Atheist Chain Mail September 10, 2008

Atheist Chain Mail

Reader Melissa sends along this message:

The majority of e-mails I receive from my grandfather, and even my mother on occasion, are religious themed e-mails. I’m not here to complain about them, it’s all a simple matter of deleting said e-mails. But I’m curious, have you ever come across any Atheist e-mails that have been forwarded to you? Like a chain letter of some sort? If so, what were they and would you have any of them saved? I’d like to see one or two just to see if they really exist.

I haven’t seen any… I imagine you wouldn’t because atheists reject the kind of superstitious nonsense contained in most of the popular email forwards.

But maybe someone reading this has seen an example of one…


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  • Jeff Satterley

    This wasn’t meant to be a chain email, but a while ago Richard Wade wrote a post on this blog called In God’s Name 2.0: The Explicit Version. I get a lot of religious email chains from my mom (nothing crazy, mostly the normal, and somewhat trite, inspirational stuff). I liked Richard’s piece a lot, and I thought it had a similar kind of vibe to something she had sent me earlier, (although Richard’s was much better written). I really liked the message, so I sent it to her.

    She apparently forwarded it to a ton of people, so there may be a Richard Wade chain email going on out in cyberspace (hope he doesn’t mind 🙂

  • This isn’t exactly about atheism so much as hypocritical religious people… or a chain letter so much as a chain joke… but I got a kick out of it because my dad sent it to me (knowing full well I’d like it).

    “Road Rage
    A man was being tailgated by a stressed out woman on a busy boulevard. Suddenly, the light turned yellow, just in front of him. He did the right thing, stopping at the crosswalk, even though he could have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection.

    The tailgating woman was furious and honked her horn, screaming in frustration, as she missed her chance to get through the intersection, dropping her cell phone and makeup.

    As she was still in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the face of a very serious police officer. The officer ordered her to exit her car with her hands up.

    He took her to the police station where she was searched, fingerprinted, photographed, and placed in a holding cell. After a couple of hours, a policeman approached the cell and opened the door. She was escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting officer was waiting with her personal effects.

    He said, ‘I’m very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping off the guy in front of you, and cussing a blue streak at him.’ I noticed the ‘What Would Jesus Do’ bumper sticker, the ‘Choose Life’ license plate holder, the ‘Follow Me to Sunday-School’ bumper sticker, and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk; naturally…I assumed you had stolen the car.'”

    Ba dum ching.

  • Becky

    Oh I hope I get forwarded some, one day. It’d be great to forward it on to my grandma who forwards me ignorant, racist, religious emails. *sigh*

    Jennifurret – I LOVED that joke!! 😀

  • SarahH

    Barbara Bush spoke at my alma mater a few years back and at least two of her anecdotes (stories she’d “heard”) were recognizably old chain letter inspirational story emails.

    I’m only puzzled about whether her speech writer pulled them from emails directly, she read them and forgot where she heard them or people told her the stories without citing the fact that they were the “send this along to 10 people” kind of story.

    The whole thing was kind of amusing and kind of sad.

  • My father, who is not an atheist, recently sent me an e-mail, that wasn’t exactly a chain letter, and took me a minute to figure out before I started laughing, but it said :

    Atheism is a non-prophet organization.

    —-
    That think you posted a while ago about the three people that die, and go to heaven and sit before god, and the atheist was the only one that did good things rather than judged people for them being the one that got into heaven could be like a chain letter, bt it would be one that pissed people off.

    Maybe we could make a chain letter that was a funny one about atheism. That starts off telling you about the Non-prophet organization that atheism is. . .

  • Richard Wade

    Jeff Satterley and Lexi:

    What an interesting coincidence that two versions of the same post I did would both be mentioned in this unlikely context about chain mail.

    Jeff, thank you very much for sending my post “In God’s Name 2.0: the Explicit Version” to your mom. I am very pleased that she shared it with others. Most of the things I write for Friendly Atheist are meant mainly for the regular readers here, but that one I really wanted to be seen by Christians and I hope it spreads far and wide.

    Lexi, the post you’re referring to was “In God’s Name,” the first version of the one Jeff mentioned. It was not explicit enough and was badly misunderstood by just about everyone. It seemed to piss off everybody and did the opposite of what I intended. My fault. So I wrote the second version. I hope the first version just lies there and is forgotten. Please don’t send it anywhere.

    I like your idea about spreading a humorous story about atheism. As long as it’s positive and invites good will, it would be a great thing.

  • TXatheist

    I hit reply to all when I get religious stuff and point out any discrepancies.

  • JimboB

    I apologize in advance for this lengthy post.

    I’ve gotten some atheistic chain-letter-type emails. Two were spinoffs of the (in)famous “Footprints” poem. One came from the bonus features of The God Who Wasn’t There:


    Right about now
    I’ll take you where you wanna go
    Gotta open up
    Let me see inside your soul

    Right about now
    I’ll take you where you wanna go
    Gotta open up
    Let me see inside your soul

    One night I dreamed I was
    Walking along the beach with god
    Across the sky flashed
    Scenes from my life
    For each scene, I noticed two sets
    Of footprints in the sand
    One belonged to me and
    The other to god

    Then I noticed something strange
    I noticed that many times
    Along the path of my life
    There was only one set of footprints
    I also noticed that it happened
    At the hardest times in my life

    I said, “God, I have noticed that
    during the most difficult
    times of my life, there is only
    one set of footprints.
    I don’t understand why,
    when I needed you the most,
    you would leave me”.

    God replied, “I didn’t leave you.
    During your times of trial
    and suffering, when you see only
    one set of footprints,
    that was when I carried you”.

    Right about now
    I’ll take you where you wanna go
    Gotta open up
    Let me see inside your soul

    Right about now
    I’ll take you where you wanna go
    Gotta open up
    Let me see inside your soul

    And I said to god,
    “You carried me?
    What the fuck are you talking about?
    My dog died.
    My sister got killed in a car accident.
    Maybe, instead of carrying me,
    you could have stopped these bad things
    from happening at all.
    Did you ever think about that,
    you fucking prick?”

    And god replied, “You stupid human.
    Do not question the lord.
    I fuck with you and then I carry you.
    It’s just something that I enjoy doing.
    If you don’t like it, you can just go to hell”.

    Right about now
    I’ll take you where you wanna go
    Gotta open up
    Let me see inside your soul

    Right about now
    I’ll take you where you wanna go
    Gotta open up
    Let me see inside your soul

    Right about now
    I’ll take you where you wanna go
    Gotta open up
    Let me see inside your soul

    Right about now
    I’ll take you where you wanna go
    Gotta open up
    Let me see inside your soul

    “Okay god, I’m sorry.
    I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.
    I just don’t understand why you make
    everybody suffer so much just so you
    can carry them on the beach.
    But that’s cool.
    That’s your thing.
    God?
    God!
    Wait!
    Wait!
    Come back!
    Please, come back God.
    I need you.

    I think I have cancer”.

    Another version of that poem came from a show called Squidbillies… I don’t have the email but I have a link to the segment:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6UtPg9tte0

    There were two other interesting chain letters I got… one was a variation of the atheistic classroom professor:

    —–
    “Let me explain the problem science has with Jesus Christ.”

