battle, but I think your post is a good starting point for a dialogue about how people marginalize, criminalize, and prejudge others just on the basis of a single difference, no matter how trivial, in the grand scheme of things.

  • Robin Lionheart

    Kudos to you, Aaron, for walking a mile in an atheist’s shoes, and for telling others what you learned by doing so.

  • godlessgirl

    Reading this account is a breath of fresh air. Being an atheist is a bit like wearing a “kick me” sign on your back–or at least it can feel that way.

    As a former moderate Christian myself, I know I was afraid of atheists and was suspicious of them without cause or provocation. As soon as I found myself godless, I realized what it takes to prove you’re a good person when you can’t just claim God. It’s hard work!

    I’m glad you got to experience something that inspires you to change things in your believing community. I hope other believers have a lightbulb moment after reading your post.

  • Aaron

    Excellent!! Thanks for the comment. I suppose it would be too convenient that you would be in the Indianapolis area.

    I am certainly looking for more connections with people who are willing to openly dialogue and who I can learn from, and who I may be able to share with as well.

    Thanks for your encouragement!

  • Aaron

    🙂 I am certainly trying.

  • thePuck

    Thanks for putting yourself in our shoes. It would probably be equally informative for you to try this experiment in various social scenarios that are not predicated on religion and see how profound the privilege and social persecution can be even when it is only a part of the background narrative.

  • 1poorguy


    Can you comment further on allegations of disruptions? You mentioned that everyone had to sign a paper agreeing to behave (seems silly). Some have asserted that the SSA required it, not Hamm and his people. And Mark Looy reports a lot of mocking, including during the lecture. The SSA says “no”. Can you confirm one way or another?

    I would hope my fellow atheists were not disruptive (though I don’t consider quiet comments to fellow group members “disruptive”…but maybe that’s just me!).


  • Franco

    Atheist here; just wanted to say that this is good stuff. This is what we (Theists and Non-theists alike) need more of: dissent.

    For all you many sane Christians who wonder why atheists seem to stereotype you unfairly, this is why. Because the belligerent, intolerant, insecure splinter group of your religion is out on the forefront of public opinion with big neon signs like this “Museum”. Ken Ham and his ilk are the voices you allow to speak for you.

    If someone claims to represent you or your belief system and is doing what you think is a poor job of it, please speak out.

  • Aaron

    Agreed! I have been waiting until my checking account is back in the black to get a scarlet letter shirt for my self… my wife wants an FSM one!

  • Aaron

    If by “lecture” you mean “The Ultimate Proof of Creation” that I was in, I can say specifically that there were no disrespectful shows. The only thing I noticed were some small bits of laughter, more of the giggle kind. The “amens” that I mentioned in my post were obviously from Christians in the audience and that was just as disruptive (although being Christian response the lecturer and ‘museum’ staff would not have recall it that way).

    I could not say who actually initiated the signed agreement. I can say that once I signed up my inbox was the regular recipient of emails from SSA about conduct and behavior.

    I am actually in the middle of writing another post specifically to the “incident” I witnessed where someone was asked to turn his shirt inside out… but I will say no more at this point so as not to spoil the surprise 😉

  • Aaron

    I don’t think that I could possibly agree with you more!!!

  • thePuck

    “C’mon people, we don’t have to be right, we just have to be in right relationship. Jesus doesn’t need defending… he just needs us to be his body.”

    Well said. Unfortunately, a large section of the Christians in the US have become the tool of political interests which do have to be “right” and do need defending. Thus you see a religion based upon inclusiveness, peace, and communal values used to push exclusion, war, and individualistic, “I got mine, Jack” capitalism, which seems pretty contradictory to me.

    I, too, lament the philosophical maturity of many American theists, but I also don’t think it is accidental. Religion is alleged to be subject to different epistemological rules that make things like evidence, logic, and consistence unnecessary. While this may or may not be the case (I don’t think so, but it’s a debatable issue), it does allow for a motivator, a set of rhetoric and narratives, that cannot be refuted. It gives an irrational (arational?) reason to believe and do things in a domain where rational rules would normally be thought to obtain (politics, science, education, etc). This short-circuits the ability to actually weigh issues in a way that can lead to good decisions. How old the Earth is, what the best economic or political system may be, what the best way to learn is, all of these are empirical questions with empirical answers that we have a proven methodology for obtaining. By framing them as religious issues, however, they are removed from this realm and those who would exploit religious beliefs can essentially make any claim they want without fear of consequences. When I see a set of convenient conditions like this, that specifically serve the interests of one empowered group at the expense of another group, I get rather suspicious. It makes no sense for a largely low-income population to consistently work against their interests and for the interests of big business and the wealthy, but when you see how religion gets wrapped up in the rhetoric, it’s easy to see how “love thy neighbor” turns into “greed is good” and “as you do unto the least of these, so you do unto me” turns into “if you are not with us you are against us”.

  • Tom Farrell


    Firstly, thank you for taking the time to see things from an opposing perspective, and for being honest about it, and for thinking of the feelings of others. These are good, moral things to do that I think we can all agree on regardless of religious beliefs.

    You asked, “Is this how Christians treat people?”, and unfortunately the answer is yes, all the time. Indeed, you saw only the lightweight side of it. An atheist can put on an atheist t-shirt and stroll through a high-profile museum filled with guards and cameras and expect to be glared at and spoken to rudely, but can expect that nothing really bad will happen to them because, after all, there are a ton of witnesses everywhere. The same atheist with the same t-shirt walking through a random street in a random american city might not come out alive.

    As a gay man, I also know how christians treat gay people. A group of atheists going to a christian venue can expect to be told they are wrong and to receive minor rudeness such as you have described. A group of gay people going to a christian venue can expect to be told they are immoral perverts whose love is a fraud and a lie, who are going to hell for all eternity, who are not actually completely human, and who deserve to die of AIDS.

    I’m not trying to beat on you with these remarks. I’m not trying to make you change your faith. What I would like is for you to keep these facts in mind as you consider the rocky relationships between churches and atheists, and between churches and gay people, and why atheists and gay people can seem hostile to churches at times. (If you were treated like this all the time, wouldn’t you feel more than a little annoyed about it?) By keeping these things in mind, I hope you will find a method to, in your own way, help reduce the tension and seek more harmonious ways to tolerate each other despite our differences.


  • 1poorguy

    Fair enough, Aaron! Thanks for the quick reply. I’ll look forward to your next post.

  • Aaron

    My heart is heavy with these kind of reports. My journey has not started at the Creation Museum… it has been a long journey of seeing my own family fall prey to “Christianity” because of their beliefs in the factual evidence that supports evolution.

    My journey has also taken me to places where I have had deep and intimate conversations with gay men about these issues as well. As fully as I can I am seeking to learn more and to put myself into positions where that understanding can be strengthened and enhanced.

    Your comments remind me of Moses at the burning bush when he heard God say that he has “heard the cries of [his] people in Egypt.” God allowed a nation of his chosen people to suffer for 400 years in slavery. Believe me when I say that this makes no sense to me! Yet at that time the god that appeared to be aloof said that he is not, and that he heard their anguish. And it is this same god who I believe to be the true God and the one who does bring salvation from that torment that you describe.

