Thursday, April 14, 2011

Austin Stone pastor writes in, dismisses Mark as "crazy"

Today an email popped up from Ronnie Smith, a teaching pastor at Austin Stone Community Church. Most of it was addressed to Matt and is in the nature of a personal correspondence, but I thought I'd excerpt the opening paragraph as it pertains to the show in general. (Note: Ronnie's statements here are themselves not meant to be taken as an official communique from Stone Church, but simply voicing his own concerns as to the impression Mark may have been giving viewers of the show.)

My name is Ronnie Smith and I serve as one of the teaching pastors at the Austin Stone Community Church. You may have heard of us from “Mark” whoever that guy is. Anyway, first, please don’t let guys like “Mark” color your perception of our congregation. You were raised in a Southern Baptist church for a while and I’m sure you encountered your share of crazies, that you wished hadn’t identified with you. We have about 8,000 people attending church each Sunday so we can’t really deal with every person that walks through the door. I’m sure it bothers you as well when fellow atheists either spew things you don’t really believe or act in a way that doesn’t represent your character.

Fair enough. Though I'm sure Mark will be unhappy to hear, next time he calls, that the church he's so eagerly defending is rushing to distance themselves from him, claiming him to be nothing more than an anonymous face in the crowd. In truth, many of us had already suspected as much, as Mark seems utterly unequipped in any of the conversations we've had with him on the show to respond to literally anything thrown at him. He isn't a fellow who understands what he believes or why he believes it, whereas someone who actually represents a large church such as this ought to, at the very least, be able to hold his own in a discussion. (Even if he's only doing so with PRATT arguments.)

Hopefully, this will open up some more dialogue with the Stone Church folks, and we'll get some really enjoyable phone calls coming in from people who actually represent the church and can engage us in spirited conversation.


  1. I have to admit, my BS meter started tingling when Mark started making excuses for why the kids in his church couldn't call the show. Especially after he just said the parents would never watch it anyway. His intentions may be genuine, but I'm not sure his grasp of the situation at his church is very reliable.

  2. Mark may not have been good at making his arguments, but I fail to see anything on that site that indicates that he wasn't representing what they believe accurately. He read the site's statement of faith verbatim on the air. If Smith or someone who otherwise represents the church calls in, I look forward to hearing them flail about as you try to pin them down on what, exactly, Mark misrepresented about their beliefs.

  3. For the record, he didn't call Mark crazy - his point was the same one I made when I called in to the show last weekend to talk to Steve: Mark doesn't speak for the church and it's unfair to judge them all based on what Mark says.

    Ronnie is right on the mark in mentioning that there are atheists who say things that drive me absolutely nuts because I realize that their comments may be mistaken as representative.

    That said, Mark did read directly from the Church's doctrinal positions and some of us have bothered to listen to the sermons he the area where he's not necessarily representing the church seems limited to his assessment that they'd "hate us" and his comments about teenagers watching the shows.

    I'll be having lunch with Ronnie on Tuesday and probably attending a service in May. If there's anything worth mentioning, I'll do so.

  4. Every time a christian stands up and defends the faith, there are other christians who will tell you that the one you're talking to doesn't represent their christianity. When asked who does, they don't have an answer.

    I hope there will be more dialogue. I am especially wondering what Mark would have to say about this. I don't think their church leaders will dare to call in. But one can always hope...

  5. I wonder exactly what part of Mark's conversation they consider to be "crazy". Mark seemed to represent the church as fundamentalist, with a strong belief in a literal hell. Is this not what they believe?

    Is he a little over the top? Well yeah. But are not these beliefs themselves "over the top"?

  6. Poor Mark,
    When and if he reads this I would think it would hurt him deeply. Listening to him on the show makes me think he really wants to save these kids from hell, but he is also the epitome of an ignorant fundamentalist follower. Pitiful.

  7. Well, to be fair, Ronnie followed up his dismissal of Mark with "I’m sure you encountered your share of crazies," which seems to imply pretty strongly that's how he's categorizing Mark. I agree it's unfair — Mark is just supremely clueless — and maybe Ronnie just chose his words poorly.

  8. Smacks of the regular complaints that every caller is not a good example of what "insert -whiner A- here" believes and if we just talked to "insert -expert in whiner A's mind- here" they would really beat you down.
    No matter how many times you ask for them to have their expert call in, it will be a different theist next week making the same complaint.
    I admit Mark does a horrible job representing the category "those who know anything about their religion" and an even more miserable job defending said religion, but at least he is a theist caller trying.
    When is Ronnie calling?

  9. Fair enough...somehow I overlooked that. Crazy seems somewhat fair in that context. I stand corrected.

  10. I listened to the sermon on hell that Mark mentioned, and found his description of it accurate. The pastor, Matt Carter, describes hell as a real and literal place mentioned explicitly by Jesus, and warns that being there means being in unbearable pain, separated from everything good, for eternity. He also explains the logic behind this damnation as it being the punishment of an infinitely powerful being who therefore assigns infinite punishment for transgressions against it, for "spitting in his face", and that it should actually be shocking to us that God even gives us a chance to go to heaven.

    Perhaps Ronnie Smith is taking issue with Mark's portrayal of other congregants as people who may "hate" people like the hosts, but as to other points he attempted to make, while Mark may not have related Matt Carter's sermon clearly I don't think he misrepresented the content of that particular sermon.

