Friday, December 20, 2013

That product is BOGUS!

This is the reprint of a conversation between me and a christian pastor who found one of my tweets, and began a conversation with something to do with sitting across from me and hearing my heart (AKA christian-speak for "tell you how wrong you are.")

I had hoped to enter into a conversation and discussion with this person, as they have a bit of a profile out there in public. I assumed this person actually has a basis in their theology but that is not the case. Despite the person admitting they're not a scholar, they're making a pretty fine living from it... .

Where it comes to this religious stuff, I know I am a pugilist but that's no reason for the other party to not engage, particularly in this case, as the person in question makes their living by selling this "product" and related books and tapes and other purchaseables. I say a person should really know their product before selling it and, if that product proves to be faulty - or in this case, not real - one should cease to sell it. It is unethical to sell a product when one knows the product is not as advertised.... That said, I can't conclude from this exchange the other party actually understands their product is not real. I can conclude, however, the person did not want to even contemplate that possibility. 

I was not surprised when you invited me to connect and then immediately disengaged when you were asked difficult-to-answer questions in a public forum.

I realise religion is big business where you are (redacted to protect this person's privacy) and by extension, although you did say you don't have all the answers, your actually not having the answers - and not having them in a public forum - is going to damage your business, which looks as though it is quite lucrative, from your website.

So. I will engage with you but here's what you should know first. I am cousin to five ministers in this generation, daughter of lay preachers, granddaughter, great-granddaughter, great-great-granddaughter, great-great-great-granddaughter - and back five more generations to known, published preachers in my country, Europe and yours.

I grew up in an evangelical church, sang in the choir, preached as a lay person and attended that church almost every day of my live - because I also attended school there - until I was 14. My mother a sunday-school teacher and my father a deacon and son of a very well-known, well-travelled, well-respected minister.

My first cousin was for some 20 years, the head of the largest christian organisation in my country.

So, I am not an idiot, not uneducated, and previously immersed. I have graduated five times from university, write a regular satirical blog and have been published often over the last 25 years.

I count among my close friends one of the escaped members of the Westboro Baptist (Phelps) family, and John Loftus. I am acquainted with Michael Shermer and the wonderful James Randi.

When I was still immersed in the christian culture, a challenge was put to me by an atheist. In order to "prove said person wrong," I embarked on a serious campaign of research. Seven years on and many, many hours and much writing later, the short form is this: the bible is THE best means of finding atheism. Combined with extra-biblical research, archives, archaeology, history, philosophy, christianity stands only as a political scheme that has, at its base, an angry, stupid, highly murderous, jealous deity with 2.5 million murders to its credit.

So. You are more than welcome to "debate" with me. I have two requests: 
1. You must establish the validity of your god via evidence - and the bible is not evidence, in that the source cannot be used to validate the source, any more than the Harry Potter series can be used to prove the existence of the characters of that story. 

1a. That evidence cannot in any way also support any of the other 4000+ gods imagined by humans, nor can it substantiate other invisible beings, pink unicorns, the flying spaghetti monster, Allah, Thor or Zeus. You must show evidence that can ONLY substantiate YOUR particular god; otherwise, we will not have platform from which to proceed.

2. You will please do me the favour of listening to Sam Harris's wonderful book, Letter to a Christian Nation, a link to which I have attached here, prior to engaging.

I do not expect you to respond. However, if you do, please know I will challenge and refute everything you propose as proof and I will back up my challenges and refutations with links, support, logic, evidence and challenge. I will not accept opinion, no matter how strident, as evidence of anything, nor will I accept belief, no matter how fervent; the crazy guy down my street believes beyond any possible doubt he is jesus... belief is not evidence of anything beyond the believer being willing to ignore reality.