    The sad thing is that it is this God who seems to be so absent in the lives of so many “Christians” today. I have asked myself for years why this could happen, but no adequate answer seems to exhibit itself.

    Tom, thank you for your perspective. I hope that you will continue to challenge people to see the truth of this religious injustice.

  • Erp

    One major difference between the holders of the “evolutionist” and of the “creationist” views is the benefits the former provide. The “evolutionist” can be a scientist who uses natural selection and evolution to understand diseases and find cures (or preventive vaccines) for the starving mom and her children. Another “evolutionist” may find and breed improved food crops to feed the mom and her family (YECs seem to reject the idea of beneficial mutations so apparently wouldn’t even look for them). A competent understanding of geology requires rejecting the Noachian flood and the young age of the earth as fact and competent geology leads to understanding earthquakes (and where not to build) among other things. An “evolutionist” non-scientist can understand why using antibiotics properly [not when not needed and use the full course] is important (antibiotics use leads to resistant strains of bacteria those bacteria will out compete their non-resistant competitors [natural selection] and lead to the given antibiotic being useless [we already have multi-drug resistant TB]).

  • What Are Those Christians Actually Afraid Of? « ZackFord Blogs

    […] Aaron at A Great Work and his wife, both evangelical Christians, joined the SSA on their visit, including wearing SSA nametags to get a “day in the life” experience of the atheists […]

  • ZackFord

    Hi Aaron!

    I responded to your post on my own blog here:

    I would love to get some dialogue going about your visit and the issues you unveiled. Thanks for what you did and for creating a venue to have these important discussions!

  • Dave

    Very nice post. I wish more people took the calmer, tolerant approach like you did.

  • thePuck

    Aaron, I have a thought that might answer your question. It’s a theory I have.

    Religious/philosophical impulses exist within individual people. These impulses drive them to quest for meaning and understanding, and this quest generally leads them to benevolent or at least benign places (eventually). But some people have an impulse to rule others, to control others, and to exploit that control. Since those people usually are willing to do things most people aren’t willing to do to get their power, they succeed unhindered by the normal rules of ethics and society.

    These people will co-opt ANYTHING for their own ends if not prevented, and your faith was co-opted when Constantine had his win. Once that happened, the entire character of Christianity was subverted from a populist, communalist, peaceful tradition to a justification for the worse impulses of those in power.

    Think about how selectively things have been interpreted and applied. How the rules shifted to accommodate the needs of power and wealth. Then, during the Enlightenment, we inherit a whole bunch of beliefs that make no sense, seem rigged to favor those in power, are wedded to the worst immoralities, and are most often used by jingoists and bigots (and those who want the votes of jingoists and bigots). How much of Christianity is what really happened, what Jesus really said and did, what the Kings and the Prophets said and did, and how much of it has been changed and changed again to fit the needs of power? How can you or any of us know?

    Your faith, because it happened to become the state religion of the empire that expanded western civilization, was hijacked to help justify, control, and motivate that expansion, from Crusades to Manifest Destiny. It wasn’t too long ago that slavery was justified based on Christianity, too.

    I am not saying Christianity actually means wars, slavery, and persecution any more than Islam actually means Jihad, bee-keeper outfits, and savage violence; I am saying that those in power have hijacked religion and remolded for their own purposes such that it is impossible to know what the tenets of a given faith actually are. Many Christians in the US actually believe that capitalism, rather than being a theory of economics with all the fallibility that implies, is dictated by their god. The same applies to Millian liberal democracy, now, but 500 years ago the majority believed the very same god and sacred texts demanded feudalism.

    Given that this hijacking is so apparent (how exactly does the GOP platform hold up compared to the words of Christ, or even the words of Hildegard von Bingen? how does the suicide bomber relate to the poetry of Rumi and the dances of the Sufi mystics?) and used to justify such atrocities, the fact that your god seems to be so absent from the lives of so many Christians today is easy to understand: they never knew him, and if your faith is actually correct…well, you know what quote I am referencing.

  • Erica

    Hi, I’m here from Friendly Atheist, and I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to walk in an atheist’s shoes. As a current atheist raised in a Jewish family, I’ve always had something of an ousider’s perspective on Christianity, and it’s heartening to see intelligent, reasonable people try to understand that view to allow for better dialogue on both sides. I was also very happy to read a post from a presumably unbiased observer of the whole tour; your post certainly helps fill in the picture of conflicting reports from the skeptics vs. the museum.

  • Fiona

    Thank you for being open minded enough to be the “other” for a day. We all need to be able to be open about out beliefs and un beliefs, and have health discussion!

  • Kevin Harris

    I love this post despite all the postmodernist language. Not to be too hard on you, Aaron, but I think the whole postmodern thing is one big misdiagnosis. The culture is not postmodern. People still want reasons and evidence for what they believe and people know they cannot avoid the absoluteness of truth.

    Yet, you’re right about relationships. But it’s not just a “postmodern” thing. Excuse my pet peeve.

    According to Christianity, all “dialogues” eventually come down to this: We’re screwed and Christ came to unscrew us. Everything else is just a warm up.

    My biggest pet peeve however is Young Earth Creationism (YEC). Hey ho it’s got to go! YEC is one of the biggest obstacles to relationship with Christ today, and Ken Ham and crew are the worst offenders.

    Perhaps my atheist friends will embrace, just for argument’s sake, that YEC is not even the best, most conservative interpretation of the original language of Scripture! And there’s certainly no scientific warrant.

    Why are you atheists/skeptics wasting your time? Do you think you can debunk Christianity by attacking weak garbage passed off as orthodoxy?

    Deal with the great minds throughout church history who have acknowledged the Scriptures allow for an ancient universe, look one more time at the Big Bang, and get back to me.


    (Thanks to my friend Zach for turning me on to this blog).

  • Ryan Georgioff

    Thanks for the heads-up about this post Aaron!

    I have been reading reports from PZ, Ham’s blog, etc. and yours is definitely the most unique and refreshing perspective on this atheist adventure.

    This is the kind of Jesus I can tolerate — even welcome!

  • Aaron

    Not understanding where you are seeing the “postmodern” issue here. I am actually from a holiness tradition background. I am no way saying that we need to be “relevant” in the emergent church term. I am also not suggesting that we compromise on preaching Christ and him cruicified.

    What I am suggesting is embracing other people for who they are, and perhaps in spite of who they are.

    Deal with the great minds throughout church history who have acknowledged the Scriptures allow for an ancient universe, look one more time at the Big Bang, and get back to me.

    …a point well made!

  • humblemonkey

    thePuck, your observations are astute, but perhaps too generalistic? For instance, who or what is the Church that Constantine hijacked? An orthodox Christian understanding of the Church see’s it not ultimately as an institution, but the entire body of believers around the world who follow Jesus (note the verb follow, not believe in… Jesus never asked to be worshipped, only followed).

    Take this orthodox belief, and suddenly you have a problem… we cannot see exactly where or what the Church is doing, because its embodied everywhere in all shapes and forms. This is the difference between religion and faith… the institution, and the living breathing shared experience.

