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Trying not to like Penn Jillette

I should really dislike Penn Jillette on principle.

He’s a committed atheist who says reading the Bible is the best way to become a committed atheist.

He’s a magician. Call it a personal shortcoming on my part, but I find magicians annoying, even though I appreciate illusion.

He has a propensity towards being quite the angry potty mouth.

Penn Jillette and I disagree on many things. I should dislike him on principle.

And I’ve tried. But I can’t.

Because he respects my right to believe that he has it all wrong, and he encourages me to do a better job of being a Christian:

And he’s proven to me that a person can be godless and still be moral and attempt to live right:

In short, Penn Jillette is a better person than me. And if everyone was, as he believes, basically good, then we would have no need for God or Jesus.

But that’s a HUGE if, because I believe that people are not basically good.

And I only need turn on the news to confirm this. Or better yet, simply look into my own heart.

Still, I cannot and will not dismiss him simply because he doesn’t believe as I do. While I may not appreciate his views, I greatly appreciate how well he articulates them.

I can’t help it. I like the guy…


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This post began as a much anticipated and highly procrastinated Katdishionary post. The term “assholiness” was one of several new terms I feel warrant entry into the annals of my own version of Webster’s, but I think this term deserves its own post, because I like to keep the definitions brief in Ye Olde Katdishionary. This one needs a little more of an explanation.

The term assholiness first popped into my head several months back when a few high profile Christians began to publicly berate Rob Bell’s yet to be released book Love Wins. Many were incensed that Bell had the audacity to suggest that a loving God would not send people to Hell. And while I happen to (mostly) agree with Bell’s detractors in principle, I felt some of the public discourse was downright un-Jesus-y.

For the record, I don’t think God sends anyone to Hell. That’s a choice we make for ourselves. I will also admit that I had some private conversations about the subject that were way more salty than lighty. But I resisted the urge to jump into the fray. Why? Because it’s never been my experience that you convince someone you’re right by pointing out to them publicly how wrong they are.

Honestly, how many times have you seen a situation like that turn into anything more than a pissing match?

I did write a post about it, but the point of my post wasn’t about whose team I’d be on if Rob Bell and John Piper were choosing up sides for a game of Red Rover, my point was that Rob Bell is not Jesus Christ. Neither is John Piper or Francis Chan or Billy Graham or (insert famous Christian leader here). Nor am I for that matter.

When Christians draw their theological lines in the sand, choose sides and start attacking each other, we’re not winning anyone for Christ, we’re just becoming more alienated from one another. And like it or not, if you’re a Christian, you’re part of the same Body of Christ as that fundamentalist pompous ass or that crystal-gripping tree hugging hippie that is woefully misguided and is driving you nuts. Speaking the truth in love doesn’t mean metaphorically neck punching someone with the truth and telling them you love them afterwards.

But assholiness is not a term reserved for Jesus people*. Some examples of assholiness I’ve seen come from atheists. Not all atheists, mind you, just the really angry, Christian despising kind who spend time online searching for a Christian platform where they can pick a fight. Don’t believe me? If your writing is primarily faith based in content, use the tags “atheist”, “Creationism” and “Darwin” on your next few posts and see who shows up on your blog. You may want to turn on comments moderation before you do that, the f-bomb seems to get dropped a lot.

Regardless of your faith or lack thereof, anytime our need to be right takes precedence over all else, it’s counterproductive. You may have a huge following who agree with everything you believe is wrong with that other guy, but like my friend and pastor Jeff says, when all you have in common is a common enemy, once that enemy is gone you will either lose the group or seek another enemy to fill the void.

I’m not interested in building that kind of following.

How about you?

*Jesus people is a term borrowed from my friend Jake Lee without his permission, but hopefully he won’t mind so much.

Why I don’t begrudge atheists

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Before I begin this post, I think it’s important that I point out which definition of begrudge I’m talking about. When I say I don’t begrudge atheists, I’m talking about the “to look upon with disapproval” definition, not the “to give in or concede reluctantly” one.

Okay, as long as everyone knows where I’m coming from, I’ll tell you why I don’t begrudge them:

Because I can’t prove with absolute irrefutable evidence the existence of God anymore than they can disprove it.

That doesn’t mean that because I can’t prove that God exists I choose not to believe. That’s my point. It’s a choice. People who choose not to believe in a higher power are taking a leap of faith every bit as much as I am. I can argue why I choose to believe, an atheist can argue why he chooses not to. And round and round we go. It’s exhausting and it just serves to widen the ever-increasing gulf between the two sides.

I also believe it is a mistake for Christians to dismiss all atheists as morally bankrupt and evil. To do so would be to ignore what Jesus commanded us to do: To love your neighbor as yourself.

Blogger and full-time missionary Koffijah once made the observation:How we view people is half of how we love them. When we dismiss those who don’t believe as we do, we degrade them and run the risk of believing that we are somehow better than they are. That is very dangerous territory indeed.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” ~ John 3:16

John 3:16 is probably the most familiar verse in the bible. Recognized by by believers and non-believers alike. As Christians, we cling to the promise of this verse. So much so, that often we dismiss what immediately follows:

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” ~ John 3:17

Christians lose their argument the second they approach an atheist with the intent to convert them.

Rich Mullins once said:

“I remember how I once won an argument with a heathen friend of mine who — after I had whacked away his last scrap of defense, after I had successfully cut off every possible escape route that he could use, after I backed him into an inescapable corner and hit him with a great inarguable truth — blew me away by simply saying, “I do not want to be a Christian. I don’t want your Jesus Christ.” There was no argument left to be had or won. Faith is a matter of the will as much as it is of the intellect. I wanted to believe in Jesus. My friend wanted to believe in himself. In spite of how convincing my reason was, my reason was not compelling.”

Respect their right not to believe if you want them to respect your right to believe. I think we witness to the world by allowing others to see the light in ourselves, not pointing out the darkness in others. Besides, there’s plenty of darkness and doubt in all of us.

Rich continues:

“I am a Christian because I have seen the love of God lived out in the people who know Him. The Word has become flesh and I have encountered God in the people who have manifested (in many “unreasonable” ways) His Presence; a presence that is more than convincing, it is a Presence that is compelling. I am a Christian not because someone explained the nuts and bolts of Christianity to me, but because there were people who were willing to be the nuts and bolts, who through their explanation of it, held it together so that I could experience it and be compelled by it to obey. “If I be lifted up,” Jesus said, “I will draw all men unto me.”…

“Love one another, forgive one another, work as unto God, let the peace of Christ reign in your hearts. Make it your ambition to lead quiet lives. Obey. Greet one another with a holy kiss. No one will argue with that.”