Cocaine, Jesus, & Hitchens…REALLY???

philadelphia 10

By Kenneth Justice

C’mon dude, we’ve got awesome blow, come on in the bathroom with us” he said

~ This past weekend I was in Madison, Wisconsin on my Drinking in the Culture Tour; a coffee house tour that gives me the opportunity to experience local culture in different cities around the Western World. Unfortunately, coffee houses aren’t always open late in the cities I come to and in Madison this past weekend I found myself at a dive bar in the heart of the downtown.

I’m not a stranger to bars, but I’ve never really been what you would call the kind of person who hangs out at them. I’m much more comfortable with the familiar surroundings of comfy coffee-house chairs and philosophy grad students who want to talk Karl Marx or Thomas Aquinas with me. However, I have no fear of bars and don’t mind a beer or two when I have the time.

So there I was on Friday night in a clunky dive bar; everything in the place was totally thrown together as though Stevie Wonder was the interior decorator. Mismatched lights hanging crookedly, a weather beaten neon menu that looked like it been lifted from a 1950’s drive-in movie theater; popcorn, French fries, coca cola, hamburgers, hot dogs, I think the menu was about as unimaginative as one could get.

It took me less than three minutes to strike up a conversation with some of the people at the bar. One of the 30-somethings heard that I had a Chicago connection and that sparked his interest in talking to me, and it also helped me connect with the people there that I noticed a few drug deals going on in the back of the bar; I commented to the female bartender and my two seat mates, “So I guess this is the place everyone comes for blow in Madison, Wisconsin” and they all laughed,

Is it that obvious” the female bartender asked

Well, you guys sure aren’t very discreet about it” I said. It’s not very difficult to notice drug deals in bars if you know what you’re looking for, and because I wasn’t making a big deal about it all of the people nearby instantly felt that they could trust me in talking about most anything.

One of the dudes hanging out at the bar was a devout atheist, I made a comment about how I’m visiting different cities engaging people in conversation, “you’re probably not interested in talking about the things I care about” he said, “I’ve read every book ever wrote by Christopher Hitchens and Charles Dawkins, I’m a hardcore atheist” he said

Au contraire dude” I said, “you’ve got to tell me; why do you consider yourself a ‘hardcore’ atheist. Did you grow up in a heavily religious family?” I asked

No my parents were agnostic. They made me go to catechism at the Lutheran church but after my first communion I went behind the church and got high with my friends; that’s about how serious I take religion” he said

As we talked throughout the evening it became apparent that this young guy had a tough life. When things turned out differently than he expected after high school, most of his 20’s were spent in and out of drug rehab clinics. It’s a testimony to his hard work that despite massive addictions to meth, cocaine, alcohol, many different pills, and eventually heroin, the young man graduated with a degree from Columbia and is now working a fairly decent job in Madison.

The young man’s step father beat him repeatedly. It didn’t help that his father abandoned the family and as a boy his mother was either unable or unwilling to defend him against the cruel step-father, “One day after school he was driving me home from football practice and all of a sudden for no god damn reason he grabbed the back of my head and crushed my face into the dashboard breaking my nose. He swore to me that if I told my mom he did it that he’d kill me. So I had to go the hospital and tell them it happened to me at football practice” he said “My mom knew what was going on but she didn’t say anything. She was scared he’d leave us and we’d be forced to live on the streets or something”.

Atheism for this young man was the only thing that made any sense in the face of all that he suffered through in his youth, “if there’s a god out there that did nothing to save me from my f**ked up situation then I wouldn’t want to worship that god at all” he said

One of the problems whenever I’m at a bar is that it’s usually difficult for me to keep track of all the people I’m talking to; I think that’s why I like hanging out at coffee shops. At a bar, when someone comes in like myself who is interested in having a conversation about real life issues, it usually stirs up a lot of people who crowd-around and want to be a part of the talk, and when I have ten or twenty different people all trying to talk to me at the same time…..my head starts to spin.

It’s also difficult to stay focused on the conversation when every few minutes people are trying to get me to drink shots or go into the bathroom and do lines of coke with them. Unfortunately for them, my idea of a good time wasn’t snorting cocaine off a bathroom counter in a dive bar.

But dude, don’t you want some kind of hope to look forward to? Some chance that there is more to this life than just blackness after you die?” I asked the young man

There’s nothing more to life; life is sh*t, life sucks, this is it” he said, and he downed another shot of 100 proof alcohol.