    Unfortunately, it its the Constantines, GOPs, suicide bombers etc that get all the press. The ones who are actually imitating Jesus usually live lives unoticed in the ghettos and the slums alongside the people they are serving and loving. I can attest to this.. I have travelled the world and seen both, and I know which I would call Christianity and which I wouldn’t.

    Those in power will always hijack religious belief of any kind, simply because it such a powerful force. It seeks to answer all the biggest questions about life and meaning, and so once it is hijacked it becomes the worlds most dangerous tool.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean we should stop looking for truth and meaning, and it doesn’t mean we throw God or the metaphysical out the window. That would be to put rationalism on a pedestal as the only means of sense-making, and a quick scan of history will show that the Mystical and Spiritual have been an important part of our progress as well… with the Gandhis, Martin Luther Kings, William Wilberforces etc.

    Yes, my religion has been hijacked constantly by unsavoury people. But never my faith.

  • RBH

    Euterpe asked Humblemonkey

    Can you suggest other blogs writtten by moderate Christians (regardless where they are on the creation spectrum)? Your blog was linked to a skeptical blog that I read, which is how I found you, and I certainly wouldn’t mind reading more of this type of stuff.

    Here are a couple of suggestions for blogs of evangelicals who accept evolution (I may overrun restrictions on URLS):
    An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution
    Quintessence of Dust by a member of the faculty at Calvin College
    Outside the Box

    And Aaron, you might be interested to know that later this year I (a long-time atheist) will be doing an “Ask An Atheist” program at a Protestant church in my rural conservative county in Ohio. Looks like it might be interesting. 🙂

  • lauradee24

    It was this kind of attitude toward others that made me really look at the church and what it was doing and ultimately decide to leave it. Experiences like these are certainly eye opening! Good post.

  • Hermes

    Aaron, I’ve posted a link to your blog entry on the WWGHA forum here;

    The thread title? “Attention Christians: This is how to behave…”, an unfortunately very shot thread that I update from time to time even if nobody else does.

    After posting your complete text — including a link back to your blog at the top — I added some commentary. Here is what I added, minus the additional links that are available in the forum post;


    This reaction reminds me of the “Why does every intelligent Christian disobey Jesus?” video, especially the last part of that video.

    The question I have for Christians is this;

    If Christianity is correct, why does the behavior described by Aaron Gardner in the “A Great Work” blog match the behavior in the “Why does every intelligent Christian disobey Jesus?” video? What positive purpose does this behavior serve? Why are people fearful or even hateful? Did the video get it right?


    If you view the video, the part I refer to is at time index: ~7:30 – 8:40. If you don’t have a blog post on a similar theme already, it might be something to consider even if you personally find the rest of the video without any redeeming merits.

  • Pmomma

    Thank you for your heartfelt and genuine description of the day. More than that, thank you for taking the time to do what so many won’t – to understand something from another’s perspective. Sadly, to answer your question (Is this how Christians treat people?), I’d have to say that a majority of the time, the answer is “yes”. I’ve had life long relationships with Christians who, the moment I finally voiced my atheism/agnosticism (or even the doubts I carried for so long) immediately ended our discussions and friendship. It was as if labeling myself as an atheist made it okay for them to “harden their hearts” as a defensive response to the presumption that I’d “heardened” mine. One woman went so far as to ban our children from playing together because “she was afraid I’d lead her children from the Lord”. Forget that I was this girl’s Girl Scout leader and such for a year before “coming out” – as soon as she “knew about me”, I was poisonous. It hurt deeply. Moreso because it confirmed some of my suspicions about what Christianity really might mean. I’m not arguing that atheists are perfectly friendly, always congenial people: we’re not. But, friends are too precious to turn away and that supercedes religion.
    Have a wonderful day.

  • mjr256

    Hi, I’m an atheist. And I really appreciate that you took the time to see what it’s like to be in our shoes for a day. Great blog.

  • A Christian wears a scarlet ‘A’ for a day « Skepacabra

    […] now they’ve got some explaining to do because it turns out that one Christian couple decided to perform a little social experiment and tagged along with the SSA to the “museum” to find out for themselves first-hand […]

  • digitalsaint

    Another atheist here just wanting to add my name to the list of those who appreciate your post.

    It’s refreshing.

  • Paulo Bittencourt

    Hi there. I’d like to congratulate you on your initiative and on your understanding. If more people would act like this, and really try to get into the shoes of their peers, the world would be a much less troublesome place. This goes for atheists as well as Christians, and for members of any religion for that matter.

    I am a skeptic and an atheist. Still, I agree with you that people should strive to be more like Christ. For this purpose, it doesn’t matter if he was the son of God or not, or even if he existed or not. The Bible, truth or fiction, tells us a story of a man who was kind to his brethren, understanding of his persecutors and open to everyone and anyone. This is an example worth following no matter what you believe in.

    Sadly, many Christians are like this. In the city where I live, I can safely say that most of them (regrettably) are like this. And in turn, many atheists also become aggressive, as a sort of misguided defensive mechanism. Everyone loses. They constantly remind me of something Gandhi once said about Christianity:

    “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. they are so unlike your Christ.”

    Because of this, it warms my heart to see someone like you, who takes an honest interest in your fellow man even when you disagree about such a fundamental part of life, and who is able to maintain his reason and civility in the face of contradiction. I salute you, and I really hope that as many people as possible will learn from your example.

    Reading this article brought a smile to my face. Thank you for that.

    Paulo Bittencourt

  • DaveG

    Hi Aaron,

    Just popped over from FriendlyAtheist and wish to say how I appreciate your walking in our shoes for a day.

    Sadly, I have to say that the behavior you encountered is not rare, or even unusual. While I’ve encountered many nice, polite Christians whom I have had pleasant conversations with (on atheism and belief as well as other topics), they are outnumbered by the number of people who have gone out of their way to tell me how horrible, sinful, rebellious, hateful and evil I am for not believing in their God. I lost track of the number of times I’ve been condemned to hell years ago.

    It’s nice to encounter another decent Christian.

  • aratina cage

    As an atheist, thanks for an honest assessment of the reaction of Christians to atheists! I just want to add two things: 1) that such “xenophobia” is doubly thrust at gay atheists and 2) that this averse reaction happens in public arenas, too, such as on city buses. It’s an ugly sight to behold and is a sad comment on humanity.

  • Jason Thibeault

    If theists in general had a fraction of your level of introspection and willingness to try on others’ shoes, I would have no problem whatsoever with any of them. Regardless of our differences of epistemological opinion, I strongly believe you are a good person, and a positive force on this Earth. Thank you, Aaron. And well done!

  • Aaron

    I sent you an email a few days ago… alas, no reply 😦

  • Aaron

    Ha! Love it! I have been saying that stuff about Fowler for years!!

  • Aaron

    Do you have a post about your move from Christianity to … would you say agnostic or atheist?

  • Eric

    Awww, you made a crusty old former evangelical turned hardened atheist tear up. Thanks for making me like people again, my balance of good things was getting low.

  • Twitted by emergentvillage

    […] This post was Twitted by emergentvillage […]

  • happycynic

    Just another atheist wanting to say thanks for being open-minded. “God bless” isn’t really something I can say with sincerity, but I hope that you and your family are always treated with the same respect and understanding you’ve given atheists.