I the meantime, I am very curious to know ...(redacted to protect the other party's privacy)... whether when you speak publicly, you call your audience to prayer, which ALSO contravenes the biblical expectation of private prayer, rather than emulating heathens, who pray loudly and publicly.
Pastor: Thanks for connecting; however, I'm confused as to the reason for connecting. It certainly sounds like you have settled into what you believe (or don’t believe). I certainly don’t mind having a conversation, but I would like to do so with mutual respect. We don’t have to bash each other or judge each other in the process. I feel as if you have accused me of many things without knowing me (I haven't accused this person of anything at all. I set out the terms for the discussion and I asked a few questions related to certain biblical expectations), and if the intent of engaging with me is to bash or slander me (SLANDER???), I respectfully decline. I have no intention of doing that to you regardless of differences in beliefs we have. My goal is not to debate. I simply wanted to extend a willingness to chat, share, and grow.

My schedule is extremely full the next couple days, so please don’t get frustrated if I don’t respond right away for the next couple days or assume it’s because I am ignoring you. But also know that if we cannot continue a conversation with respect and a willingness to agree to disagree, I’m not what you expect the purpose of conversing will be. If you’d like to let me know the specific goals of interacting with me, please do. (um, that's what I just did, above).

Thank you.

ME: Connecting because you asked me to, via Twitter. YOU asked me to forward you an email so we could discuss in private.

I have not "bashed" you. I just re-read very carefully my message above. I have questioned the beliefs you outline on your website, and yes, I have noted religion is big business in (your country). That is a general observation, not a criticism of you personally. I am very, very interested in your answers to the questions I've put to you. Those questions are about the religion you ascribe to, NOT about you personally. I do not know you and I do not know who you are beyond what I see on your website; therefore I have no reason to respect or disrespect you.

The purpose of these questions is clarification. Christians are called to win hearts for christ. My experience as a life-long christian was to rebuff these hard questions. My experience now, as an educated atheist, is to be on the receiving end of being rebuffed for asking hard questions and to be regularly subjected to the fury of christians who cannot answer these questions. 

I am always on the lookout for christians who will answer these hard questions without apologetics and "you just have to have faith." Several of the were-christians I know - myself included - dared to go looking for the answers to these hard questions. The result is the difficult but very relieving understanding god is an illogical concept. However, as with all the atheists I know, the second there is evidence for any god, evidence being the key ingredient, we will all change our 'spots.'

As I noted on Twitter, I do not expect you to engage, despite your having requested my email address. However, if you are actually willing, I am very, very interested in your answers.

As I noted above, the key to this discussion is substantiation: if we are going to discuss "god" we must establish which god we're speaking of, what evidence exists for that god and how that evidence does not also substantiate other gods proposed by humans. We cannot logically assume the existence of such a being and then make the story fit.

Also, just to qualify your comment that I have settled into what I believe or don't believe, to make a very important distinction: belief exists regardless of the facts and logic showing that belief to be implausible or impossible. KNOWLEDGE, however, depends on logic and fact; as such, it isn't a case of belief or not. It is a case of there being no evidence. If there were evidence for any god or gods, there would still not be belief; there would be KNOW.

If you wish not to engage in this conversation, which you requested be initiated, I understand. I hope very much you will, regardless, take advantage of Sam Harris's wonderful book, the link to the audio version being included above. If you will commit two hours of your time, I'm sure you will be enlightened as to the perspective of those of us who, by asking the hard questions, have abandoned a 2000 year-old mythology. I hope you will also take some time to read the stories of those who have left, or are in the process of leaving the clergy via and also that you will read the stories of lay people at

I do understand your livelihood depends on your continuing to be an advocate for your religion, and I do understand questioning the foundations of that religion may not be in the best interests of continuing in that employment and with the profile you seem to have. 

Pastor: Oh, I didn’t think you were critical in your email. Just a bit with some of the Tweets. But I understand the defensiveness(???). When we’re solid and confident in our beliefs, of course, we’re passionate about it…regardless of what those beliefs are. (Just to note, this person has totally ignored my defining beliefs and knowledge... so I already know they're either not reading or ignoring that distinction)

I respect you for being firm in your beliefs even if I don’t agree with you. I don’t think it’s my job to persuade you otherwise. Yes, Christians are to be the salt and light of the world, but we’re often not. We’re often filled with judgment (sic) and hypocrisy. I try very hard to live an authentic life. I don’t want to be a Pharisee, focusing so much on the religion of Christianity that I ignore the relationship with Christ.