  11. See, I definately understand the idea of "damage control" by saying, we aren't affiliated with so-and-so because, for instance, they assaulted a waitress. HOWEVER, when it is a fairly enthusiastic young adult who is part of your church who is only trying to defend your beliefs to people you have taught him are godless and in need of being shown the light, you don't chuck him overboard and say, "Oh, he's not with us." He's a kid, of course he isn't one of the church authorities. But the church should take this young man aside (even if they don't know who his is because 8,000 members is just too much to sort through), and TEACH HIM. Isn't that their job?! To mold these kids and the rest of their parishioners?? In the end, I'm pretty sure they are going to be hard pressed to actually find somebody who really does speak for them. Don't feed the outspoken among you to the lions, use that enthusiasm to further your cause! Instead, I'd like to think that by them turning their back on Mark, it will just start the spike of doubt that will eventually lead him away from the hateful doctrines. That is just my hope.

  12. Wow, they really threw him under the bus! But that's understandable. I wouldn't want someone speaking on my behalf that didn't represent my views. How sure are you that this email is legit?

  13. That which you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me.

    I bet if Mark reads that he's gonna feel reeeal special.

    I wonder if the TAE hosts would give Mark a shout-out on the next show? Notwithstanding his inability to articulate the reasons for his beliefs (that's standard issue fundy behaviour) he sounded almost confused, but like a guy with real questions, possibly even doubts (the very kind of person fundies don't want talking to you!). I reckon he could be one of these "kids" he mentions and, if the parents of this church are as psychotic as they sound, might be taking a risk calling in. Hell, "Mark" may even be a pseudonym.

    He might just be, underneath the indoctrination and sad fundie reasoning, a decent intelligent guy who's not been given a chance to think, evern, and who'd appreciate someone talking to him honestly. Especially if he reads what his pastor just said about him. Way to go treat your flock, buddy!

    My point is that it's easy to dismiss Mark as yet another victim or brainwashed mouth-breather, but that's precisely why he might appreciate someone not bullsh1tting him. You never know.


  14. I don't think it's valid to compare crazies in a congregation to atheists that say things we would want to distance ourselves from. We don't have a catechism or a statement of beliefs. We are defined by what we don't believe, so what we do believe is all over the map.

    Nobody represents me but me.

  15. Matt D:

    That particular church has a strong record of converting non-believers, especially if they are received by the charismatic leader.

    Therefore, we need some kind of code that you can use when you return to the show that will signal to us that you are really you, and not some cult robot. Like, blink 3 times. Or tell some caller he is DONE. That will tell us you are the real Matt.

  16. It seem unfair to Mark, that the leaders of the group he has allied himself with have turn their back on him. Because that is exactly what they are doing! What he believes and how he lives his life is rooted-in with these ingrates! Disassociating themselves from one of their own just (because I.M.O. he's not very articulate) disgusted me. Church of Austin Stone I hope that Mark, will open his eyes and see your hypocrisy for what it is; a god damn lie!!!

    Here's to Mark, future Atheist..Cheers

  17. I also heard the Hell sermon and Mark was true to the party line right down to concern for the kids. His church teaches that hell is real and that friends and family who choose the wrong path will burn. Since we are leading these kids toward this eternal damnation our actions are despicable to any one who believes this poison. "Mark" may not be able to explain why he has faith but his statement of belief was clear enough. I am curious how Ronnie will spin this.

  18. This is the opening paragraph from Ronnie Smiths "Life Story"

    "I was raised in the church from the time I was an infant. It was only by the grace of God that I went through my high school and college years free from the major struggles that many of those I knew dealt with."

    Ronnie sounds like he has been living in the hermetically sealed bubble that Russell was discussing in an earlier post.
    I am guessing that Mark may also have been raised in a similar way.
    The main difference between the two of them seems to be PR skills.

    Mark may not have been singing from the same PR hymnsheet as the Ronnie but I think he was being honest about how he views the church and AETV.

  19. I'd like to see Ronnie call in and explain why he believes what he believes, other than growing up in a closed society that requires those beliefs in all its members.

  20. Hey guys,
    Ronnie here...the YouTube clip that I saw mark did not mention any specific doctrinal beliefs. He mentioned hell in the clip I saw but no specifics from our church. We are a southern baptist church and we do hold to the orthodox christian view of hell. My main objection with. Mark (I did not mean to say he was crazy, I know it seemed to come across that way. I apologize for that). My main objection was the fact that he claimed the Stone was talking about the show, he seemed to represent the Stone, and the fact that he like many other Christians call the show and fail to engage intellectually with the questions answered. I also found it unhelpful and rude to call the show and begin by saying that the hosts were going to hell. I really enjoy the show, I think you guys raise great questions.

  21. Hey Ronnie, we do hope you will call us yourself sometime. I appreciate that you think Mark was being rude to us, but don't worry that we were unduly offended by that. We've dealt with much worse, and mostly thought Mark's utterances stemmed from a distressing combination of cluelessness and indoctrination than from any intent simply to insult. And I don't think any of us really thought he was some official representative, though I understand your wanting to clarify the point all the same.

    So, on the off chance you'd like to discuss more in the comments here, is it the position of Stone that we're going to hell? The Doctrine of Hell does seem to figure rather largely in at least one of your sermons online. I personally find any belief system that must threaten violent retribution to enforce compliance morally and intellectually suspect, at best.

  22. Nice to see Ronnie engage in a conversation with us atheists. I would really like to hear him call in to the show and make his point. I don't know if the conversation with Ray would qualify, but I'd like to see more people with a bit more sophisticated PRATT than Pascal's you're-going-to-hell.

  23. I'd be happy to call in. I'll chat with matt about it on Tuesday...and so you don't want me to use Pascal's wager? :). I think it's really important for people in the church to engage in healthy discussions with people that don't believe the way we do.

  24. But, Ronnie, don't you think that you have a responsibility, as one of the authorities of your religion, to give your parishioners the proper education to hold their own in said conversations? Are you distancing yourself from Mark because you think that he is a lost sheep that doesn't understand your teachings?