Is that really it? A big black emptiness; nothing more, nothing less? One of the fellow bloggers I met up with in Madison said he believed it was more likely there is something rather than nothing, “look at Nietzsche, even he couldn’t deal with the concept of there being nothing more than this life and in the end he went crazy” he said

It was an interesting weekend in Madison to say the least. Just a few thoughts that came to mind this morning as I sipped my coffee,

Kenneth



Categories: Culture & Society

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100 replies

  1. So so sad. I find that most, if not all, atheists become such because of suffering. But the problem about God stopping such situations is that it would take away free will…at least that’s how I see it. Intriguing post, as always. 🙂

    • New pic Kylie! I like it 🙂 And yea its not me to judge, but I often wonder; if I were an atheist, how would I deal with the concept of ‘this is all it is’……I honestly don’t know.

    • Thank you! 🙂 I think I would be rather depressed. Even being unsure what I believe about the afterlife as a non-Christian can be depressing! I just feel like there has to be more.

    • Kylie, and when I first read your blog a while back you were writing about how you had given up your faith in Christianity! Quite the change I’m seeing in you 😉

    • Hahaha, I knew that was coming. I really don’t know where I stand right now…it’s as confusing for you as it is for me! 😛

    • Well Kylie, its kinda like the 20ton gorilla in the corner of the room lol! The first post of yours that I read was about you rejecting Christianity…. and now there is such a different flavor in your voice 🙂

    • lol! There you go making up your own idioms again. Love it. Yep, I agree, especially after posting “There is Something Beautiful About Christianity.” I suppose I am proof that people can change. It honestly surprises me that I opened up my mind to becoming a Christian again so quickly. I’m not there yet, though. Have to figure out what being a Christian even means first, ha.

  2. Great post Kenneth! This post reminds me of a message I wrote awhile back called Hostage. These are no doubt spiritual hostage rally points. Thank God that he delivered me from these type of hostage situations-

  3. It is a strange way to think that life is as it is. it is in the end what you made of it.
    Though I can somehow relate his way of thinking.
    and I am smiling. that given the change even the biggest drug addict can make something of life. it may not have been easy for him.But he managed none the less and enjoys life as it come to him. even though he contradicts himself.

    I say cheers to all enjoy life

    • “given the change even the biggest drug addict can make something of life”

      I agree… and I’ve seen people who were major addicts and turned their life around 🙂

  4. Marvellous post and blog. I like the way you manage to make connections with people, and bring their stories to life. It puts our own stories and worries in context

  5. Kenneth, you truly have some amazing faith. Madison, WI showed its colors and you didn’t back down. With all my heart I pray he’s wrong about this being all there is to life. For the life of me I cannot understand how choosing to believe there is no God can be found easier to live with, than putting one’s love and faith into a higher being who wants to love and save us.

    The beauty in faith and God is all that we cannot explain, I think.

  6. Great post! I never try to convert an infidel. No, I simply tell them that when my challenges are greatest, my faith is at its strongest. We are not abandoned in our misery, we are made more pure by it. The forger fires his iron white hot and hammers out the impurities, shaping us into a new tool with purpose, strength, and in some cases, artistic beauty. Why would we not want that? How would we have gotten there otherwise? We each must find our own answer, that satisfies us, until we step of at the line of departure, into the black void.

    • “we each must find our own answer, that satisfies us, until we step off at the line of departure, into the black void”

      Wow…. pretty damn poetic sentence there!

  7. My heart breaks for that young man and everything that he has gone through, and maybe you planted a seed in him and soon he’ll be able to see how it helped shape and mold him for a reason and he’ll see his path. And, maybe not. Maybe you were just there so he could feel someone listen to him. Either way, you were a great blessing to that guy. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to hear everyone’s stories, the good and the bad, that would be so emotionally draining to me!

    • Kate, hmmm, it can be emotionally draining, but at a certain point you learn how to simply except things and move on. I don’t ‘replay’ conversations in my head, in fact, if I didn’t write about them for these articles; many of these conversations would probably be lost in the annuals of time, so I guess its a good thing I write them down 🙂

  8. Choosing to understand nature and scientific fact makes more sense to many of us than believing in a fictional being created at a time when man had a need to understand things and no science to provide explanations. Of course having invented a God what better way to control people than to claim you work for him and carry his word. Man has ever been quick to exploit a situation.

    There were originally so many gods that if in truth there was just the one Christian God, surely he’d have closed up belief in all others by now. The belief that he can’t interfere because he gave us free will, just allows the vicious to strike the innocent, as happened to the young man you met,and for children to be killed in wars.He in fact delivers the sin of the father on the child which his own book says you shouldn’t. The excuse is a cop out because God won’t come through to prove his existence.

    Much better to have faith in people like those who do as you do and engage with others to create communities of understanding and tolerance.
    Hugs.

