We have had a mission this week delivering leaflets door to door and on the streets. One irate atheist wrote a long e-mail to me complaining. I wrote back with this e-mail.
Dear Sebastian (not his real name)
Thank you for your long letter. It is always good to get a response even if it is a negative one. You say that you received a ‘Come Take a Look’ leaflet through your door from our “organisation”. I should explain that we are just a little group of local people with plenty of links to others and getting some help this week but not part of some big organisation in the accepted sense.
I note your vehement objection but I do not see that we have been shameful or wasteful. Your use of the word “foist” is highly contentious. We simply offer leaflets. No-one is being forced to read them. You helpfully mention reasons for objecting to our ‘evangelising’. They turn out to be pretty flimsy as far as I can see.
The first point makes no sense. I can only assume there is a typo. Your second point shows a lamentable ignorance of British history. If you care to do a little research you will discover that Baptists were fiercely persecuted in earlier times. That came to an end in 1689 but we were still subjected to various disadvantages for our faith, including being effectively barred from the universities until the 19th century. Thankfully, we live in partly more enlightened times and we have the right to go on to the street and let people know what we believe. Long may that right continue.
I do know that the Golders Green area has a large Jewish population. Having said that, it is still only 15% in Barnet, meaning that 85% of the people we are likely to meet are not Jewish. We are not cynically or provocatively trying to foist Baptism on anyone. You would be surprised, perhaps, how slow we are in fact to baptise anyone. (By the by are you aware that the Jew themselves have miqvot all over the area where they happily get baptised on a regular basis?). Again, your ignorance is letting you down I fear. Have you ever come across Messianic Jews? These are Jews who have become Christians. True Christians tend to be more respectful to Jews than most.
The only person being provocative here is you with your suggestion that you are going to report me and the church to the council! Have you done that? I have not heard from anyone. Perhaps you have rethought it – why give them all that free publicity, eh? What exactly would be “appropriate action”?
If you are aware of any hungry or homeless people in the area, please let us know. Our resources are small but we have been able to help people in the past. Another point, you seem to think we are fundamentalist Christians. Now we certainly take a firm stand on the fundamentals but we probably fall short of the accepted definition. As for “bothering people with religion” we are with you on your apparent opposition to religion. It was religious people who were largely responsible for Jesus's death and religion has clearly been responsible for many ills in this world. No, we are not peddling religion. If that is the impression we have given then I am sorry. We are talking about a personal relationship with God himself, something he brings about not us.
As you are perhaps aware, atheism is not a philosophically tenable position. You do not know everything and so it may be that one thing you do not know is God. If you would care to take a look at one of the many books on the resurrection of Jesus you will find that it is a well established historical fact. The virgin birth is not susceptible to the same sort of demonstration and so it is a matter of faith. As for the immaculate conception we are totally agreed – utter nonsense.
You are rather dismissive of the Bible. I wonder if you have actually read it. I think you would be much less dismissive if you knew it better. I would be happy to provide you with a copy or even help you read through it if you wish. I am a graduate in English literature and have a history degree too and I can assure you that a knowledge of the Bible will open up real vistas if you have any interest in these areas. Your self-confessed failure to see how a book that was written some 2000 years ago (well over that in the case of the Old Testament) can be applicable in the modern world is most understandable. It amazes me too. However, once you see that the New Testament lays down principles applicable in any age and culture it all begins to open up.
Your antipathy to creationism is no surprise. There is nothing nonsensical about it. That adjective could be applied more appropriately to evolution. You say that science has disproved the young earth idea but that is only true if you accept the theory of uniformitarianism, which cannot be proved. As you probably know, the reliability of carbon dating and radio isotopes is hotly debated. Having said that, if the Bible is wrong on creation then that undermines the whole thing, as you say. Hey, that's something else we agree on!
Your advocacy of keeping religion private is the mantra of the day and I am well aware of the desire many have for our types to shut up. But then if you believe what we believe there is no way you can go private. Anyway, why should we be quiet when someone like Richard Dawkins grabs all the publicity he can get? Hardly fair. How about if you keep your atheism to yourself? You say that you believe that I have every right to follow a religion if I so choose but I believe I ought to let people know what I believe.
I love your list near the end of your letter - subservient, non-questioning, irrational, hypocritical, and utterly disconnected from the realities of modern life. I cannot think of anyone in the church who fits such a description. Okay, may be we are a bit hypocritical, sometimes.
I see that you have checked out the scientific evidence on whether prayers do anything at all. The evidence is pretty poor you are right. It is a very difficult thing to examine scientifically. Your idea of prayer as a selfish act is most interesting. I suppose that you are just thinking of one sort of prayer, supplication. There is also confession, praise and thanksgiving. As someone who tries to pray often I can assure you that feeling good is not the usual feeling that prayer produces. I agree that there are selfish prayers but everything in the Bible encourages the very opposite attitude.
Your conclusion that “religion, all religion, belongs in the dustbin of history” has often been said but so far has proved hollow.
If you let me have your address I will do all I can to avoid bothering you with further leaflets. As I said at the beginning we are not a large organisation so I cannot totally guarantee that it will not happen again. If it does, just bin it.