    Also, I don't think that saying you have 8,000 members is an excuse for them not to understand what you are supposed to be teaching them. Isn't that why a church such as yours has several pastors? So there are enough authorities to go around? I hope you don't think individual members are expendable in the grand scheme of your church.

  25. Ronnie will not call the show because he can't risk getting dismantled in front of his entire congregation, many of who will surely be watching.

  26. @Mandrellian: I agree that "Mark" is possibly is a pseudonym, since he has called in as "Justin" and "Mike" (The info on this video identifies the episodes: It seems possible that Mark might be in a position to suffer some sort of negative backlash for calling in, which would explain both his nerves and his use of false names. He doesn't sound young enough to still be living with his parents, but maybe, I'm not sure.

  27. This is Reason #2 why I do not believe in religion: The religious people of the world cannot even their own stories straight. If you get 10 people from different walks of life to describe an apple, you are going to get answers that are pretty similar. Ask 10 different people to describe their religion and you get 10 different answers.

  28. I wonder how long it will be before the church pulls the hell sermon from their site?

  29. Marlo - I took notes while listening to the sermon and if it's taken down I'll be happy to supply them, but as Ronnie admitted that they hold an "orthodox christian" view of hell I doubt it's in danger of being pulled.

    Ronnie - I recommend you watch the entire call as it sounds like you missed many of Mark's comments. I don't recall him ever stating that he was a spokesman for the church, and it seemed clear that he was calling in response to concerns that parents he knew who attend Stone have with the show.

  30. I'd be happy to call in. I'll chat with matt about it on Tuesday...and so you don't want me to use Pascal's wager? :)

    Please do, actually. It will be very informative for any members of your congregation who may be watching to hear the rebuttal.

  31. I'm curious...what did Ronnie think Mark said that was crazy?

  32. IMNSHO 'Mark' is taking his first steps towards atheism and should be encouraged gently to continue. He has made too many calls to just be someone wanting to tell the hosts that they're going to hell if they don't change their evil ways. The poor lamb is a bit gormless (look it up) but he clearly watches the show and I hope for his sake that he's learning something from it. Not least that his church hierarchy will chuck him overboard without a second thought if he embarrasses them, so much for brotherly love!

  33. I think it would be more appropriate having someone more official(representative) on the show instead of a mere unknown flock member.

  34. During the call I seemed to notice that "Mark" was not comprehending that atheists do not beleive in hell, they do not beleive in god, and that Russell was asking why anyone should beleive. Mark kept coming back to his presupposition. I think that if Mark or anybody else from his church were to call the show again(as I am sure he will, being that he has called in numerous times), the hosts should make him absolutely aware of the burden of proof. Then when he uses circular logic, they can point it out to him and so on. I don't think he understands the arguments completely.

  35. Pastor Ronnie is in a cold panic. Not because Mark misrepresented his church, but because he represented it in all it's hateful glory. Stone teaches people to hate the unbeliever. This is what it's all really about.

    To paraphrase Hitch, he comes to us now with this smiling face and outstreched hand because he had to give so much ground.

    Yes, they do believe that we're all going to burn in hell and now Ronnie has to face the judgment of the skeptics. If he does not come out, he loses face. The teens who watch the show will see a sniveling coward if he does not come out.

    But to come out means facing Matt and his powerful weapons of logic and reason. As Charlie Sheen once said: "grab ankles and accept your fate".

  36. "Matthew 7:16 By their fruit you will recognise them."

    And this is what their church breeds: mindless sheeple. The pastor likens Mark to one of the "crazies" and he's desperate to distance his church from him.

    Mark was a nice, if a little bit dim and gullible, but just your basic average sheeple person who's memorized the basics of his church to preserve his little bubble. Another prime example of how religion affects people for the worse.

  37. The presupposition that the Bible is truth is a pernicious one.

  38. @Ronnie - I hope your lunch with Matt goes well and you two can figure out how best to come onto the show such that it will be productive for all concerned.

    Everybody else--Ronnie's been fairly gracious and he seems to have just seen what's on YouTube. I don't expect him to hunt down and listen to three hours of content just to hear every little thing Mark said.

    Be nice, these are the conversations we want to have!

  39. @ Marlo:
    "Ronnie has to face the judgment of the skeptics"

    He's not worried about the judgment of skeptics.

  40. @ladyatheist I disagree. He's been called out because the kids of the church are watching the show. THEY are the skeptics I reffer to. If he doesn't perform, they are lost.

  41. I agree with Method, piling on with negative statements such as the one "V" made, claiming that Ronnie won't call the show. He hasn't shied away from commenting on the blog, and here it's pretty much all of us against him.

    Plus, the evidence points to him calling the show at some point. He contacted the show, is engaged in conversation here, and has agreed to meet Matt in person. It just makes you come off as negative, nor does it add anything helpful to the conversation.

  42. I have to think that Mark stumbled on to the show one day and recognized a massive disconnect between the the worldview his church is offering and what he was seeing. He is now doing exactly what I would hope he would do, confronting and trying to understand the people that are presenting him with the problem.

    He is understandably not very good at explaining why he believes what he does, since he has likely never had to do it in a serious way before. He is presenting the best arguments he knows from the authorities he respects most. These are the first steps toward skeptical atheism that I hope all people can empower themselves with.

    Russel explicitly stated that he does not want anyone to believe what he says solely on authority, and I can't agree more. I want educated and logical thinking from people, the atheism is just a natural consequence from those things. Any shortcut belief based on an argument from authority is not good enough.

    So Mark is taking the first steps that must be taken, and as he hones his skills he is likely going to come to the same conclusions many of us atheists have.