    Tom had been reading his philosophy book; but now his attention was riveted to the front of the room where the professor stood, and Tom noticed he had that peculiar smile on his face. Tom sensed that the professor was not about to engage in any intellectual argumentation but rather in intimidation and ridicule. Tom, an atheist, had already heard from other students of the professor’s reputation to bait weak Christians in his class and try to humiliate them with foolish arguments. Tom felt that an educated atheist should guard his integrity by avoiding such silly nit-picking attacks and instead use good solid reasonable arguments in an atmosphere of fairness.

    The atheist professor of philosophy paused before his class and then asked one of his new students to stand.

    Tom recognized the student as one he had spoken with before. His name was Richard; he was from Iowa, and was relatively new to the Christian faith.

    He was very zealous, and he could be seen often around campus reading his bible or sharing with others about what Jesus had done for him. Tom had “debated” him once or twice already; Tom knew Richard was no match for the professor, but a small part of him hoped to see this arrogant and silly professor knocked down a few sizes. Some humility would do him some good. Atheists had enough problems overcoming the negative stereotypes of the likes of Madalyn O’ Hare. They didn’t need this idiot teaching philosophy to do more damage.

    “You’re a Christian, aren’t you, son?”

    “Yes, sir,” Richard said. Tom could tell Richard was nervous; yet he had that hopeful look of a Christian who thought he may be getting his chance to make a stand for the Lord.

    “So you believe in God?” the snotty professor asked.

    “Absolutely.” Richard replied immediately.

    “Is God good?” the professor continued.

    “Sure! God’s good.”

    Richard appeared uncertain as to where this was leading. Tom knew the professor was going to use the argument from evil in an attempt to confuse the new Christian.

    “Is God all-powerful? Can God do anything?” the professor pressed.

    “Yes.” Richard said. He sensed a trap, but he just didn’t have the experience to answer quickly and surely on his feet.

    “Are you good or evil?” smiled the professor.

    “The Bible says I’m evil.” answered Richard.

    Tom remembered well the verse in the Bible that stated that “all our righteousness is as filthy rags.” He remembered sermons on mankind’s general unworthiness and how they didn’t deserve to even breathe the air that God had made. He remembered how he was taught in sermons they should constantly praise Yahweh for being good enough to let them live another day. They were worms in the sight of Yahweh, but out of the goodness of his heart he would spare those who accepted his love.

    The professor grins knowingly. “Ahh! THE BIBLE!”

    He considered for a moment, looked around the room, then back to Richard:

    “Here’s one for you. Let’s say there’s a sick person over here and you can cure him. You can do it. Would you help them? Would you try?”

    “Yes sir, I would.” replied Richard with conviction.

    “So you’re good . . . !”

    “I wouldn’t say that.” Richard shook his head.

    Tom winced. One of the things that he felt so detestable about the Christian message was it made mankind out to be totally unworthy of life itself, a detestable thing. Tom thought again that many a sermon had been preached to him when he was a boy growing up in North Carolina telling how mankind was totally unworthy to “even breathe the air God had given” and how man should grovel before the throne of the Almighty if he is fortunate enough to wake up in the morning. Such messages usually told of the horrors of an everlasting torment in hell that awaited those who would not accept this God’s love.

    Tom hated to see this intelligent young man, not only sucked in by a demeaning religion that devalued the good in man and him being harassed by the so-called atheist professor, but also for him to take this self-loathing attitude that could only be the product of childhood abuse or the religion of fundamentalist Christianity.

    “Why not say that? the Professor asked, as he shuffled some books on his desk. You would help a sick and maimed person if you could . . .in fact most of us would if we could. I know I would. Yet . . . God doesn’t.”

    The professor folded his arms and waited.

    Richard was totally nonplused. He just stood there, baffled. Tom looked behind him and saw Phil, another Christian and an outspoken critic of atheism, liberalism, and a strong advocate of putting prayer back into the public schools, leaning forward intently, with the look of someone who was just itching to jump into the fray.

    Tom had spoken with Phil before. Phil was a veteran Christian. He had been one for 10 years; he knew the secret handshake, the party mantra and some of the objections to evolution which usually consisted of the tiresome “second law of thermodynamics” objection heard so often from creationists.

    Once Tom had asked Phil how many laws of Thermodynamics there were and grinned inwardly when he saw Phil was stumped. Phil had merely been repeating what he had read from a Christian group out in San Diego, California. He had done no formal studies in either biology or physics.

    Tom knew Phil could be a real jackass sometimes but maybe he would be the one to embarrass this sorry excuse of an “atheist” standing before them. He almost hoped so.

    The professor broke the silence, still gazing down at Richard.. “He doesn’t, does he?” He then added something that Tom did not know, something that may have revealed why this sorry excuse of an atheist was the way he was . . .

    “My brother was a Christian who died of cancer even though he prayed to Jesus to heal him . . . How is this Jesus good? Hmmm? Can you answer that one?”

    Silence.

    Richard was obviously an unhappy camper at this point.

    The elderly professor was sympathetic. “No, you can’t, can you?”

    He took a sip of water from a glass on his desk to give the student time to relax. In philosophy, you have to go easy with the new ones.

    Tom though Mr. Jones didn’t realize he was only making himself look foolish and providing Christians with negative views of what atheists were really like; just normal people who wanted to live life like everyone else; people with hopes and dreams and families that they loved with just as much passion as Christians who loved their families.

    “Let’s start again, young fella. Is God good?”

    “Er . . . Yes.”

    “Is Satan good?”

    “No.” Richard shifted his feet, uncomfortable. Tom just shook his head and thought to himself how fortunate he and his atheist friends on campus were that they did not have this idiotic self-proclaimed atheist showing up at their freethought meetings. Mr. Jones would be an embarrassment too them all.

    “Where does Satan come from?”

    The student faltered. “From . . . God . . .”

    “That’s right. God made Satan, didn’t he?”

    The elderly man ran his long fingers through his thick grey hair and turned to the student audience.

    “I think we’re going to have a lot of fun this semester, ladies and gentlemen.”

    Why? thought Tom, to watch you ridicule others whose beliefs you do not share; to try to make fools out of them and yourself, giving atheist people a reputation they did not deserve?

    The professor turned back to the Richard. “Tell me, son. Is there evil in this world?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Evil’s everywhere, isn’t it? Did God make everything?”

    “Yes.”

    “Who created evil?” the professor asked.

    Tom knew the answer to that one. He thought of his own bible studies he had done over the years and remembered Isiah 45:7 and other passages as well. He remembered reading how Satan was totally unable to do anything without Yahweh’s explicit permission. He remembered how Yahweh brought natural calamities and war upon people and whole nations, sometimes for trivial offenses that they or someone else had committed.

    Meanwhile, Richard had given no reply. He stood there, pale and disoriented. Tom thought Mr. Jones was just being spiteful. In fact, Tom was just beginning to feel maybe Mr. Jones wasn’t really an atheist at all; he just claimed to be one so he could fight with Christian students in his class. Tom wanted to learn philosophy; not how to argue with and intimidate someone who was obviously outmatched.

    “Is there sickness in this world? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness. All the terrible things – do they exist in this world? ”

    Richard squirmed on his feet. “Yes.” He had finally spoken again.

    Tom was thinking Richard should just tell the professor to piss off and leave the classroom. No one, no matter what their religion (or lack thereof) was, should have to just stand there and take this.

    “Come on man” Tom muttered to Richard under his breath, “you don’t have to take this shit.”

