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O Me of Little Faith

Last week I called your attention to a new online business called Rapture Orphan Rescue. Like Eternal Earthbound Pets but with kids, it promises to care for children who potentially get left behind should their parents get “caught up in the air.” The proprietors expect to be left behind themselves because they are atheists. (They suspect, however, that if the rapture DOES happen, that’ll be good enough reason to convert to Christianity.)

We had some good discussion about the ethics of such a service, and I thought it would be interesting to go right to the source: I asked the owner of Rapture Orphan Rescue for an interview, and he graciously complied. His name is Justin and he lives in Texas, but I’ve promised not to reveal any more than that. (Not because he doesn’t stand behind the business, but because of a few other quite legitimate reasons.)

In the interview, I’ll call him ROR.

I’ll split the interview into two parts. Look for Part 2 tomorrow.

——————

JB: What’s your religious background/story? Have you
always been a nontheist or did you “de-convert” from a religious
tradition?

ROR: I grew up in the
Texas-shaped buckle on the Bible-belt. However, I’d say that my parents
were divided on their degree of religiosity. I fell in line with my
mother’s creationist, born-again version of Christianity with
an inerrant Bible, while my father had a more liberal view but typically
stayed out of the discussions. I was pretty evangelical even in my day-to-day life, attempting to ‘witness’ to all of my friends. I was so scared
that they were going to hell, that it consumed me.

By the age of 12 I
had made it my mission to save as many people as possible. Despite my
youth, my enthusiasm and an eye for detail actually yielded a moderate
amount of success. By 13, I had read many of the 90’s-era creationist
and Intelligent Design creationist books — even read the whole Bible — and
was all fired up and ready to debate. Once again, I met with moderate
success. I kept refining my technique, and growing my subject-matter
expertise. 
Probably
about a year or two later I finally decided to see just exactly what
those pesky atheists were trying to say with all of their flawed
arguments. I felt bulletproof, but even more than that, I felt like I
was the bullet and the atheists needed the proofing.

I spent weeks
culling the internet, library, and even a book or two that had been
recommended to me. My plan backfired. I was taken aback at the logical
and philosophical arguments, but those didn’t sway me yet because I had
faith that I would find adequate answers and rebuttals later (I didn’t).
What really made me snap was an article on the Talk.Origins archive
about “problems with flood geology” (it’s
still there). That article was not attacking the existence of God, or
using philosophical arguments that I could wiggle out of, or any vague
concepts at all. It was attacking something very specific that I
happened to believe in: that Noah’s ark was real, that the world was less than
10,000 years old, and that these two concepts were proof that evolution was a
lie.

Now I know that your readers may have all sorts of different
perspectives on this (and really every issue within Christianity), but if
you take an honest look at that article, how could you not conclude
that my beliefs were wrong? It was page after page of science, logic,
and empirical data that directly contradicted my beliefs so thoroughly
that I actually began to cry. 
I cried for three days. I went back to my Bible, my
parents, my creationist websites, and my notes. I found nothing there
that hadn’t also just been utterly decimated by the facts presented in
just that one article, amongst the hundreds I also read there.

So I just
shelved it all — all of my doubts. I still identified as Christian for a
few more years, but never really brought it up with other people like I
used to. Over the next few years, I was exposed to more science and how
the scientific method actually works, and secular humor from people
like Bill Hicks, and even George Carlin. All of the self-defense
mechanisms that I had set up for my cultural identity began to crumble,
and I finally was able to look at the questions again.

I went through this progression in my late-teens and early
twenties: Liberal Christianity (very brief) -> Deist (brief) ->
Agnostic -> Militant Agnostic -> Weak Atheist -> Strong Atheist
-> Anti-theist -> Explicit Atheist. For those unfamiliar with the
terms, Weak and Strong Atheism are summed up here.

Where did the idea for Rapture Orphan Rescue come from?

My wife and I were driving home from the OB/GYN two weeks ago, as she is
pregnant with our first child. On the way home I mentioned that somebody
had made a website that offers a ‘pet-rescue’ for pets that were left
behind in the Rapture (Eternal Earthbound Pets). We had a laugh, and some
light discussion. She jested, “But what about babies? Aren’t all babies
atheist? Somebody should start a baby rescue site.”

Immediately, the two
of us realized what a great idea it was, and we ran with it. 

On your website, you spend as much time trying to talk people out of their rapture beliefs as you do describing your services. I’m
impressed by the lengths you go to here, but I’m wondering: how committed you are to Rapture Orphan Rescue
as an actual business? Which is more important to you in this venture:
making money or making a statement?

I’d say that making
money takes a back seat, because I really don’t expect anyone to sign
up. Yes, it’s true that the pets site has 200 contracts already. But as you say, I
go to extraordinary lengths to convince potential customers not to hit
that Paypal button. (Other than the donation of course!)

But I am taking
the business seriously, just in case. I really am doing the following:

  • Putting together a team of committed and like-minded atheists in every state (more sign up every day)
  • Requiring a job
    application form, with plans to incorporate official background checks
    on every person I hire (I’m just waiting for that first customer so I can pay for
    this)
  • Working with a lawyer
  • Prepared and refined several contingency plans ‘just in case’

——————

There’s more to the interview, but I don’t want to run too long. Come back tomorrow as Justin and I discuss the ethics of his business, accountability issues, and the sticky question of whether evangelical Christians even believe their unsaved kids will be left behind.

In the meantime, what do you make of his de-conversion story? Does his path from super-committed Christian kid to explicit atheism surprise you? Are other kids with a similar commitment to biblical inerrancy and Young-Earth Creationism faced with the possibility of a similar de-conversion when they meet logical and philosophical challenges to these beliefs?

Let’s discuss, but please keep it civil.

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