A Weenie Roast with Baptists
Hello, I’m a new blogger here on Teen Skepchick. I’ve never seriously blogged before but I hope my posts will be reasonably interesting and maybe we can have a few laughs, too.
I’d like to tell you about a very interesting weenie roast I had with my friend’s church group.
Nearly two months ago my friend, let’s call her Sarah, invited me to a party with her Baptist church group the night before Halloween. I wasn’t doing anything that night and Sarah is a nice person so I didn’t want to turn her down.
I was aware of the Baptists the same way I am aware of rain forests. They exist but from where I’m standing it’s hard to picture it. I didn’t really know what to expect.
The scheduled evening arrived and Sarah’s church group was as friendly and polite as can be. After I was done forgetting all their names, we lined up to get into the big white vans every church seems to have. As we shuffled in, one of the girls who’s name I’ve forgotten said that she saw two girls holding hands at school and that it was so gross. Forgetting my vow to be non-confrontational I said, “No more gross than a guy and a girl holding hands.” But my comment was largely lost in the shoving, scooting and muttered apologies as people found their seats.
I am an atheist and had told Sarah as much when the subject of religion came up, which is probably why she invited me to the weenie roast. She must have told her church group because another girl, let’s call her Bethany, sitting in front of me asked me about my theological opinions. I relished this open invitation to share my views. I told them how I think it really unlikely that there is a god and I said they shouldn’t discriminate against gays and pagans. (I had just watched a documentary on how Christians turned the pagan holiday Samhain into Hallows eve.)
When we got to the farm where the actual weenies were to be roasted, it was freezing with very little trees or other buildings around us to help break the icy wind. After a long wait the hot dogs were brought out and I kept my head up, waiting politely, while they said grace. After the hot dogs we played a game of live action Clue, which was actually very fun. Afterward we went inside to have some hot cider and to hear who won. Or at least that’s what I thought.
We all crowded into a little room some people sitting in folding chairs others on the floor. The pastor of their church came in and, to my surprise, starting giving a sermon. My surprise quickly evolved into horror as the sermon progressed. The running theme was “Which side of the cross are you on?”
The pastor brought up a lot of points that I don’t agree with but, for the sake of having a relatively short article, I will only bring up a few of the strangest ones. Using the running theme of the speech he said, “Which side of the cross are you on? Are you on the side of God or evolution?” Does it really have to be one or the other? My mom is a Christian and she accepts evolution. “Look out the window,” he continued, “It’s obvious that God created the earth.” I looked out the window, I saw a beautiful sunset caused by light waves scatting in the Earth’s atmosphere, I saw a few struggling plants trying to get a few more seconds of photosynthesis out of the failing light and I saw the Earth flying around the sun though the inky blackness of space. I wonder what the pastor sees when he looks out the window?
Later in his speech he proclaimed magic is real and tomorrow night (Halloween), “Is Satan’s night.” Here is where I started to get scared. I might not agree with their anti-scientific convictions but this belief is dangerous. I’m sure they’re not going to start burning people at the stake anytime soon, but the idea of witches is left over from a time when the earth was flat and crop failures were caused by dragons flying overhead. Fear of witchcraft carries with it a certain insanity that comes from blaming life’s problems on a false and or imaginary scapegoat.
Trying to find some shred of sanity in the small, packed, room, I looked at Sarah wide eyed and twirled my finger next to my ear (the universal symbol for insanity). She tilted her head to one side to say, what are you talking about? A thought hit me like a landslide that everyone in this room, except the other guest, believed most, if not all, of what the pastor was saying. I curled up inside myself and tried to go to a happy place where people are logical.
The end of the sermon was a call convert: You might be in a car accident tomorrow when you go up to heaven God will say, “Why didn’t you believe in me? Why should I let you into heaven?” and you’ll stand there flapping your lips. No, I thought, I’ll say, “Well, I volunteered every week and never stole and always said please and thank you…” Doesn’t any of that stuff matter to them? Or is the only requirement for getting into heaven believing?