I am not a scholar, yet I also don’t rebuff the hard questions (very interesting statement given this person did not address even one question I asked)

 I’ve asked a lot of questions along the way, and I’ve wrestled with many of them. I didn’t grow up as a Christian. But as I wrestled the moralism and absolutes, I went on a quest to seek out truth. But I also respect that everyone has an individual journey. It sounds like you’ve been hurt by a lot of people who were connected to Christianity throughout your life and for that, I’m sorry. Even though I didn’t do anything personally and I don’t know the details, I just think it stinks when the very people who are supposed to authentically represent the veracity, love, and grace of compassion of God fail to do so. (Oh brother... )But I’m sure there have been some moments and situations in which I’ve done the same. We all have hypocrisy in our lives. It’s just whether or not we’re willing to see it.

I don’t have time to watch the videos right now, and I can’t even promise I will do so soon, but I appreciate you sharing your favorite resources (AKA, nope, not gonna do it).

Also, I feel as if I need to briefly address the accusation about religion being big business with the connection to my website. It is not a business to me. It is a ministry. What I do is to pour into others. It doesn’t financially support me. Yes, there is money involved, but just because there is an exchange of money doesn’t mean something is lucrative and it doesn’t mean the goal is even to be lucrative. I actually think we probably have a similar approach in our “ministry”: sharing our beliefs and encouraging others to consider the same. Anyone can make money around their beliefs, but that’s not my goal. It doesn’t seem to be yours as well. I suppose that’s something we have in common! (I'm not going to post the web link here but I suspect "doesn't financially support me" might not be exactly the truth).

ME: Let me make this clear again: I do not have "beliefs." I HAD beliefs, which I challenged, and which did not stand to scrutiny. 

I'm sorry you understand direct questions as "defensiveness." Christians who engage on Twitter quite regularly ascribe all sorts of negative things to blunt questions, "Tell me what you mean by that?" or "what is your evidence?" is not defensiveness. "How dare you ask that?" is.

If you're a bible-believing christian, then yes, it is your "job" to persuade me. Christians are specifically called by 'god' to do so.

Also to be absolutely clear, I do not have a "ministry." I have questions, but no question can be considered the dogma of any religion or creed. To whit: atheism is a religion like "off" is a TV channel. 

As I mentioned earlier, as I do not know you and do not know whether I have anything in common with you, beyond being human. However, and this will be statement of the reason I have engaged with you: 
First, you asked me to engage, via Twitter. 

Secondly, and more importantly, atheists are much under-represented.... (redacted to protect this person's privacy)

My goal here is to lead you through some difficult questions and by doing so, bring you to an understanding of how really impossible religion is and, full disclosure, by shedding light on the lie of religions, perhaps bring a passionate person out of the mire of religion into an environment where they can actually do some good. I have no beliefs to offer you in exchange for those you have at present. 

The link to Sam Harris's book is not a video. It is a "book on tape" which you can easily listen to while you're driving.

The Clergy Project and should absolutely be on your browsing list. 

So. Shall we?
QUESTION: Do you understand "spirits" or "angels" or "god" to have DNA or genes? I will explain this question later, but I'm interested in your answer. 

Re your "relationship" with 'Christ" (which is a title, not a name), by what means do you substantiate the CURRENT existence of this figure? 

Given the 40 or so first-century historians who were alive, on site and actively writing at the alleged time of this character, how do you explain not a single one mentioned that character, even in passing?

Given the four men who are most often cited as substantiating "jesus," were not eyewitnesses and not alive at the alleged time of that character, and given Josephus has been outed as a fraud, what basis do you have for the existence of that character? The bible cannot be used as a means of substantiating itself, any more than the Harry Potter series substantiates the existence of that story's characters. 

Josephus is alleged to have said something to the effect of "I heard a thing about this guy," which cannot be considered "eyewitness" evidence: further to that, as Josephus was an historian who wrote the history of Jewish faith, it is very unlikely he would have substantiated a person that would have completely altered the bedrock of Judaism. Given those realities, what corroborated evidence is there for the character "jesus" ever having lived.

