I went to dinner with my brother-in-law and his son (my nephew) at the mall food court tonight. (Yeah, I'm a cheap date. Are you listening ladies?) I got my food and sat down with my nephew while his dad was getting their food. A nice young gentleman of perhaps 25 walked over and invited us to church. I said no thanks, and that I'm a confirmed atheist. He said, "So you don't believe that the Bible is the divinely inspired word of God?" I stressed each syllable of, "Not at all." I refrained from pointing out that this line of questioning was redundant, at best.
I thought he might call it a night, but he persisted with an innocent-sounding, "Why not?" Oh boy. I'd been waiting to have this conversation for 20 years, but far too polite to go inflict it on somebody unasked. I said the Bible was too full of contradictions and impossibilities to be believable, and that in any case, the god of the Old Testament was too psychotic and despotic to be worthy of worship or admiration, and that the New Testament didn't improve the story much. Somewhere around this point, my atheist brother-in-law arrived at the table to back me up with the occasional "Amen! Preach it brother!", as well as illustrative Bible stories and juxtaposed verses that contradicted each other.
Friendly church-guy asked if I believed that Jesus actually existed. I said I didn't, because there were no contemporaneous records of his life. He said, "What about the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?" I said those were written decades after the fact. He said, "No, they were written by M, M, L, and J." I said, "No, three of them were written by an unknown author that Biblical scholars have named 'Q', nobody knows who wrote the other one, and in any case, they were not written down by the eponymous apostles but were oral traditions set down on paper by others." I'm sure he'd never heard of 'Q' outside of a James Bond movie, and both of us were beginning to realize he was way out of his depth. I told him that nothing was written about Jesus during the time he supposedly lived, not even by Jesus himself. Why not? Was the Son of God illiterate? Maybe he couldn't write. How could a god not know how to write? [Full disclosure: I'm not actually sure if nobody knows who wrote the fourth gospel, but I was on a roll, and it's kind of beside the point.]
He switched tacks. "What about Paul? Do you think he existed?" I said, sure, the epistles seem to have been penned by Paul, you know, because he bothered to write them down. But I'm no fan of Paul, and pointed out that Paul spent a lot of time putting words in Christ's mouth, and in any case, he seems to have had a lot of political conflict with other early church leaders. I didn't have time to go into Paul's extensive misogyny and support for slavery.
We spent a little time on idle chit-chat about how wicked God was to drown everybody in Noah's Flood, including innocent babies and fetuses. Fetuses! What of the little fetuses? (I'm pro-choice, but I'm not above stooping to their level for rhetorical purposes.) Yeah, the fetuses must have been wicked too. Maybe they kicked too hard in the womb, but drowning Mommy to get back at them seems a little harsh. I went into the immorality of Jehovah's treatment of the Canaanites, the Midianites, and even the Israelites, who Moses had to talk Jehovah out of annihilating because it would make him look bad in front of the other gods to kill off his own Chosen People like that. Twice. Moses beat down God in a fair debate twice, using the same argument. God is a slow learner. And mean like an unloved dog.
Church-guy didn't have much to say about that, and I was about to explain to him how evolution pretty much rules out Original Sin and renders Christ's sacrifice moot, but he said he had to go. I think his mall-court bible study group was breaking up to head home (and I think I'm a cheap date). He said it was good talking to us and have a nice night, but I'm not sure his heart was really in it. I felt slightly bad about trampling the guy's belief system with, you know, the extreme unfairness of facts, but he's the one who asked the questions. I just answered them. And he made me talk while my food got cold. Like the revenge I had just served.