    “Who created them? “Richard didn’t reply.

    The professor suddenly shouted at his student.

    “WHO CREATED THEM? TELL ME, PLEASE!”

    Tom was stunned by this outburst. What an asshole, he thought to himself. He couldn’t understand why Richard was just standing there and taking it. Maybe he felt by doing so he was being persecuted in the name of Christ and would reap a bountiful harvest in heaven one day.

    The professor closed in for the kill and climbed into the Christian’s face. In a quiet voice: “God created all evil, didn’t He, son?”

    Tom was not amused. He made a mental note to report this stunt to the campus authorities.

    He looked back at Phil. He could see Phil was angry too. He appeared ready to jump in any moment. Maybe that would not be a bad thing. Although Tom had handled Phil rather easily in a previous “debate” he hoped Phil would jump in and maybe put Mr. Jones in his place; if not, he was about to do it himself.

    Meanwhile there was no answer from Richard. Richard tried to hold the steady, experienced gaze and failed. Suddenly the lecturer broke away to pace the front of the classroom like an aging panther. The class is mesmerized, except for Tom, Phil, and perhaps a few others.

    “Tell me,” he continued, “How is it that this God is good if He created all evil throughout all time?” The professor swished his arms around to encompass the wickedness of the world.

    “All the hatred, the brutality, all the pain, all the torture, all the death and ugliness and all the suffering created by this good God is all over the world, isn’t it, young man?”

    Richard could not reply.

    “Don’t you see it all over the place? Huh?”

    Silence.

    “Don’t you?” The professor leaned into the student’s face again and whispered, “Is God good?”

    There was again no reply from Richard.

    “Do you believe in Jesus Christ, son?”

    The student’s voice betrays him and cracks.

    “Yes, professor. I do.”

    The old man shook his head sadly.

    “Science says you have five senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Have you ever seen Jesus?”

    “No, sir. I’ve never seen Him.” Richard was talking again.

    “Then tell us if you’ve ever heard your Jesus?”

    “No, sir. I have not.”

    At least that’s better than those nuts who carry on personal conversations with the Almighty on a daily basis Tom thought to himself.

    “Have you ever felt your Jesus, tasted your Jesus or smelt your Jesus . . . in fact, do you have any sensory perception of your God whatsoever?” continued Jones.

    Richard gave no reply, but he still refused to sit. Perhaps the overwhelming need to be persecuted for his beliefs kept him locked in place. Tom knew from experience that some Christians actually find affirmation of their beliefs in persecution. Maybe Richard was one.

    Tom tossed a wadded piece of paper and bounced it off the wall into the wastebasket. The professor didn’t notice.

    “Answer me, please.”

    “No, sir, I’m afraid I haven’t.”

    “You’re AFRAID . . . you haven’t?”

    “No, sir.”

    “Yet you still believe in him?”

    ” . . . yes . . .”

    “That takes FAITH!” Dr. Jones thundered, conspicuously dramatic.

    Tom knew there were two kinds of faith, even in the Bible. There is belief without evidence, and belief that if someone tells you if you do such and such, they will in turn do such and such for you. This faith is based on experience, experience with the individual talking, in a situation where familiarity has been established; in other words, a relationship that is built on trust. The professor was, of course, referring to the first kind of faith.

    The professor smiled sagely at the underling.

    “According to the rules of empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says your God doesn’t exist. What do you say to that, son? Where is your God now?”

    Richard did not reply, but Tom knew that it was not science’s purpose to demonstrate whether God existed. That was a matter of theology, not science. Science purposefully limited itself to the natural world to find natural explanations for the world around us. It may would prove to be wrong in the future, but so far, science had, through trial and error, found the answer to many things through natural causes. That did not mean Tom believed everything just on science’s say-so. One reason he was at the University was to study biology and physics, and he wanted to find answers to some questions he had about evolution and things like the second law of thermodynamics. He already knew a little about them, having studied freethought literature from groups out of California and Wisconsin, but he wanted to get more from the professors, the specialists, themselves.

    “Sit down, please.” said the professor.

    Richard sat, defeated.

    * * * *
    Suddenly, Phil raised his hand and spoke, “Professor, may I address the class?”

    The professor turned and smiled.

    “Ah, another Christian in the vanguard! Come, come, young man. Speak some proper wisdom to the gathering.”

    Richard looked around the room at his friend.

    “Some interesting points you are making, sir. Now I’ve got a question for you.”

    Interesting my ass, thought Tom. He knew that Phil used this as a come-on, a disarming technique to set up his opponent.

    “Is there such thing as heat?”

    “Yes,” the professor replied, “There’s heat.”

    “Is there such a thing as cold?”

    “Yes, son, there’s cold too.”

    “No, sir, there isn’t.”

    The professor’s grin froze. The room suddenly grew very cold. Phil could barely suppress a grin. He obviously felt he had really caught the professor in an embarrassing mistake.

    Tom, meanwhile, just rolled his eyes and shook his head. He had heard this line of argumentation from Phil before; and even though he had once totally shot Phil’s arguments to shreds, here was Phil, again, using the same arguments against the atheistic professor as though nothing had ever been said about them before. How familiar.

    The Christian apologists were fond of using the same old worn-out, discredited arguments over and over again, unashamed of their intellectual dishonesty. He did want the atheistic professor humbled; but now, with Phil starting off with such a silly argument as the one he was using with the professor, Tom was beginning to rethink his earlier desire to see the professor humbled, even if was by a Christian.

    Looking to his left, Tom saw a Patricia Munroe taking notes — verbose notes, from the amount of writing she was doing. Tom wondered why.

    Phil continued, “You can have lots of heat, even more heat, super-heat, mega-heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat but we don’t have anything called ‘cold’. We can hit 458 degrees below zero, which is no heat, but we can’t go any further after that.

    “There is no such thing as cold,” Phil pressed forward, “otherwise we would be able to go colder than 458 – You see, sir, cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. ”

    There was some murmuring in the classroom; indistinct comments that Tom could not make out. Maybe he was not the only student in this classroom who could think clearly. However, seemingly oblivious to that, Phil continued:

    “Heat we can measure in thermal units because heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.”

    Silence. A pin dropped somewhere in the classroom. Was the silence the result of Phil’s stupidity or did the students really think he had cornered the professor? Tom didn’t know. He certainly saw the flaw in Phil’s logic. Hopefully Mr. Jones would come to his senses and punch a few holes in it.

    One problem with Phil’s logic was he was using the old bait-and-switch tactic. He was using a word with its most common meaning (as accepted by 99.99% of the American populace); then, when the professor answered his question with the acceptance of the most common definition of cold (i.e. having a temperature lower than the normal temperature of the body), Phil hit him with the thermodynamic definition of “cold”. This was an obvious move to embarrass the professor.

    However, there were other, more serious problems for Phil, problems that Tom had already pointed out to him when they had has this conversation before. Phil’s own holy book, the Bible, seemed oblivious to the fact that cold did not exist. Tom remembered several times the Bible used the word (John 18:18; Acts 28:2; Genesis 8:22; Job 24:7) and he had presented them to Phil then. Phil must have forgotten or otherwise he was counting on the professor’s ignorance and Tom’s silence. Not to worry! Tom would deal with him later.

    “Is there such a thing as darkness, professor?” Phil was asking.

