What did the Progressive Christian say to the Evangelical Atheist?

Via Roger Wolsey
on Jan 25, 2012
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Boulder Atheists buy billboards that read:
“God is an imaginary friend”

From the Denver Post:
The Boulder Atheists announced Monday that the group has purchased space on three billboards in Denver and Colorado Springs to post messages that read, “God is an imaginary friend. Choose reality, it will be better for all of us.”Boulder Atheists co-founder Marvin Straus said billboards have proven an effective way for the organization to communicate with the public. He said recruiting more atheists isn’t the goal.

“It’s not like we’re evangelical atheists,” Straus said. “We don’t care whether people are believers or non-believers. Our main goal is separation of church and state. The goal of the billboard is to encourage a dialogue.”

The billboards will be located at 8031 E. Colfax Ave. and 424 S. Federal Blvd. in Denver, and along Interstate 25 near Elkton Springs Road in Colorado Springs.

Glenn Stanton, of the Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family, said he doesn’t see how “insulting” people who believe in God is going to initiate a dialogue.

“They’re kind of taking a swipe at everybody who believes in God,” he said.

Straus said the locations were chosen by group’s advertising agency as the ones with the most exposure that also fit into the group’s “limited budget.”

“We would have billboards in every major city in the state, including Boulder, if we had more money,” he said.

The Boulder Atheists are part of the Colorado Coalition of Reason, which was responsible for some similarly themed public messages in the past.

In 2010, the coalition bought space on three billboards protesting the nativity scene displayed outside the Denver City and County Building.

The group in 2009 set up a plaque in protest of the Larimer County sheriff’s “politically incorrect Christmas party” and in 2008 installed billboards that read, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”

After the 2008 billboard messages went up, Straus said, the group received 50,000 hits on its website and “a lot” of new members.

“It’s a good way of making contact with the public,” he said.


So, here’s what I wrote to that Atheist Group (and the people of Denver) via the Denver Post

I’m a resident of Boulder and a Christian. But I’m not writing in to apologize for the actions of the folks who paid for those ads. They’re entitled to their freedom of speech and to pay for some (not particularly unattractive) signs. Instead of the stereo-typical response of protest and outcry that these atheists might expect, I want to let them know that

God can handle this, and so can we.

While in-authentic Christianity (fundamentalism for example) operates from a fear-based perspective that can’t handle challenges to their faith, authentic Christianity operates from a place of loving and deep knowing and allows for – and even appreciates – seasons of doubt. There is no such thing as a faith that doesn’t have times of doubt.

If a faith can’t handle people claiming that it’s B.S., then it isn’t much of a faith.


Thank You

atheist friends for providing a dose of that to help us on our journeys!

To learn more about the perspective that I’m coming from (progressive Christianity) see these two articles: Huffington Post blog  &  Elephant Journal blog.
Love & ((Hug)),

Rev. Roger Wolsey
Wesley Foundation, United Methodist Campus Ministry at C.U.- Boulder


Wolsey is the author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity. He blogs for Elephant Journal, Huffington Post, and Patheos. He’s an active participant on The Christian Left Facebook page.


About Roger Wolsey

Roger Wolsey is a free-spirited GenX-er who thinks and feels a lot about God and Jesus. He’s a progressive Christian who identifies with people who consider themselves as being “spiritual but not religious.” He came of age during the “Minneapolis sound” era and enjoyed seeing The Replacements, The Jayhawks, Husker Du, The Wallets, Trip Shakespeare, Prince, and Soul Asylum in concert—leading to strong musical influences to his theology. He earned his Masters of Divinity degree at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO. Roger is an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church and he currently serves as the director of the Wesley Foundation campus ministry at C.U. in Boulder, CO. He was married for ten years, divorced in 2005 and now co-parents a delightful 10-year old son. Roger loves live music, hosting house concerts, rock-climbing, yoga, centering prayer, trail-running with his dog Kingdom, dancing, camping, riding his motorcycle, blogging, and playing his trumpet in ska bands and music projects. He's recently written a book Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don't like christianity


36 Responses to “What did the Progressive Christian say to the Evangelical Atheist?”

  1. Mark Ledbetter says:

    PS, check out Roger's book Kissing Fish (link at the bottom of his article). I say this not as a believer in the basic path expressed therein but as an admirer of a well-studied, well-thought out (and always sympathetic) path, even if it diverges somewhat from my own.

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  3. Nikki Leonard says:

    "Focus on the Family" is one of the main organizations seeking to make sure lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people never have basic rights. I am a progressive Christian yogini and got here because I found people who believed in taking the Bible seriously as opposed to taking the Bible literally. People who believe that Christ's message is one of love. People who believe that Christianity is a movement for peace and social justice. Hopefully one day the voices of those like Rev. Roger Wolsey are heard as loudly as those of oppressive groups such as "Focus on the Family".

