Wednesday, June 23, 2010

An Inspiration!

We received a letter this week from a woman who had an upbeat story worth sharing. I don’t think I would ever have thought to try this, but what a great idea:

I have written in before about general stuff but I had a story about something that happened yesterday that I would love some opinions on. Near where I work, on nice days there are usually a lot of people out proselytizing. Now, I have dealt with street and door-to-door proselytizing before, usually women; and they have usually not been too bad. However, I find the idea of going up to people on the street to push religion kind of appalling, and though I personally don't mind, because it offers the opportunity for discussion, I still find it to be incredibly rude. I understand the reason they go around in pairs, or sometimes even groups of 3 or 4, so they are able to corner people. And it just bothers me.

So I was walking home from work, and I spotted two young men with Bibles talking to some young lady sitting on a park bench. I decided to go up to them, and instead of addressing the two young men I turned to the girl and said something along the lines of “You are a good person, you have your own morals and can make your own decisions and don't need them or their book to tell you that you are weak, because you are not.”

Then I told them all to have a nice day and started on my way again. But then the two boys started shouting after me. I say “boys,” they were probably in their early twenties. So, as they started to shout things like "yeah get out of here! No one cares what you have to say!" I decided that I couldn't just leave it at that.

Maybe I should have left it, but I decided to go back. Maybe I shouldn't have said this, but addressing the first boy I said "Well why don't you tell her about the part where Lot gets drunk and has sex with his daughters, or the part in Judges where Jephtha sets his daughter on fire."

After looks of confusion from the two young men, and a quirky smile from the girl, the first boy just kept repeating "Who are you? Get out of here! You're Satan!" in a robotic tone, as the other one holding the Bible said I was “crazy.” I asked if I could borrow their Bible to show her either passage, to which the first asked "Well where's your Bible?"

I pulled out my digital reader on which I had a copy of the King James Bible, and I informed him that I read it often. He replied that I didn't know what was in the Bible, and that I must be Satan. They asked me if I knew the girl or something, to which I said that they didn't know her, either, and were probably bothering her while she was trying to relax in the park. It was at this point that the one young man said that I "must be retarded".

I wish I had had time to, instead, draw these two away from this poor girl, but I didn't, so I addressed her with another vote of confidence and went on my way.

She seemed to be responsive to what I had said, but one can't be entirely sure. As I walked away they continued to shout after me, continuing to call me “Satan” and such.

Now I never mentioned to any of them that I was an atheist or even what my particular beliefs might be. I even acknowledged in my last words to the girl that I didn't know if she was a Christian herself, or what her beliefs might be, but only that she didn't need these two young men to figure those things out—basically, to believe in herself and not them. I have a Youtube channel, and as soon as I got home I did a big long video telling the story exactly as I have told it here.

I recall an open-air preacher who used to shout at passers-by at my university. He would handle questions and hecklers alike; but this is something different. She proselytized to proseltyzers, showed them up in front of their mark, and absolutely gave them as good as they were giving to other people that day. I bet she totally knocked them off their script!

She asked what we thought about what she did—if it was rude. I told her it was inspirational!

Here is her YouTube account of her adventure...


  1. That was awesome, thank you very much for sharing that.

  2. There's really no nice way to handle these things. Either you walk away and say nothing, or you offend someone who thinks you are Satan. but it's a matter of weighing the lesser of two evils. if you saw a mad man running around shooting people in that park and you had a gun too and your choice was between shooting him to save others, or just walking away from it so that you didn't have to shoot anyone or get shot at yourself, you'd be facing a very similar dilemma. Ultimately, I agree that what she did is inspirational. She stood up for her beliefs and didn't just take the easy road. Great post. I would like to think in that situation that I'd have done the same thing.

  3. I can't stand street preachers. In Scotland we don't get too many but occasionally we see the Scientologists and the odd Mormon around, and the local creationist group took to the streets during the Edinburgh festival last summer, right where all the tourists go. I was working for a tour company on the same street so whenever I had a few minutes between tours I'd go over, listen and then ask a question based on what they'd just said. Typically they'd be talking about sin and the Fall, and all you'd have to ask is 'when did the Fall happen?' and they're screwed, because if they'd said something like 'the 8th of November 4004BC' like they wanted to, the crowd would have laughed at them and gone on their way.

    There are ways and means of dealing with these people and I think this person got it right.

  4. She asked if that was rude? You mean, it might be rude to interrupt people who are bothering strangers in a public park?

  5. Ben: That's exactly what I thought!

  6. This is someone I know personally and I could not possibly be prouder of her. What was most revealing about this exchange, I told her, was the way they peeled back their masks of civility the minute she turned up and began challenging them. Evangelicals like this want you to believe they are the kindest, gentlest, most compassionate and loving people on earth, because they're "godly" and they have Christ in their hearts. Until, of course, you don't want what they're selling...and then they reveal themselves to be not very nice people at all. In fact, people with a really serious mean streak. Simply being challenged in a non-aggressive manner caused them to lapse into spasms of petulant name-calling and juvenile pettiness. I compared them to the kinds of guys who wonder why women prefer to date "jerks" rather than "nice guys" like themselves: "Because when I turned you down you started stalking me! That's not very 'nice,' is it?" Facades can be very thin things indeed...

