I Sold My Soul on eBay: Viewing Faith Through an Atheist’s Eyes was first published nearly a decade ago (long before I embraced Jesus), and is currently on sale for about £2.50 due to cost of shipping, the book itself however will set you back by 1 penny. Literally a penny for their thoughts, but are they worth it? My initial purchase of the book was actually due to a challenge by fellow writer and atheist Alex Black, who writing on their blog Midoriskies pointedly asked me whether or not I’d be prepared to read a book of their choosing, they furthermore would read one of mine. They being as good as their word are most likely reading my book recommendation as I finish with theirs, that being On Guard: the Student edition by Dr William Lane Craig. Two more different books we couldn’t have recommended, with Alex’s book being concerned with social commentary, an atheist’s personal take on faith and the faithful, and a young man’s search for many an unanswered question (in addition to how God/the church could better woo him out of his atheism). Whereas in the case of On Guard, as anybody who’s visited Dr Craig’s Reasonable Faith website shall know, evidence, logical argument and seasoned philosophical insight are the order of the day. Although this too is occasionally set aside for Dr Craig’s personal coming to faith story, as found in their “A Philosopher’s journey of faith” chapters. So, will I Sold my Soul on Ebay show me the futility of faith, or perhaps that Christians across America are failing through some fault of theirs to engage with an ever growing community of unbelievers? And could On Guard convince Alex that there’s indeed a God who loves them even when believers don’t show that same love, if so we’d have to carry on our debates in eternity! Let’s see how I Sold my Soul on Ebay worked out nevertheless.
I Sold my Soul is a non-fiction book by Hemant Mehta (hereafter HM), an atheist who in visiting an array of churches later published their findings. The publisher’s note begins by asking “If you were looking for God, where would you go to find Him? Better yet, if you had decided God doesn’t exist, what would you do to test that conclusion?” I’d read the Bible, a no nonsense person replies. The publisher, despite the seemingly reasonable question, then shoots their own foot by writing: “He (OSC: Meaning the author) would be the first to acknowledge that many questions are left unanswered. And while he trusts science to prove or disprove most theories and assumptions, he agrees that the question of God is not one science can be expected to answer.” So, the original question “what would you do to test the conclusion that God doesn’t exist?” quickly becomes a non-question, because according to the publisher HM doesn’t believe they by any method save divine intervention can discover or test the answer, meaning it’s an untestable hypothesis in normal terms. Perhaps HM believes people can rationally believe in God totally apart from scientific evidences, like in the experience of the divine, although that we’ll find is unlikely as their book goes on. Where’s the sense then in supposing you’ll go to church to answer an unanswerable question, despite raising the question an answer isn’t provided. Nevertheless, what we do know for certain is that the author is an atheist, hence the title viewing faith through the eyes of an atheist, yet wouldn’t the above, especially if the atheist is untrained, be an invitation to merely read a collection of misconceptions and strawmen, because to simply judge by the infidel community online shows the only thing they excel in is not understanding Christian Scripture! (both atheists and so-called Christians are guilty of this).
Pastor Rob Bell’s opening quotation confirms just as much. Bell writes how the god (lower case g) who HM doesn’t believe in they too don’t believe in:
‘The god who doesn’t encourage intellectual honesty, the god who doesn’t care about the environment because “it’s all going to burn,” the god who calls the anemic words of bored worshipers going through the motions “praise,” the god who would condemn billions of people to hell simply because they haven’t said or done the proper ritual that Christians can’t even agree on. . .some Gods should be rejected.’
So, and as will be explained later, HM hasn’t read the Bible, it’s free, it’s widely available, it’s the biggest selling collection of books in the history of forever, yet they have imagined the Christian God being as the above describes without bothering to read anything about Him. To what degree can HM’s review of believing churches be valid if they’re so badly unequipped? We’re reviewing the reviewer after all, and to hear they’d entered into their study of churches without so much as a glance at the central material to the Christian faith means their findings surely won’t be accurate. An example, first imagine a person in your life, someone loving and compassionate, now, imagine that you had to then explain how you felt about this wonderful person to me, I’d then review your behaviors. The problem is every time you speak about this kind, authentically good person, I imagine or hear the name Saddam Hussein.