  4. ted norman says:

    I think many atheists see the value in Jesus’s teachings, especially the focus on social justice and care toward others. Speaking for myself, the problem is with the deification of a human and lack of any objective proof for the existence of god. Bronze age creation myths don’t really stand up to the light of reason, and two centuries of rationalization don’t either. Is the universe a wonderful, complicated, difficult to comprehend place? Yup. Does that make it supernatural in origin? Not really.

  5. Greg Eckard says:

    This article raises some interesting issues. I think this is an example of atheists aggressively trying to convert people to their faith (which is a faith, since God can't be proven not to exist). I think that it mocks people of faith and creates hostility rather than dialogue. I don't think that putting up these billboards is helping to create a more spiritually tolerant society.

  6. Scott Dickie says:

    I agree, Ted.

    If an atheist believes in any of "Jesus' teachings", then the key word is teachings. Inasmuch as these teachings are reasonable, Jesus is irrelevant. Reason stands on its own. Inasmuch as they are unreasonable, Jesus is irrelevant. The unreasonable falls regardless of who is trying to hold it up. Jesus is, at best, superfluous, and, at worst, leads to irrational belief that is always ultimately destructive.

  7. Kelly says:

    Even if God is an imaginary friend, some would say he was the best one they ever had…

  8. Ryan says:

    I’m sure a lot of egyptians were offended by the first ant sun-god billboards. There were probably a lot of angry Greeks when the anti-zues sentiment started being expressed publicly. It’s just what we humans do. We love beliefs. What we believe in really isn’t that important, as it will only change. The only true lesson to be learned from religious history is that it will change. I don’t know what the atheists were trying to say, but I think there’s a lesson to be learned from always thinking we know the truth. If someone wrote a book like the bible today, it would never be accepted as the truth. Other than being old, why is it accepted by so many as anything but a book with some good info on how to live. There’s a whole ton of books out there like that. And they have less hate and fear.

  9. Kay says:

    What a beautiful way of looking at it.

  10. __MikeG__ says:

    Your definition of faith is not believing in a being because it is impossible to prove a negative? Really? That's the logic on which you want to hang your hat? Hilarious.

  11. Suri says:

    I dont know about you but to be honest god has never spoken to me …..just another reason to not believe in him.

  12. BrotherRog says:

    Suri, well, She has spoken to me. Be patient. Then again, many (if not most) people of faith have never had God speak to them (overtly). It's not required or essential. That said, people who engage in contemplative practices such as centering prayer or who commune in nature (without wearing mp3 players with earbuds) often report feeling God's nudges and leadings in their life. – Roger

  13. Jamie says:

    As a progressive Christian yogini, I find the atheist billboard less annoying than its fundie counterpart, since the fundie version uses God to promote their own twisted agenda. In fact, I sympathize with atheism. I was an atheist myself before I began my yoga/meditation practice which allows direct experience of the divine For me it's not a question of "belief" and I would not believe in God based on blind faith or a collection of ancient stories In any case, I strongly support freedom of expression, as well as separation of Church and State, and therefore in this matter I side with the atheists.

  14. Mdub3000 says:

    Can't you love without dogma?

  15. atheism is just a by product of fundamentalism — their hubris annoys me just as much.

  16. yogijulian says:

    i always find it muddies the water when language used to describe religious zealots is used to describe atheists or people who value evidence/scientific method.

    there can be by definition no such thing as a "fundamentalist atheist" or a "dogmatic scientist," precisely because both atheists and those who value science are specifically in favor of the opposite of fundamentalism or dogma.

    likewise someone who feels it is important to argue against belief in unreasonable things cannot be "evangelical" – because by definition they are trying to encourage you to think for yourself and see through the kinds of arguments from authority, arguments from ignorance and appeals to emotion that would make up any gospel preached by an evangelist.

    a type of "fallacy of the excluded middle" gets enacted wherein it is made to appear that you have fundamentalist religious folks on one extreme and dogmatic atheists on the other, whilst reasonable people are in the middle.

    this is simply untrue.

    a more accurate depiction would be that you have people who believe unreasonable things on one side and people who do not on the other.

    within the camp of people who believe unreasonable things, some have even more outlandish beliefs than others.

    amongst those who don't believe in unreasonable things some happen to think it is more important to stand up for reason than others.

    there are passionate atheists and people enthusiastic about the scientific method – these people have arguments based on reason and evidence for their positions, so to call them either dogmatic, fundamentalist or evangelical is a kind of manipulative rhetoric that seeks to create a false impression of where the "excluded middle" lies.