  • Aaron

    I don’t typically like to use that phrase because of the baggage it carries, but I definitely appreciate the sentiment! Thanks for visiting.

  • Aaron

    Thank you for your graciousness. I hope that I can be some sort of positive influence in “theist” communities to encourage more of the same.

  • Derek

    Hi Aaaron, love the blog. As an Australian athiest I don’t suffer the same problems that American atheists seem to. It’s ok here to be atheist, in fact we have not only atheist politicians we also have a gay one as well. (Bob Brown leader of the “Greens” party) It’s nice to see some interesting comments as opposed to the usual rhetoric posted on christian and atheist blogs. Maybe something like yours is something that needs to be seen more often. Cheers

  • GeekGoddess

    Thanks for this article. I spent 40+ years going to church before I could finally admit to myself that I had never bought any of it. As Daniel Dennett says of so many people, I didn’t believe in God but I believed in belief. I believed that belief in God was a good thing, and now I realize that not only is it not especially productive, it is frequently harmful.

    I was never afraid to wear my cross in public. I live in the South, and I must hide my viewpoints from everyone but my closest friends – and only those who are not religious themselves. I have a small necklace with a red “A” but I seldom wear it. I am afraid – afraid of being verbally attacked in public, or having my car vandalized. My friend’s high school daughter was shoved and told that she was going to hell by her loving Christian classmates. I have a gay friend, an atheist, who works in Kabul and must hide his identity from his Muslim co-workers for the same reason, except he is afraid for his life.

    I am a grown woman, a successful business person, a caring person who contributes her time and money to charities, but I can’t let anyone know that I don’t believe in their particular version of an omnipotent being.

  • Carl

    It depends on what you mean by “like Christ”. I’m a solid atheist, but don’t think that every action of Jesus was wrong, simply because it was him. He never mentioned believing. From the context, it seems like he just meant the “soft” ideas surrounding him, which I don’t have a problem with.

  • Matt Oxley

    Thanks very much for taking the uncommon approach Aaron. Many kudos to you for being open minded enough (and frugal enough) to spend some time with those of us whom do not believe. I couldn’t think of a better way to recognize the way atheists are treated in this society than to step into our shoes for a day.

    Christians like you represent your faith well, despite all my disagreements with Christianity the religion, it is good to know that there are people out there that know what Love means.


    Matt Oxley
    Atlanta Atheism Examiner

  • Tim

    What’s this? A genuine person, living like the person he professes to follow?

    Thank you.

  • Paul Young

    As an atheist, I agree with your conclusion whole-heartedly. A relationship with another person is about sharing what we have in common, and respecting where we differ, and I try to always live by life by that guideline.

    The one point that I could take exception to, though, is that twice you refer to atheists as enemies. I know that you are paraphrasing when you do so, but might help to take your words one step farther: a relationship with an atheist doesn’t have to be a cease-fire, it can be a real friendship.

    Just food for thought. Thanks for the insightful post.

  • Brad Beer

    No chrisians.

    No atheists.

    Just folk.

  • Evan

    Aaron – as someone who grew up agnostic and later came (very slowly) to a belief that there could, just maybe could be a god…and later (more slowly) to a belief that the God of the Bible was, for me, believable and real…I say, thank you for this post and for sharing your experience and offering your thoughts. I would really love it if I could host a conversation between these three people:
    Agnostic Evan
    Curious Evan
    Believing Evan
    – that would be facinating. I hope they’d all be respectful of one another, that they’s listen more than they’d speak…and that could agree on what kind of beer to drink! Thanks for sparking all these thoughts and all this dialoge.

  • Dave

    I congratulate you on a bold experiment, and I’m gratified that you were able to “wear our shoes” for a while. In the spirit of self-discovery, I ask that you re-read your own words. Notice how before you said that atheists are people too, you talked about the “commandment to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.” As an atheist, I don’t consider you an enemy or have any thoughts of persecuting you. To be sure, there are those who fit the description, but every person is their own.

  • Root

    I never could figure out how some could, so easily, accept the possibility of something existing without knowing what that something is.

  • A Christian In Atheist Shoes « Camels With Hammers

    […] Christian In Atheist Shoes Via Prometheus Unbound comes a post from a Christian who attended the Creation “Museum” as part of the Atheist tour gro…. He was appalled by how they were treated by other Christians: There were hateful glances, […]

  • the6threplicant

    The type of Christians you describe (is their a label for them?) do what they do not because they forget what Christ taught, but because they found out that it was too hard. They are simply morally lazy. As an atheistic there is beauty in the story of Christ. His message isn’t just about “love thy enemy” it’s that doing so is a journey of rejection and constant torment with the sacrifices that are needed to be made to hold and follow these views.

    It’s a shame that 80% of the debate isn’t between people who want a world filled with love and devotion. Instead it has been hijacked by the people who believe in war, money and power. Jesus would be ashamed.

  • Trevor

    What you forget is that without the Bible to guide them, atheists have no moral compass to let them differentiate right from wrong. They would just as soon steal your wallet as lend you a dollar. They don’t know the difference. Of COURSE you felt like an outsider. You pretended to be an unpredictably evil person.

  • RobertSeattle


    Try something called reason. It’s not bad.

  • Kathi Scott

    My son was an atheist for many years…he is still not convinced of the Jesus is God theology. If we as his parents, or any of his family had treated him as Aaron was treated by the Museum, he would still be turned off by God. The sad thing is this, when a follower of Jesus behaves this way he acting and speaking completely opposite of the way Jesus walked and talked. After all Jesus had more harsh things to say about self righteous than he did those who do not know him. I am sorry that those who are supposedly my brothers and sisters in Christ treated anyone the way this article stated. But also remember those of you who are atheists…not everyone who wears the “name tag” of Jesus, is necessarily a follower. Don’t clump us all into one very bad example of God and Jesus. I have known many atheists and although I think they are missing so much by not knowing a God who loves them and created them for a greater purpose, I enjoy them, love them and even open my home to them…that is what Jesus would have all of us to do.

  • thePuck

    So no one except Christians have any moral compass? All those Hindus, Buddhists, and secularists? All the people prior to Christianity and Judaism? No moral compass at all?

    Then how do you account for a history filled with people having moral compasses? How do explain a world where every country, regardless of religion, still has laws against murder, theft, rape (well, except the theocratic countries that allow spousal rape)?

    I am probably just feeding a troll here, but really, this is the heart of what is wrong with theists…no need or desire to reconcile your beliefs with the obvious realities all around you. If that magic book of yours told you down was up, you would say “Yassir, yassir”. Actually, now that I think about it, that magic book tells you that persecuting gays, systematically oppressing women, and other obviously unethical things to the rest of humanity are the epitome of ethics, and Christianity at large bought into that crap.

    Have fun with your cognitive dissonance. Good thing the rest of our secular society has such a good moral compass so your speech is protected regardless of how little it makes sense and your person is protected from those you so flippantly insult.

  • Keith Allison

    As an atheist and Humanist in England, I must say that we here are free from the dislike that an atheist in the US must undergo. Over here we just don’t care that much what you believe in. Or whether or not you believe in the supernatural at all.

