Monday, September 19, 2011
My Call to a Christian TV Show
I know some atheists will be asking how I managed to be watching this program , maybe thinking that I just happened to be flicking through channels and stumbled across it. Well, it didn't exactly happen like that. I actually do spend some time listening to various forms of Christian programming, call-ins and discussions. Some of my atheist friends consider that doing this is a strange form of self torture, but I actually find it entertaining and it helps to get an eye into what persons espousing the various flavours of Christianity believe. When I went to channel CTS on the night in question and saw a picture of an atheist logo on the screen next to the host Robert Melnichuk, I dropped what I was doing. I immediately started recording the show on my PVR, because I knew this was one I couldn't afford to miss.
I have to give credit to Rob, for accurately interpreting the arguments of the atheist when dealing with issues regarding the problem of evil, which on this night in question referred to events of 9-11.
"Do we as Christians make excuses for God when tragedies happen? Are we just making up rationalisations to account for the things we don't understand ?"
Yes yes, yes!! I couldn't believe the host had summed up things so beautifully. No atheist could have done a better job. I thought it was a bold question to put out there. Still, I realised Rob was speaking to his choir. This was 'It's Your Call' not 'Ask an Atheist.' Things were well set up up for his audience to call and declare in chorus that nothing could be further from the truth. Of course, that's exactly what happened.
" Free will, free will, it's all about free will!" was the cry.
I hadn't during all this time intended to call the program, I just wanted to listen. In typical fashion, although they were looking at the ' Atheist Perspective' it was more a case of considering the atheist perspective from the christian perspective. Jeez, how many times have we heard this? Then something did break the ice, an atheist called in to explain how religion is where people turn to for comfort and that is why so many people turned to religion after 9-11. It was important to make this point as the host had begun to imply that the increase in numbers of people turning to Christianity after 9-11 was testimony to the fact that Jesus was real and had the power to deliver people from their distress. As the call finished Rob asked why the caller didn't believe in God and the caller mentioned how seeing his son circumcised before his eyes was so horrific that he questioned the overall sanity of religion, he studied and began to look more closely at the claims religions were making and eventually came to the conclusion that God was not real. The call unfortunately finished soon after.
I thought it was a shame the call ended there because I know enough about Christians to be sure that many would boil down his entire conversation into the statement, "I stopped believing in God because I don't like circumcision." They would then dismiss the caller by saying that his point doesn't make sense since they as Christians don't believe in circumcision either. The believers would then go on to say that the atheist caller obviously doesn't understand that we are now under the new covenant and Jesus has changed all that and it is now about a relationship with God not a religion bla-bla bla, bla- bla bla. At that point I decided I would go for it. I would make the call at least to try to leave something more with the viewers. With any luck it would portray more fairly the 'atheistic perspective' and why we don't believe in the God that they do.
My decision to call was late in the show and I knew I would probably have to be on hold behind all the callers in front of me in the line. When I eventually put the call, I received a very enthusiastic call screener . I told him I wanted to get on the show and he asked me if I was aware of what tonight's topic was.
" Yes" I replied calmly." In fact I am an atheist."
" You're an atheist? That's great!!!" he responded.
I had this image of everyone in the room where he was punching the air. At that moment I felt as if I knew exactly how the 'Atheist Experience' crew feel when a theist calls in. I realised that I was now 'that theist caller' in this alternative evangelical universe. Then the phone seem to go dead, no sound of callers talking on the live show, no elevator music, just dead silence. On the tv screen it seemed they were showing a special that lasted about five minutes about a family from 9-11, so I would probably have a long wait sitting through that and then whoever else was waiting from earlier . Then I got a jolt that broke the silence like a thunder bolt.
" And we've got David from Calgary!"
That's when I got the lump in my throat, this was it. Wow, they didn't take any other calls while I was on the line. Maybe they ushered me straight to the top of the queue because I was an atheist. Well, there was no more time to reflect, I had to start talking and get on with it. I had no idea how much time I would have or if and when I would be interrupted. I had written out a few key points I had hoped to hit, I just took a deep breath and got going. The moment was made a bit more awkward because this was not only the first time I was calling into a Christian show. This was actually the first time I had called in to any call-in program. I had been a frequent listener to shows like 'Tell it Like it Is' and 'Getting Down to Brass Tacks' in Barbados and have done my fair share of radio and TV interviews in my time but for some reason I just never thought that calling in to a live program was my thing. My lack of experience showed when I realised that although the TV was turned down very low it wasn't muted, so I could hear a faint echo of myself in the background. I frantically tried to mute the TV as I was speaking and as a result I paused as I gave my opening statement, where I was making the point that I was an atheist. I wondered if viewers would interpret those pauses as being scared of calling the 'A' word. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
I found myself after thanking the host for taking my call, getting straight into the story of my deconversion. How I was once where he was but had since changed. In spite of having my talking points to hit, I think sub- consciously I wanted to take this public moment to tell the world, well in this case Canada, why I no longer believed. I felt I just needed to get it all out and to be honest I really felt better having done it. I spoke of how easy it is to see a God in everything once you believed in him. A sunrise or sunset the sound of a baby laughing, all those things testify to a God once you believe. I went on to say that when things like 9-11 happen ,that seem not in keeping with a loving God, you still accept them as part of a plan, they must be a reason for these things even if you can't understand. It is this type of conclusion that I think leads to the excuses and rationalisations that I thought the atheist writer was alluding to in his letter. I went on to say that I also used to see God in everything when I was a believer but that one time after observing a tragedy unfold in Barbados, I asked myself for the very first time, " What if God really doesn't exist?" I told him that once I removed that 'faith lens' and started to look at the world without assuming that a God existed it became more and more apparent that God wasn't there.