    “That’s a dumb question, son. What is night if it isn’t darkness? What are you getting at?”

    “So you say there is such a thing as darkness?”

    “Yes . . .”

    “You’re wrong again, sir. Darkness is not something, it is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light– but if you have no light constantly you have nothing and it’s called darkness, isn’t it?”

    Tom could hardly believe it. Again, the bait-and-switch. And again, the Bible was full of examples that showed “darkness” was considered every much a thing as light was (Isaiah 45:7; Genesis 1:4,5; Exodus 10:21,22; 2 Chronicles 6:1; Job 28:3; Luke 23:44). Besides, using Phil’s logic, there was no such thing as stupidity, since stupidity was only a lack of wisdom and intelligence.

    “That’s the meaning we use to define the word. ” Mr. Jones responded.

    “In reality, Darkness isn’t. If it were, you would be able to make darkness darker and give me a jar of it. Can you give me a jar of darker darkness, professor?”

    Tom glared at Phil. He hadn’t seen such intellectual dishonesty in a long time. Using Phil’s crazed logic we could say there is no such thing as illness — illness is just the absence of health; or we could claim that there is no such thing as poverty — poverty is only the absence of wealth, or that pain did not exist — pain is merely the absence of comfort, etc. Tom knew he could go on and on. And Phil’s argument that we could not make darkness darker and put it in a jar of it was laughable. We can not make an empty jar emptier, but does that mean there is no such thing as “empty?”

    Would Mr. Jones ever catch on?

    Despite himself, Mr. Jones smiled at the young effrontery before him. “This will indeed be a good semester. Would you mind telling us what your point is, young man?”

    “Yes, professor. My point is, your philosophical premise is flawed to start with and so your conclusion must be in error–”

    Mr. Jones was angry now. “Flawed? How dare you!”

    “Sir, may I explain what I mean?”

    The class was all ears. Tom listened intently.

    “Explain . . . oh, explain . . .” Mr. Jones said, making an admirable effort to regain control. Suddenly he was affability itself. He waved his hand to silence the class, for the student to continue.

    “You are working on the premise of duality,” the Christian explains, “That for example there is life and then there’s death; a good God and a bad God. You are viewing the concept of God as something finite, something we can measure.

    “Sir,” Phil went on, “science cannot even explain a thought. It uses electricity and magnetism but has never seen, much less fully understood them. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing. Death is not the opposite of life, merely the absence of it.”

    Yeah, Tom thought, if death is merely the absence of life then I suppose this desk I am sitting in is dead. He shook his head in amazement at Phil. Phil was so intelligent in many things; calculus for one. But when it came to defending his faith he could not reason his way out of a paper bag.

    Phil held up a newspaper he had taken from the desk of a surprised neighbor who had been reading it. “Here is one of the most disgusting tabloids this country hosts, professor. Is there such a thing as immorality?”

    “Of course there is, now look–” the professor tried to answer his opponent.

    “Wrong again, sir, ” Phil interrupted, “You see, immorality is merely the absence of morality. ” Phil paused then asked “Is there such thing as injustice?” No,” Phil answered his own question without giving the professor a chance to respond. “Injustice is the absence of justice.” Phil handed the tabloid back to the student, turned again to the professor then asked, “Is there such a thing as evil?”

    Phil paused. Mr. Jones did not respond. He stared at Phil.

    “Isn’t evil the absence of good?” Phil pressed him for an answer.

    The professor’s face has turned an alarming color. He was so angry he was temporarily speechless. Tom hoped he was finally beginning to see the sophistry and intellectual bankruptcy in Phil’s arguments.

    Phil, reeking with a confidence that Tom could see was really arrogance, the kind of arrogance that he all to often encountered in those who felt they alone were blessed by god and everyone else would fry in hell for all eternity continued, “If there is evil in the world, professor, and we all agree there is, then God, if he exists, must be accomplishing a work through the agency of evil. What is that work, God is accomplishing?”

    The professor was silent.

    “The Bible tells us it is to see if each one of us will, of our own free will, choose good over evil.”

    The professor bridled. He wasn’t used to getting cornered by a Christian. He had found in his years teaching that they were usually very gullible and easily handled. However, this one was a tough one.

    Meanwhile, Tom was wondering who was more stupid, Phil or Mr. Jones. Tom had no hard feelings toward Phil. He actually felt sorry for him. But Mr. Jones gave all atheists a bad name. Phil was just intellectually dishonest, and this was why Tom was angry at him

    Besides, although it was true that some verses in the Bible spoke of choice, there were others that plainly showed that some did not have choice at all. Tom recalled the case of the hapless Pharaoh in Egypt whose heart Yahweh hardened, so he would disobey God’s command to let the Israelites depart from Egypt. Then, Tom remembered, he and his people were punished for the decision he had made. Tom recalled another passage from the New Testament that promised God would send certain people a strong delusion, that they would believe a lie. Then, of course, there was always Romans, chapter eight.

    Patricia was still writing furiously in her notebook. Was she really buying into this? What was she doing?

    “As a philosophical scientist,” the professor was saying, “I don’t view this matter as having anything to do with any choice. As a realist, I absolutely do not recognize the concept of God or any other theological factor as being part of the world equation, because God is not observable.”

    “I would have thought that the absence of God’s moral code in this world is probably one of the most observable phenomena going,” Phil replied. “Newspapers make billions of dollars reporting it every week!” He rubbed his hands together, almost gleefully. “Tell me, professor. Do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?”

    “If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, young man, yes, of course I do.”

    Tom groaned. What an idiot! Here was a philosophy teacher (certainly not a biology teacher) reinforcing what creationists like the creationist group in San Diego had been saying all along; that evolutionists claim mankind descended from apes. Well, maybe Mr. Jones and his debating partner did; but Tom certainly didn’t and he knew Phil knew better because he had set him straight on that issue before. Yet Phil, knowing his prey, was setting him up to embarrass him further.

    “Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?”

    The professor made a sucking sound with his teeth and gave his student a silent, stony stare. He was losing and he knew it. He didn’t like it.

    “Professor, since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an ongoing endeavor, are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you now not a scientist, but a priest?”

    Tom knew that evolution had been observed on the HIV virus that leads to AIDS. He also knew that he and Phil had watched this shown on educational TV a few weeks earlier so Phil had no excuse to claim that no one had ever observed evolution in progress.

    There were other examples that Tom had shared with him; he had even loaned him several books from the National Center for Science Education which shot his arguments to shreds. Phil was still parroting the same old shit he had learned from Christian apologetics’ propaganda. And he was doing it without any embarrassment, for he knew Tom was sitting there listening.

    You go boy, Tom thought to himself, You have destroyed your witness and testimony as far as I am concerned. Never try to convert me again.

    Tom became aware of the classroom debate again. “I’ll overlook your impudence in the light of our philosophical discussion,” Mr. Jones was hissing. “Now, have you quite finished?”

    “So you don’t accept God’s moral code to do what is righteous?”

    Whose God should we accept? Tom thought. and who decides what righteousness is and who decides for us the criteria we are going to use to determine which God is the God we should follow? Tom shook his head and focused back on the “debate”.

    “I believe in what is — that’s science!” a flustered Mr. Jones said.

    “Ahh! Science!” Phil’s face split into a grin, “Sir, you rightly state that science is the study of observed phenomena. Science too is a premise which is flawed . . .”