    So I applaud your honesty and empathy for the people with whom you visited this (to me, anyway) ridiculous place.

  • Paulo Bittencourt

    Trevor, I’d like to inform you on the behalf of people everywhere who have actually read the Bible that when you die, your God will frown upon you and send you to Hell for being prejudiced and hurtful towards your fellow man without any justification.

    Enjoy your eternal torment. 🙂

  • Paulo Bittencourt

    It is, and if everyone who professes to believe in his teachings actually did as he did and as he instructed, your country would be a much nicer place to live.

    As an agnostic atheist, I open my house to everyone. I believe that people’s religions are their own personal business, and that so long as they are good, enjoyable people, then that’s all I need to befriend them.

  • Aaron (also)

    I hope that this wonderful post by a man who I must respect if only for our shared namesake, but certainly do for reasons of greater import, is evidence enough that “just claim[ing] God” doesn’t begin to approach the proof required to assert that one is a “good person.”

    Though the criteria by which one may judge another “good” certainly varies, I would submit that subjecting others to disdain, marginalization, and distrust on the basis only of a plainly stated belief that, on its face, asserts no personality characteristics whatsoever, is not the action of a “good” person.

    Nor would be the actions of a self-proclaimed atheist be “good” to instantly marginalize or distrust someone of faith when they have made no move but to announce it.

  • Aaron (also)

    If I may be perhaps somewhat presumptuous here, let me go one step further and say that, if anything, someone asserting themselves as an “atheist” may have greater cause to scrutinize the character of a professed Christian only by virtue of Christianity’s formal and outspoken claim to its adherents’ morality and ethical code.

    That, I believe, is the crux of the matter under discussion here, and a welcome discussion it is. An agnostic or atheist has no calling to act in a moral or ethical fashion to their fellow humans other than that of personal responsibility, whereas the Christians have several volumes on the topic.

    I would say that a Christian acting un-Christian has fallen farther from the tree, indeed, than an atheist acting in an insensitive manner. I don’t mean to pass judgment, however, I will leave that for someone with a better pedigree (I am no ethicist).

  • Leigh

    While I applaud your experiment and thank you for sharing the results with your fellow believers, it is important to note just how much this attitude can infect even the most tolerant of the faithful. I say this not as a “shame on you” or anything of the sort, but because I believe like racism, sexism, and all the other prejudices swirling around in our culture, this one can be present even in those who do their best to drive it out.

    In your post, which is all about learning to meet athiests as people and not judge them negatively based solely on their beliefs, you say such things as:

    “Is this how we follow Jesus’ commandment to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us?”

    “This is not about their tactics and how they have been rude or dismissive.”

    By portraying athiests as both the enemies of Christians and a unified group (a rude and dismissive group), you’re taking the first steps down the path that lead to the actions you deplore. As Shamelessly Athiest pointed out, most athiests are not out to get believers. We are not rude, dismissive, or persecuting you. For every athiest that acts that way towards believers, there are many more who are either just trying to be left alone or actually interested in having civil, productive relationships with people of faith. Please, don’t love us because you see us as the enemies Jesus told you to love. Love us because we’re human beings just like everyone else.

  • Roxane

    Hi. I’m Roxane and I’m an atheist.

    Every time I get full of myself, and thinking that people have to decide between being a Christian or being a thoughtful, thinking, educated person, I run into somebody like you. Thanks for keeping me humble, and making me a little less paranoid.

  • BigBrother

    I like this post. As an Atheist in the bible belt its really hard to really become friends with people because they will invariably invite you to church or to pray with them. It makes for an odd talk when you’re trying to tell the person you just don’t believe in god because of a lack of evidence and he calls you a satanist baby eating liberal and stomps out

  • Scott

    Once again I am another atheist, even though I dislike that term, who wants to thank you for being Christlike not just Christian. A friend of mine once summed up his, and now my, view on Jesus by saying “I am a big fan of Jesus, his fan club not so much.”

  • Rainer

    From what I have seen from the comments, a lot of your posters seem to have the ability to discuss this, without screaming and yelling :). I welcome a good discussion and applaud your effort for trying to see ” another POV” I would love to have a discussion with some of the individuals whom posted comments on your blog, you are allowed to post my email address for that reason.

  • Rainer

    I will state that I am an Atheist, but never have stolen anything my entire life. We all have the same “moral” compass, but understand, “morals” change over time. 300 years ago, it was appropriate to marry a 14 year old girl and have her with child. It was also moral 1500 years ago to stone a woman for adultery. Which compass are you referring to, the Disney version, or the version in your sacred texts?

  • tony

    Hi Aaron,

    I’d be curious as to your opinion on an observation of mine. It seems to me that really what is at the core of the intractable/intolerant position of creationism as a worldview is its inherent control of children.

    Creationism as a “truth” is absolute and there is no more work to be done. When someone is teaching their child a creationist worldview, they are teaching their child to accept fully what they believe and not to deviate. Creationism is not just about how we came about. It is about authority in the absence of proof.

    As an atheist, and as a science based person, I look forward to arming my child (currently in momma’s belly) with the tools of science and turning them loose on the world. In the years to come, science and what we know will surely change and some of what I think to be true will likely be superceded with new knowledge. I would love nothing more than for my child to use the tools of reason to prove his/her daddy wrong.

    This, I think, is what is behind those glares and extra security. It is a fear of children going off on their own and finding their own way.

    Thanks for this forum.

  • tony


    Is that why atheists are the most UNDERrepresented group in prison?

    Gee, I’m wondering why I stopped and picked up that wallet so many years ago and returned to the person. Or why I pulled over in a snowstorm to offer a ride to a woman struggling to walk in the snow. Or why I do so many things like that.

    Perhaps Trevor, it is you who are evil and you need a threat hanging over your head to do something good. We on the other hand, do it because it’s the right thing to do.

  • Kara

    I just wanted to thank you so very much so for this post. It is something that us atheists deal with constantly and I am glad that someone else recognizes it too. Thank you for truly having the Christian spirit (I used to be a Catholic and I as well thought all too many had lost the essence of being Christian)

  • doc

    as Tim said, “What’s this? A genuine person, living like the person he professes to follow?”

    in the right hands Jesus could be a hero to all instead of a tool of division.


  • Daniel

    Thanks for taking a walk in my shoes. Now you can probably understand how difficult it is for some of us to come out of the atheist closet.

    Imagine your parents, friends, and family turning into those same people you dispise with just three simple words – “I’m an atheist.” I’m so fearful of what coming out would do to my relationships with those I love that I simply cannot do it.

    Isn’t that amazing? I’m fearful of how Christians will treat me. What’s wrong with that picture?

  • Washingtonian

    Euterpe –

    One resource for Christians (or atheists who read widely like I do) is Talk to Action. His banner says, “Reclaiming Citizenship, History, and Faith.” The writers represent the Christian left and strive for an honest airing of political and cultural issues.


  • ExPastorsWife


    If the glances and “amens” bothered you, I could tell you stories that would make your toes curl. You see, my husband was a youth pastor at a large church until we came out as atheists. Reading this post was encouraging and heart-breaking at the same time. We have endured such scorn that we’re planning to move away from our area as soon as I finish grad school. We never enter the half of the city where our church was, because over there we always, without fail, see someone who stares at us like we’re ghosts or monsters. You have no idea how much I wish you could tell them what it’s like on the other side.