  43. Mark sounded to me like an intelligent and brave, (if confused through lack of reliable information and a heapin' helpin' of indoctrination), caller.
    It is my opinion that, given education, he has the smarts to decide whether or not he has been fed a crock'o'shit, and reject the whole lot of his toxic condition by his superiors, who have deliberately kept him ignorant. (As Richard Dawkins alludes: ignorance is a description of a mental state that is voluntarily curable.)

    Mark my words.
    Mark is a budding atheist.

  44. Count me among those who welcome Pastor Ronnie's participation in a discussion here.

    And I agree that Mark has taken the first tentative steps to shedding his religious beliefs. Who knows where it will go from here - he could easily be swayed back to the comfort of what he was indoctrinated with, but he's headed in the right direction, and he seems to have the bravery to not let the comfort factor be his only guide.

  45. Ronnie,

    I don't expect you to see this comment as I'm chiming in late to the discussion, but I did want to at least try to leave a message for you.

    I am no longer a Christian because believing in things for which there is no evidence is illogical. Once I was able to understand that there was no evidence for the claims of any religion, I reasoned that there was no longer any need to believe in it.

    I no longer live under the threat and fear of hell or any of the other draconian nonsense of religion.

    With that said, Christians like yourself are one of the reasons that I am glad I am no longer part of any religion and here is exactly why:

    Mark does seem to be a genuine believer in all of the teachings of your church. He calls into a tv show on several different occasions to not only defend his faith but also your church and its teachings. He seems to be a bit slow, and if I'm wrong about that and Mark, if you read that and I am wrong, then I am sorry for assuming such. So we have this guy who is doing what he believes to be the right thing to do given what you and your church has taught him to believe, and a person that sounds like he might be susceptible to being led easily.

    And what do you do, Ronnie? You throw him under the bus on a public blog and basically call him crazy. You did apologize for that comment, but if you had any modicum of ethics you would not have made it in the first place. This man stands up for you in public. He defends your teachings in public. And you distance yourself from him through the implication that he is mentally imbalanced and imploring those that read here to not let him color their perception of your church. Ronnie, your behavior is the very epitome of hypocrisy and is undignified to say the least.

    How can you begin to claim a moral or ethical high ground through your religion when someone publicly declares the things you have taught them to be truth and you move to distance yourself from that person as you have?

    It would seem that Mark has painted a very accurate picture of your mission statement, which he was allowed to read on the air, and now you say don't let him color our perception of your church? Now you have cast the aspersion that he is crazy?

    Also, if you have 8,000 human beings walking through your door on any given Sunday and you do not want them to represent your teachings in public for fear that you might not like how your message of hate is portrayed, then perhaps you should not be teaching them the message you seem to be so eager to paint a different picture of now.

    Shame on you as a person for treating one of your own the way you have here. You make me glad that I have friends that would stand behind me if I portrayed in public what they espoused to believe instead of running for cover and shunning me publicly.

    Quite frankly, sir, your behavior sickens me.

    And as for Mark, I hope that he can find a group of people who will befriend him and truly stand with him and help him think for himself instead of being swallowed up in the faceless masses of an 8,000 member church than can not have the testicular fortitude to make a stand for one of its own.

  46. Oh and Ronnie, in case you did catch my comment, here's one last thought:

    You said "I also found it unhelpful and rude to call the show and begin by saying that the hosts were going to hell."

    Amazing how you find it rude that Mark would call in and tell atheists they are going to hell, when by definition atheists do not believe in a god and therefore according to your very theology would be going to hell.

    Also, that you found that rude but see no problem with teaching people that there is a being that will set them on fire for all eternity to be perfectly fine says something very disturbing about the ethics of your belief system.

  47. Start posting questions for Ronnie.

    1. Was Mark's assertion that atheist all go to hell correct?
    2. If it is correct, was it just his delivery and style that were incorrect?
    3. What does the style of a delivery have to do with the truth of a statement?
    4. Do you believe Noah's flood is a fact or fable?
    5. Do you believe gays should be put to death?
    6. Do you believe raped virgins should be forced to marry their rapists?
    7. If God requests a human sacrifce, should you go through with it?
    8. How old do you believe the Earth is and why?

  48. And Ronnie, if you're reading this, I want simple answers, not speeches. That was Mark's problem

  49. Marlo, you're kind of being a dick (and not in the good way) to Ronnie. He just discovered this community and Mark's interaction with it. I don't think its helpful to make blind accusations about his character or state of being (e.g., "he's in a cold panic"), nor to suddenly list several questions and demand answers. We want to have a discussion with him here, and if we have people like you acting hostile and virulent toward our guests, we'll never get a real conversation going.

    Tone it down. You're misrepresenting the attitude and behavior of this community just as Mark was misrepresenting the Austin Stone.

  50. @The Invisible Pink Unicorn:

    I predict that Ronnie will not call the show. If he does call the show, he will be outmatched by Matt and the AE crew and his position will be exposed as meritless. Being publicly dismantled while your congregation is watching is bad PR and we've already noticed that Ronnie takes PR very seriously, and with good cause. How is my observation and assessment of this situation even remotely close to "piling on with negative statements?"

  51. Here's why I justify my "cold sweat" comment. Churches are losing members. And I know what happens in a company when things go bad. everyone gets nervous. So cold sweat is probably accurate. The is a documented trend of church closings and even the Crystal Cathedral in now in bankruptcy. So I would be worried to if I were in his situation.

    If Mark's statement that the kids are watching TAE is true, then Ronnie may be looking at his next generation losing their faith.

    Second: remember that we're talking about a representative of a church that appears to tell it's members we deserve to go to hell. Even I am not that much of a dick.