    • Thank you david

      “understanding and tolerance” mean a lot to me; its definitely not my prerogative to go around and argue with people. I’d much rather have interesting discussions that are non-threatening 🙂

    • Do you think it’s tolerant and understanding to call God a fictional being? This fictional character sure does get blamed for a lot in your second paragraph. One would assume your beef is more with his human followers, which you deride in your third paragraph by making an exclusionary statement with regard to community and declare it one of tolerance and understanding.

    • Sorry for placing this in the wrong place below.

      Do you think it’s tolerant and understanding to call God a fictional being? This fictional character sure does get blamed for a lot in your second paragraph. One would assume your beef is more with his human followers, which you deride in your third paragraph by making an exclusionary statement with regard to community and declare it one of tolerance and understanding.

    • Thank you Cucumberlodge. I don’t think it’s intolerant to call god a fictional being if I’m stating my own opinion. I have no objection to people having their own belief set but do object when I ask why it is that the innocent in life aren’t protected and the old excuse of free will is trotted out. Young children don’t have a will but if they did I’m pretty sure they’d choose to stay alive.This being , if he /it existed could with one click supposedly make all people believe in his existence and stop wars between nations. Considering the percentage who actually want to go to war, surely it would be better to help the majority?
      My country was Druid before we were introduced to Christianity. Who’s to say that was wrong. Our beliefs were changed at the hand of a bigger force. Christianity has been responsible for the Crusades where innocents were again killed, the Cathars were massacred at the hands of the Catholic Church, an establishment that’s been rules by some of the least Christian people going.
      The ‘facts’ surrounding Jesus have been taken from the earlier worship of Mithras like the 12 disciples, the travelling and storytelling, the virgin birth etc, etc. God himself seems to change from an unforgiving and powerful god in the OT to a gentle and loving one in the NT.
      Yes, I blame people for all the faults I mention but religion does exhort them into these actions too with fundamentalism.
      I do not deride the above and then claim a community of tolerance and understanding. I said that people like our host go out to meet with others and CREATE communities of understanding and tolerance. I believe most people are capable of this if invited to share without being derided for being blond, being black, being female or being gay, if they’re just treated as people.

  9. I often think there is much that happens in my life that can’t be explained without a mystical quality. I was never exposed to any dogma and I see no need for it. Honestly, I think that the “hereafter” ideas can only bring comfort to people who have drilled with dogma. I don’t find becoming part of the Earth discomforting at all. I had a talk with an atheist yesterday. He is 81 and joking with his wife on the phone about getting into see a doctor or “just have them come over and collect” the body. It doesn’t take anything away from the purpose of his life to imagine it will end forever soon. He said “I can’t think of a more dismal thing to go to a place where everything is taken care of. I wouldn’t enjoy that at all”. Sounds good to me but I would miss all the people that didn’t earn points to get there.

    • I think I actually agree with that atheist friend of yours; if the afterlife is nothing more than a place where everything is taken care of, well, it doesn’t sound very interesting at all. But of course, I really don’t have much of an opinion about the afterlife. Even though fundamentalist Christianity and some other religions have very strong opinions; traditional Christianity and Judaism doesn’t have much of a theology on what exactly the after life is…… so at the moment I’m merely thankful to wake up ever morning and breath fresh air.

    • There is plenty purpose for you right here and now to satisfy until eternity. I hear that shaving isn’t big in heaven.

  10. I’m still having a hard time believing someone actually recommended this bar to you…so surreal.

    It saddens me that some people’s experiences in life have been so hard to bear that life itself seems like a prison sentence.

    Despite all the ups ad downs, negatives and positives…life has always been a great adventure for me…and after that…another great adventure… 😉

    • Mrs. P. lol! I think I must look like a young hipster of sorts looking for that kind of thing 😉 although to be honest with ya Mrs. P; drugs are pretty much everywhere these days, but you have to know what your looking for to spot it….I am an ex-rehab clinic counselor after all 😉

  11. Dear Kenneth,

    There is soo much in my mind and heart about your post today. I don’t know where to begin. If we were in a coffee shop I’d want to talk for an hour.

    I just wanted to comment to at least let you know how much I appreciate what you are offering us here on your site through your experiences and words. It’s a bigger gift than I can say. A place to explore the important questions, the harshness of reality and the hope for some light.

    My favorite line though is “au contraire dude” that made me laugh 🙂 I’m stealing it! May I?

    Your descriptions of your experiences seem more vivid to me recently. Maybe it’s just me or the way I’m reading them.

    Peace, always,

    Allison

  12. Interesting conversations you had! I don’t usually talk to random people in bars, and I assume they don’t want to talk deeply in those situations, but I guess you proved me wrong. Are you passing through New Haven at all on your tour?