    “SCIENCE IS FLAWED . . .?” the professor spluttered..

    The class was in uproar. Tom looked around. Some students were celebrating, others were looking at this impudent Christian and saying things that Tom could not make out because of the tumult.

    Phil remained standing until the commotion subsided.

    “To continue the point you were making earlier to the other student, may I give you an example of what I mean?”

    The professor wisely kept silent. Tom hoped they would both shut the hell up.

    The Christian looked around the room.

    “Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the professor’s brain?”

    Many in the class broke out in laughter. The more intelligent ones, like Tom, just shook their heads in utter amazement. They could not believe Phil was actually that stupid to ask such a question. Patricia was only looking at Phil with a raised eyebrow.

    Phil pointed toward his elderly, crumbling tutor. “Is there anyone here who has ever heard the professor’s brain? Felt the professor’s brain, touched or smelt the professor’s brain?” He asked triumphantly. He seemed very happy with himself.

    No one said anything. But Tom knew all the professor would have to do is take Phil to the medical school in town, have an MRI and Phil would actually be able to see the professor’s brain in the same way a woman can see her baby with ultra-sound, or in the same way we can see our bones on an X-ray. Better, the effects of the professor’s brain could be demonstrated empirically.

    Phil shook his head sadly, then with a touch of arrogance he announced, “Since it appears no one here has had any sensory perception of the demonstrable protocol, science, I DECLARE that the professor has no brain.”

    The class again had a mixed reaction. Some of the students were in chaos, jumping up and down, celebrating. Others were pounding their desks in triumph. But some were silent, and as Tom looked around, their eyes met. Not a word was spoken, but Tom knew that they knew. This class had been a circus from the very beginning.

    * * * *
    Suddenly, Patricia stood up and faced Phil. Tom wasn’t sure what to expect. Was she going to pour more hot coals on the professor’s head?

    “Phil,” she said softly, “Your whole line of argumentation has been flawed from the very beginning.”

    Phil was startled. He had not expected to be challenged so soon after destroying the professor. He know Patricia, but he never had a clue that she was an atheist, so why would she be challenging him? Maybe she was a believer and in the spirit of love was going to point out some flaws in his reasoning. But why would she do that now, in front of all the other students, in his moment of victory?

    He gulped, and waited for her to present him with where he went astray with his argumentation — although he would never admit this, he had a gnawing sense of dread that it would be the same flaws that Tom had pointed out to him in a earlier debate.

    Patricia, known for her quiet demeanor and gentle spirit, had caught the attention of the entire class.

    “Phil, she said, you claimed that there is no such thing as cold because we could not measure it. You stated further that it was merely the absence of heat. What you don’t seem to understand is there is nothing in the definition of ‘cold’ that states there can be an infinite amount of it. You are correct in saying it is simply the absence of heat, but the fact that cold does not extend to infinity does not indicate ‘cold’ does not exist.”

    Phil started to reply, but Patricia waved him off and said, “Let me finish. You had your say. When I am done and you wish to reply by all means do.

    “You stated further that there was no such thing as darkness. You made a . . . I’ll be charitable, a rather odd challenge to Professor Jones to present you with a jar of darkness. Your question was whether there was such a thing as darkness. There most certainly is; it is characterized by the absence of light. Just because you cannot have an infinite amount of it does not mean that darkness is a meaningless concept. If a container is completely empty, then we say it is empty. It cannot get any emptier, but it does not thereby cease to be empty.

    “You said that death was simply the absence of life. That is hardly the case. A rock is absent of life, yet we would hardly call it dead, would we?”

    There were a few snickers from the class. A young man slapped his knee. Patricia continued.

    “That word ‘dead’ carries with it the assumption that whatever is dead was once alive. You continued to persist in such questions, using the bait-and-switch routine, and succeeded in making yourself look silly to those who know better.”

    Phil was slack-jawed. He was speechless.

    Patricia looked around. She had the full attention of the class. Even the professor was watching her closely, yielding the floor as it were, watching the lioness devour her prey.

    “Let me explain the problems with your argumentation and your good-evil analogy,” she said calmly, with a sense of authority and assurance that can only come with experience,

    “First, most of the analogies you attempt to use deal with quantitative states rather than qualitative. Light, for instance, can be measured in photons and wave-lengths; heat in calories and degrees. There is no scale for measuring good and evil.

    “Second, evil is not simply the absence of good; it is by definition more than simply a neutral state. A rock is not inherently good; yet we do not say it is evil. There is much substance in evil as there is in good, just as there are equal amounts of substance in the concept of left and right; right is not simply the absence of left.”

    Tom looked admiringly on Patricia. She was really laying it on the Christian.

    Patricia was not finished. “You made a statement to the effect that the Bible tells us God must be accomplishing a work through the agency of evil and it is for the purpose to see if each one of us will, of our own free will, choose good over evil . . . now, could you tell me where in the Bible it says that?”

    Some students nodded their heads in approval. Tom just smiled. This was going to be good.

    “Uh,” Phil stammered, “it would take me a minute to look it up . . .”

    Patricia nodded “I’ll give you a minute. In fact, if Mr. Jones has no objection, I’ll give you–” she glanced at the clock “–forty-eight minutes before the class ends.” She looked at the professor, who only nodded in concession. She turned back to Phil. “We will wait.”

    Phil stammered, “Well, uh . . . I am really not sure where in the Bible it says that . . .”

    “Could it be,” ventured Patricia, “that it does not say that God values what you say he values anywhere in the Bible?”

    Phil was silent.

    “I am well studied in Christianity, Phil, and I can tell you for a fact that it does not state anywhere in the Bible that God wishes people to choose good of their own free will. In fact, in many places in both the Old and New Testaments, God is portrayed as actually interfering with people’s free wills in order to cause them to choose certain things.

    “Also,” continued Patricia, “there are natural evils which claim millions of lives every year, which are by no means the result of mankind’s decisions. Did crime and immorality cause the big earthquake last year? Of course not — yet many, many lives were lost as a result of it. The free will theodicy leaves natural evils unexplained.”

    Phil seemed to be shrinking with each passing minute. Tom was smiling. This was getting really good.

    Patricia took a sip out of her water bottle then continued, “You said that the absence of God’s moral code in this world is the most observable phenomena going. I find that funny. Haven’t you heard of the Inquisition? What about the Crusades, the witch hunts, the dungeons for those that spoke contrary to Christianity during the dark ages, the persecution of those who went against the church’s geocentric and flat-earth world views?”

    Phil was already defeated. He knew he had met his match. It annoyed him it was a woman that was doing this to him. She’ll burn one day in hell, he thought to himself, and she’ll regret every word she ever said to me this day. And I’ll look down from Heaven and tell her ‘I told you so!’

    Patricia caught on to his look. “I know what you’re thinking, Phil,” she said. “You’re thinking that I’m going to burn in hell for my heresy. And you actually look pleased with the thought. What does it say about God’s moral code that he would allow me to be physically tortured for anything? And what does it say about your own that you apparently like that idea?

    Tom couldn’t help it — he gave a loud chuckle. Patricia glanced at him with a slight grin on her face, before turning back to Phil and continuing:

    “Your question about whether man evolved from a monkey just shows your ignorance. Any scientist worth his salt, especially one in the field of biology, would never make that claim. And anyone who has studied one semester in biology — in fact, one week –would be knowledgeable enough not to ask such a question. I would recommend a course in biology while you are here. It might do you some good. You’ll learn, among other things, that monkeys and man both descended from something else entirely — a common ancestor.