    And yes, I do have a little personal resentment here. Someone from a church like that beat the crap out of me when I was younger because he thought I was going to hell. In my view, telling people that those outsiders are going to hell gives the believers license to do a little tormenting of their own. Or at least that appears to be the message they receive. I always find it something of a short psychological path from saying someone deserves to go to hell to "and I'm going to send you there". It's just an inherently dangerous believe system.

    Lastly, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that there's a little good cop/bad cop going on here. First we get Mark, the bad cop saying how we're all going to hell, and then we get Ronnie, who will no doubt try to put a shine on the subject. Be on your toes because we may be getting played. Why else would Mark make a point of which church he goes to? I'm beginning to entertain the idea he was sent.

    That all being said, I would be satisfied if Ronnie can provide the reason behind having the Hell sermon on his site and does he stand behind what it says.

  52. Marlo,

    The point is that you're being needless confrontational to someone who has just begun talking to us. Someone who, so far, is not deserving of that kind of disrespect.

  53. I agree with both sides. lol

  54. I disagree with Mamba24, and I agree with everyone else.

  55. Eventually, fundamentalist christian's will have to take up the policy of conservative christian's which is a general refusal to discuss their faith or personal god with atheist's. I consider conservative catholics to be like a more advanced/revised/wiser version of fundamentalism by how they act in some ways, especially when it comes to ignoring atheism as unimportant.

    As to say, fundamentalist's don't seem to realize the problem only gets worse the more you feed in to it but it's good entertainment for us.

  56. I think confronting Christians about whether they believe in the OT stories is a waste of time. If they do believe them, why are they Christian and not Jewish? It's because they want a get-out-of-jail-free card. This depends on 1) there being a jail and 2) being one of the lucky (or divinely intelligent) ones who gets a card.

    So my big question for Christians is why they would choose to believe in such a selfish and self-centered religion.

    If Hitler accepted Christ in his heart (Sorry, Godwin), he went to Heaven. Ghandi's good works don't matter. He boils in a lake of fire. What kind of "morality" is that?

  57. I have to agree with the other people that have already said this: Exactly why does Ronnie trying to write Mark off as crazy?

    As best as I can see, Mark stayed on the Austin Stone Church's party line to the letter. Even reading their official mission/belief statement verbatim on air.

    There seems to be some contention about Mark representing the church when he's not a leader or something, I say “so fucking what?” AETV is a live call-in talk-back show where anyone can call in. Exactly where is the problem with a believer calling in and trying to defend what he and his church believe? Open line call-in shows not withstanding, I thought the whole point of the protestant reformation meant that there wasn't one guy at the top of the leadership pyramid with a funny hat and direct phone line to god. Also, when asked the question directly, he honestly said he was just a concerned parishioner. He didn't lie and say he was in a leadership role.

    Finally, there's been some question over whether the kids Mark says watch the show, actually exist. I need extraordinary evidence to prove invisible pink unicorns exist, I don't need extraordinary evidence to believe that a guy who goes to a church has a group of friends, and that those friends are worried about their kids watching this atheist talk-back show on youtube. Mark may be using a pseudonym, but he stuck to the church's party line, and he didn't lie when asked about his position in the church, I see no reason to doubt him on this point.

    To some it all up, Mark was obviously very nervous, but still had the stones to call in to defend his beliefs (even if I think his beliefs are dead wrong). And as a result Ronnie the fearless leader wants to throw his own parishioner to the lions because (as best as I can tell) Mark wasn't charismatic enough on air? If Ronnie wants to call in to AETV and say his piece, then he's welcome to, just like everybody else including Mark, but I don't think the atheist community should be humouring this cowardly hypocritical douche bag with lunches and what not.

  58. I'm looking forward to Ronnie "engaging intellectually" with questions about his faith.

  59. I hate to jump on the bandwagon, but you only live once.

    "...We are a southern baptist church and we do hold to the orthodox christian view of hell..."
    ~Ronnie, 4/14/2011 6:30 PM
    Based on that, & the fact that you are a pastor in the church, it can be safely concluded that you believe most people are bound for hell. [Matt. 7:13]

    "...My main objection was the fact that he claimed the Stone was talking about the show, he seemed to represent the Stone, and the fact that he like many other Christians call the show and fail to engage intellectually with the questions answered..."
    Ok, with 8000 parishioners, it's very possible that his group of friends at the church [not the ASCC as a whole] are discussing the topic. In my experience with some other Christians, Mark's description of the parent's reaction is likely not exaggerated, sadly. On the second point, I can understand how you would draw that conclusion based on the first call from Mark on 2/6/11. The third point is something that is sadly true also. All you have to do to see this in action is watch the hour long intellectual train wreck that was Ray Comfort's call a few weeks ago.

    "I also found it unhelpful and rude to call the show and begin by saying that the hosts were going to hell."
    That is unhelpful, especially when the people who are hell bound dont believe it, and no evidence is ever presented that justifies such a claim.

    With all of this in mind, it makes me wonder why you are trying to distance yourself from one of your flock. From what I can gather, he is concerned about the welfare of kids in the church & called to let this be known. One Baptist friend I have said that those who call into the show to defend the faith are really engaging in spiritual warfare. Mark went into this battle with the weapons your church equipped him with, and we have seen how well that turned out.

    Ronnie, I just want you to know that Im not trying to be a prick, Im just curious.

  60. @Apostulous
    My thoughts exactly, except for one point

    "I also found it unhelpful and rude to call the show and begin by saying that the hosts were going to hell."
    That is unhelpful, especially when the people who are hell bound dont believe it, and no evidence is ever presented that justifies such a claim.