After the sermon was over I hurried out quickly, not wanting to talk to the pastor who I found a bit scary. I was outside trying to make sense of what I had just heard when Bethany, the girl I had been talking to on the van, came up and asked if she could ask me a question. “Sure,” I said trying to sound cheerful and confident.
“You were talking to us about tolerating other religions,” she said.
“Uh-huh,” I nodded.
“Well, how come you won’t tolerate ours?” I quickly ran though all the things I did recently in my head and the finger twirling next to the ear came up as the obvious culprit.
I flushed, “You mean the..” I mimicked the gesture.
I laughed nervously, “You saw that.”
“You’d be surprised what people see.” I realized that it was a mistake to do that then. But considering that during the entire sermon I wanted to stand up and shout, “Bullshit!” or run out of the room and hide (mostly the second one), I thought I did pretty well.
I was shocked not only that she saw my gesture but she used it to make me seem like a hypocrite. I am a hypocrite sometimes but aren’t we all? I tried to recover my folly by saying there is a difference between saying someone has a belief that is crazy and say they are devil worshiping heathens. This argument was weak so I quickly changed the subject.
Bethany and I talked for hours while everyone else was playing capture the flag. I can’t remember everything we talking about but here are a few points and counter points. I noticed some anti-evolution sentiment within their church so I thought I’d ask her if she was a young earth creationists. I expected the answer to be no and to have a release of tension through the finding of some common ground. “Are you a young earth creationist?” I ask.
“What’s that?” she said. That was a good sign, if she was a young earth creationist she would know what it means, right?
“It’s like where you believe the earth is six thousand years old,” I explained.
“Oh no,” she said, “I believe the earth is ten thousand years old.” If I had been drinking something I would have done a spit take. But I wasn’t, so I just sat there gawking. A real young earth creationist, wow. Young earth creationists are like exotic birds, I’ve read about them, I’ve seen them being exhibited at the state fair but it is a rare event to meet one in the wild.
I didn’t try to reason with her about the whole earth’s age thing, she was way over the deep end in sudo-science. I thought if I could get her to have some doubts about her conservative view of God the rest of it would follow. The pastor had mentioned that you have to believe in God 100% to go to heaven. I bring this up to her and she explains that doubts come from the devil. Talk about thought police, that means if I said something to her that made her doubt her faith she’s have to stop thinking about because that is the devil working his wicked ways. I told all this to Bethany and she said it wasn’t like that at all.
“So,” I said. “If Hitler had a death bed conversion he would be sitting at the right hand of god. And I could do all the good I wanted, invent a vaccine that saves hundreds of children in the Congo, and I would go to hell.”
“Yes,” she replied without a pause. I expected her to stop and think about this for second, to have the obvious wrongness of that situation at least cause her to stutter. But no such luck. She quoted a verse from the bible that went something like, I’m paraphrasing here, It is not by good deeds that thou shalt get into the kingdom of heaven but by belief in Jesus Christ as the one true lord and savior. I hope she knows that quoting the bible isn’t a very compelling argument to someone who knows that only certain pieces of the bible apply to them. Otherwise they would be stoning disobedient children in town square (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) and plucking out their eyes. (Matthew 5:29)
I tried a different argument, “What about the children that die before they have a chance to believe in Jesus? What happens to them?” Bethany doesn’t have an answer to this question. We go into the house so she can get an answer from the elders of her church. I point out that I don’t have the opportunity to confer with any Atheist elders. The hesitant consensus seemed to be that those children get into heaven.
We talked for a bit more inside the house before it was time to load back up into the vans. We continued on the way to the van and though the rest of the car ride back to their church where we started. (Which was quite a considerable feat seeing as it was midnight in a warm car and we were both exhausted) When we got to the church we would have continued in the parking lot but her friends came and dragged her away comically.
I enjoyed by discussion with Bethany. We were both very polite, pausing often to let each other talk and generally being respectful . This experience showed me that two people with very different world views can talk about it politely. It was also informative to hear what real people on the other side are saying. But I don’t think I will being going to another youth group event anytime soon, I don’t want them to think that they are converting me and I can only handle so much of… their opinions at one time.