    “You also asked Mr. Jones if he didn’t accept God’s moral code to do what is righteous. I can’t speak for him but I do accept many tenents of what Jesus taught, but I do not acknowledge them as being the result of Jesus and the Christian God. The so-called Golden-rule, for instance, predates Christianity by centuries; it is found in Buddhist and Confusianism texts. I also use reason to determine which rules of the Bible I will follow and which ones I will not follow. If it benefits me, my family, and my country, I will use it. If using one of those codes brings pain to me, one of my family members, weakens my country, and even the human race, I will reject it.”

    “But . . .” Phil finally managed to produce noises from his throat. “You cannot judge God. You cannot just pick and choose which rules you will follow and which ones you will not. God has not left that choice open to us.”

    “Before I accept any book as God’s word,” said Patricia, “I must have an external criteria with which I will judge the book before me. I will not just blindly accept any book as infallible and authoritative without subjecting it to reason. If it were valid to accept a book totally on faith without being permitted to judge the author, we could not rightly condemn those who hold the Koran in high esteem, for they use the same approach that you do. And if reason ultimately fails, then it fails. Until I am shown something better than reason, I will stick with it.”

    Phil started to say something, thought better of it, and let Patricia continue.

    “You asked whether the professor had a brain?” Patricia phrased it like a question, wanting to draw an affirmative answer from Phil.

    “Yes,” Phil said. “I said since we could not feel, smell, or see his brain then he must not have one.”

    “Well then,” said Patricia, “if you had just proven the professor did not have a brain, then why were you talking to him? Did you think you were talking to an inanimate object, perhaps? Would an inanimate object be empowered to give you course credit for this class?”

    “That wasn’t my point,” Phil protested. “I’m not saying that the professor doesn’t have a brain; only that science can’t prove that he does!”

    “And what is a brain?” asked Patricia.

    “The brain . . . well, its the thinking center of the body—”

    “Well then, ” Patricia said with a smile, “I’m afraid you yourself have proven that he does, in fact, have a brain.”

    “What . . . !” It was the Christian’s turn to sputter.

    “By talking to him, by attending his class. You assume that he has a thinking center, which is a brain.”

    “But no one has seen his brain!” Phil protested.

    “Nobody has ever seen your brain either, Phil . . . but I’m sure we’ll all give you the benefit of the doubt.”

    The class roared with laughter. Tom laughed so hard he was coughing. This was something to behold.

    “You see,” she said, “you cannot sense his or my brain with the unaided senses, but the physics department has a device which will, if you’d like, give you a photographic picture of his brain as he speaks to you. This device was constructed through man’s reasoning, and, ultimately, from his unaided senses. In other words, science.”

    A long silence.

    Finally, Phil sat . . . because that is what a chair is for.

    And the chair collapsed under him.

    Phil looked around, startled, as the class started laughing at him. Tom was doubled over. He was laughing so hard it was beginning to hurt. Patricia only smiled and shook her head, a little sadly.

    Before she sat down, she turned to Phil and said, “You see what happens when you try to attack science — you cut your own throat. You affirm the fact that science works every time you sit in a chair, every time you type on a computer, every time you put in your contacts — every second of every day, your actions betray your words.”

    The Christian was silent, red-faced among the debris of his chair.

    “Let me ask you something Phil,” Patricia said quietly. “Do you really think you had scored a big one against the atheists? Do you really think you know more than we do? Your effort was valiant, but it was dead in the water thousands of years before either of us were born.

    “You have every right to believe in your deity, and I believe in freedom of religion as strongly as the next person. But when you try to excuse that belief in the name of reason and moral necessity, then you simply insult us, and you insult your own intelligence. You ruin any testimony you may have — any credibility you have earned goes down the drain.

    “The fact is, Phil, there is no God. And if you choose to believe that there is, you do not do so because of Truth, but in spite of Truth.”

    The class erupted in applause. Some stood, including Tom.

    It was going to be a good day.

    ———

    And a fourth was a story about a good non-christian and a bad christian:

    After the policemen have gone, Joey’s mom sighs, runs her hands through her rapidly greying hair, and turns to look at her son. Ten years old, and this was his third time already.

    “What were you thinking?” she groans — she doesn’t have the physical or mental energy left to scream. “Haven’t I told you before what would happen to you if you kept shoplifting? . . . Look at me when I talk to you!”

    Joey King rolls his eyes and stares at a point in space just above and to the right of his mother’s head. He has heard this crap before.

    “Christ, Joey, the first time those policemen came, I thought I’d die of embarrassment!” She reaches into her purse and brings out a pack of cigarettes. She lights up with slightly trembling hands, and blows a long stream of smoke toward the ceiling of her middle-class townhouse. “Why do you keep doing this, Joey?”

    Joey is silent.

    “Answer me!”

    Joey does not answer.

    “I swear, kid, if your father were here–”

    Joey screams, “I’ve never seen my father! You drove him out when I was a year old, you bitch!”

    He turns, ignoring the look of utter shock which has appeared on his mother’s face, and storms out of the house. Joey’s mother yells at her son to get back in here this moment, but Joey does not listen. It is well after dark when he finally comes home.

    * * * *

    “Help! I–” The girl goes under again for a moment, then surfaces, sputtering. “Help!”

    Raji Bharadwaj doesn’t even think. He dives into the river, fully clothed, and swims toward the little girl. She is a neighbor’s child, just a few years younger than Raji’s own ten years, and cannot swim at all. Raji grabs the little girl, does his best to hold her upper body above water with one arm as he uses the other to swim back toward shore. The adult Nepalese watch from dry ground, amazed.

    Upon reaching the bank of the river, Raji sets the little girl’s body gently down on the ground, and refuses to let himself be taken care of until he is sure that the girl is okay. Then, and only then, does he collapse into his father’s arms, exhausted. His father, proud beyond words, carries his son home to rest.

    * * * *

    ” . . . and in Your Holy Name I repent of all my sins, and I ask You to come into my heart as my Lord and Savior. In Your name I pray, Amen.” Twelve-year-old Joey King opens his eyes and gets up, standing there in his front yard. He feels a whole array of emotions — amazement, wonder, boundless joy, happiness beyond words. “Congratulations,” says his friend Paul who had inspired him to accept Christ as his personal Savior. “You’re a new man,” says Paul, and embraces him.

    And it is incredible; Joey does indeed feel like a new man. He is honestly repentant of all of his former sins, and resolves to become a much better person from that point on.

    And a better person he is indeed . . . for all of three weeks. After that time, once the novelty of being Born Again has worn off, Joey starts hanging out with his former friends. He begins smoking again, cussing at his mom, lifting candy bars and magazines from the 7-Eleven . . .

    . . . and then one night, he hears a tapping at his window. It is his friend Steve — quite a sensation among his peers, being the only thirteen-year-old around with nose and lip piercings. “Joey, we’re gonna break into Old Man Pederson’s house and steal some crap! Come on, let’s go!”

    As Joey King is climbing out the window, he glances back at the Bible still lying on the floor next to his desk (he had knocked it off one day and never simply never bothered to retrieve it from the floor), and feels the slightest residue of guilt. Some part of him knows that this is a pivotal moment; that now is the time when he must choose between the life of Christ, or the life of Steve and his friends.