    I think a better point than the fact atheist don't believe in hell, is the fact that Ronnie does believe it.
    Its like Jeff said on the Non Prophets ages ago. If someone points a gun at you and pulls the trigger, it doesn't matter that you knew the gun had no bullets. As long as the shooter thought it was loaded, they just tried to kill you.

    We are a southern baptist church and we do hold to the orthodox christian view of hell.

    So he thinks you and I are evil apostates that deserve to be tortured and burned in excruciating pain for ever and ever a amen... He just thinks its rude to say it strait to our faces. Translation, its only ok if you point the gun and pull the trigger at the back of someone head. Never face them mano-a-mano. Maybe Mark is rude, but surely this makes Ronnie a hypocrite.

  61. I listened to the Hell sermon. It pretty much confirmed Mark's statement about the Church's position.

    In my view, Ronnie has 3 options:
    1. retract the sermon.
    2. offer an apologetic that softens the sermon's key points.
    3. admit Mark had it right.

    I will be listening to what Ronnie says.

  62. I have finished with a transcript of Mark's call on episode 693 with Tracie and Jen and was surprised by how much his tone has changed. At the end of that call he was almost in agreement, and now on later calls he is saying how people would find atheists "repulsive."

    I may get around to typing up the other shows he has called into, or at least his conversations and others that may call from the Austin Stone. I think it may make a nice progression.

  63. MAtheist - thanks for the transcripts you've been posting.

    So Mike from 693 and Mark from the two later calls are the same person. His tone sounds different, a little more anxious and hesitant in the later calls, but it does sound like the same voice. He does start off the first call inviting Jen and Tracy to join the church, and claims to have "helped many lost souls find their way", so even though it doesn't necessarily follow from that that he's claiming to hold some sort of position in the church, I could see how it might be interpreted that way.

    Episode 693 was aired on the same day given for the Hell sermon on the Austin Stone website.

  64. This comment has been removed by the author.

  65. I am not 100% sure they are the same person, that may be why there is such a change in his tone. While I was typing episode 693, I noticed I had typed Mark about 100 times before realizing it said Mike on the screen and correcting it.

    They use the same phrases such as "by the book," but I realize that it may be a common sentiment at the Austin Stone, so I may have erred in saying that Mike is also Mark. (no offense, Mike, if that is the case)

    You are welcome for the transcripts, I find that I miss a few words or thoughts here and there by just listening, so I want to type up any conversations that I think will be meaningful. It's just finding the time that is tough. :)

    just had to delete this to fix more glaring typos, you'd think I'd be better at this by now

  66. Mark has called on an earlier show before but I forgot what show. A long time ago. Someone mentioned the episode on this blog. He used a different name back then.

    I really hope Ronnie will call the show because all that Mark said, that was supposed to be rude was:

    [em]My church believes Heaven and Hell are real places and gues which one you're going to if you keep this up.[/em]

    Maybe it was rude but not as appalling as the whole concept is. That's what Ronnie should defend, not a random person who is using aliases. So, go for it, Ronnie!

  67. Got it:

    Collin said...

    "Mike" has called before.

    Here he is calling under the name Ed, from Toronto. (15 minutes in)

    Notice the fact that he's an atheist.
    2/09/2011 7:53 PM

    And notice that he mentioned TAG - like in one of the more recent shows. And he laughes at Matt Slick presenting bad arguments.
    And the best part is that he can't belive the kind of cognitive dissonance people have wehen presented with the stuff at
    And also notice that he isn't as nervous as of late.

    It's the same guy, right? If not, he's a perfect match with Mark, voice-wise.

  68. I notice that two elders in the church are Mark and Mike.Hmmm

  69. I will take a listen to that show again, but for right now, I am more interested with what is going on at the Austin Stone, or at least those callers that say they are from the Austin Stone.

    It is obvious that the Austin Stone is concerned about TAE, especially if I was wrong and Mike and Mark are two different people, then we know at least two people have called in, and Mark has said that some children from the church have called in too. I can understand that they are concerned for their children and maybe themselves as well, but, of course, I do not agree with their reasons for this concern. Having once been a believer myself, and then becoming an atheist through the application of critical thinking, rational thought, etc., I think that the beliefs and fears they are passing on to each other are damaging, to say the least, and I also find it saddening, and at the same time fascinating, that they think TAE is leading them to hell, that we're angry with God, saying "these bitter things", and so on and so on, none of which is even remotely true.

    The Atheist Experience makes it very clear, show after show, that they are trying to correct the misconceptions about atheism and simply explain why we don't believe certain things, that's about it. They are not leading people anywhere. In fact, one of the most important ideas is to learn to think and reason for yourself.

    I think the fact that many theists say things that are not only incorrect, but are exactly 180 degrees wrong, that it would make a great topic for another thread comparing what a theist says with the actual truth, but that will have to be a topic for a later time.

  70. I think the fact that many theists say things that are not only incorrect, but are exactly 180 degrees wrong, that it would make a great topic for another thread comparing what a theist says with the actual truth, but that will have to be a topic for a later time.

    The interwebs aren't big enough for that

  71. Having listened to a few of the other calls that are supposedly Mark using a pseudonym (including Ed, Andrew and Mike), I really don't think any of them are actually Mark.

    Yes the voice is similar and in some calls there are some similar phrases used (Mark and Mike in particular)

    But it still doesn't account for subtle accent differences and the different mannerisms. I mean, I suppose it could be an act where Mark calling as Mark breathes heavier/sighs, speaks slower and stumbles over his words while he speaks faster and puts together sentences more easily as Mike or Ed. But unless he's very good at carrying on a conversation AND staying in character, I think we are looking at different people.

