Lunch with Pastor Dan Nichols and reflections

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Yesterday, Pastor Dan Nichols of the local Restored Church invited Rodney Collins (founder of the NEPA Freethought Society) and I for lunch in Wilkes-Barre.

Why, you might ask?

Pastor Dan wanted to offer an apology on behalf of the Christian community in Northeastern Pennsylvania  who have been treating me poorly in wake of the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s “Let reason prevail”  holiday freethought banner which was hung on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre (and later vandalized).

In an e-mail, and throughout our civil and productive discussion, Pastor Dan said that while he does not agree with the ‘atheist position,’ there is no excuse for hatred because it is not consistent with the teachings of Jesus and the life, on his account, that Christians are supposed to live.

It’s wonderful to know that some Christians in this community (and there are certainly many more) can tolerate challenges to their Christian beliefs and, as 1 Peter 3:15 suggests, respond with gentleness and respect.

Time and time again — in my blog posts, podcast episodes, and conversations — I do my best to emulate a ‘doxastic openness’ in which I am willing to engage with people who disagree with me with honest respectful intentions rather than simply heaping abuse and discounting others out-of-hand.

If people happen to disagree with my actions, my words, my beliefs, or whatever else, I am almost always willing to have a discussion, respond to my critics, and welcome challenges provided the inquirers are respectful and seem to have a sort of genuineness.

As Reap Paden has correctly observed time and time again, I’m someone who loves debate and wants to discuss ideas. There’s no animosity (for the most part, save people who have displayed themselves as extremely repugnant and intellectually dishonest), but rather a penchant for intellectual interactions.

Pastor Dan, with a simple e-mail, contacted me and had lunch with me. There were no harsh words, personal attacks, and at no point did I feel ‘disrespected’ by Pastor Dan and — from the looks of it and a happy exit — he similarly did not feel slighted. Discussion and interaction like this is something more Christians (and atheists), I would hope, emulate.

We can disagree on some very major issues and still be friends or otherwise not be personal enemies at the end of the day. While I think Pastor Dan is wildly wrong about his epistemological approaches and metaphysical ideas (and he thinks the same about me), I don’t have any sort of hatred for him. We can sit down — as respectful adults — and have a productive discussion without violence, threats, vandalism of others’ property, attempts to squelch others’ speech, personal attacks, etc.

On the other hand, admitted vandal Joe McDonald has taken a very different approach. Rather than sending me an e-mail like Pastor Dan (and I’m very, very, very easy to contact), Joe elected to make inflammatory statements about atheists, jump to incorrect conclusions about my intentions, vandalize the FFRF banner, and made a national and local fool of himself (although some Christians are unfortunately viewing him as a brave hero).

Thanks — Pastor Dan — for the lunch and the kindness. Only if Joe and some others had followed your example…


See all posts pertaining to the FFRF banner here:


I hope to have conversation, beer, and pizza soon with the writer of the Susquehanna River Sentinel, a blogger here in Northeastern Pennsylvania, who does not share my beliefs but wants to chat. He/she writes,

…from time to time, I have been following Justin’s online offerings since that Luzerne County Courthouse/nativity thing several years ago. Based upon what I can decipher from his writing and obvious resolve, he appears to be an intelligent and committed young man. Although I cannot recollect the exact wording of a statement I remember reading several years go that I believe came from Justin, my fading memory recalls something like “…bring me proof and I’ll change my views.”
As we all know, discussions about religion and politics can get kinda messy kinda quick. Right now, unlike others ( read the 100+ comments attached to the article linked at the beginning of this post ) I am choosing the high road and plan to remain there. 
Justin, as I know you’ll find your way here, I’d like to grab a pizza and beer some weekend and start a dialogue. Give me a shout and we’ll compare calendars.

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