This was Nathan's poster designed to counter the claim that we atheists don't believe in anything. The two young men who approached us seem to have been drawn in by this poster so they came by, acknowledged our values, and then asked Nathan where he thought those values came from. Nathan responded in his usual quiet and pleasant manner and I watched with a small smile until I noticed the guys had gotten on either side of him and were kind of cutting us off from one another. I could tell that things were about to get hot and heavy so I did what any gentle Southern belle would do - I jumped into the fray.
Let me make clear from the very onset that these two young men were very gentlemanly and displayed more good grace than I would have expected. So while I can say nothing good about their arguments and their logic (or lack thereof), I can tell you that I believe they are good people and doing what is right as best as they understand it. Honestly, I have great respect for them because I remember what it's like to feel pressured to witness when the last thing you want to do is confront a person you don't know. It was terrifying for me and I never once managed to find the courage to do it. So my hat is off to these guys for their courage and their good manners.
Nevertheless, we got the standard argument about how we were all going to Hell but Jesus could save us if we'd only believe. I said that if Yahweh set up the game to be rigged from the start, then he was the one with the responsibility, not me. He was the one who made hell and created the rules that would send us there so they should take it up with him. They retorted that we send ourselves to hell and we responded with the classic, "No, we don't. I'm choosing right now not to go." We got to use the thug and Mafia boss analogies which were difficult to refute.
Amidst the hour and a half that we vigorously debated, my point was that Yahweh, as the Bible represents him, is evil. I asked these young men if slavery in any context was ok. Was rape ok? Was murder and infanticide ok? They said no, of course, and when we confronted them with the fact that Yahweh condones or encourages these things, the best they could say is, "No, he doesn't. That's not in the Bible. You're interpreting it wrong."
My response to that was simply that those things were in the Bible and that they needed to get back with me after they'd read it. I told them I was embarrassed for them - how they came to preach the Word to me and instead they didn't even know what it said. For all their protesting, it became quite clear that they didn't really know their Bible and they could do nothing more than say, "Nuh uh." It truly was embarrassing.
My final point was that these guys were more moral than their god. They didn't think slavery was ok. They would not kill their sons if Yahweh told them to. I asked them how they could live with themselves as good people by championing such a evil, psychotic god. They didn't have a good answer but they tried.
I encouraged them to go home and really read their Bibles...not just the parts they were taught in apologetics classes but the whole thing. I don't know whether they will or not but I suspect that, one day, one of them will. Why? Because I saw humanity in his eyes. I saw that spark of doubt that makes us so wonderful. I believe this gentleman cares about the truth and cares about goodness. I'd like to think that maybe one day he will take the seed of doubt we planted and water it enough so that it can grow.
As for me, I am glad that I got a chance for a hot debate with Christians that ended up with handshakes, smiles, and good wishes for the future. That's what America is really all about.