  7. When I was at college, there were some old chaps on campus who would hand out prayer books. Now these guys were not particularly in-your-face type proselytizers. They would try to pass out as many of their little books as they could, sometimes kind of dropping it on top of whatever school books you might be carrying to class. They were a little pushy but I never saw one really cross a line.

    One morning I encountered one of these fellows struggling with a cardboard box held fast with plastic bailing so I stopped to help him with a few flashes of my pocket knife. When the box was open, he reached inside and offered me one of the little green prayer books.

    I told him "No, thanks. I'm an atheist so I don't need that." Smiled at his look of astonishment and went to class.

  8. Well, trying to be the angel's advocate here, as she tells the story, she could have asked a curt short question near the beginning as to whether these were actually proselytizers rather than friends instead of (correctly as it turned out) guessing. That is I think what she suspected was rude and asked the question.

    Of course this is said with hindsight, and as a pointer to others inspired to possibly repeat this, like me. It is not at all rude to interrupt a brainwashing session in public.

    By the way, if this person is willing to reveal the video, I'd like to watch it. If she doesn't want to make it completely public she can message me on Youtube (same moniker, "Cafeeine")

  9. Yeah I'm with Martin on this one. These street preacher types like to fancy themselves as the brave, grass-roots advocates for jesus from biblical times. As if they're walking in the shoes of the legendary founders of Xianiity, etc.

    But they're mostly just shouting, screaming morons with, like, no jobs, futures or brains.

    I remember those guys that used to park out on the UT campus across from the drag and shout their messages of hate. Most of the time they were just ignored, but sometimes people would engage them. Don't know whatever happened to them; I moved from Austin 4 years ago, maybe they've come back?

    The laward just can't seem to get his shit together with His advocates. They seem so easy to take down...

    I'd have loved to have seen this woman engage a couple of those guys too. Warms my heart, very inspirational story....


  10. Well done, this is something I never thought of doing myself but I will in future...

  11. Sometime I can't help but feel sorry for these street preacher types. Their brains have been taken over by a religion virus whose sole purpose seems to be to propagate itself, infecting more brains. And they are not the least bit aware of it, the virus itself gives them all the comfort they need.

    This story was indeed quite inspirational and it's good to know that in this case a contagion has probably been prevented.

    The hostile reaction of these street preachers only revealed that although they were aware of those embarrassing bible passages they had nothing in their script to address them. How very Christian to immediately resort to ad hominems.

  12. Here's how wrapped around it's finger religion has this society: you can interrupt people who are rudely bothering and outnumbering someone in the park, and yet somehow you suspect you might be the rude one. Regardless, awesome video, I wish more people would have the guts to go do that. There have been two Mormon guys wandering around my apartment complex prosthelytizing the past two days, so maybe I'll get a chance at this later today.

  13. Strangelove: Picky detail, but remember name calling is not the same thing as ad hominems.

    Seifer: Also remember that she was never confrontational in a rude way, just honest. I'd hate (and so would she) for people to get the wrong idea and use her example as motivation to go up to anyone they see street preaching and totally jump their case.

  14. Martin: Thanks. I hope that people don't infer from what I said that it's okay to go up and rudely or harshly confront theists. PamAnnJett certainly didn't.

  15. Of course they were angry. She just cock-blocked Jesus!

    But seriously, it was good that she stopped to provide support for their "mark"

  16. Great story and it is indeed an inspiring one. I agree with Martin: she stripped those Christians from their sugarcoat and show their true nature, the one of mindless, debilitated fanatics, unable to think beyond the clichés of their religion.

    I had a few encounters with Christian preachers of different confessions, usually I simply cut it short, telling them curtly that I don't believe in God and that's it. I remember one of those encounters back in 2005, my future wife and I were walking in the street and there was a Baptist Church having a worship session outside, some of the worshippers were on the pavement outside the church's ground. An old man gave us a leaflet, telling us to read "all the Bible" and praying to God and stuff. We politely accepted the leaflet, only to mock its empty prose when we got back. I thought then we had been too nice, but I just didn't want to make a scene (my wife wouldn't have appreciated it). Now I know for sure I made a mistake then. I should have told him, as I had wanted, that while he had the right to worship, invading public place to preach to passersby was borderline harassment and that he should mind his own bloody (or Godly) business.

  17. Another thought: I kind of envy PamAnnJet for being called Satan. How many of us have been labeled Satan, seriously? Matt was accused of being a Satanist at least once on the show, but that's not nearly the same. Personally, I have been accused to fall for Satan, here and there (particularly by fundamentalist muslims), but Satan? I wish!

  18. He replied that I didn't know what was in the Bible, and that I must be Satan.

    Isn't it a thing in the mythology that Satan knows what's in the Bible better than almost anyone?

    Anyway, great story. I think every atheist who wants to confront this kind of thing should have such passages memorized (or rather, where the passages can be found). Asking to borrow the other person's Bible and showing them exactly where this awful thing has always been printed in their "moral guidebook" is like doing street magic these days.