Now, how accurate is HM’s final draft going to be when they refuse to see God as They truly are, about as accurate as me thinking Saddam Hussein every time you tell me about your mother, father, husband or wife. Or to write in terms unbelievers can instinctively understand, how accurate would my review of the life of Barack Obama be if every time I claimed to be reading about him I was in reality studying Malcolm X? My end conclusions wouldn’t be sound, would they? Nevertheless, with regards to the author:
The author of the book, Hemant Mehta, is a writer, and atheist activist. He has worked with atheist groups such as the Secular Student Alliance, the Secular Coalition for America, and Center for Inquiry. He is currently on the Board of Directors for the Foundation Beyond Belief. He writes at his own blog, “Friendly Atheist”, and has published two other books, “The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide: Helping Secular Students Thrive” (OSC: Isn’t that what the overwhelming secular faculty who pervade universities are for?) and “The Friendly Atheist: Thoughts on the Role of Religion in Politics and Media”.
The content of Rob Bell’s foreword is in all candour tired, an overplayed hand which thousands of preachers have used before and are bound to use again. They claim the god HM rejects is the same god they too reject not because that’s true, but because that’s simply the path of least resistance, they do this instead of writing what everybody else already knows, that being that HM and others are setting up a crude caricature of God, an awful false god fit for attack, with which they then turn their hatred upon the faithful for supposedly worshipping a god they never believed in. So, from where are people getting these perverted misconceptions about both God and the faithful, the answer: popular culture. The unbelieving aren’t reading Christian Scripture (as HM admits concerning himself), in fact, much of their criticisms of Christianity come by way of taking snippets and partial quotations from the Torah (where’s the Gospel message in doing the above?).
Nevertheless, popular culture, meaning news, music, movies and books aimed at doing maximum damage to the Christian faith are routinely responsible for the way unbelievers think (24 hour news coverage of the Catholic church child abuse “scandal” anyone?). How is the above sort of criticism best understood, because despite what atheists generally would have people believe it’s not an argument from immorality, since nobody can dismiss Catholism or God for a minority behaviour by a group of largely homosexual priests! (last I read the Catholic church aren’t fans of same sex unions). Instead, because atheists don’t know anything about God as found in Christianity, their argument is one from authority.
They’re told by every conceivable authority (even some ignorant churches) that God is hateful, capricious and his followers stupid, bigoted or perhaps even dangerous. Surely the news wouldn’t mislead people, and sure atheists haven’t read the book, seen the movie or bought the t-shirt, but the people who they’d been listening to have done so . . . right? The government, university and news media wouldn’t mislead an entire nation . . . yeah that happens in Saudi Arabia, North Korea, China and the Fox news channel (including the rest of the world), but not here! Not on the BBC (for BBC bias read here). That’s the reasoning anyway. Which makes the second portion of Bell’s material, the portion which directly follows, so bizarre:
“And that, of course, is what makes Hemant’s book so compelling. It’s not just that he is smart, insightful, and honest. It’s that much of what he says is . . .well . . .true.” (OSC: But how can an atheist who believes so many falsehoods about God write truth concerning either Him or a believing church?) “What will strike you in the pages of this book is that Hemant isn’t angry or antagonistic. As you try to figure out what exactly his agenda is, you’ll probably arrive at the same conclusion I did. I think he’s simply after the truth.”
Considering HM’s observations were fueled by a wave of ignorant misconceptions, wrong conceptions which they have yet to shed nearly 10 years later, they’ll certainly have an agenda in writing. Though insofar as I can find, HM’s agenda, which they happily (even self promotingly) outlined early on, wouldn’t be particularly problematic, rather than motive it’s their ulterior motives which would be where pastor Bell’s comment truly pointed. A man who offers an attractive female co-worker a ride home may be doing that and only that, offering an acquaintance a lift because they’re simply a nice sort of chap, though ulterior motives are the desires behind the desires, the secret wants a person may not share because to share them would be embarrassing, shameful or counter productive to the person ultimately getting the thing they secretly want. Even the lady supposing she may never make her train on time, which she certainly could do, might have some secret motive to want to be alone with the co-worker offering her a ride home, whereas if another less well off, more homely man offered her the very same ride the train schedule would make a dramatic recovery. So, does HM have ulterior motives, in short, yes, yes they certainly do, moreover they’re poor at restraining them. We’ll go into that during a review of later chapters. Bell’s foreword continues nonetheless:
“So Hemant’s work as an atheist will ultimately inspire people to live better lives in harmony with a God he doesn’t believe in. It’s beautiful really.”