    One thing that gives meaning to our lives now is comforting deconverting believers who are terrified of the fallout, but who must admit their nonbelief to maintain their integrity (as we did). This is the great irony: we masquerade as christians in their churches occasionally, under pseudonyms to protect them from our tainted names, of course. What tangled webs we weave… Anyway, you made me sad with regret at our personal loss and proud of the common decency which still exists in humanity. Please, share this with as many christians as possible. Oh, and feel free to contact us at that email address. Pax tecum!

  • RBH

    ExPastorsWife tells a familiar story. I was an administrator of Internet Infidels Discussion Board for years. We had a support forum for people in the process of deconversion. One of the main fears they had, and one of the common consequences they encountered, was ostracism and shunning from their former congregations and often, from their families. It never failed to amaze me how cruel those congregations and families could be to someone they had professed to love.

  • Morgus

    >What we tend to forget is that atheists, agnostics, and evolutionists are people too.

    Why do you tend to forget that?

  • Rox1SMF

    [[ Well said. Unfortunately, a large section of the Christians in the US have become the tool of political interests which do have to be “right” and do need defending. Thus you see a religion based upon inclusiveness, peace, and communal values used to push exclusion, war, and individualistic, “I got mine, Jack” capitalism, which seems pretty contradictory to me.

    I, too, lament the philosophical maturity of many American theists, but I also don’t think it is accidental. ]]

    Well said your own self 😉

    Atheists are “coming out” in greater numbers now, and as a church-state separation activist (who started out as a Christian) fighting against the slime who has hijacked our culture in Jesus’ name in the years since I reached voting age nearly 30 years ago, I’m glad to see it. Thoughtful, less zealous Christians can use all the help they can get to divorce themselves from the power-hungry fundamentalists who are a threat to every American’s right to freedom of conscience, regardless of religious or philosophical affinities.

    Kudos to you, Aaron. It’s always a pleasure to find Christians who are willing to engage in civil conversation and aren’t afraid to take a critical look at things from “the other side.” The Ham-flavored version of Christianity is ignorant, oppressive and intolerant; unrecognizable to me as in any way related to my interpretation of Jesus’ message. It is, however, all too fine an example of using religion as a social and political tool to control the populace.

    I may be atheist, but I am American FIRST and as such I consider it my duty (sacred, if you will) to do what I can to show my fellow citizens that neither the government nor false prophets should stand in the way of our enlightenment, whichever road any of us travels to get there.

  • Cris

    I thought this was interesting…until you called atheists enemies and persecutors. How on earth a small group with no power is the persecutor of the huge group with loads of power is baffling.

  • Aaron

    I agree… I was quoting from the Bible and referring to the perception that many Christians have that atheists are enemies of the gospel. It was intended to mean no more than that. Obviously with so much of the country being Christian and so few being atheist, it is unlikely that we are the persecuted ones.

  • Riksa

    Thank you for taking the time to see our side of the fence. Truly appreciated. With more people like you on both sides, fighting over this issue would be needless.

  • Rob

    You were totally surprised on how you were treated?

  • Randy

    I’m curious if you’ve had any negative backlash from the Christian “mainstream”? I’m sure your comments and perspective have wrinkled a few noses!

  • Todd Barton

    I’m another humanist chiming in to say, “Amen, brother!” to:

    “Do not miss this: belief must not be a reason not to engage in relationship. This is not about being right or wrong. This is not about having the answers. This is not about their tactics and how they have been rude or dismissive. This is not about a fundamental difference in the way we approach the world.

    What this is about is relationship. It is about listening to other inhabitants of the planet, regardless of what we believe about how we got here. It is about having dialogue and getting to know one another. It is about sharing a cup of coffee, a glass of beer, or a soda and enjoying one another’s company. It is about realizing that we have more in common than we have in opposition.”

  • Alex

    Thankyou, finally some christians that I don’t feel hate me!

  • 1poorguy

    I agree, Aaron. From a practical standpoint it simply can’t be. Perhaps this “persecution complex” among a few Christians stems from the persecutions which they are taught Jesus endured?? Don’t know, just a guess. What do you think?

  • 1poorguy

    Refreshing, isn’t it, Alex?

  • Ryan Georgioff

    The expectation of religious persecution was emphasized early and often in my Christian upbringing. As a kid, being told that I should expect ridicule and hatred for my belief only made me extremely defensive of my faith (though I had no real reason to be, I was rarely, if ever ridiculed for my faith*), rather than thoughtful about it; it is not as though I had any reason to question this, given its explicit mention in certain passages of scripture.

    The concept of a “persecution complex” deserves further treatment, because I see it as a false impediment to meaningful dialogue. Combined with an irrational and unjustified conception of atheistic moral depravity, it is easy to see why some believers genuinely think that Satan is being manifested in the godless culture surrounding them; watch the Wendy Wright videos and you get a sense that she is just waiting for Dawkins to say something unreasonable, and when he fails to deliver anything but a cogent, challenging argument, she simply conjures up a reason to take offense anyway. Ironically, her objection is to what she sees as Dawkins’ condescension; this is in spite of the painful smugness she emanates throughout the hour-long interview.


    * Sadly, the ridicule I did receive was often from my “born-again” peers.

  • Aaron

    If there has been “backlash” then it has been quiet… those that I have talked to or have heard about my blog have been positive. A pastor at a church I used to attend and a worship leader there have read my thoughts and have thought very well of what I have shared. The worship leader actually used to be an agnostic and is now a believer (Evan who commented above).

    My hunch is that those who think ill of my thoughts have either not said so or have not visited and read this post, anyway.

  • Aaron

    Perhaps… Ryan gives a great response to this below, in case you haven’t seen it yet.

  • 1poorguy

    I didn’t mean anything by “persecution complex”. Couldn’t think of another term to express the idea.

    Certainly the revulsion some Christians have for atheists and gays and others can be quite blatant, I don’t know that it explains the pervasive idea of persecution some have. I do realize it is in the scriptures, but many of those were written at a time when Christians were persecuted. As has been pointed out, that doesn’t really exist in the US today (or many other nations). You’d have to go to Iran or Saudi or someplace like that.

  • Transplanted Lawyer

    Like many non-believers, I was moved and gratified by your experiences. You are the sort of Christian who represents the very best that your religion has to offer society, and your example should be emulated by everyone — whether Christian or not — who wants to truly live a life of empathy, kindness, and morality. Thank you.

  • Lithp

    I’m amazed. Not only that this is your first time noticing things like this, but that you haven’t gotten any comments talking about how you couldn’t be a “real Christian.” I was on a site a while back called Rapture Ready. If you were an atheist, you had to post in the apologetics section, wherein they would do whatever they could to try & prove you wrong, & call you rude if you questioned their beliefs. I tried to explain the folly of this many times prior to being banned, but it was no use.

    They also routinely break their own rules, talk about how persecuted they are, & just generally freak out to no end.

    But enough about that. In fact, I stayed on that subject for longer than I had intended to. On an unrelated note, I am proud to say that I got the reference. Actually, that book disappointed me a bit. I was convinced that Pearl really was some evil demon child, who was gonna grow up to be the Antichrist, or something. And the whole thing about sinning kinda crapped out at the end.

