Notes from Petitioning: Devout Christian and Atheist Talk Faith and Referenda

“Are you a man of faith?”

I’m out front of the public library this morning, circulating my referendum petitions. This big guy, healthy verging on burly, comes out, and I ask if he has time to sign a petition.

“What about?”

Ah, curiosity! Willingness to talk! Second nicest words I hear all day. I start with Senate Bill 177, the youth minimum wage. That’s the easier sell—most people have heard of it, and I don’t need to alarm, confuse, or bore them with a lengthy explanation. Mention 177, remind the voters of the uniform minimum wage we voted for in 2014 and the cut the Legislature imposed, and most of the time, the pen hits the paper.

This guy doesn’t reach for the pen. He doesn’t offer an economic argument about the relative value of 16-year-old Suzie’s labor at Twist Cone. He looks at me, the noonward sun gleaming in his eyes, and asks:

“Are you a man of faith?”

If I were on top of my game, I’d say, “I’m a man of supreme faith in the will of the voters. Now sign the petition!” But that probably would be too glib. And I’m thinking a line like that means this conversation is done.

But he asked, so I answer, plainly, straight to his face: “No, I’m not.”

I wait in the pregnant pause for my neighbor to declare that he can’t trust an earthly campaigner who doesn’t acknowledge the truth of God.

But surprise! he does not quit. Instead, we’re off to the races. Historical Jesus, disciples’ sacrifice, more evil happening daily, Blood Moon prophecy,  predestination… I feel like I’m back at SDSU, 25 years ago, when I crossed friendly swords in conversations like this daily.

But somewhere in the conversation (and people are passing by, and I’m missing signatures, but I’m sticking with this guy), I say something about how whatever we believe, we have to get up every day and do the good. We have to seek the truth. We have to help all of our neighbors get knowledge so they can seek the truth. We have to empower them to participate in earthly politics, in earthly terms, so they can exercise their understandings of truth and steward this earth the way their beliefs guide them.

Maybe we’re all predestined to Rapture or roast. Maybe there’s nothing we can do to forestall the Anti-Christ or hasten the Kingdom come. Maybe on the earthly level, the rich and powerful are destined to run everything, to hoard wealth while they cut our pay, to rig our election laws to make sure their guys win and box us out (and yes, I point Senate Bill 69). Maybe one guy signing a petition on a sidewalk won’t stop the rich and powerful any more than one little toot turns the prairie wind.

But we have to try. We can’t live not trying. And if we try, maybe we’ll find that prophecy and fatalism are wrong. Maybe we can change things for the better.

My neighbor thinks about that. We talk about a few other things. He says it churns his insides to know someone doesn’t believe (that’s probably Big-B Believe) and that he can’t bring that person to Belief. I say take that burden from your shoulders, brother, because your duty is to speak your faith honestly, and you’ve done that, but as you said earlier (yes, my guy said this), it’s up to the Holy Spirit to move someone to belief. Don’t worry: we’ve both got bigger fish to fry.

Words, words… and finally he comes back and says he can feel his philosophy changing. No, not his Lord, not his faith—I’m not going for that, and I never would. He just feels a little shift that says, yeah, we need to try, even in this earthly stuff.

We’re both men of faith, in very different things. But we find a little island of working agreement in the civic space we share.

And he signs my petitions. Both of them.

Signatures! Go get ’em!


29 Responses to Notes from Petitioning: Devout Christian and Atheist Talk Faith and Referenda

  1. Bob Newland

    It’s possible you have a future in elective office, but I’d venture your protagonist here is a little more reasonable than most who want to play faith cards.

    I would have probably backed out of this conversation in favor of the signatures I was missing. Circulating a petition does, however, afford you the opportunity to take some time off to joust or agree with anyone any time the mood strikes you.

  2. If I were a hired circulator, I’d have had to disengage and get back to work. As my own man, I’m free to engage in a variety of “work” in the civic sphere. As a wage-earner, I’m hopeless. :-)

    You are right, Bob: the guy conducted himself quite reasonably, civilly, and sincerely throughout our conversation.

  3. Cory wrote:
    >“Maybe we’re all predestined to Rapture or roast… But we have to try… And if we try, maybe we’ll find that prophecy and fatalism are wrong. Maybe we can change things for the better.”

    Maybe we’re predestined to change things for the better?

    Bob wrote:
    >“… I’d venture your protagonist here is a little more reasonable than most who want to play faith cards.”

    Apparently not all Christians are bullies. :)

  4. Roger Cornelius

    And then in Rapid City today a 68 year old woman was arrested by the Rapid City Police Department for circulating the “opt out” petitions in front of the post office.

    The police state has arrived and Allender hasn’t even been elected mayor yet.

  5. Bob Newland

    Predestined, eh? Now there is a word destined to make any argument about “faith” as greasy as an overlay of bentonite on Highway 212 mixed with a little thunderstorm.

    I do agree that we are predestined to change things. We change things by our presence. We have no choice in that. We even sometimes change things for the better. But to say that we are predestined to have a particular effect suggests that there is no sense in having desire or aspiration; que sera sera.

