Of all the religions out there one religion that's always filled me with exasperation was the Born Again Christian belief system. To make matters worse, the street preachers i see and hear here in Liverpool always tend to be crack pot, loud mouths, attention seeking and just plain annoying.
This idea that "im going to heaven, you're going to hell" is enough to make me not want to worship their God even if he did exist. But today i met two. One i instantly disliked and the other was actually a really nice man.
Picture the scene. First man is standing outside a closed up BHS store in town. He's carrying a giant wooden cross, wearing sweatpants, a coat thats 2 sizes to big for him and he's shouting down a microphone the following:
"You gays! Stop being gay and come to Christ! You're going to burn in hell!! You there... stop kissing your boyfriend until you're married!! Hey, you! Stop smoking!! Trust in Jesus!"
Then bursts into song: "If you're happy and you know it trust in Christ..." etc etc.
One man approaches and says something to him. The man on the mic shouts down the mic "I can say what i want! The Muslims are allowed to preach! The Gays are allowed to preach! The atheists are allowed to preach! Last time i checked this was a free country, it's called democracy!"
Then goes back to "hey you! You dont look like a monkey, we didn't come from monkeys!" (There you go Cofty, that's you told mate).
So, for someone who really has little time for religion anyway, and especially the one that worships a genocidal maniac, you can see why this guy was p^ssing me off.
Then i was approached by another guy. He handed me a little tract.
Me: No thanks. I think i know what it says. Is he with you?
Him: Yes. I dont agree with his preaching style but we have to let people preach the way they feel the holy spirit compels them.
Me: Do you think Jesus went around like that? If anything it's giving a negative witness. Jesus, if he existed, did things with decorum and love. He didn't shout at people in the street.
Him: I know. But Jesus met all sorts of people" (i dont know how that was a decent answer but i let it go).
I invited him to sit down next to me. I explained that im an atheist and Born Agains in particular really annoy me. Not so much for the message they have but for people like this (and i pointed to the loudmouth who was still going at it).
He then bore his testimony about how Jesus has changed his life and we got into a discussion about morality. I said i have my own morals and we dont need a God or a book to tell us what's moral. He asked me
Him: Do you think it's right that people have sex with animals?
Me: No, i dont think it's right. But it does happen. Some people out there actually have attraction to animals and go with it. Now, if you'd have asked me this 800 years ago in India or in Ancient Greece you'd likely get a different answer.
Him: Ok. Well do you think it's ever right for adults to go with children?
Him: So you see. How do you know whats moral?
Me: You mean me as an atheist or humans in general?
Him: All of us. There are things you "just know" are wrong isnt there? That was put in there by God. We were made in his image.
Me: Yes... but again, we dont need God to tell us that harming someone else is wrong. And there could be an evolutionary reason for those thought processes.
Him: Think about it. Without Jesus your life has no meaning. What keeps you from just killing yourself?
Me: (Annoyed at this question) See, i hear this all the time, thats a horrible way to look at life. I dont beleive there is one single meaning to life. We give our lives meaning. Mine, personally, is my child. And to enjoy life and to pass something better onto the next generation.
Him: But then you die.
Him: And then what?
Me: And then im dead.
Him: See, when i accepted Jesus i know that i'll be taken up to my Father in heaven. That's why were here. That's why you're here. To be with Jesus in heaven and then you'll know true love.
Me: And if we dont he'll burn us for all eternity.
Him: Because he's a just God
Me: That's not justice.
Him: We cant always understand perfect justice. But a righteous God cant allow sin to go unpunished.
Me: Punishment is there to reform someone and to make them learn not to repeat an infraction. If you torture someone for all eternity they dont have a chance to be reformed. Even when they know they were wrong, and they'd be sorry now that they 100% know that hell exists they have to stay there?
Him: But we have a chance now to repent and avoid that.
Me: This God of yours doesnt sound like a very good Father.
At this point i didnt want to upset him because i do actually think people find comfort in their beliefs and if it's keeping them sane and happy then i just let them carry on with their delusion as long as it's not hurting anyone else.
We had a nice little chat and he was surprised at how well i actually knew the bible and could recite the scriptures back to him as he was saying them to me from memory.
Im still an atheist. Still happy. But im glad that there is at least 1 Born Again preacher in town that isnt shouting at me telling me im going to burn in hell.