As I finished these thoughts I heard the host's voice cutting in and I apologised because I felt I had spoken for a long time uninterrupted. That was a bit of a surprise to me too. But it did seemed the host was listening very carefully trying to take in all I was saying. I wondered how it all went down with viewers though, I was thinking that maybe it just went totally over the people's head. Then the host asked what was a very odd question.
" So David, do you believe in God now?" The only words that could come out of my mouth were " Pardon me?"
Don't get me wrong, I heard his question clear as day, I just couldn't believe that he had actually asked that . Had he not understood anything I said? After he repeated his question, I followed by saying, " NO I don't!" with as much emphasis as I could without raising my voice. I added the following,
" I just think that if you want to find truth it is far better to look at the evidence and let that lead you, rather than start by believing something on faith and investigating from there, because if you have faith then you don't need evidence."
Well, I am not sure what happened after that because as soon as I got that statement out all I heard was dial tone. I had a nagging feeling that this would be it for my night's contribution. I was right. As I could see the hosts mouth moving on my now muted television set, I figured he was making some comment on the call.He might even be still carrying on the conversation without me. I felt a bit disappointed because I didn't get to say what I was planning to end of with. A simple question of why God didn't care about the 'free will' thing when he intervened in the lives of the callers who phone the show every night speaking of their personal 'miracles'. Alas, my 'free will' moment was denied.
I actually had to play over the recording a few minutes later to here what had actually occurred after I was off the line. To my surprise. Rob's response to my statement that it is better to follow evidence than faith in order to find truth, was met with the answer, " That's a fair point."
I was taken aback, that's a pretty big concession for a christian TV host to make to an atheist . Maybe he just didn't have a response to give me right there and then and that was the easiest thing to say. Either way I hoped that the viewers would reflect on what the implications of their faith based beliefs would be if I indeed had made a ' fair point.' I guess I will never know what the results of any such reflection will be. Anyway I thank Rob and CTS for allowing me to make my points and giving me a fair hearing. I don't think one could say that for every christian show.
After acknowledging my point, Rob said that unfortunately it was time to wrap up. Wow, I had just got in before the bell. I smiled to myself as he finished off because the whole scenario seemed so familiar to me. I used to attend a bible discussion here in Calgary where whenever I brought up arguments to challenge the group leader's arguments for God's existence, he would look at his watch and lament the fact that time was running out and we would have to wrap up right away. Curiously, there were other group discussions that took place alongside ours, but the group I was in always seemed to finish first. I know that this time it had to be station schedules, but it still brought back memories of old.
As Rob was signing off the program he held out his hand and pretended that he was holding something round in it. " This is the fruit." he said. "You just have to come and taste it. This is what God is asking us all to do just come and try it and you will see how sweet it is."
Apart from remembering the devastating consequences that followed the last time that God was part of a story involving eating a fruit, there were other things that bothered me about his invitation, presumably aimed at us atheists. It is the assumption that we atheists actually have these spiritual fruits but just refuse to eat them. They think we are well aware that their God is real but we are just stubborn deniers,many Christians really don't believe that we are atheists. It follows, because I have been often called thinks like a "self acclaimed atheist," and a "person who calls myself an atheist" by believers I have interacted with.
Christians tell us to 'try Jesus' as if he is some exotic dish on a menu at a fancy restaurant. A culinary delight that we are too scared to order because we think it will be too spicy or tangy for our palates to handle.They don't realise that we can't try what we can't see. We have looked over the menu back, front, inside and outside many times and we have not seen the " Blood of Jesus Special."
When we ask why we can't see this divine tasting treat, they tell us it's because we don't bring faith to the table. But how can an atheist bring faith ? If we had faith to bring, we would not be atheists. How can we acquire belief, if in order to do that we have to believe to begin with? It's the perfect circle. It makes it logically impossible for any sincere atheist to ever find God. Faith is needed to find God, and the only way to get it is to have it. So, if you don't start out with it you are eternally screwed. Well, in that case, I can only hope that I am an insincere atheist , because only the pretenders among us non believers have even the faintest hope of finding the God of the faithful.