  13. This sounds like the most interesting adventure ever- traveling around meeting tons of different people and talking about life. Thank you for writing about it, it makes me feel like I was there. I know I wasn’t, but I enjoy learning about others and hearing their stories. I hope this guy finds hope… My heart goes out to him.

    I missed you when you went through the Atlanta area, because I didn’t know you existed haha But if you ever world travel again, I want to talk in a coffee shop with you for a little while!

    Ruthie

  14. Nice post, Kenneth. I read just about every one you write and I enjoy them all, including this one.

    Unfortunately, in this one you are perpetuating the myth that atheism is borne out of suffering and some traumatic event that caused someone to lose faith in God. No doubt that is the case with some. But unlike what Kylie wrote, “I find that most, if not all, atheists become such because of suffering,” that is not the case with most atheists I know. And I know a lot, as I am an atheist. I had no such trauma when I was growing up. I just began to see God in the same way as I saw Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and all kinds of other made up characters designed by my parents and my church to get me to behave myself.

    • Doobster,

      Sorry! It totally wasn’t my intention to perpetuate any myth regarding atheist. The young man was actually REALLY nice and we had an awesome conversation. I was trying to do my best to simply relay some of the main points of our talk without laying any judgments or accusations against him or against atheism.

    • I didn’t think you were. You were talking about one guy you met who had a really bad childhood and rejected God, perhaps because of it. But based upon a few of the comments, some readers jumped from the story of one individual to a generalization about atheists. Why else would someone reject God, religion, an afterlife, and become a “infidel” if they were not victims of some abuse or horrible tragedy in their youths? It can’t possibly be because the person began to think rationally and to recognize that all religions simply based upon mythology.

      Don’t feel sorry for atheists, people. We are not lost souls, not sad, bitter people who have lost our ways.

    • I apologize too! I just meant that I have found that to be true personally…should have worded it differently. I do not assume that of all atheists – it is just true of many atheists I know.

    • No apology necessary. I didn’t mean to pick on you or to single you out individually. It’s just that yours happened to be at the top of the comments.

      I was actually more irritated by Willy Nilly’s comment, “I never try to convert an infidel.” An ‘infidel”? Seriously?

    • So let me get this straight some people are born atheists and others develop it artificially?

    • I’m not sure what you mean by developing into an atheist “artificially.”

      We are all born atheists. You don’t come out of the womb thanking God or reciting your Hail Marys. You are taught…or are indoctrinated…about God and religion from your parents and your clergy. But as you grow and educate yourself, you begin to question the dogma and the teachings of the church and realize that it’s all mythology, no different, really, from the ancient Greek and Roman mythologies. And so you stop drinking the Kool-Aid and start thinking for yourself. You begin to question everything. And you recognize that it is God and religion that developed artificially. And so you become an atheist.

    • Poor choice of words, you’re right. So in the example you site, it sounds like a sort of deprogramming takes place, at least in cases like yours?

    • Well, some may call it “deprogramming.” I think of it as enlightenment and an awakening of rationality.

    • So do you believe in this rationality (reason) as an ends in and of itself or as a means of discovering the unknown?

    • I’ll leave it go the astrophysicist and other scientists to discover the “unknown.” I settle for living my life, the only one I have, as best I can.

    • I agree somewhat materially speaking. What I was referring to, more specifically, is how we all employ reason, to greater or lesser degrees, to function in our immediate world. The way we distinguish truth from error, right from wrong and so forth. How we make sense out of the world.

    • I don’t think it takes a belief in God or having a specific religion to make sense of the world. You don’t need God to distinguish right from wrong, good from evil. As far as truth, well, don’t we each have our own versions of truth?

    • Doob– *I* was not born an atheist. I remember what I remember from a very early age, and it has NOTHING to do with indoctrination whatsoever.

      Please… I have no problem with you owning your own experience, but when you use the word “we” as though it should speak for every one of us, including myself, I take strong exception to that. Do not speak for me, please.

    • So let me get this straight. You believed in God and had religion from the instant you emerged from your mother’s womb and took your very first breath. Is that what you’re saying?

    • p.s. Yes, I know you were speaking to cucumberlodge, not me, but I still ask nevetheless because I’d like to remain part of the discussion. Of course, this is Kenneth’s blog, not mine, so I leave it up to him as to etiquette here.

    • So you said, “I remember what I remember from a very early age,” what age would that have been? I don’t think it was when you were first born. And maybe you don’t believe you were indoctrinated, but someone had to teach you about…explain to you…who/what God is and what religion is. You didn’t just start believing on your own with no outside influence. So I stick by my original statement that *we* are all born as atheists.