    It takes him all of six seconds to decide. He jumps the rest of the way out of the window and races to catch up with the others.

    * * * *

    “No, Father,” says Raji, gently but firmly pushing his father back into his chair. “You are old, and you need rest. You have already been working since sunrise.”

    “So have you,” his father points out between ragged breaths.

    Raji smiles. “Yes. And now I will go out and till rice for a few more hours. We may fall on hard times one day, and need the extra food.” Without another word, he puts his hat back on and goes outside. His father smiles after him, feeling immense pride and happiness. Raji, now sixteen years old, has already become a fine human being. He never hesitates to lend a hand to a neighbor; never thinks twice about going the extra mile to help anyone out. If only his mother could have seen him today, his father thinks wistfully.

    Several hours later, well after dusk, Raji Bharadwaj returns to the house and, after first checking in on his now-sleeping father, retires to his own sleeping room. He picks up his worn, dog-eared copy of the Tripitaka, the holy book of the Nepalese Buddhists, and begins his nightly devotional.

    * * * *

    The court-appointed attorney has nothing but contempt for his client. Eighteen-year-old Joey King is sitting in the interview room, cigarette between his fingers, eyes rolled lazily up to the ceiling, perpetual sneer on his face. The lawyer wants to spit on that sneer, to stamp it into the ground — as does his grandmother and his aunt, the lawyer is quite sure. Several weeks ago, when Joey’s mother had slapped him across the face when she found him searching through her purse for money to support his newly-acquired drug habit, he had calmly picked up a kitchen knife and added to his already impressive list of transgressions that of matricide.

    It had been the day before his eighteenth birthday.

    “Since you were legally a minor when you . . . committed the crime,” says the lawyer, not being able to say the words, “you will be tried as a juvenile. Alabama state law doesn’t allow exceptions to that rule — unfortunately. So the most you’ll serve is five years in a juvenile detention center.”

    Joey takes another long drag on his cigarette and shrugs lightly. Except for voicing a single opinion about his mother, in which he called her a slang term which is a homonym for a term used in baseball, he has remained completely silent since his arrest. He has shown no sign of remorse, or disbelief, or even caring one way or another about what he has done. Indeed, when they had come to his house to investigate the neighbors’ reports of screaming, they had found him still sitting next to his mother’s corpse, the knife still in her heart, watching afternoon cartoons.

    * * * *

    It is quite the sensation in the village. Twenty-two years old, and already a husband and a father!

    And both roles fit Raji Bharadwaj like a glove. His wife of two years couldn’t be happier. The delivery was a long and arduous process, lasting most of a day, but Raji was wonderful. He did not leave his wife’s side for a moment — after the successful delivery of a healthy baby girl, Raji held his newly-arrived daughter in his arms for a moment, then gave her to the tired but proud mother and, amidst laughter of all present, ran out of the room to finally relieve himself.

    That night, as Raji is cooing and making faces at his new daughter, the village elder stops into the room. Raji looks up, his face betraying a little guilt. “I realize that so much prideful joy is probably contrary to the teachings of the Buddha, but–”

    The elder smiles. “I would hope that the Great One would make an exception for such occasions as this. We’re only human, after all. Ah, young one . . . if only your father had seen this day. He would have been so proud of you. Everyone in the village is.”

    Finally, Raji manages to get some sleep. The next day, he will be going to complete the hut that he has been building with his bare hands for a recently-widowed old woman.

    * * * *

    Slowly, groggily, Thomas Sheffield awakens. It is hours before the haze around his mind clears completely, but even before then, he knows that something terrible has happened.

    “Try to relax,” says the doctor. “We’ve had to perform brain surgery to remove the bullet, and it was a very close thing indeed. But there seems to be no major permanent damage. You’ll be here for a few months, but you’ll be fine.”

    “My . . .” Thomas whispers. “My . . . my wife? Sh-she was . . .”

    “I know. Don’t worry about that right now, you need to–”

    “Tell me!”

    The doctor sighs. “I’m sorry, Tom. She didn’t make it. Listen, you’ve been out for a few days. They caught the man who–”

    “S-Sara? Alex?”

    “Tom, this really isn’t–” The doctor breaks off, seeing the look on Thomas’s face, and sighs. “Your baby son is all right, Tom. He was sleeping upstairs in the children’s’ room, and the man must never have looked in the crib. But . . . your little daughter is dead too. I’m so sorry, Tom. After shooting you and your wife, the man took out a knife and . . .”

    Thomas’s scream of utter despair and agony is cut mercifully short by the nurse arriving with a fast-acting sedative. But the scream will echo around in the doctor’s head for as long as he lives.

    Much later, Thomas sits somewhat upright in the hospital bed, half-listening to what his lawyer is telling him. “His name is Joseph King,” he says, “he’s in his mid-twenties, a drifter from Alabama, and he’s already plead guilty to all counts. That’s the good news. The bad news you already know . . . Minnesota doesn’t have a death penalty, and life sentences are only given for premeditated murder. King didn’t break into your house planning to murder your wife and daughter; he was only looking for jewelry and cash. He was as surprised as you were to find you and your family downstairs watching TV that late, and he panicked. Anyway, King cut a deal with the DA, and unfortunately the most he’ll get is thirty years up in Stillwater.”

    “Parole?” Thomas’s voice is barely a whisper.

    “Possibly, after seven years. Although if his prison behavior is anything like his street behavior, I wouldn’t count on it.”

    But they are both surprised. It isn’t that Joey King does not perform bad deeds on the inside; it’s just that he is particularly good at concealing them. Particularly the two inmate murders. Less than eight years after destroying Thomas Sheffield’s life, Joey is back on the streets.

    Several months later, a nationwide rash of serial killings begins in Kansas.

    * * * *

    The villager takes the buckets from Raji and empties them into the makeshift reservoir. “You’re tired, friend,” says the villager. “You’ve been carrying water from the lake since sunrise this morning, without so much as a break. You’re also not as young as you once were, if you haven’t noticed. Go home to your family.”

    Raji, taking no more than a minute to collect his breath, shakes his head. “It has been dry for weeks now. The entire village depends on this water. If I stop now, we may not have enough to survive until the rainy season. Don’t worry about me. I shall sleep like a baby tonight, I can promise that!” Managing a grin, Raji takes the buckets back and begins the long journey back down to the lake. It is not until several hours after dusk that he finally collapses from exhaustion and allows his eldest son, now twenty, to carry him back home to his wife and other children. He will return to the lake the next day to carry more water.

    Presently the dry spell ends and the rainy season comes again. Because of Raji’s ceaseless efforts to provide the village with water from the lake, the village is able to survive the spell.

    * * * *

    During his forty-eighth year, Joey King often ponders on the irony of the situation. The Kansas Killer is slowly dying of cancer.

    Joey King is — or rather, was — an infamous serial killer, known murderer of thirty-seven people in the Midwest (and suspected in at least five other murders), who retired from his career to New England without being caught or even identified as the killer of any one of them. Thirteen of his victims were children. His female victims were invariably (and often repeatedly) raped before being killed, including the children. Sometimes Joey stole money and valuables from the house, sometimes he didn’t bother. He didn’t really want the money, although it came in handy. He just enjoyed killing for the sake of causing harm to his victims and destroying their families lives. After every one of his murders he followed with immense enjoyment the news stories that followed in the papers and on TV. He ate popcorn and laughed as the police told the world about the brutality and cold-heartedness of the murders.

