The Atheist and the Retired Minister: Strange conversation about knowledge

I spent much of Thanksgiving behind the wheel, driving along a two lane highway through what can only be described as the rural farmland hills of the Bible Belt. We were far from the Interstate. Along the way I passed an occult shop with a giant sign of a crystal ball, promising your fortunes told. I thought it a peculiar place to nestle between churches. When I finally arrived to my destination, I largely ignored the other people as I set up my vegan food on the hot plates provided. I managed to find the only other atheist, and I ate my food with him, discussing nuclear weapons and Bangkok, mostly. But then I realized we had a newly retired Baptist minister in our ranks, and I made my way to his table and said hello.

This post is an anecdote describing a single event, and it is not meant to generalize anyone or build any straw men out of Christians. The conversation I had with this retired minister and his wife was surprising and provides us with much to mock.

After introducing myself I asked the minister about his church. I often give lectures at churches depending on their position on capital punishment, and I’m always looking for an audience willing to hear me out. He surprised me by informing me his church was in the city next to mine. We were somehow neighbors who had found each other hundreds of miles away. He refused to tell me his church’s position on capital punishment, and he quickly turned the conversation by explaining how his church is only concerned with educating people about Christ’s sacrifice so that we can live forever.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m not a religious person. I’d rather discuss the things we can know rather than the things we can’t know. I’d rather talk about what your church does instead of what it believes.”

“Are you an atheist?” he asked.

“I would call myself an atheist, yes.” I hadn’t planned on telling him I’m atheist, but when asked I refuse to lie about it.

At this point his wife left for the coat room and returned with her purse. She was a very sweet old woman, the kind of woman everyone would want for a grandmother.

The minister and I kept talking through it. “Most atheists I meet ask for evidence. Are you the kind of atheist who needs proof, or will no proof convince you?” he asked.

“It would take very compelling evidence to convince me of anything, especially religious claims.”

“I’m surprised people like you can call yourself atheists. The only evidence you need is all around you.” He pointed outside. The clouds had cleared, and we had a particularly beautiful view of a stream nestled between two hills in the woods.

“That’s not really evidence,” I said.

“I just said I’m surprised. I know you need more evidence than that. I know for a fact that Christ is the lord because I know for a fact what he has done in my life and what he has done for me. I’ve spoken to Christ and he’s spoken to me. He’s helped me through some difficult times, and he has shown me exactly how he’s helped me.”

“So you’re saying you have perfect evidence that Jesus is god, but it’s in your head and you can’t show it to me?”

“Well, yes,” he admitted. “But if you ask for evidence of Christ he will gladly show you the evidence, and it will be undeniable evidence. This is what I want you to do. Ask Christ five times a day to show you a sign. If you are sincerely seeking knowledge, Christ will show you a sign. He’ll do something amazing for you that you won’t be able to explain.”

“There’s a problem with that,” I said. “I can’t sincerely ask someone for something if I don’t believe they exist.”

“You can’t sincerely ask Santa to bring you presents on Christmas…”

“Precisely. It’s the same way for Jesus.”

“I can tell you’re sincere about knowledge. You seek truth, right?”


“Truth is through Christ. If you seek truth, you’ll find Christ. Sincerely seek truth and Christ will show it to you.”

The conversation continued for a while, but I had places to go. I said farewell to the old man, but not before his wife reached into her purse and unloaded a torrent of tracts, which they made me promise to read. They also invited me to their church, but to “learn,” not to speak. I’ll read the tracts (and probably write a post about them), but I’ve no interest in being evangelized to, so I’ll probably not take them up on that offer.

But it got me thinking. If all I have to do is talk to myself, asking for truth, and suddenly Jesus will appear and give me a present, then why shouldn’t I try this experiment with others? There are thousands of gods to choose from. Facebook God and Facebook Satan too! Actually I already know those two are real. If by his logic it will work with Jesus, it should also work with Thor.

But seriously, the man is essentially saying that if I ask for something enough times, I should take any unforeseen thing as a sign of Jesus. If I ask for knowledge five times a day and win a small lottery on a scratch game, that would be a sign from above. It would literally be Jesus magically ensuring that whatever scratch game I played would be a winner.

I’ll try it, but like I said, I think I’ll ask for knowledge from Satan first.

There are many things I could mock about this man’s ideas, but I’ll save that job for you, dear readers.

About Rayan Zehn

I'm a political scientist.
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1 Response to The Atheist and the Retired Minister: Strange conversation about knowledge

  1. Pingback: The Atheist and the Retired Minister: Strange conversation about knowledge | Christians Anonymous

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