    • That’s true, for you.

      You don’t know me. The interactions we have had are few. Because you stubbornly insist to speak for me when you have little clue who I am, or where I’ve been, I choose to ignore you.

      Rationalize it any way you want. Protest in any way that makes you feel better. But I’m not going to converse with anyone who speaks for me when they have no idea who I am, where I came from, or anything like that.

      If you insist on having the last word, then I can simply confirm for myself that you don’t care what I think… you only care what you do. Go on now, justify to the others about how right you are and how irrational I’m being about being insulted. It won’t change a thing.

      Good day to you.

    • Hey if you want to believe that you knew God when you were born and that came out of the womb as a religious newborn, that’s fine by me. Whatever floats your boat.

    • Don’t go away mad… just go away.

    • I’m not mad. And since this isn’t your blog, who are you to tell me to go away? Only Kenneth can do that, should he choose to do so..

      And besides, I thought you said you were going to ignore me, that you aren’t going to converse with me. I thought you said good day to me.

      You’re not a man of your word, are you, Jak?

    • We’re born agnostic at best… and you’re an abrasive asshole. Congratulations, fool, you apparently win at the Internet.

      But I know you won’t be the least bit satisfied with that. Come now, show me how brilliant your insults are way upon your high horse. If you’re going to insist upon being right, let’s at least give Kenneth and his audience an entertaining show.

    • you capitalized “jak” by the way, again, proving you know nothing of me.

      Keep it coming, shitbreath.

    • Please. I’m begging you. Ignore me.

  15. Lots of people including myself wonder why certain things, whimsical thoughts, life changing events,Dramas, heorics,stretches of happiness, happens to certain people while others just have lives of contented blahness from beginning to end. Wonderous things, e.g. you see UFO, low and slow, and you wonder, “what the ? . . ” A life saving shout in your ear saves your life. . .. more than once, and you wonder. ! ? I’ve been egging on the Atheist in California for the longest while,”Backyard Skeptics” to do more to spur on the . . . to promote more open guilt free dialogue with Christians who think just exercising,voicing their “God given” curisoty and wonder would send them to hell, etc. The Stockholm syndrome. Many are overwhelmed by life’s experience for better or worse and are fascinated with the entire ‘Order vs disorder’ complex. All that mystefyingness, the change in the midst of no change, is what inspires some, including myself. All that nonsense, from the usefulness of maggots to electricity, is what I call God,. . . God the Father Son, God the cousins, God the Sisters,Gods of Basketball, Gods of war. . . . 4 days ago my neighbor directly across the street died, 26 years old, from what ? I don’t now . Woke up and his car was surrounded with crime scene tape. By midday it was removed. Wake was yesterday. They turned their backs whenever they saw me, so for four years we never became not even acquaintances. We’re fine with all the other neighbours. That’s life in a nutshell. Winds picking up, front moving in, extra high tide in four hours. I’m going windsurfing again. 30 minute drive to the beach. Water temperature is 76, 78 in our swimming pool. She thought putting in a pool would keep me home more often. That’s life. Makes you wonder. . . .

  16. When I die I’ll be gone, not to ‘another place’ but back into the universe from whence I came. My fervent hope is that my children, godchildren, grandchildren will remember me for various varied reasons and that will keep the memory of me alive . I remember my late father-in-law (a truly good man and devout believer) who lost his first wife when she was only 32 and had a 6-month old baby, and who subsequently remarried and stayed married for 45 years, saying on his death-bed ‘I don’t know if I want two wives in heaven – what will happen?’

  17. “I don’t understand why we must do things in this world, why we must have friends and aspirations, hopes and dreams. Wouldn’t it be better to retreat to a faraway corner of the world, where all its noise and complications would be heard no more? Then we could renounce culture and ambitions; we would lose everything and gain nothing; for what is there to be gained from this world?” Emil Cioran

  18. Kenneth:

    It sounds like you had an extremely interesting night Friday :-). I have a unique perspective in that I am a Christian but I largely work with atheists and most of my friends are atheists. Moreover, during my early adult life I was a practical agnostic (although I never was convinced by the belief of atheism). Thus, I have a lot of respects for atheists and it is certainly a rationale belief to conclude that there is nothing beyond the material world. I just happen to fall in the camp that it is more likely than not something beyond our material existence.

    During my journey, I read Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Dennett and other “New Atheists” and was underwhelmed. I found their intellectually sterile (arguing against a straw man is not a real debate) and their zealotry every bit as scary as the fundamentalist Christians and Muslims that they criticize. In many ways these fringe atheists give Atheism a bad name just like fundamentalist Christians give Christianity a bad name.