    But that is all in the past. Although his body is not yet frail, Joey now knows that it is only a matter of time. His doctor has given him no more than six months to live . . . and at the rate that the cancer is eating away at his body, only another few months until he is permanently bed-ridden.

    The pain has been growing, and Joey’s body is not as young as it was when he slaughtered his own mother, but he can still run the fifty-yard dash with little difficulty. Often he laments on his younger, more active days. These days, he feels a constant sadness . . . not out of sorrow or remorse for the terrible deeds that he has committed, but out of a strong desire to be able to do it all over again. His retirement from serial killing five years ago was not caused by remorse, or by any desire whatsoever to stop killing. Rather it was because he had almost been caught last time. His escape was narrow, but it was complete; the evidence that he had left behind in a hurry was plentiful, but insufficient to mark him. Joey knew that he was safe, but nervousness compelled him into retirement all the same.

    But tonight, sitting in his easy chair, he looks over his old revolver, his favorite weapon which had claimed twenty-eight human lives. “We’ve seen some great times together, my friend,” he said to it, turning it over in his hands. “I wonder if you’ll be up to one more . . . adventure. What do you say?”

    Ten minutes later, the revolver loaded, Joey leaves his house.

    * * * *

    The path is steep, but Raji Bharadwaj has climbed it many times before. The old women who live at the top of the ridge are sisters, and are now too old by far to venture down the path unaided. Raji does not mind taking food and supplies up to them every week; he rather enjoys their company, and is grateful for the opportunity to gain wisdom from the elders.

    Fate, however, is not on Raji’s side today. A heavy rain had fallen on the village the previous day, and while most of the ground has been dried by the sun, there is a patch of ground on a particularly narrow stretch of the path up the ridge that is still slippery.

    Raji does not see it until it is too late. His feet give from under him, and he topples more than a hundred feet nearly straight down to the bottom. As he lands, he feels his neck and spine break in several places.

    Raji Bharadwaj has thirty-eight seconds to live.

    * * * *

    The clerk of the convenience store is dead — Joey did not even bother asking him to open the till; he simply shot him in the head. The two other customers in the store are also dead by Joey’s gun. By an ironic coincidence, one of them was Thomas Sheffield, the man whose life and family Joey destroyed all those years ago. Thomas had just stopped in for a pack of gum.

    As he methodically strips the corpses of their wallets, Joey hears the sound of sirens, close and fast approaching. More than two cars, he thinks. Already, he knows, it is too late to run.

    Time for the final curtain call, Joey thinks as he reloads the gun and waits.

    He manages to kill five police officers and injure three others before they finally take him down. He topples against the magazine rack and crumples to the ground, the bullets in his body draining the lifeblood out of him.

    Joey King has thirty-eight seconds to live.

    * * * *

    Raji’s first thought is one of annoyed dismay. NOW how will the old women get their food? he thinks.

    Then his thoughts turn to sorrow as he thinks of his family. The pain ignored, Raji remembers the wonderful times he has had with his family; the birth of his children and of his first grandchildren. He thinks of his friends and fellow villagers, and hopes that they will be able to sustain the village’s water supply without him. He tries to smile a little, offers a final plea to the dharma for his loved-ones’ safety and well-being . . . and finally fades away, a peaceful smile on his face.

    * * * *

    A shocked horror encompasses Joey as it finally hits him: I’m going to die!

    Always the pragmatist, Joey frantically tries to think of a way to save his own life even as it slips through his fingers. Despair overtakes him as he realizes he cannot.

    Then, out of nowhere, a memory surfaces in his mind: a memory of his childhood friend Paul, and his teachings of the Savior Jesus Christ. He tries to remember what Paul had taught him . . . didn’t he say that anyone who repented of his sins and accepted Christ into his heart would be saved, and would life forever in eternal paradise? Joey considers that briefly, wonders if it isn’t too late, then decides he has nothing to lose now.

    Quickly, hurriedly, Joey repents of his wrongdoings, and accepts Christ into his heart.

    Three seconds later, he is gone.

    * * * *

    Countless years later, Joey King is still enjoying his good fortune. Joey is in eternal paradise, where there is no pain, no suffering. It is a place free of sickness and death, of quarrelling and lying. There he lives, bathed in the glory of God and Christ, forever. I’m so glad I became a Christian in time! Not only did I get away with murdering dozens of people and destroying hundreds of lives, I’m actually being rewarded for it! Forever!

    Yet sometimes he wonders if Heaven is not completely impervious to outside forces. Every now and then, unbidden, a vision of another man enters his mind; a man who had died at roughly the same time as he had; a man who had not accepted Christ — never had the chance, in fact, because of geographical and cultural isolation from Christianity which, through no fault of his own, prevented him from even hearing about Christ during his life — and who is therefore committed to what Jesus called the fires of Hell for eternity. The vision is clouded — and perhaps even metaphorical — but this other man seems to be wailing and gnashing his teeth, and will be in eternal torment forever, endlessly, with no respite. It didn’t matter how good he was. It didn’t matter how much of himself he gave to others, or how many lives he bettered through his love and compassion. All that mattered was that he was not a Christian. And for this, he would be punished, endlessly. Forever.

    But just as quickly as it appears, the vision inevitably disappears and Joey promptly forgets it. He is in Heaven, after all, and Heaven is the banishment of all pain and suffering; including having to experience the eternal suffering of others.

    Besides, Joey had never known Raji Bharadwaj on Earth . . . and would never know him in the afterlife.

    * * * *

    “He who believes is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God . . . He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.” (John 3:18,36)

    ” . . . since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . . for the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 3:23, 6:23)

    “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

    ” . . . he who has not the Son of God has not life.” (1 John 5:12)

    ” . . . for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am [Christ].” (John 8:24)

  • Someone once sent me the 10 commandments from the OT and I replied by sending everyone on the list the 11 rules for the Church of Satan. I haven’t gotten one since that..

  • Vincent

    those are both long I got through the first one but it was painful. I couldn’t bring myself to read the second.

  • Are we talking about chain letters ro or against atheism? I have received this one before.

  • Polly

    I get chain letters but I don’t think the people sending them to me (people I know)actually believe in them or intend them to be forwarded.
    They’re usually attached to jokes or inspirational plattitudes. And they are usually religiously themed, but not always.

    But, I do know one atheist who IS somewhat superstitious. It completely boggles my mind because she’s quite smart.

  • I know it’s all off topic, but…

    It was only me, that when I read the title of the post I first thought about chain mail, as in a type of armor?

    Now imagine what sort of ideas came to my mind when I read something like “atheist armor”, or “atheist full plate”.

    I suppose I truly need to go and play some Dungeons and Dragons…

  • Richard Wade

    Agersomnia, no, I’m apparently crazy in the same way as you. My first thought was “body armor for atheists.” Given how dangerous it can be to express our views in public, I thought perhaps a new product was available at the Friendly Atheist Boutique.

  • Fred

    the belief that a cosmic jewish zombie who washis own father can make you live forever if yousymbollically eat his flesh and telepathicallytell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib woman was convincedby a talking snake to eat from a magical tree – christianity