    Really, I think the problem is the gothic spin. The fact that it ended on such a dark, depressing note really clouded up the messages Hawthorne was trying to convey. Really, there was no reason for Hester to [SPOILER]return to America to die old & alone. Ah well, at least things turned out okay for Pearl.[/SPOILER!] She didn’t do anything wrong, & the fact that she continues to act as though she did even when escaping from that oppressive society sort of overshadows Hawthorne’s main point about the Puritans.

  • Lithp

    “…watch the Wendy Wright videos and you get a sense that she is just waiting for Dawkins to say something unreasonable, and when he fails to deliver anything but a cogent, challenging argument, she simply conjures up a reason to take offense anyway.”

    I can’t believe I missed this earlier, but I don’t even know who this woman is, & I couldn’t stand her when I watched it. I don’t think Dawkins was 100% the greatest debater ever in this situation, but that woman was just plain idiotic. She threw accusations of logical fallacies like they were confetti, even though she clearly understood none of them, & unloaded a fair bit herself. Through it all, she kept up nothing less than the very finest in persecution complexes & transparently faux-polite attitudes.

  • 1poorguy

    I don’t know why this only struck me last night, but the question to which you responded implies you aren’t “mainstream”. Was that a slap?

    What is the Christian “mainstream”? I know it’s not the YEC viewpoint (they are a definite minority among Christians). Frankly, from what of your writings I’ve read I would hope it’s people like you.

  • Aaron

    Yeah, not so much mainstream… I am actually working on a post that will begin to scratch the surface of what the difference is for me.

    Keen observation, btw!

  • Paul Fidalgo

    Aaron –

    I’ll be writing a positive piece on this post at my Secular Examiner column, and I want to use an image of you from your website. I just want to check for your permission to do so. I’m going to go ahead and use it, assuming this is not a huge breach of blog ethics, and if you’d rather I removed it, I will do so immediately.

    Great post!


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  • BeamStalk

    Great post, you could have “came out” to any of us there and you would have still been treated the same among those of us with the shirts and SSA tags. At least I would have treated you the same.

  • iSuppose

    This post really spoke to me. To many times have I argued with Christians about acceptance and hate. But you’ve definitely shown me the true essence of Christianity, you should be proud because I have never seen someone carry their religion so truly.

  • Cally

    Excellent post! I would like to know if anyone has commented on tools to use to help other Christians understand this concept.

    The only persecution I have ever received has been inside the church. I’ve been kicked out of a Christian home because I brought demons into the home. Maybe it was self induced I don’t know. I work in the sciences. I’m currently dealing with that same probability and I’m a little scared as it involves my children. All because an atheist helped me realize I need to think a little clearer on my own Christianity. Imagination can go a long way and for some who are too religious it can go the wrong way. I’m so thankful for this atheist and after my own experiences would never ask him to become a Christian. My hope is that whomever I interact with that they leave feeling they know a little more about life and how rich it can be no matter what they call themselves.

  • cyan

    a great work,

    I respect and appreciate an individual based on how they treat others, not at all based on whether they are atheist or theist. And so I greatly respect and greatly appreciate you.

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  • D

    Wow! I have nothing but admiration for you. Well, OK, a whole lot of metaphysical disagreement, but that’s just details. We can still play the civilization game together, and that’s what I really care about.

    This post really reminded me that, ultimately, my problem with religion is about effects, not beliefs per se. If so much evil had not been justified by the abuse of religious ideas (and using any idea to justify harming another person is an abuse of it), then… well, I might even be a Christian yet today! It just seems that so many people can be motivated to such abominable acts with the simple statement, “God commands it.”

    If humans realized that a truly loving god could not possibly ask its followers to destroy parts of its creation… I don’t even know. I’m having a hard time imagining how much more we could have accomplished, had we humans consistently spent our time working together instead of fighting each other.

    Great post, and thank you for jarring me into remembering that Christians are people, too.

  • John Barbour

    I was not there on August 7th but I have been to the museum. I think you have to distinguish between the people visiting the museum and the people that operate it. I know for a fact that the people behind the museum were praying for the visitors. This is an act of love. If you don’t think so, try spending an hour denying yourself and praying for complete strangers. It is their sincere desire to see people eternally saved. They do not see this life as all there is. This life is very short and fleeting. Eternity is a long time.

    It’s too bad if you did not meet any outgoing ones that purposely tried to extend love. Ken Ham is really a very shy and private man. So is Mark Looy I knew them both in San Diego. Introverts often are accused of not being loving when they really are (My parents were this way – they didn’t know how to show it. When I was immature I judged them as unloving.)

    As for the general public: what needs to be understood is that there is in this country a general distrust of each other because Americans live in different cultural worlds apart from each other with a loose connection via the media which tends to distort reality.

    Just like certain people distrust the Iranians and Moslems (and communists in the not too distant past) so many traditional Americans distrust the militant atheists that seem to be intent on destroying everything they hold dear.

    Most of these people are Christians in the sense that they attend church and believe in Jesus by default but they have not seriously considered the radical nature of discipleship which you are demanding of them.

    The other side of the story is that atheists are often afraid of Christians as well. As evidenced from the interest in this subject, it is obvious that there is and has been a cultural war going on for sometime even though the weapons might sometimes only be ridicule and mockery.

    It is hard to love your enemies. Jesus gave us a command that can only be lived out by the power of His Holy Spirit in us. Often there is an expectation that Christians will always live out their mandate. This is an unrealistic expectation. Christians must take up their cross daily and die to themselves to do this. Again, if you think this is easy, try it sometime.

  • Lithp

    John, atheists are not afraid of Christians. We do, however, not like arrogant know-it-alls who think they can tell us exactly what people think.

    (Psst: That’s you.)

    You admit that you were not there, & you were not wearing the “Scarlet A for a day,” nor were you associated with atheists, yet you automatically assume that Kent Ham (a known liar) & his staff were nothing but the epitome of loving, & that atheists are just paranoid of Christians.

    Furthermore, I can tell you for a fact that, outside of my personal relatives, every person who’s ever told me that they were “praying for me” has done it in a specifically “f+++ you” like manner. One I even got talked about “breaking me” so that I “saw the light.”

    This type of mentality, interestingly enough, is almost always justified with “they know that there is life after death, & eternity is a long time to be wrong.”

    There is no cultural war. Not every atheist talks about religion. Stop painting in broad, sweeping, glittering generalizations.

  • John Barbour

    Lithp: This comment was not for you. I was talking to Aaron Gardner. Interesting how you don’t like “know it alls” yet you are sure that: 1. No atheists are afraid of Christians. (Have you met them all?) 2. Kent (sic) Ham is a known liar. (How do you know?) And 3. There is no culture war. (Then why all the animosity, hatred, mockery, foul language,and accusations?)

    As for the Scarlet A: I am not interested in identifying myself with atheists. Neither do I have an interest in identifying myself with a fictional character in a novel written in the 19th century about people that lived 200 years earlier? Besides, I’m not a woman and I haven’t committed adultery and I haven’t been ostracized. If PZ Myers and company want to use this as a way to identify themselves as ostracized victims of a perceived oppressive Christianity, then that’s their business. It is self-imposed.