How do you explain the near identical MO of the Egyptian 'god' Horus to the christian god "jesus"? 

I am very interested in your comment, "... grace of compassion of god,..." in light of these facts:

God's laws in Leviticus and Exodus do NOT qualify as "compassionate." If they did and if they are right, then most christians are actively defying 'god.' These laws still being relevant and current is substantiated by christ in Matthew 5: 18-19.

God's direction, reiterated by the character "Jesus" encourage slavery and reiterated it in the NT in Luke and Timothy; to oppose slavery contradicts the OT and NT directions. Incidentally, Lincoln said, "The bible is not my book and christianity not my concern."

"Jesus" is very hostile to women, his mother included.

God's direction to women, that they be silent, covered, and subjected to the will of the men around them, is not compassionate and renders women very much second class, disposable and worse.

The god of the christian bible is responsible for 2.5 million murders/deaths/genocidal killings including various massacres of women and children. 

This god also commands virgin women be taken as spoils of war: please discuss "compassion" in that context.

This god commands the slaughter of first born sons, and many times in biblical stories commands the deaths of all, women and children included. Discuss compassion in this context.

The god of the bible is alleged to have created beings, to have infused them with life, to know the hour of their birth and death, to have a plan for them and to know what they're thinking. This all-knowing god is alleged to have consciously put "temptations" in Adam's way, with the help of a talking snake (?) and to have punished Adam for doing exactly what this all-knowing god knew he would do. Discuss "compassion" as it relates to punishing someone for doing something you cause them to do, and which you already know they will do. I understand this same technique was used quite often during the Holocaust...

Also, as it relates to "Adam" and "Eve," if you take Genesis at its word, you immediately have a problem. We have two people on the entire planet either this is true or the entire bible is suspect. This singular couple has two sons, one of whom kills the other. We now have one woman and two men. If you are a literalist, Eve's future children and indeed Cain's wife, are the result of incest, as are, necessarily, many, many generations of people thereafter. If your are NOT a literalist, you have a problem of interpretation or of questioning your "all-knowing, omniscient" god. 

I understand a great many evangelical christians believe men actually have fewer ribs than women. This is patently, demonstrably false, but, if the genesis story were to be true, fewer male ribs would necessarily have to be the case.

Later, we have this all-knowing god having yet another temper tantrum, and drowning "all his creations" with the exception of a 600 year-old man, his also-ancient wife and ancient sons. If you believe that story, you must then believe that this ancient couple and their sons, again by incest of a geriatric brand, be the source of all humans alive today. If you take the definition of six cubits being as high as a mountain, you have an 18 mile-long arc, filled with animals that must eat and evacuate regularly, all overseen by a crew of beyond-old people, who somehow managed to find polar bears and iguanas, to somehow manage to feed all the worlds "kinds" their specialised diets and also managed to feed the "Kinds" of carnivores for a year and somehow do that on such a massive vessel. 
With respect to your suggestion I am atheist because I've been hurt, I confirm I have NEVER been hurt by anyone in my church or in my life, where it concerns religion. This "you've been hurt" thing is something christians say all the time, but it stems only from their inability to understand how and why someone rejects mythology. It is irksome and says a lot about the person saying/writing it but nothing at all about the person to whom it is directed.

I grew up in the church - literally in the building, which my dad literally built; my friends where there, my family was there and my life was there until I was 29. I fell in love for the first time there and later I married a member of my church. I have frankly happy memories of my church and growing up in that environment. I know many of those I grew up with have ALSO confronted these hard questions and have come to the same place as I have: wonderful environment based on mythology.

Many atheists who grew up in religion are angry - in the sense of being greatly frustrated - at the realisation we have quite literally been lied to. Yes, many people have been very hurt in their churches. Many have been abused in too many ways to count; many have been rejected, subjugated, tortured, marginalised and mostly, enslaved by a false paradigm. None of that, however, applies to me. I got here by the common process of desiring to prove an atheist wrong, which meant I had to answer these hard questions, which lead me to understanding religions - all of them - being mythologies humans create to explain things they do not understand. But, no matter how much, deeply, strongly, convincingly one believes something, that still does not make it real. I KNOW I live on a planet because it has been observed. I KNOW my planet is in a galaxy, because that has been observed. I KNOW there are some 400 galaxies visible to the human eye, because those can be observed. I KNOW the universe is large beyond comprehension because it has been measured. I KNOW there is utterly no evidence for any god, because humans have been attempting to substantiate such beings since humans were conscious.

