Recently one pastor, Phillip, had taken to sharing stories about his atheist neighbors. (When he mentioned that they were atheists, a lady next to me went, "Whoa!"—as if he were describing his close encounter with a great white shark.) He portrayed them as deeply angry people who become enraged at any mention of Christianity. He joked that his neighbor's wizard Halloween costume looked a lot like Moses, and the neighbor was deeply offended. The congregation cheered in delight, as though celebrating some small victory over "the enemy." Even if Phillip's depiction was completely accurate, presenting it on its own was irresponsible: since most of these people know little about atheism, many will undoubtedly use these stories to make judgements about atheists as a whole. Thanks to situations like these, it's no wonder that we rank among the most disliked and distrusted minority groups in America.
Phillip also made references to aerial photos of Noah's Ark on Mt. Ararat and gilded chariot wheels found in the Red Sea from the Egyptians drowning during the Exodus. The former is a confirmed hoax, and the latter is highly suspect to say the least. The wheel claims originate from amateur archaeologist Ron Wyatt, who also claims to have found the Ark of the Covenant, the tablets of the Ten Commandments, and the original sites of Sodom, Gomorrah and the tower of Babel. Even the cripplingly biased creationist organization Answers in Genesis has called Wyatt's claims "fraudulent." Curiously, no evidence has been presented for the existence of the chariot wheel beyond a few blurry photos.
The pictured object looks suspiciously modern, and despite supposedly being made of gold, it doesn't seem to have been buried at all over what would amount to roughly 3,500 years. Meanwhile, the Egyptians themselves, who are known to archaeologists as meticulous record-keepers, made reference neither to owning 2 million Hebrew slaves nor to letting them escape, which would surely have been one of the most significant events in their multi-thousand-year history.
Pastor Mike is an even worse offender. A few months ago he demonstrated his deep understanding of evolution by calling it a "primordial jelly oozing monkey business theory." Another time, while reading Mark 16, he repeatedly went out of his way to emphasize how incredibly reliable the Bible is. Yet he didn't even mention what must undoubtedly have been the reason for this tangent: since Mark 16 is absent from the earliest manuscripts and fits poorly with the preceding text, it's widely regarded as a forgery. It's as though he wanted to reassure his congregants, but thought their faith was so fragile that he didn't dare even tell them that this opposing viewpoint exists at all.
Mike also mentioned that the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote about Jesus. I wasn't particularly shocked when he didn't mention that scholars consider much or all of the Testimonium Flavianum to have been inserted later by Christians—that's to be expected from a fundamentalist preacher. My jaw only dropped when he said that Josephus became a Christian based on the evidence of Jesus, which to my knowledge not even conservative scholars believe. I don't think he was being intentionally deceptive, but it boggles my mind that a pastor can stand in front of a thousand people and demonstrate such ignorance of something so basic to early Christianity.
So it shouldn't be too surprising that I'm glad to be largely finished with church attendance. But then again, I won't mind coming back every now and then, if only to get a reminder of what I no longer have to endure.