“It’s beautiful really” May be the most unsavory claim found throughout the opener, primarily because it’s giving unbelievers everywhere licence to says they’re “Good without God”, that’s the result of Bell’s comment, though surely not their intention. To encourage people to say in a universe created and sustained by an all-loving God that they’re “Good” or “in harmony” without Him would be factually untrue and patently harmful. Where’s the beauty in an unbeliever erecting false ideas born out of public prejudice so that they and others like them can continue to dismiss the reality of an eternal God. Frank Turek wrote it best when they penned: “The atheist has to sit in God’s lap to slap Him in the face.” Pastor Bell praises HM for helping others to “live in harmony” with God while they and their material reject His very existence. So, how beautiful is it to mislead thousands upon thousands of people into disbelieving in God, and how beautiful is it to help unbelievers suppose people morally good, loving and beautiful while they deny the very source of goodness, love and beauty? I find the above behaviour habitually coming from believing Christians, believers who being so shell shocked by the offense modern people take to their belief in Christ go to extreme lengths to pacify or write plainly false things so to appease the unbelieving person, and despite their reaction being totally overblown/inaccurate the believer feeds into their attitude by claiming their disgruntled mode of thought or objections are valid.
My response to this is to say “Who are unbelievers to make the topic of faith a touchy subject?” These sorts of conversation, conversations and ideas atheists act so disgusted by, can be as enjoyable as any subject (even more enjoyable), or they can be bad natured and akin to pulling teeth, modern atheists appear set on the teeth pulling option in hopes that believers in God (especially in Christianity) will go away. Are they bothered by the topic or by how the topic is being approached, because it’s the atheist’s toxic hatred of religion, which often characterizes believers as stupid, dangerous and their beliefs child abuse that should be something we address long before we tackle who’s handing out booklets or asking to speak with them.
A similar kind soft skinned behaviour can be found when people oppose or try to disband silent prayer groups outside of abortion clinics, because to make no noise, use no physical force, and say a silent prayer in the hope women won’t slay their unborn children should be met by the full force of the law! (are atheists serious?) Appears to be then that it’s not the approach but the very act of public belief in God which is so despised. A simple public display of belief, the fact that someone in the whole universe doesn’t agree with the atheist, is making them feel bad. If I hand them a pamphlet what are atheists indignant at? The material isn’t lewd, nor graphic, there’s nothing prompting people to violence in 99% of leaflets being handed out, so when unbelievers want to stir up a controversy over something so thoroughly uncontroversial my only answer to them is to say “You Mr unbeliever have a lot of growing up to do (it’s normally a Mr).”
You may want a safe space free of any trace of belief in God, that’s what communism was for, and how’s that working out for everybody, let’s ask at the mass graves and burnt out churches if they can reply. Perhaps Churches stripped of their church bells in a feeble “need for materials” by the communist government is the sort of society the unbelievers want, after all a church or church bell reaches far more people than a pamphlet you promptly bin. Maybe an alternative to a Christian having a conversation with you (heaven forbid!) would be what was found in the Soviet Union, where newspapers warned parents not to leave their children alone with “dangerous” grandmothers who would teach them about the Christmas tree. Or perhaps it’s that believers are trying to “shove their religion” into the laws and workings of the unbeliever’s pure secular society which causes the slip of paper to be such a holy horror. In The Mind made Flesh by atheist and psychologist Dr Nicholas Humphrey they certainly believe so, since despite their supposed love of freedom of speech, they’ve got just a few special exceptions where religion is concerned:
“Freedom of speech is too precious a freedom to be meddled with.” They begin: “And however painful some of its consequences may sometimes be for some people, we should still as a matter of principle resist putting curbs on it. By all means we should try to make up for the harm that other people’s words do, but not by censoring the words as such. And, since I am so sure of this in general, and since I’d expect most of you to be so too, I shall probably shock you when I say it is the purpose of my lecture today to argue in one particular area just the opposite. To argue, in short, in favour of censorship, against freedom of expression, and to do so moreover in an area of life that has traditionally been regarded as sacrosanct.
I am talking about moral and religious education. And especially the education a child receives at home, where parents are allowed — even expected — to determine for their children what counts as truth and falsehood, right and wrong. Children, I’ll argue, have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people’s bad ideas — no matter who these other people are. Parents, correspondingly, have no god-given licence to enculturate their children in whatever ways they personally choose: no right to limit the horizons of their children’s knowledge, to bring them up in an atmosphere of dogma and superstition, or to insist they follow the straight and narrow paths of their own faith. In short, children have a right not to have their minds addled by nonsense. And we as a society have a duty to protect them from it. So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible, or that the planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out or lock them in a dungeon.