Pastor: I am going to have to extend the invitation to agree to disagree. To say atheism is not a set a beliefs is contradictory. (I have no beliefs nor does atheism have beliefs. Atheism simply states there is no evidence for god(s). Period. That's it).

None of us operates in a vacuum. We might put different labels on things, but what we state as an absolute, such as having no questions, following no gods, etc., is a contradiction in reason. Of course, I’m not saying everything has to be of reason, explainable, empirical, but I also think we cannot live by double standards, demanding evidence for what one person believes but claiming what we believe to be fact but not a set of beliefs. Even if we follow the “facts” of science (which, by the way, I do in many facets, but I believe we’re limited in our knowledge through science simply because of our lack of knowledge and understanding, not because I believe everything about science to be false), we “believe” science. If you believe you are operating on an “off” channel of tv (of sorts), that is a set of beliefs that form your assumptions and responses to the world around you.

You prompted me to smile about my engagement with you on Twitter. As I recall, you were the first to engage. I simply requested we be able to take the conversation, if it was going to get in depth, to a venue by which we could create longer sentences. It’s so difficult to have respectful, well thought through discussions of beliefs even face to face let alone when trapped by a limit of characters. I wasn’t avoiding anything by inviting you into another format. I simply wanted to extend the invitation to chat.

ME: Ok. Let's play:
Specifically, what are the "beliefs" held by atheists?

Religion: RESISTS any and all challenges to its deeply held dogma
Science: SEEKS to disprove itself in order to better its understanding

We do NOT "believe" science. We can rely on established scientific theories for two reasons, the main being the underpinnings of all scientific theory is FACTS - observable and testable FACTS; secondly, we can rely on scientific facts and theories because science seeks to disprove those. Science may make a statement - a hypothesis - which it then seeks to test. By testing the hypothesis, certain facts emerge, which either make for the reason to continue testing or make for a reason to discard the hypothesis or alter it. Religions are completely opposite of this: It makes a statement and then refuses every possible attempt at fact checking, usually with the ridiculous, circular statement, "you just have to have faith."

I'm sorry but please explain to me the idea that "off" is a belief.

This is a key distinction - the difference between belief and knowledge - and a distinction believers very much insist on obscuring. That is an intellectually-dishonest approach. I hope you will abandon it.

I notice that you have not responded at all to any of the questions I posted in my last message. This avoidance is VERY common with christians - and with religious people in general.

I cannot take you seriously in the least if you will not engage. Rhetoric is for politicians and for those who have either something to hide or who do not actually have the answers.

If you are unable to answer the questions put to you, then please be honest and say so.

If you do not wish to explore and answer those questions, then please also be honest and say so.

I have chosen to engage with you for the reasons stated above. If you are not willing to have an honest conversation that includes your participation - meaning answering the questions put to you, then please say this also, and I will end this communication. 

I would like to add I do not agree to disagree.

We have not established any facts upon which we might agree or disagree. You have made some statements which contain errors, one being this: "... we state as an absolute, such as having no questions,..". At NO point did I say, and indeed my list of questions to you proves I did not say, I have no questions.

I will take it your "agree to disagree" means you would rather not even consider the questions I put to you. If this is the case, then say so.

If it is the case, may I say how very dishonest it is for someone to be promoting a product (or paradigm/dogma, in your case) which they have refused to understand and explore. How do you present yourself as a trustworthy advocate for your particular brand of religion if you admit to not being a scholar and cleave to not ever being one by means of refusing to research the product you promote?

I would like very much one answer from you: I assume - and please tell me if this is an incorrect assumption - you are a christian and you believe in the parts of the bible you have read and are familiar with, and I'll also assume you believe christianity and the christian god to be the one true religion.

IF you had been born in an islamic country, would you still be christian? 

