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The Power of Christ Compels You

Earlier tonight I received a highly amusing e-mail whose author seemed confident that I would cease to be an atheist if I performed a magical ritual of their devising. I do not normally post feedback e-mail in full, but since this one was sent to me anonymously, I have no qualms in doing so:


From: Anonymous <anonymous@anonymous.net>
Date: Sat, 10 Jun 2006 20:23:12 -0400
Subject: Want To Prove that You are a Real Atheist? TAKE THIS TEST!!!!!!!

Want to prove that you are a real atheist?
Say this out loud

If you are a real a real atheist, say this prayer out loud three times
right now:
If there is no God, then these prayers will have no effect on you, but if
there is a God, they will. Remember, you have to say these out loud 3x each,
in a row.

I bet you you will change once you says these prayers. Say them by
yourself, you don't have to do it in front of anyone. If you are reading this when
there is someone around, you can close it and print it out and say it then.

Say this out loud 3x:

OUR FATHER WHICH ART IN HEAVEN, HALLOWED BE THY NAME.
THY KINGDOM COME. THY WILL BE DONE, AS IN HEAVEN SO ON EARTH.
GIVE US DAY BY DAY OUR DAILY BREAD.
AND FORGIVE US OUR SINS;
FOR WE ALSO FORGIVE EVERY ONE THAT IS INDEBTED TO US.
AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION; BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL.
FOR THINE IS THE KINGDOM AND THE POWER AND THE GLORY FOREVER
IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST,
AMEN

Then say this out loud 3x:

SPEAK OUTLOUD
SATAN, IN THE NAME OF JESUS, I COMMAND YOU TO LEAVE MY MIND, BODY, LIFE,
AND SOUL TODAY IN THE NAME OF JESUS!
YOU HAVE NO DOMINION OVER MY LIFE!
I SUBMIT MY BODY, LIFE, AND SOUL TO GOD, IN THE NAME OF JESUS!
THE BLOOD OF JESUS! THE BLOOD OF JESUS! THE BLOOD OF JESUS AGAINST YOU
SATAN!
I APPLY THE BLOOD OF JESUS OVER MY LIFE!
I APPLY THE BLOOD OF JESUS OVER WHERE I LIVE AT!
I APPLY THE BLOOD OF JESUS OVER MY FAMILY!
I DO IT ALL IN THE NAME OF JESUS
THE BLOOD OF JESUS! THE BLOOD OF JESUS! THE BLOOD OF JESUS AGAINST YOU
SATAN! IN JESUS NAME I CALL IT DONE! AMEN AND AMEN!
IN JESUS CHRIST'S HOLY NAME I PRAY, AMEN!

DO NOT DELETE THIS EMAIL UNTIL YOU HAVE DONE THIS.
AFTER YOU HAVE CHANGED, PASS THIS ON TO YOUR FELLOW NON-BELIEVERS IN
CHRIST.

ONCE AGAIN, IF YOU WANT TO PROVE THAT YOU ARE A REAL ATHEIST, FOLLOW THESE
INSTRUCTIONS.

-YOUR FRIEND,
ANONYMOUS

Since the sender of this e-mail chose to remain anonymous, I was unable to write a letter in reply. I will respond here, instead.

First of all, I have neither the desire nor the need to "prove that I am a real atheist". I am an atheist, and I will say so to anyone who wants to know. If someone chooses not to believe me, that is their problem, not mine. I do not believe in any gods, and that is the only requirement to be an atheist; I do not have to do anything else to make my atheism "real", nor am I obligated to jump through hoops at another's bidding to prove it. I know the state of my own mind, and that is good enough for me. I assume the writer of this letter was trying to goad me into acting as they desire, but it did not work.

Second, I'm curious about the author's insistence that I must say this prayer three times for it to be effective. I cannot help wondering why they thought that was necessary. Shouldn't once be enough for a deity that hears and knows all? Does God usually ignore the first two repetitions of a prayer, so that a third is necessary to get his attention? Though the writer of this e-mail seems to be a Christian, apparently I know the Bible better than they do: "But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking" (Matthew 6:7).

And finally, to the author, whoever you are: No, I am not going to perform this superstitious ritual you have devised. If that makes you crow in triumph, so be it. I know from experience that if I announced I had said the prayer and was still an atheist, you would say that I had not done it sincerely enough, or that I have to do it in a church, or in the presence of another Christian, or that I have to attend six months of Bible study first, or otherwise come up with some excuse that involves retroactively tacking new conditions onto the original challenge. I know this because I have said versions of the "sinner's prayer" before, at the request of other Christians, and when it did absolutely nothing, those are the excuses they inevitably provide. As James Randi has said, those who are determined to be irrational are like "unsinkable rubber ducks": push them down and they pop right back up, always with some new contrived explanation for why their particular brand of magic does not work.

I say magic because what this misguided believer proposes I do is magic, no different than any other superstitious ceremony that entails speaking the proper incantation to produce the desired effect. All varieties of magical thinking are fundamentally alike in their belief that words and symbols control reality, if arranged properly, and Christian-themed magical thinking is just like every other kind in that respect. To whoever it is that bravely chose to remain anonymous, I have a counter-challenge for you: stop hiding behind anonymous proxies, step out and reveal your identity, and I will debate the truth of Christianity with you in an open forum of your choice. (If you want to prove that you're a real Christian, you'll do it. See how that feels?) If Christianity is true, then the facts will inevitably bear that out, and if it is not true, all the vain repetitions in the world will not make it otherwise. Will you show yourself, or will you remain hidden and persist in the foolish and futile delusion that your magic words can control reality?

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