  6. Bill Fleming

    Are predestinationism and determinism the same or similar? i.e. Is the former just another way of saying ‘theological determinism?’ I suppose I could look it up, but I’d rather read the un-wikied comments here.

    Good job finding common ground, Cory. The Dali Lama would give you a ^5.
    ;-)

  7. Bob Newland

    “Are predestinationism and determinism the same or similar? i.e. Is the former just another way of saying ‘theological determinism?’”

    Obviously.

  8. Bill Fleming

    Okay, so then do your remarks on the matter make you a compatabilist, Bob? Or are you just expressing your regret at discovering that free will is an illusion?

  9. Bob Newland

    My remarks on any matter make me a moron.

  10. bearcreekbat

    Shooting from the hip, I will speculate that predestination and determinism seem related in that our subjectivity makes no difference in whether an event occurs or not.

    But if we take in to account outside, non-subjective, factors perhaps the difference between predestination and determinism is that a predestined event will occur without regard to outside factors, while determinism is directly dependent on outside factors, such that these outside factors can change, but still will determine, the ultimate event.

  11. Joseph Nelson

    Predestinationism and determinism are similar, but not the same.

    I would argue that predestinationism only has to do with the final destination of a person, and has little bearing on the choices they make in this earthly life. As in, Billy is predestined to go to Heaven, regardless of his choices and behavior here on Earth. Predestination does not eliminate free will, it simply says that going to Heaven or Hell is not a choice made by a the person in question, but rather a choice made by God.

    Determinism on the other hand eliminates free will, and basically deems every “choice” made by a person the natural and inevitable result of all of the events that came before. Billy was not free to choose between one action or another, as his hand was determined by all the that came before. If one believes that the final destination of a person relies on that person’s behavior in choices in life, determinism throws a monkey wrench in to the mix, Why would a person’s final destination be based on a series of events that they had no choice in?

  12. Daniel Buresh

    68 or 18…follow the law and don’t act disorderly.

  13. Predestination is bound to take the fun out of anything.

  14. Daniel, the problem with the Post Office evicting petitioners from the premises and arresting petitioners (here’s the RCJ story on the incident Roger mentions) is that they aren’t behaving in a disorderly fashion. They are simply asking passersby if they would like to sign a petition.

    Such petitioners are violating federal law, CFR 232.1, which outlaws petitioning (and numerous other activities) on real property controlled by the USPS. The law does not include the public sidewalks adjoining post office turf, just the walkways toward post offices, doorways, and building interiors. As I understand it, the ACLU tried to challenge this law, but the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal in 2013, letting this restriction on peaceable First Amendment activity on public property stand. I am troubled.

    The Aberdeen public library appears to have no such restriction… at least none that the library employee who spoke with me outside mentioned.

  15. Bill Fleming

    Good overview, Joseph, but isn’t ultimately a distinction without a difference?

    Of predestination you write:
    “Billy is predestined to go to Heaven, regardless of his choices and behavior here on Earth.”

    Then, of determinism that it:
    “…throws a monkey wrench in to the mix, Why would a person’s final destination be based on a series of events that they had no choice in?”

    I do appreciate that in the former you are talking about the end point, and free will not being “at cause” of it but rather irrelevant whereas in the latter, free will is either real and totally relevant (as in compatibilism) or an illusionary effect (like a mirage) of reflective consciousness.

    And then of course there is the God part, which, while not irrelevant, is a point of distinction already covered in my original question to Bob.

  16. If I follow Joseph correctly…

    …if the universe is deterministic, it must be predestined (predestinatory?).

    …if the universe is predestined, it is not necessarily deterministic.

    …if the universe is not deterministic, it could still be predestined (a sick joke by a twisted Creator?)

    …if the universe if not predestined, it’s probably not deterministic (unless an arguably more twisted Creator goes to all the trouble of building, winding up, and letting run a cosmic timepiece, only to withhold for Herself the pleasure of smashing the timepiece to bits at the end and throwing the pieces into different boxes purely by her whim).

    Uff da—I need to remember that conversations like this won’t produce 20 signatures an hour!

  17. Cory Said
    “won’t stop the rich and powerful any more than one little toot turns the prairie wind.”

    I absolutely love this quote! can i use it?

  18. Joseph Nelson

    Cory,
    2 and 3 are good, 1 and 4 not. For example, you could have an atheist who does not believe in God, or an afterlife, et cetera… Yet they could still think the universe is deterministic. We are all the natural outcome of the Big Bang, following a course like a set of dominoes. Saint Thomas Aquinas would argue that God tipped the first domino (First Cause), Dawkins would argue that the Big Bang was the First Cause (maybe, I have not read much Dawkins).

    I personally think that the universe is neither predestined, nor deterministic. But that has more to do with my paradoxical belief in an eternal outside of time God who has an ongoing affect on the temporal universe.

  19. Joseph Nelson

    You know, I have not read as much Aquinas either, I do not think he was a determinist. I was merely trying to illustrate how one could be a theist or an atheist, yet still a determinist. I think what can be confusing is that determinism is a philosophical concept, and predestination is a theological concept. If one does not believe in God, then theological concepts are moot.