    the media does this all the time because it makes for a good news story – so they give equal time to the climate denier as the climate scientist, or to the creationist as the evolutionary biologist, thus putting the two positions on a seeming equal footing – when the truth is that the creationist and climate denial folks are simply wrong and the science demonstrates it.

    same thing with supernatural beliefs: not only are they just baseless, it can be demonstrated that they are highly problematic.

    but our culture of well-meaning PC attitudes about "beliefs" makes it improper to say so and so perpetuates a fallacious relativism which can make nonsense seem reasonable and those who point this out seem intolerant.

    personally i think a mature spirituality moves beyond supernaturalist faith and anthropomorphic narcissism and recognizes the sacred as a particular state of being that humans value – and this is enough.

  17. yogijulian says:

    what a sad place to be.

  18. yogijulian says:

    greg, if i were to point out that fairies were non existent as well, or that there was not an invisible purple monster in my nephew's closet would this similarly be a faith position?

  19. __MikeG__ says:

    Great post, Julian.

  20. ken says:

    all atheists believe that beauty is sorrow and therefore nastiness is beautiful

  21. yogijulian says:

    wow what a fascinating statement!

    let me clarify my comment – i feel it is a sad place to be psychologically (no nastiness whatsoever) to feel that one's imaginary friend is the best friend one has ever had.

    this is genuinely sad, because we all need satisfying and loving real relationships with real people, imaginary friends are no substitute!

    it seems to me a form of giving up on reality – and with some good psychological healing work this coping mechanism can be released.

  22. yogijulian says:

    first of all if you want to define "fundamentalism" in your own way that is your prerogative but in terms of what the word actually means the poppy is on the other cock if you'll excuse my humor! 🙂

    a fundamentalist believes in the fundamentals of a theology based on faith that is not open to reason or evidence.

    calling someone committed to reason and evidence a fundamentalist (while a common rhetorical move) is just meaningless and a way of obfuscating the central distinction.

    who said anything about "eliminating personal identity?"

    that sounds absolutely horrific!

    perhaps the problem here is that you think that beliefs have some special sacred quality that is beyond criticism or reasoned debate – because if someone were to find out their beliefs are wrong they would just cease to exist as a person?!

    maybe they would just become an adult who was comfortable engaging in real inquiry and dis-identifiying from cognitive distortions once they are revealed. sounds like spiritual growth to me!

    whether or no a belief is true is not a relativist social construct.

    protecting beliefs from evidence and reason is actually quite condescending – more so than honestly pointing out falsity and treating people like adults.

  23. ken says:

    ya, we need all that and also that perfect perfection … just around the corner … for a negligible fee of course

  24. yogijulian says:

    as webster shows, the primary meaning is religious – though a secondary usage refers to other kinds of principles.

    as this wiki entry shows it is highly controversial and contested to use the word in the way you are trying to:

    bottom line you miss the point about why it is not an honest way to use the word and basically prove my argument with your irrational reactivity and bizarre use of postmodern relativist ideas.

    have a good weekend.

  25. yogijulian says:

    i have made my argument very clearly for why i find it problematic to use the same terms for religious and non-religious folks. it has to do with creating a fallacious sense of the "excluded middle'" and is based in an incorrect position viz argument from ignorance which postmodern relativists buy into viz the truth not being knowable and so therefore all "beliefs" about it are equally plausible etc..

    go back to my first comment please – i don't want to reiterate the whole thing.

    your arguing style is really very odd, it comes across as accusatory, bitter, adolescent – ultimately like someone furiously spitting back at those who have pointed out the lack of substance in their delusion.

    i feel need to sample any further.

  26. […] “I think my faith has less to do with political aspiration and more to do with the fact that God seeks man out of a desire for a loving relationship. That’s the issue we should be talking about in Christianity.” […]

  27. Truth often suffers more by the heat of its defenders than the arguments of its opposers.
    -William Penn

  28. alexandraengland says:

    What an appropriate quote: from a Quaker, a member of a religion persecuted for their belief that each person had a direct relationship with God, and therefore an equal ability to know divine truth. Modern Quaker meetings in the UK generally include christians, buddhists and secular humanists (like myself) all sitting silently together in peace and friendship. If they can do it, I can do it.

  29. We're more of a world community than we give ourselves credit for. Or rather, than we're even conscious of….

  30. __MikeG__ says:

    I agree with you Julian, these reply's are bizarre.

  31. __MikeG__ says:

    Ad hominem attacks, faulty logic and misuse of concepts will not convince rational or logical thinkers, barbiken.

  32. I'm just wondering if it's the same "Suri" who was defending Scientology recently….

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