    I believe there is plenty of room for tolerance and common dialogue among mainstream atheists and believers, especially in the areas of awe, wonder and community as I have written earlier this year. Part of the struggle is the use of the term “God” which unfortunately is a term that has been tarnished due to the actions of many Christians.

    http://wp.me/p3pJsV-Kk

    Thank you again for your interesting reflections.

    Peace,
    W. Ockham

  19. This story – deeeeeep! I associate this story with that of Mary Magdalen in the bible. Im so quick to be happy for her because she was healed of 7 demons. I’m even more quick to say, “…and sin no more!” But this guys story and struggle is the same as hers. I’ve come to view life as one great big video game. All of humanity has a level 1, and it’s through all the obsticle courses that we all eventually rise to the last level. Kenneth I enjoy reading all the wisdom you’ve acquired through the previous levels you’ve conquered. See you at the last level friend!!

  20. Another good one, Kenneth, except that being a huge Stevie Wonder fan, I am sure that even he with his blindness, could decorate with taste and style.

  21. I used to have a theory that whatever you thought happens when you die is exactly what happens to people. Our brains are a complex and mysterious creation and we don’t fully understand what makes up our consciousness, so who is to say that we don’t create our own afterlife? If you think you’re going to heaven you go to whatever you think heaven is, same for hell. If you believe in spirits and ghosts perhaps you stick around and haunt people. Reincarnation may be entirely possible, may also explain why some people feel like they have past lives and one could argue, under that hypothesis, that it may even influence sexual preference if you happen to be reincarnated numerous times (you’re a girl, next life girl, next life girl, then all of a sudden you’re a boy but find yourself drawn sexually towards men…) which would explain why people are born with certain preferences. I have had enough different experiences that changed my outlook on death. I don’t think I will ever believe that there is nothing after you die, but what happens is the mystery that keeps me up some nights. I do know that I am not afraid to die, I won’t speed up the process but I have no desire to live forever.

  22. You really are having some adventures in your travels! Ever the optimist, I would like to think that poor guy will have some revelation of God later in life. I don’t profess to have all the answers and I’m not even looking for them. Bad things happen to people in life and we have no understanding at all why. I can’t really relate to the mindset of the non-believer because that is so far removed from my mindset. However, i’m willing to talk to anyone without condemnation or judgement like yourself which tends to draw people in.

    I realize most atheists are not looking to change their views, but I do believe that when believers treat people with respect, love and compassion it encourages atheists to talk and listen and open up to live changing conversations and experiences.

    By the way, your travels this year would make great reading for a book! You should give that some serious thought.

  23. Pretty daring of you I think to start a conversation about god, religion or atheism at all! There are very few topics that tend to get people so riled up as that one 😉 having said that I always enjoy having open, friendly discussions about this kind of thing when I can and I’m glad this particular chat was devoid of any hurt feelings! Interesting post 🙂

  24. You know what man, the world needs more people asking questions like that. The world needs the people that are willing to go into dive bars and stir up conversations about why people do what they do. Thanks for making people think or at least trying with those that are hard to get through to sometimes. You set a great example for someone who’s trying to dig deeper and ask the right questions rather than just except what is put in front of them.

  25. Interesting stories. What most fascinates me is why all of these people choose to talk to you and keep talking to you? (I’m not being sarcastic.) You seem to have some manner of engendering conversation and supplying the food it needs to continue. People enjoy talking to you. Perhaps you could manufacture some sort of Kenneth’s Coffee Biscuits to sell with a self-help manual. I’d buy one. 🙂

  26. Even though maybe it shouldn’t have, I enjoyed a chuckle at this, picturing you at a bar, a bunch of loud people all talking to you at once, and on top of it all, people doing lines in the bathroom. A perfect blend of serious and humorous. 🙂 Anyways, I have been through some points in life where I was very cynical, “life sucks”, but I’m so happy I’ve come through them, and I’m happy to be alive despite everything, and I’m proud of the hope within me, the belief that there’s something more. I have alot of compassion for people who have no hope, to whom life is abysmal at best. Loved this post, by the way.

  27. I was just thinking Kenneth, your blog may be one of the only few that actually gets read on WordPress lol. Keep up the good work!

  28. This is why I see God ,more like the operator of a big computer. The computer, for the most part, is made to take care of itself and get rid of any problems on it’s own. This is so the operator (aka God) can spend time focused on the big master plan. I don’t know the whole story, but I look at his life and wonder if anyone every reached out. How did he get better? How did he overcome his addictions? There were certainly human systems in place that helped them along. I guess what I’m saying is that we are here to do God’s work so God can focus on the big picture. That’s how I reason horrible events like this. It’s not a perfect explanation, I’m still working on it. I just feel like life is not supposed to suck. It’s not supposed to be pain.