  19. HEY FOLKS! This is Satan herself! I just wanted to let you guys know how much I appreciate everything you've had to say about my little story.
    @Thomas: it's funny that you should phrase it as cock-blocking Jesus! that's exactly how my best friend worded it when I frantically called him immediately after this happened!
    @Guillaume: I think you can see it in my face in my video how please I was about being called Satan. I couldn't contain a big fat smile when the guy said it and couldn't hide how ecstatic I was when recounting it.
    Thank you again everyone! All of your kind words and encouragement have only added to the experience!

  20. Crazy as such, and not unexpected, certainly the reference to Satan being common regarding anything to do with anything anti-religion, even when it's simply put, and as in this case, without the mention of the word atheism! I'm all to eager to let on the secret that i'm atheist, perhaps that is a reflection of my personality, i saw two nuns collecting for children at the supermarket tonight, asked the wife if i could go have an atheist debate with her - denied permission, that was of course today after we'd chatted about the fact that i don't heckle, last night! Thanks TH x

  21. @StrawberryPatchBug-I am dying with jealousy. I actually wanted to be Satan... on a stage, playing Mephostopheles, either in Goethe's play or singing in Gounod's Faust (maybe my voice was too high). I neither became a professional actor or opera singer, so it will never happen.

    But for the rest, I wish I had acted like you when I was bothered by preaching Christians. I remember many nights of heavy drinking at the university bar where the Christian Union was making toasts and tea and trying to preach to us. I challenged them over the Bible (many of them were creationists) but then I was already drunk and pretty nice.

  22. >i saw two nuns collecting for children at the supermarket tonight, asked the wife if i could go have an atheist debate with her - denied permission, that was of course today after we'd chatted about the fact that i don't heckle, last night! Thanks TH x

    Wondering if I'm implicated in this somehow? Really glad to see your post!

  23. I ran into a street preacher for the first time ever last weekend. First time I ran into the 3 of them, the young man was up there preaching at the crowds going by, without addressing anyone directly. So I responded: "How do you know?" and similar. After a few minutes of getting preached at, I wished him luck and moved on. Later the same night, I happened across them again, and this time someone else was preaching while the young man was holding their sign of Bible verses. I was just going to walk by, but he stopped me and said, aren't you the one from earlier? So we had a very nice conversation, which we're now continuing in email.

    But what really struck me about this was the difference in his demeanor between the preaching and the conversation. From heated to calm. He even said as much, that he had a hard time having a one-on-one conversation with anybody when he was in "preaching mode." It made me wonder how he intended to convert or convince anyone by talking at them instead of talking with them.

  24. @JohnnieChristal and Tracie-From my experience, the nuns are often the dumbest, stupidest, senilest, clueless, least educated of Catholics. I don't want to sound chauvinistic or abusive here, my mother has many nuns friends (as do most people of her generation in Québec), and they seem smart enough, but I so often met frustratingly silly nuns, because their mind could not think outside their credos and what they had been taught in catechism as a child. They were basically 50, 60 year old Catholic children. I think it is the way women were brought up in the Catholic Church, the more devout you get the more brainwashed you are and you assimilate the machism of the Church.

    When I was a teenager (back in the 90s), my latin class (a bit less than ten people) went to a weekend trip in Quebec City with our teacher and a friend. Both were nuns. We got seriously drunk that night in the field next to the house where we were staying and they never noticed it. Not that night, not in the morning when they cooked us breakfast and we were all seriously hangover.

  25. @ Guillaume, yes i concur totally, in my own experience the facts are the same, they (nuns) don't even seem to carry the sweet old lady syndrome that you might expect from a good doer, they actually appear to me to be cantankerous and hostile, unless you're a nun also.... Perhaps we should don wigs and habits ourselves and see what reaction we can get, perhaps dress as them but promote atheism instead, with the same, know all, ignorant attitude they, or any catholics who are my favourite (in entertainment terms) of Christian!

    Imagine how i feel, my surname has Christ in it ~ Irony or what! :D


  26. And yes, it was our conversation i was referring to, as i did say to you TH that i don't heckle.... and when i saw the nuns i thought of you! Sarah was having none of it though, i think an aged christian must deserve more respect than a younger one, eh?

    Not in my view, they are the best to hold conversation with, you know that they are the ones with the longest term served, or sentence as it might as well be called, in a life stunted by religion!


  27. John:

    I can't help but notice that in addition to having "Christ" in your last name, you also share the messiah's initials, "JC"?

  28. @JC-Don't get me started on nuns, the nice ones are often as baffling as the nasty ones when they are as stupid, which from my experience happens to be the case quite a lot.

  29. Seifer: I think that's more the ffect of the PC movement than it is relion's hold on society (which is still ridiculously strong...but weakening!)

    Awesome story. I'm listening to her recount it on youtube.

  30. I'm having some trouble with flash on this computer. Can someone please give me a hard link to the youtube video? I would appreciate it.

  31. She's not Satan. Satan has smaller boobs.


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