  • Aaron

    Well, John, since your comment was directed at me:

    I think you may have missed the point of my post if you think that I do not “pray for strangers.” It is not like I hang out regularly at SSA meetings.

    If there was a difference in the way that staff at the museum responded to the event differently from visitors, then I would have made a distinction. However, there was obvious uncertainty on the part of all who were involved. Had you read my other posts on the topic (here and here), you would have seen that staff at the museum did not even recognize good logic or their own theology when worn on a t-shirt.

    Culture wars are mainly propagated by us, by Christians! We have created for ourselves a sub-culture where we can hide out and never interact with people with whom we disagree. It is so bad that we often can even slap “christian” on a book and people will believe that it must be biblical. We can sing a song that is not expressly Christian (“you spin me right ’round, Jesus, right ’round like a record, Jesus”) and think that it must be a Christian song because it contains the name of Jesus.

    After originally publishing this post several weeks ago, I have had a regular following of many atheists which implies to me that there is some interest in discussing matters of faith and that there is no “fear” on the atheist side. We are the ones who have the fear, and we need to be the ones to study the Scriptures, develop logical answers for our faith, and engage in dialogue.

    Thank you for your comments, John. I hope you continue to explore the discussions that present here on matters of faith.

  • John Barbour

    Have you seen this interesting post? It goes along with what you are saying regarding the Christian sub-culture.

    While you seem to have a good feel for what the atheists are thinking my point was that we need to be sensitive to all sides including your fellow Christians even if they react differently than the way you would.

    I read your story about the t-shirt but I would investigate a little further and see if this is really what happened. People do lie. Also, mistakes are made.

    I think you are wrong about the culture wars. If you study the history, you will see that there has been a systematic attack on Christianity that began in earnest in 1925 with the ACLU and the Scopes trial and has accelerated since the 50s with Kinsey and the sexual revolution.

    The attitude has been like that of John Dunphey who is famous for this quote “The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new – the rotting corpse of Christianity… and the new faith of humanism.”[“A Religion for a New Age,” The Humanist, January/February 1983, p. 26.]

  • Aaron

    Ah, yes… I have read much on the subject of the church’s influence in the world today losing ground. But I think that we have given up that ground rather than it being usurped. We have seen the erosion of sound Christian doctrine being taught in our churches and so it has led to a situation where people like Joel Osteen can come in and preach what may sound a bit like Christianity, but not be it at all. Christian bookstores are replete with these writings and materials… yet there is little concern about what these “Christian” leaders are teaching as long as they use the Bible to do it.

    The issue with the Scopes trial is in part the lack of interaction with the other side, and thus having no real support for the position. This is certainly part of my advocation for talking to atheists. You don’t have to venture around my blog too long to see that our interactions have been quite civil and they have helped to challenge our concepts and develop better logic/reasoning.

    If Christianity has indeed become a “rotting corpse,” we are the cause of it because of our neglect of the teaching of sound doctrine.

  • John Barbour

    Yes, I agree with you regarding the fact that the preaching of sound doctrine has been neglected in many quarters. Hopefully, this is changing.

    The Scopes trial had really nothing to do with lack of interacion with the other side. It was a set up by the ACLU in order to lose the case so they could make an appeal and eventually get the law changed.

    Regarding the T-shirt: Have you talked to Mark Looy regarding this second t-shirt? As you know, he mentions an entirely different one. I’m skeptical of the two t-shirt theory.

  • Aaron

    There is no “theory” in regard to there being 2 shirts. There is a video of on person before we got there talking about how he was asked to leave. This was a different person that I mention in the other post who wore the shirt that indeed is sound Christian doctrine, with which you apparently disgree, making my point here very clearly!

  • Lithp

    Wait, a systematic attack on Christianity? Talk about a persecution complex….

    The Scopes monkey trial had nothing to do with attacking Christian values, & everything to do on educating people on proper scientific theory.

    If they don’t want to “believe,” well, that’s their problem. Me? I don’t want to miss out on scientific advancement because people can’t reconcile their own personal faith with it.

    As for the Scarlet letter thing, here’s where I think a bit of logic would do you good: You went on an entire paragraph rant attacking a metaphor that essentially just meant that you haven’t been on the other side, but you’re acting like you know everything about it.

    As for allegations of hypocrisy, it’s interesting that you can make generalizations (stating in no uncertain terms that you have no intention of looking into them), but when I try to counter them, you ask me if I’ve “met them all.” (Disregard the fact that I never said, “There is no atheist in existance who is afraid of Christianity.”)

    Lastly, I certainly know that your comment wasn’t “meant for” me, but that’s not going to stop me from telling you that you’re full of it.

  • John Barbour

    You never answered the quetion of whether you talked to Mark Looy about the other t-shirt? He only talks about one. That’s the investigation I’m talking about. You just seem to believe this person without checking the other side. Did you see the guard tell him to turn it over or did you just take his word for it. If so, it’s just hearsay.

  • John Barbour

    Lithp: There was no education of people on the so-called proper theory at the Scopes trial. The judge ruled all that inadmissible because it was not germane to the case. If you look at the history you will see that the ACLU initiated the suit and looked for a person to violate the law. They found someone who would cooperate in John Scopes who had substituted in biology class and used Hunter’s textbook.

    Of course I’ve been on the other side. I was born there. I had to be born-again to be transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Christ. You are right; I am not interested in going back. Why should I? There is nothing to be gained – only a hopeless void.

    Who’s missing out on scientific advancement? Is that what you are worried about? Being an atheist doesn’t help you to benefit from scientific advancement any more than being a Christian. Do you think just because we become a Christian we can’t drive a car or use modern medicine? All this has nothing to do with atheism and evolution. I think the problem comes from confusing evolution with science. The biggest advancements in science often come from people who are on the fringes anyway.

  • Lithp

    Care to back up your version of history? Probably not.

    I didn’t tell you to become an atheist, I told you that you don’t know anything about atheism. You strike me as the kind of person who thinks that just because they weren’t as super serial about Jesus at one time as they are now, they were a “hardcore atheist.” It doesn’t work that way. If you can’t answer basic philosophical problems about Christianity satisfactorally, you were never “on the other side.” Sorry.

    You’re letting religious dogma interfere with science right now. Nobody’s “confusing” evolution with science, evolution is science. You know that fun little genetics thing? Inheritance? Vaccinations? All come from an understanding of natural selection.

    The one who is confused is actually you. You’re still pressing on with this myth about the epic war between atheism & Christianity. Not so. There are Christians who readily accept things that the Fundies will scream about until they’re blue in the face. Evolution, homosexuality, other religions, et cetera. My problem, in short, is with the willfully ignorant, especially when they try to portray themselves as experts.

    I’ll take my reality without that kind of a crippling mental block, thank you.

  • Boz

    “I think the problem comes from confusing evolution with science. ”


    Maybe John is a poe?

  • Boz

    John, (a theist) said:

    You just seem to believe this person without checking the other side. Did you see the guard tell him to turn it over or did you just take his word for it. If so, it’s just hearsay.


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