That’s the negative side of what I want to say. But there will be a positive side as well. If children have a right to be protected from false ideas, they have too a right to be succoured by the truth. And we as a society have a duty to provide it. Therefore we should feel as much obliged to pass on to our children the best scientific and philosophical understanding of the natural world — to teach, for example, the truths of evolution and cosmology, or the methods of rational analysis — as we already feel obliged to feed and shelter them. I don’t suppose you’ll doubt my good intentions here. Even so, I realise there may be many in this audience — especially the more liberal of you — who do not like the sound of this at all: neither the negative, nor still less the positive side of it.”
OSC: The classical liberal certainly wouldn’t support the above, although with the way the illiberal left behave today I’m not so sure. I too believe children should be protected from the bad ideas of others, which is why I’d never read the perverted totalitarian ramblings of the good Dr in a playground or nursery. Is the above a small sight of the Godless utopia atheists dream of, sadly in many cases yes. In the above it’s their caricature of believers and religious belief which gives unbelievers their justification for attacking and belittling everybody who dares dissent. When Rob Bell replies to HM by writing “I also reject the evil, vindictive and cruel god you do!” they’re writing something factually correct, though on a moral and intellectual level they were being a coward.
Similarly an example for believing Christians, by appealing to a child’s sense of reason and maturity while they’re yet throwing their toys out of the pram (or burning a church) you only show yourself to know nothing about children. Their protest is not one of the mind, so why reply with mind as if to say it’ll solve the problem. They simply don’t care for that kind of answer. HM brings childish, unreasoned ideas to the table, so when Bell pats him on the back for it they’ve only rewarded baby for throwing their bottle. In short, these are two very silly young men. They continue:
“After all, an atheist is a person of great conviction. It takes great faith to stare at a sunset, to hear a symphony in full swing, to watch a young child take her first steps, and not see something divine. And yet Hemant has his reasons. . .”
HM I imagine couldn’t believe their luck when Bell handed in so limp an arsenal of “reasons” to believe in God’s existence. Baby’s first sets and sunsets aren’t exactly what Luke meant when they wrote how Jesus presented Himself alive again after Their passion by “many infallible proofs”, rather Bell, however intelligent they may personally be, inadvertently makes believers appear simple and without strong reasons for believing in the things which they do. For which they’re forced into painfully subjective interpretations of life and its more rare happenings.
Pastor Rob Bell concludes their opener by imagining HM’s review of the churches, a review in which they repeatedly hinted at God not existing, could work as a purifying force for the church altogether. Writing in closing:
“Because prophets can come from the most unexpected places, can’t they?”
So HM, who falsely brands the church anti-women, anti-science and God non-existent is a prophet now?! Meaning “god” has a message for us which his prophet HM is best suited to deliver, that repeated message being that they, though being god, don’t exist. What in the blue hell was Bell trying to write, perhaps an earlier comment could illuminate their above point:
“central to Christian life is embracing the truth wherever you find it, living with the awareness that God can speak at any time, anywhere, through anyone.”
Let’s pretend for a minute the idea Bell mentioned is “central” to the Christian faith (it’s certainly part of the faith, though in no way expressed as central), and that God can speak through anybody at anytime, could He also speak anything? Because the problem isn’t with when this book was written, or by whose hand, it’s the content which offends. Would God speak a pack of lies which led the world into rejecting Him for the lies of a false religion, or could God inspire an artist to paint a piece which was so powerful as to lead billions of people to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit? The answer to those questions is a big negative, and whoever would do those kinds of thing aren’t people to be praised for their “truth” or their supposed mission to find “the truth” (although as it’ll be shown later HM simply doesn’t care about the truth). Instead they need to be challenged, robustly, respectfully challenged, if not for their benefit then for the sake of people being misled by them. Bell on the other hand uncritically hands his fellow believer over to HM, they’re failing to take the log out of their own eye, and as a consequence they fail the flock they’re supposed to be guarding. If HM, also known as “the friendly atheist” is a prophet of god, even in the most loose and flippant sense, then methinks the Gospel has something to say on the subject:
‘Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.’
The fruit of HM’s material is not a revitalized and better preaching church, 10 years later as they attempt to gloat about a supposed exodus from American churches shows exactly that, rather the atheist activist by their material has produced more atheists (what a shocker!!!!). Who could have guessed an unbeliever who’s chair of and involved in several atheist organizations would be interested in recruiting more atheists (Rob Bell certainly didn’t). In the second portion of my review I’m going to go into the introduction, where HM will share with us their own “friendly” (AKA passive aggressive) sort of atheism. Until then however, I’d hold onto that penny if I were you.
― T. C. M