  20. Fire away, Roger! Give me a hyperlink for attribution when you you can. :-)

  21. Joseph Nelson wrote:
    >“I personally think that the universe is neither predestined, nor deterministic.”

    The Bible says Christians have been “predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). If God works “all things” after the counsel of His will, then His predestination obviously applies to every man and every angel and everything else in all creation. The Bible also says Christians have been created “for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

    Those ideas are what Christians usually mean by predestination. Whether such ideas are compatible with “free will” depends on how free will is defined. Uncoerced, voluntary behavior isn’t the same as metaphysical free will. In other words, we generally have the freedom to act according to our desires, but that isn’t the same as the freedom to determine them.

    Joseph Nelson wrote:
    >“You know, I have not read as much Aquinas either, I do not think he was a determinist.”

    Actually he was.

  22. Mr. Evans, you know the bible is a book of fiction, right? Now I have this book, Dianetics, and it will change your life.

  23. Kurt Evans

    “Grudznick” wrote:
    >“Mr. Evans, you know the bible is a book of fiction, right?”

    I’m trying to keep an open mind.

    >“Now I have this book, Dianetics, and it will change your life.”

    Not that open. :)

  24. Joseph Nelson

    Kurt,

    St Thomas Aquinas was a firm believer in free will, “Without any doubt it must be affirmed that man is endowed with free choice.”

    I did some “light” reading, he offers an extensive point-counter point over free will in De Veritate, Q. 24: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/QDdeVer24.htm

    I think that rules him out as a determinist, at least in regards to the philosophical definition that every event or state of affairs, including every human decision and action, is the inevitable and necessary consequence of antecedent states of affairs.

    As far as predestination, I reject what is commonly understood by Protestant Christianity, whose chief proponents are Calvinists. For that matter, I also reject what the Pelagians meant when they used the term.

    The mystery of predestination, of an omniscient eternal God interacting with we humans is certainly a difficult concept for me to understand. Theologians have argued about it for centuries, and I am far from being of that caliber. I did do some digging, and found what the Catholic Church teaches on the subject:

    “God infallibly foresees and immutably preordains from eternity all future events, all fatalistic necessity, however, being barred and human liberty remaining intact. Consequently man is free whether he accepts grace and does good or whether he rejects it and does evil. Just as it is God’s true and sincere will that all men, no one excepted, shall obtain eternal happiness, so, too, Christ has died for all, not only for the predestined, or for the faithful, though it is true that in reality not all avail themselves of the benefits of redemption. Though God preordained both eternal happiness and the good works of the elect, yet, on the other hand, He predestined no one positively to hell, much less to sin. Consequently, just as no one is saved against his will, so the reprobate perish solely on account of their wickedness. God foresaw the everlasting pains of the impious from all eternity, and preordained this punishment on account of their sins, though He does not fail therefore to hold out the grace of conversion to sinners, or pass over those who are not predestined. As long as the reprobate live on earth, they may be accounted true Christians and members of the Church, just as on the other hand the predestined may be outside the pale of Christianity and of the Church. Without special revelation no one can know with certainty that he belongs to the number of the elect.”

    Still a bit of a quagmire to wade through :)

  25. Joseph Nelson wrote:
    >“St Thomas Aquinas was a firm believer in free will, ‘Without any doubt it must be affirmed that man is endowed with free choice.’”

    “Free choice” as described by Aquinas isn’t the same as metaphysical free will and doesn’t contradict determinism.

    >“I think that rules him out as a determinist, at least in regards to the philosophical definition that every event or state of affairs, including every human decision and action, is the inevitable and necessary consequence of antecedent states of affairs.”

    We obviously disagree.

    >“As far as predestination, I reject what is commonly understood by Protestant Christianity …”

    Yes, that was my point. You’re entitled to your opinions, but they contradict the Bible.

  26. Deb Geelsdottir

    What a great conversation Cory. I truly enjoy such encounters. It’s fascinating to learn how other people understand things. I believe that everyone is a teacher and my job is to pay close attention so that I can learn from them. Of course, people who are rude jerks are another matter, but even they can teach.

    With all the conflicts, contradictions, editing and additions in the Bible, it’s really impossible to make a definitive, absolute statements about it. But people try, and millenia of arguments, pogroms, wars, crusades, beheadings, stonings, burnings, inquisitions, jihads, excommunications, disfellowships and more have followed nonstop.

    Ain’t Religion Great!

  27. Deb Geelsdottir wrote:
    >“With all the conflicts, contradictions, editing and additions in the Bible, it’s really impossible to make a definitive, absolute statements about it.”

    Ironically, Deb, you’ve just made a definitive, absolute statement about it.

  28. Thanks, Deb! The fun part was that, yes, throughout the chat, the gentleman was never rude to me. He was genuinely curious, seeking understanding. That was worth missing a couple signatures.

  29. mike from iowa

    Kurt Evans,it is a woman’s prerogative to change her mind and as a normal healthy male you better say you like it that way or else.