Then don't talk me seriously. Its okay. But please understand that many of the same judgments of assumptions and illogical you are making of me and throwing all Christians says something about yourself as well. You are ask in me to have an open mind. When you are ready to do the same, feel free to reconnect. Big please don't assume you know everything about me and my beliefs.

ME I don't assume anything, which is why I've asked you a bunch of questions; I truly want to know what you think.

Let me state this very clearly. I know NOTHING about you beyond what you have posted on your website. However, as you HAVE posted substantial information on your website, I am not assuming anything about what you believe, because you've made it clear and have stated your beliefs there.

I know nothing at all about you personally, again beyond what you've posted on your website.

I am VERY interested in your answers to the various questions I've posted here. I cannot say this with enough emphasis: I really, really want to know what your responses are.

What you just did with "Then don't take me seriously," and "... many (which?) judgements of assumptions and illogical you are making of me and throwing all Christians says something about yourself as well," is called 'moving the goal posts,' which means, rather than dealing with the questions at hand, you've used a distracting technique.

I will take it you wrote that very quickly - as you did with "You are ask in me to have an open mind," or you're writing on a small keyboard...

Pastor, I am not trying to goad you. I have made it very clear I have engaged because you requested we connect privately - and yes, you did that in response to my tweets. I have now connected privately, and I have made my reasons for doing that very clear. I am very, deeply curious to know your responses to the questions I've asked you. Thisis Sam Harris's excellent discussion of the realities of christianity. It is 10minutes. I know you will refuse this, and I know why, and that refusal saysEVERYTHING about your relationship with your religion: you KNOW in yourrational brain it does not and cannot make sense. 

I only know this about you: you are completely unwilling to examine your beliefs.

This is equal to a salesperson who either knows nothing at all about their product, or knows their product is faulty - or on this case - non-existent - but sells it anyway. Such behaviour is fraudulent and dishonest, Pastor.

You cannot have credibility and you are not honest about your product, if you refuse so categorically to KNOW it.

I hope you will find honesty in your heart. It makes me very sad to know yet another smart person is hostage to a violent, invisible "god" and promotes a religion founded on torture and death. 

Please don't judge. You know very little about me. I cannot respond now. It's not about the accusations you make. I need to focus on significant people in my life who are in crisis. Perhaps we can resume at a later date.

And my hope for you is the same...find honesty (and compassion) in your heart. You know not what or who you judge. You are making many generalizations and seem full of hate. I am sorry people have hurt you but you need not take it out on strangers. But when you do, it merely highlights the need for absolute love. I hope you will seek and find it someday.

ME: Just wanted to pass this on: it is excerpted from an excellent book by Peter Boghossian.

I have NOT been hurt and I have made this clear several times in my posts here.

I am not "taking it out" on strangers. You are a public figure and your site makes it clear what your philosophy is and what your goals are. It is dishonest to have a very public presence and engage in public speaking tours and to promote yourself as an expert, but to refuse to entertain questions about the philosophy you're promoting. People who are sure of their subject actively seek out questions and interactions. You have chosen to ignore questions and that implies you either don't have the answers, or don't like whatever you're coming up with.

I am not judging anyone. I have asked questions and I have made an observation. As I also made very clear at the outset, my goal here is to appeal to the logical mind of someone who is obviously smart. That is the only judgement I've made about YOU personally. Otherwise, I do know what your platform and belief system is and I do know what I am commenting on, because I have read every section of your website and your recent posts. If you're referring to the material on your website, yes, I am "judging" it to be based on supposition not fact in the same way Hinduism or Islam or Judaism, or Jainism, or Zoroastrianism are, or as are any of the old Roman or Greek or Viking religions: none are based in anything that is demonstrably real. You have not only not given any reason or evidence why your choice of god is any more substantiated than any of the gods related to those religions, so we're still at square one.

The bottom line is still this, Pastor; you are not, in my opinion, acting honestly. You have not answered a single question I've posted here - and I will say it looks as though you're actively-avoiding, which is very disappointing.