    Keep in mind, atheist brains aren't any less prone to mind tricks. Just as theists pick out patterns and similarities in the clouds that look like angels and grill marks that look like grilled cheesus, I think people are trying too hard to look for similar voices to find that Mark is hiding something.

    When you consider that the show has probably gotten a few hundred male callers in the past couple years, its not surprising that a couple are going to sound similar to Mark. And since a fair number of calls are from Austin, its not unrealistic that two members of the same church that has a congregation of 8000 would have called and expressed similar views on religion.

    I would imagine the similar wording Mark and Mike used is probably just a matter that they are using Austin Stone buzz words. Its really not that hard to believe since Mark, at least, has so far only parroted the teachings of the church and hasn't actually shown that he is capable of thinking for himself on the matter.

    If Ronnie's still reading this, Welcome to the blog and thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

  72. A comment regarding Ronnie's appearance here:

    I think it would be best to try to be courteous to him. I'm sure many of us has had unpleasant experiences with preachers in the past, as well as the experience of extending the benefit of the doubt to a believer and then getting shit all over.

    However, I think we must also endeavor to be the better man (or lady). How can we expect decent behavior of others if we don't make an effort ourselves.

    If Ronnie is a run-of-the-mill, lying faith-head, then I'm sure that will be apparent soon enough and then we can all have fun jumping up and down on his genitals. For the time being, though, I think we should be direct, but polite.
    By all means ask the pointed questions, but try not to attribute motives to him that we don't really have any way of knowing about.

    After all, what if he really is one of the good guys? Wouldn't it be sad if we pissed him off and then missed out on an opportunity for a great AE show?

    Just my 74 cents (adjusted for inflation).

  73. Lukas, I concur. I was trying to operate under that idea with my post above.

    Murphy, you said in response to me "I think a better point than the fact atheist don't believe in hell, is the fact that Ronnie does believe it."
    Just to let you know, I did raise the point that he probably believes this.
    "Based on that, & the fact that you are a pastor in the church, it can be safely concluded that you believe most people are bound for hell. [Matt. 7:13]"

    I didnt pursue that point because I was hoping to understand why Ronnie was trying to distance himself from Mark, & arguments about hell tend to go nowhere. The concept of hell is a symptom of the cancer as a whole. The reasons why a person holds the beliefs they do is what Im really after.

  74. @Apostulous

    Yeah, I know. I've had the hell discussion with relatives and what not. Its a real point of cognitive dissonance for them, but they generally won't give any ground, preferring falling back on BS rationalisations like “Its not my fault you'll get tortured, its yours for turning your back on God” rather than admit our old friend God might be just a little bit of a sadistic monster...

    However that wasn't the point I was trying to make. The point I was trying to make was that Ronnie has publicly chastised Mark for his comments about hell, when Ronnie believes (perhaps given his standing in the church, even publicly preaches) the exact same thing.

    My problem wasn't the specific belief in hell, so much as the fact that he's in a leadership position but hangs his own followers out to dry when it suits him for PR reasons, even though they're advocating exactly what he's taught them down to the letter. I don't know about you, but in my opinion that makes him the works kind of hypocrite.

  75. @Murphy
    I kinda thought that was what you was going for, yet I hesitate to ascribe motive to the action. I didnt want to explicitly say it for fear of not getting a response from Ronnie for being so blunt. I am still hopeful that Ronnie will come back and attempt to explain why he felt that it was ok to throw his sheep under the bus for expressing the views his church espouses.

    Also, I just checked the ASCC website and he has at least a dozen sermons online. I may listen to a few of them; if so, I'm starting off with "Fearing and Fighting Unbelief" or "How to Share the Gospel". I am interested in his take on fighting unbelief. Hehehe

  76. This is probably a case of christian "bamboozlemnet"

    Where they simply don't admit to outsiders what THEY really BELIEVE while constantly shifting the goal posts.

  77. I suggest people follow the link to Stone's website, with it's statement of faith and belief in Bible inerrency. That should answer a lot of questions as to what Ronnie believes...

  78. I think "Mark" is actually an atheist trying to point out how silly the SCC is but Poe's law and all that. In fact it seems really obvious to me that he's Poe'ning us.

  79. I just got done reading the statement on biblical inerrency. It's about what I expected. I do love how one of the articles in it, I dont have the document pulled up right now, was about how science essentially cant overturn the "truth" of scripture. That was a laugh and a half.

    Because, as we all know, that fuzzy feeling in your gut [apparently the holy spirit] overrides all evidence, observation, testing and demonstrability of claims. I mean, who needs all that stuff when you have god on your side?

  80. Wow, where to begin.

    I think Mark is the average guy in the pew; he is merely reciting what the leaders tell him. You can hear the 'tag lines' (We're by the book, etc.) I have encountered many who are just like him, and they get totally flustered when you stray from the 'script'.

    The many calls from Mark show that he is desperately trying to fit in with the Stone, but inside knows that what he is saying sounds crazy (like when asked if he thought the world was 6000-10000 years old, or why he is a Christian). That means there is hope for the guy... if he can just get over the fear of letting go...

  81. like one poster said, it would be a shame for ronnie to become pissed off at atheists, and become even more set in his ways.

    just imagine - if this minister could be converted, the change that could take place for the entire congregation.

  82. Hello everyone. Been reading for a while, first time posting. I missed the show but I just read the transcripts and I just wanted to throw my vote in that "Mike/Mark" is probably a Poe.

  83. I also wanted to say that I know several people that attend ASCC. I'm actually pretty surprised to read on their website how fundamental and orthodox their mission statement is, because everyone I know from there has always struck me as very "universalist." Of course, when I say I know several people, I mean I know 4 or 5.