    • Well said! I agree. I’d only add that my thought is whoever helped him with his addictions – God was working through them. He was present but in his own way and in ways that this young man wouldn’t necessarily see. This young guy made his own decisions but God gave us free will – He provided this guy the opportunity to eventually make the right decisions. People have this expectation that God is always going to show up as something grand or some giant white light but that’s not necessarily how it works. I also agree that life isn’t supposed to suck or be full of pain, but God also can’t be held responsible all the time for people’s actions or inactions. At some point we have to accept responsibility for ourselves.

  29. I can only handle atheists in small doses, the same way I feel about anyone who is dogmatic in their beliefs. I’m a very sensitive person, and most of the people I’ve known who were proud of being atheist were often a little bit mean. Just my completely unscientific observation…and I’ve seen the same meanness in hard-core Christians as well. Certainty seems to breed arrogance rather than kindness.
    Interesting that you ended up in a dive bar in Madison- that city was at the top of my list of places I wanted to live when we were preparing to leave the east coast. We ended up in Colorado instead, but I’m still curious about Madison.

  30. When you become an Atheist, you take on God’s burden. No one is up to that. It’s bound to get you down.

    • When you become an atheist, you no longer believe that God exists, so I’m not sure how you can take on God’s burden, whatever that is.

    • God’s burden is a responsibility for how things are. I see it all the time in atheists’ dreary outlook. Complaints, complaints, complaints. Complaining is just taking responsibility, or ‘grabbing the helm’ if you please, while not correcting the problem.

    • Most atheist I know, including me, don’t have a dreary outlook and complain all the time. In fact, hardly at all. We atheists tend to live life as fully as we can, given that this is the only life we have. No dreary, no complaints.

  31. Love your blog!
    So do you want to follow this blog: http://www.gossipgirlnetherlands.wordpress.com THAT WOULD BE AWESOME!

  32. This young man’s story of abuse touched me deeply. What an opportunity to address the problem of human evil with him directly. How ugly it is. How rampant it is. How illusive it is. What is it? Where did it come from? How do we define it? How is it passed along? Who defines it? What is the solution? Is it personal or universal? Could it be both? Do we just start exterminating people? On what basis? Who’s definition? Who’s left standing in that scenario? Is the last person standing innocent or just the winner? What is innocence? Who defines it? Who was Jesus Christ? Why was he put to death? Was he God? Was he perfect? Was he the perfect man sacrifice to redeem men from evil? Where did he come from? Where is he now? Anyone with a basic understanding of Christian doctrine, and a love for his fellow man would relay these teachings to this young man. His creator has the answers and has conquered evil, death, or the word we all like to avoid, sin. When ever man tries to define evil outside of God’s revelation some man or group of men become gods and very, very, bad things happen. It will keep repeating until people confess their own sinfulness to their creator and trust in His Son as the only Way to God. It’s great to make people feel better.
    It’s a real necessity to listen empathetically. It’s good to make them think for themselves. But it’s tragic not to share the truth. God’s Word is truth and power. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures”. The historical Jesus is the answer.

    • One needn’t understand Christian doctrine to have love for his fellow man. And as far as God having conquered evil, death, and sin, I ask you how much evil, death, and sin has been perpetrated upon the fellow man that this Christian doctrine teaches us to love…all in the name of this wonderful God whose word, you claim, is truth and power?

      It’s a good guess that this kid’s father, the one who abused him and smashed his face into the car’s dashboard, breaking his nose, was a good, God-fearing Christian.

  33. Great post…I can’t wrap my head around believing in nothing….not sure how I would have faced the many tragedies and all of the ups and downs life presents without my faith! I look at each situation as an opportunity to grow, even when it hurts like hell. Not always successful, but looking back there is a pattern of growth and most of the growth has come from some of the saddest moment in my life and during those times, it was my faith that carried me through! Keep on doing what you are doing…it’s awesome!!

  34. Wow, you know Kenneth, when I hear stories like this, or the beliefs and world-views of others that are not based on a sincere seeking out, I feel so overwhelmed. Like even now, I’m emotional. How the heck do we reach out and make a difference? Seems so difficult. Really wish I could just enter into people’s lives and make a real, life changing difference. Make them see. I just read the poem of another blogger that just touched me too. He shared a story of his childhood that is unfortunately the reality of far too many, even mine. Heart-breaking.
    This world is so dark. So black. Wish I could just turn a light on. How do we do it? You don’t have to answer that.

  35. I just put a link up on twitter. It is to a post I wrote about life after death. Do you believe something because you think it is true, or do you believe it because you think good things will happen to you because of this belief?