I'm sorry to hear there are people in crisis in your personal circles. I wonder, however, why you, as such a believing person and such a faithful person, feel the need to do anything with respect to those people, when the statements on your website are very, very clear: you believe 'god' has specific plans, will take care of these people and that you need not worry. It seems a bit of a contradiction.

So here's what is important on that count: you are concerned and feel the need to act, to engage, and to care for these people, and that belies your belief that 'god' will act. If you REALLY believed what you say, you would have no concerns at all with respect to those people.

The fact christians (and other religiously-minded people) spend time worrying, praying, supplicating 'god' flies quite in the face of what they SAY they believe. The simple fact of praying proves people do not believe god is acting in their best interests. If god has a plan, then it has a plan and no amount of prayer is necessary or effective, unless one is suggesting their perfect god has made an imperfect plan or decision.

I hold out much hope you will listen to the 10 minute speech by Sam Harris, to which I posted a link in an earlier message today. I also hold out much hope you will consider the many, many evangelicals, who have left religion - people like John Loftus, who was a dedicated, fire-brimstone, pulpit-bashing preacher for some 12 years - following on an excellent theological education - and who is now at the forefront of informed writers on the subject of religions and particularly on christianity. I hope you will have the courage - because I KNOW, personally, the courage it takes to really KNOW what one believes - to explore the vast amount of excellent research and writing there is on the subject of christianity.

Finally, if you're saying I'm angry, making generalisations (which? Please specify and I will correct those, if I have), and am full of hate, then you are judging me, without knowing anything about me beyond what I've told you here. You have presumed I am not loved and that I don't feel love, when you cannot know that - and I will confirm that is very, very far from my reality.

You have also made a fatal error here: you have ignored my personal past, which I've mentioned was 35 years as a believer in an evangelical church, and member of a family whose evangelical and preaching roots stretch back some 210 years. You are implying I am uninformed, when you must know that is not and cannot be the case.

Pastor: I praise God, claim the name and Truth of Jesus, and pray for you in the power of His name. (this would be this person's talisman - it's the digital form of holding up a cross and uttering "get thee hence, satan")

This is where this person checked out and where it became perfectly clear they were not going to compromise themselves by attempting to answer any question I put to them. Disappointing but no surprise.

ME: Fine. Prayer is futile in any case, and don't you think it is a presumption that your god doesn't know what he's doing when he makes plans for people, me included? It's a bit insulting to presume to change the mind of your creator, isn't it, if you've already stated god is all seeing, all knowing and omniscient?

As for Christ., what's your evidence the person you're praying to is real, given the alleged death and subsequent disappearance into the sky and given every account of that person is NOT eyewitness and given there is no extra-biblical support that person ever existed, and given the four gospels, all written 60 - 150 years after this person is alleged to have lived do not agree on any account? And all that is in addition to your character's striking resemblance to some 20 others, also not real and older by a span of 8000 years.

Also, as you haven't answered this yet, do spirits and angels have DNA and/or genes?

ME: Just want to pass on  this excellent speech by David Silverman:
at Oxford...

Ladies and gentlemen good evening.

I would like to use my time to expand on what Michael mentioned about the knowledge and morality of religion. All believers are victims, because they’ve been brainwashed into thinking that everything we know is wrong, and that ancient myths are actually true. But religion also affects society at large, making it a factor for ignorance and immoral behavior for believer and atheist alike. The house has asserted that religion harms society, and this statement cannot be overstated or emphasized enough.

Case in point, consider some simple observable truths about religion:

Religion lies, taking credit for doing things it did not do. thanks to religion, knowledge isn't learned or guessed, it is "given by god". 
Accomplishments aren't made because people did great things, but because of the religion to which they adhere. 

People do good things, not because they are good, but because they are religious. 

In the end, religion does nothing but take the credit for the accomplishments of people or society, in order to legitimize itself in the eyes of the flock.

Religion was created with yesterday’s knowledge, and in true form, religion took the credit for that knowledge, calling it divine. The problem is that back then we as a society knew much less than we know today. Indeed, religion was invented because there were so many unanswered questions and religion answered those questions with legends, tall tales, and sometimes, outright lies. 
Languages were formed at the Tower of babel. Childbirth was painful because a woman listened to a talking snake, and of course, the entire universe was created just for us, but an invisible man in the sky. 