  84. Is Mark a POE? I don't know... but he has spent some time talking about the kids watching the show, and as you say - he is ill-equipped to handle arguments without prepapared statements - I can't escape the feeling that he is actually one of the very kids he was calling on behalf of...

  85. I think mark may be struggling with his sexuality based on his last conversation on the show. He brought up the point he agreed that homosexuality isn't an abomination in his eyes. For a person to claim he is devout but struggles with that part most important to him, i think he may be coming to terms with his sexual identification. Not to be rude but he does have an effeminant sounding voice. That is only my opinion, most likely it isn't the case but that is what popped into my dumb mind listening to him talk.

  86. Mark doesn't need to be homosexual to disagree with the churches view on homosexuality. To me it just sounded like he knew someone who was (a long time friend or a familymember maybe).

  87. This comment has been removed by the author.

  88. New poster here, different than the Andrew above. I have to agree that either this guy is a complete poe, or that he's a kid from the church. At the end of the most recent call you can hear that the tone of his voice changes as he's hanging up the phone.

    Also, and I don't know if anyone has pointed this out yet, the callers Andrew(12/5/10-show#686), and Mike(1/23/11-show#693), sound very much like the same poerson (misspelling intended) with a bit of Southern accent added.

    I really only just started watching the show after Matt shellacked Mark on that episode in February (saw the clips on Jerry's, PZ's and RDF sites) and started watching previous episodes. As I had watched the aforementioned clip several time I had the voice fresh in my head. I started a list after a couple of times and then went back to check the previous instances, I think there maybe one or two more before he started using the moniker "Mark", but I need to check.

    On the other hand I may just be crazy.

  89. "stephen zevon said...
    just imagine - if this minister could be converted, the change that could take place for the entire congregation. ~ 4/18/2011 3:21 PM"

    Me thinks you are too optimistic. Pastors who are unbelievers have been discussed on the show before, and many of them have to stay in the godless closet. Preaching is the only job 'skill' a lot of them have, and coming out would result in them loosing their livelihood. Aside from that point, I can only imagine a pastor stepping onto the ASCC's pulpit & preaching critical thinking & inquiry....

    "Good people of the Austin Stone, ignore the Chicago Statement & then read your bible. Try to see it as a nonbeliever would, and think critically about what it says. Begin to...hey, hey, hey! Dont throw the hymnals at me!"

  90. @ruinwen

    You are right, It just seemed odd to me. Out of all the things to pull out of the bible to disagree with it seemed odd that it was that Leviticus quote he was against. Who knows, but that is what it sounded like to my untrained ear.

  91. "stephen zevon said...
    just imagine - if this minister could be converted, the change that could take place for the entire congregation."

    Was I the only one who read this with the voice of Darth Vader in their head?

  92. Matt, I hope Mark keeps calling. It's clear the poor guy has been terribly brainwashed, yet he calls in. I feel like he is floundering, and like if he keeps talking to you he may actually begin to doubt, begin to think for himself.

    I don't think he is crazy. I think he is truly trying to figure this out but has been so abused by his church he can't do it on his own. At the least I hope he keeps watching the show.

    I'm not surprised the church is reacting this way. That belief is a mental illness is apparent in Mark. That the church is largely responsible, as well as his upbringing is also apparent.

    I do hope you get more calls from church people. You are always logical and diplomatic, always keep your cool. We appreciate you so much.

    The Atheist Experience is awesome, and I just wish it were on national TV. It deserves to be!


  93. I've listened to some of the sermons on the Austin Stone church website and they're disturbing. I actually feel pretty sorry for this guy, Mark.

    I was raised in a secular household in the UK, where we were all free to make our own decisions, so I have always had a bit of problem understanding how people can believe in something as intellectually vacuous as religion and god.

    I have found Mark, along with the ability to access the stuff he's being fed, a real insight into how people are brainwashed to believe in unbelievable things. It's actually scary, the preachers are so polished and the systems they operate in so slick, I reckon they could get these people to believe in anything.


    PS If I had my way, Matt Dillahunty would get a knighthood.

  94. Whether or not he will read this, I would like to say:

    Congratulations Mark on your breakthrough realization! Think for yourself buddy :)
    While this is a big step for you, you still have a few more steps to go in acheiving the freedom you deserve; but you're heading in a good direction.

    I'm hoping Mark continues to call in the coming weeks to let us know (whether directly or indirectly) how he's doing with the substantial progress he's made.

  95. I, too, listen to Matt Carter's sermons on Heaven and Hell, and I was deeply disturbed by them. Not because I thought any of it was true, but because he managed to depict Christianity as a death cult. His message, almost verbaitm, was "live this life as though it doesn't matter." I encourage other athiests to give his sermons a whirl - he's actually very engaging.

    I don't mean this to sound hostile, but if that's really the way he and other Xians feel then they should lock themselves in a room and pray until they starve to death - if faith is the ONLY determining factor, you're in!

    His "Faith is the ONLY Way" sermon was far more interesting, not because of the content, but because of an omission: a while in I heard him say "I'll tell you why it [sacrifice of Jesus] was the only way [to expiate sin]..." and at that point I sat up straight: I've NEVER heard ANYBODY give an answer to this... and, lo and behold, neither did Matt C; he merely described WHAT happened, not WHY it had to be that way. If an ASC preacher does ever call in, I'd love to hear them explain why the only solution possible for the all-powerful creator of the universe was to transpose all past and future sin onto one person and then let them die.

    Finally, I really hope something positive comes out of Mike/Mark's church's ostracism of him - his conversation with Matt and Jen with the incredible "maybe I shouldn't listen to the Bible; maybe I should just trust myself" Eureka moment will live in my memory, and perhaps this repudiation by his church will be the proverbial straw.


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