  36. well written again. tough one there. I continue looking forward to your tour of American and the revolution you are starting. Someday I may share my wifes story it is life changing to say the least and if you ask her she would say she could not have done it without God. (She was not raised Christian that came later). God Bless and keep writing.

  37. Incredible. I can’t imagine what that poor guy went through. It’s amazing that you could hang in a place like that. I’d get too uncomfortable knowing that kind of behavior was happening right there – not out of judgement but because those are things I don’t want to be around. That said, what an experience to have and to meet with that young guy. I was recently watching a show on LMN about a specialized therapist that regresses people to their past lives. Who knows if it’s real or not but it certainly raises questions. I’ve heard stories of people knowing things that only someone else could have known so it was interesting hearing these people talk. I’m Catholic so I clearly believe in life after death but it would surprise me if even from a science perspective if reincarnation happens. I mean all beings are energy – energy cannot be created nor destroyed, so in regards to a soul, doesn’t it stand to reason that eventually a soul would find another body? That energy goes somewhere right? If that’s the case then the soul carries with it past experiences. I realize I may be reaching a little there, but I certainly think it’s plausible. That said, I think again it stands to reason that those energies (or souls rather) have a place to go while waiting to be “reassigned.” As for hell, well, that’s a bit of a different matter but if there’s heaven, then hell exists too. Negative energy has to have a place as much as positive right?

  38. I know of a similar former drug addict who was beaten by his stepfather because he tried to straighten him out. Living with a drug addict in your household can be frustrating and heartbreaking to say the least. What is the saddest thing in your post is that he was in that bar. The recidivism rate for a heroin addict is is 95 percent. Only 5 percent of heroin addicts ever fully beat the habit. His being in that bar is not a good sign.that he will have keep that good job he now has in the future.

    Regards

  39. The real truth is that no one knows what happens after this life. Do people believe there is something after this life just because they don’t want to feel so uncomfortable with the idea of not believing?

  40. Hi Kenneth, thank you so much for stopping by, reading and liking “Listening.” Much appreciated. Looks like you have reached out to a huge following here yourself and have made an impact too. It’s great to write about life here!

  41. Fabulous post as always Kenneth!

  42. Phew!
    I just made the mistake of reading ALL the comments & replies.

    Hot debate here, Kenneth.

    But Great post as usual. It’s refreshing to find a blogger so open and thoughtful. Shame some of your followers aren’t of the same ilk.

    Does it really matter how many of us are Christian, Muslim, Hindu or believers in God. Religion, Politics and who makes the best toilet paper should be banned subjects in my opinion. I’d rather talk about the best brand of coffee and whether you take sugar or not?

    Do you (take sugar in your coffee) Kenneth?

    (Big Grin).

  43. i haven’t read all the comments and replies here, just some. But I’ll add in a couple perhaps unique thoughts. Who says things have to be “fair?” Who says that hardship in life is a sign God doesn’t care, doesn’t exist, or hates you? For those with hard, painful lives who might espouse one or more of those ideas, there are others who have been and are going through worse, who may hold fast to faith in God and His goodness. Paul the apostle, who wrote much of the new testament of the Bible, is one. Horribly persecuted and tortured. Jesus himself led a life of suffering and sorrow. But they had true communion with God in a different realm, in the spiritual realm, regardless of what was happening physically.

    Evil in the world and the existence of God are, in my opinion, issues which aren’t as related as many think they are. God does love and care for His children, but he is dealing with the spirit, not the physical. God isn’t as concerned with our happiness and comfort as we are. That’s brutal but largely true, and nothing in the Bible, for what that’s worth, really contradicts this, and much of it supports this.

    I don’t know it all, but I can say this: there is a SPIRITUAL realm that underlies this physical realm. It’s deeper and more “fundamental” than the physical life we are so familiar with here. Quantum Physics is actually beginning to prove this, scientifically and experimentally (look up the double-slit experiment to get started, if you haven’t heard of that). I think keeping this in mind can help put the suffering and inequality of this realm in perspective. For those who claim to be “Christian,”The Bible says God chastizes and scourges those He sees as sons. Not because He enjoys it, but as a steering wheel or guidance…

    Just some thoughts. Thanks for yours, Kenneth.

  44. “Atheism for this young man was the only thing that made any sense in the face of all that he suffered through in his youth, “if there’s a god out there that did nothing to save me from my f**ked up situation then I wouldn’t want to worship that god at all” he said”

    Exactly my same feeling. It makes no sense to want anything to do with someone who either caused or allowed suffering without so much as an explanation.

  45. Ken, I read your posts from time to time, and enjoy them. Keep up the good blog.

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