Religion was also made with yesterday’s morality, for which religion once again took the credit. This is good, because god says so. Again, Times were different back when religions were invented. Slavery was common and accepted, and rape was a fact of life. So the morality that was written into the texts reflects those ancient ethics. 

This is why there are no commandments prohibiting slavery or rape. There is no womens equality in the Bible because women weren't equal back then, and lets not even begin to discuss the dreaded gays and atheists. 

But then religion doubles-down, taking it’s wrong knowledge and wrong morality and refusing to grow with society. Herein lies the biggest problem. 

Religion places an anchor in yesterday, and holds its believers to that mentality. Since religion asserts its teachings to be correct and perfect, it is loathe to admit it can be wrong about anything, because if it is wrong about the Tower of Babel or flying horses, it can be wrong about other things as well, and religion surely doesn’t want anyone doubting it.

God-given perfect morality is tough to amend, its hard to say god changed his mind. So as we learn as a society, religion resists, attacking science and moral progress while supporting yesterday's knowledge and morality. 

Science becomes anti religion. Tolerance and equality, and religious diversity in general, become attacks against God. We as a society are trying to move beyond yesterday’s prejudice, but since religion calls yesterday's prejudice perfect, and cant admit its wrong, religion is a worldwide force for promoting yesterdays prejudice. 

But religion doesn’t stop at adherents, because it cannot grow its influence if outsiders know how wrong it is, so it uses its money and power to squelch anything that proves it wrong. Religious myths need “equal time” in the science class, so other people's children can be taught that "god did it" is as valid as real science. 

Laws are passed prohibiting anti-religious expression, making blasphemy illegal, and those championing equalizing religion with everyone else are labeled as anti-god. 

Ladies and gentlemen there is an undeniable result, and much to my opponent's chagrin, it is quantifiable and provable. Greg Paul, writing for the Journal of religion and society, performed quantitative research which showed, 

"in almost all regards the highly secular democracies consistently enjoy low rates of societal dysfunction." A separate statistic called the "Successful Societies Scale" shows a significant correlation between a country's religiosity and lack of success as a nation. The HDI Index, which measures the quality of life, shows a strong negative correlation between the religiosity of a society and the happiness and well being of its people. All neutral, all statistically significant, all supporting today's motion.

And there is more, ladies and gentlemen, indeed study after study show that societal religiosity positively correlates to poor social development and lower quality of life, as well as greater income inequality, increased child mortality, and overall unhappiness. Religion ignores these results, literally pretending the proof isn't there, just so it can save it's supposedly perfect face.

Religion isn't just wrong, it's pro stagnation, and we as a society need to recognize it as such. Religion takes credit for yesterday's knowledge, and then refuses to learn. Religion takes credit for yesterday's morality and refuses to grow. And then, To protect itself from being forced to admit it is wrong, it attacks science and progress on the widest possible scale. As a result, religion holds back whole societies, and lowers standards of living for everyone, all so it doesn't have to admit its wrong, like our opponents are tonight.

This question is solved, but religion keeps denying its errors, deflecting its criticism, and demonizing its opponents. But if I may paraphrase John Cleese, religion's benefit to society is an ex-parrot - dead, and as such I urge you to vote for tonight's motion. Thank you.

And finally, full disclosure: I advised this person I would be posting the conversation and would not be identifying them in any way, so don't ask me to.

I just wanted to let you know I am going to publish this conversation but that I will not identify you in any way, including gender or country or business.

My goal with publishing the conversation is to show how religious people routinely ignore questions they should have answers for and, instead, dive for cover under "prayer" and various other avoidance devices.

It is not my intention to make any comment on you personally; only on the profession generally and how dishonest it is.

Also, full disclosure, I do hope to have provoked this person to resume the conversation. I'm currently reading a book by Peter Boghassian, A Manual for Creating Atheists, which techniques I hope to launch on this non-scholarly person, who has, it seems, stumbled on a great way to make money, a la L. Ron Hubbard, who said to Robert Heinlein that no person who wants to make money gets a job; they start a religion.