Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Called my local Holy Henry station

Last week I was listening to "The Ed Sossen Show" on Christian station KIXL in Austin. The temporary host (Sossen was absent for the day) was speculating with his callers about the underhanded motives of Michael Newdow in the pledge of allegiance case. The host rather flippantly said, "Well, I've never met an atheist who is really happy. They're all so full of vitriol and hate that..." etc.

I really wanted to call, but I had to be somewhere at the time.

Luckily, I got a second chance today. The regular host was back and the co-host was repeating his earlier comments. In the last few minutes of the show I called. I told the call screener, "Hi, I'm a happy atheist!" and got on the air in less than a minute.

The conversation was short but it went pretty well. I was nervous as hell, and I hope it didn't come through in my voice too much. I said I am happy as an atheist, and I have a lot of happy atheist friends. He asked "Did you have a bad experience when you were young?" I said "No, I had a great childhood. My father was an atheist physicist. I'm a fourth generation atheist, in fact, and I have a newborn son who may be fifth generation."

I also said that I enjoy the show (which is mostly true; Ed Sossen is a rare Baptist with a sense of humor). And I invited him to watch our cable access show. He said "Well I'd say God Bless You but I don't want to offend you..." and I said "Don't worry about me, you have to have pretty thick skin to be an atheist in Texas."

After I hung up there was about five seconds of dead air. I think my call really took them by surprise. Ed finally said "Well, I hope God DOES bless him, and I'll pray for him."

Later, I sent this letter.
Hi Ed,

This is Russell, the "happy atheist" who called at the tail end of the show today. I got home from work right after I called, and I don't have a radio that receives AM in the house, so I didn't hear if you said anything else. But I thought you wouldn't mind if I send you a quick follow-up.

You may have a hard time believing that somebody could be an atheist and still be happy and satisfied about their life, but it is true not only of me but of a fairly large percentage of my family and friends. You'll just have to take my word for that. Christians tend to incorrectly assume that all atheists had some kind of horrible, traumatic experience that caused them to rebel against God. The reality tends to be much less dramatic. Many of us are former Christians; a few (such as myself) come from atheist families; but nearly all the atheists I know are very thoughtful people, who became solid in their atheism only after long periods of thought and inner reflection. Ultimately, we just decided that the available evidence just doesn't seem to point to the existence of any deity. We aren't "fighting God"; we just don't believe in him.

I'm not writing to argue about that with you. I'm sure you've already formed an opinion about all such arguments that you've heard in the past, and so have I. The reason I called you today is that it's the second time I heard Richie claiming that all atheists are hateful and unhappy, and I decided I couldn't let that go unchallenged a second time. I can't tell what Richie's experience has been, but he might want to consider the fact that atheists seem hostile to him because of his own approach. After all, it can be difficult for an atheist to be friendly to someone who has the preconception that all atheists are rude people who hate everybody, even before they've opened their mouth.

Ed, you seem like a reasonable guy to me. I meant it when I said that I enjoy your show regularly. As such, I believe that you wouldn't want to intentionally say untrue things about a group of people just because they don't usually call in to defend themselves. You probably don't know very many atheists and don't realize that they can be nice people who love their families, volunteer for worthy causes, and make good neighbors.

I'll even try to offer you a Christian perspective on why you shouldn't jump to the conclusion that atheists are bad people. According to Christianity, all humans are born into sin and continue to struggle with sin even after they get saved. Becoming a Christian doesn't magically make you perfect, right? It just means that your sins have been forgiven by the grace of God. You get to know enough non-Christians and you may realize that these are decent people who struggle with the same issues in their lives that you do. They happen not to share your belief system. There are some complete scoundrels who are Christians and equally many who are atheists, but there are plenty of good people in both camps who are willing to talk to each other.

The Atheist Community of Austin exists for two reasons: first, because it provides a social outlet for atheists. We're not in the habit of doing weekly organized activities like church, so it gives us an opportunity to meet each other. Second, we want to defend ourselves against the constant cry of religious leaders who insist on painting horns on atheists and trying to make an image of them as scary people who are trying to corrupt your children and shouldn't be allowed to exist in peace.

Feel free to respond or not, by email or on the air. You don't need to, but I'll be pleased to chat with you if you like. I'm not asking you to agree with my opinions or stop believing in Jesus. I'm not even asking you to become "politically correct" or champion the atheist cause. I'm just letting you know that most atheists aren't misanthropes, aren't chronically depressed, and aren't really all that interested in taking over the world.

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