The Teenage Proselytizers, the Atheist and the Soup

Meanwhile, some Christians approached from behind.

Last week, I went for an afternoon walk in Prospect Park, something I’ve been trying to do lately so I don’t become a crazy shut-in. It was a chilly, blustery day and I had just snapped the above picture when I was approached by two fresh-faced youngsters, who had cleverly sneaked up on me while I was distracted.

“Can we ask you some questions about religion?” the boy asked.

“Okay,” I agreed. Which I admit was a strange thing to do.

He went through a survey, questioning me about my religious beliefs (none), my desire for eternal salvation (no), how I believe the universe came into being (cosmic explosion) and whether I had ever read the Bible (yes, many times).

At the end of the questionnaire, Katie and Skylar (16 and 17, from South Carolina) looked at me with grave concern. From the bottom of their sweet hearts, they feared for my soul. We talked about it for a while. It turns out that they really and truly believe in the Dante/Milton/Parker-Stone version of Hell and that, unless I make some serious changes, I’ll probably end up there.

I was 4-years-old the first time I heard this. At the time, my family was mildly Catholic. The people who took it upon themselves to tell us that we were on the fast track to damnation were also Christian (Baptists, I think), in addition to being my mom’s first cousins and my godparents.

We never saw them again.

That should have clued me in right there that the whole scene wasn’t for me, but I was sent to Catholic school for kindergarten; and there are a lot of nice, cuddly, comforting things about Christianity. I still counted myself as a believer when I was Skylar and Katie’s age (though I never believed in Adam and Eve, satan, hell or that being gay was bad). Also, back then, if I had been approached by some evangelicals, I would have told them to go away, mind their own business and stop giving the rest of us a bad name.

So why was I talking to them now?

I didn’t to try to convince them that they were wrong, not even a little bit.

I follow a few atheists on Twitter who seem to be primarily focused on making fun of religious people, rather than on extolling the incomprehensible radness of scientific inquiry, human compassion and the natural world. I find that to be ass-backwards. Nobody has ever been convinced of anything by being told, “YOU ARE WRONG AND ALSO YOU ARE DUMB AND IGNORANT, YOU DUMB-ASS.”

I pretty much view all superstitions/religions under the category of things that I’m better off without but that plenty of people need to get them through the night. Every time I see somebody knock on wood, I don’t make it my business to tell them that they are full of shit. Though clearly I would object if those people attempted to pass laws requiring the extermination of all black cats and fines for people who leave ladders leaning against buildings on Friday the Thirteenth. Because then their irrationality would affect me and that I do object to.

But that still doesn’t explain why I was giving Skylar and Katie the time of day.

First of all, they were super polite, which is rare among people their age. Secondly, I don’t get a lot of human interaction. But mostly, I wanted to show them that atheists can be good, ethical people; that they can be respectful of beliefs they do not share; and that it’s okay to agree to disagree. For example, atheists would never do this or this or this.

They asked me why I had lost my faith and I told them the truth: That it was because I had read the Bible, front to back, about five times, starting when I was in middle school. All of it. Not just the dirty incest parts (Genesis, Chapter 19), the sexy parts (Song of Solomon), the Christmas parts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) or the part that’s always misquoted during weddings (Corinthians 13:13 is about faith, hope and charity, not romantic love). And after reading it enough times, I was all, “Yeah, there’s no way I can believe in the most important parts of this–the immaculate conception, the raising from the dead, the eternal salvation.”

Reading is awesome that way.

After half an hour or so, we parted ways and my young friends promised to pray for me. I’m sure they did, which is nice of them. I think fondly of them too. Especially Katie. She seemed very smart and thoughtful and I really hope that she comes to realize that she’s so much more than an afterthought comprising a curvaceous rib and a wad of clay.


We observe Lent every year, that self-depriving six-and-a-half weeks between Mardi Gras and Easter. Christians get to take Sundays off (so their Lent is only 40 days), but we stick to it for the entire time. Our motivation is not to purify our souls in preparation for the resurrection, but to exercise more and cut out any vices we may have acquired during the dark days of never-ending snowpocalypse. And to eat better. This year, we’ve tried hard to eat fewer grains and dairy, which has created a heightened awareness of when vegetables come into season. Alliums are some of the first to show up in the store, since they can stay in the ground all winter. These include onions, garlic, ramps and leeks.

This soup is based on something that I first had years ago at a cozy restaurant in Eugene, Oregon. But I think that one had cream and butter, which this does not. Since we have a week and a half left before Easter, this also may appeal to folks who aren’t eating meat during the week right now.

The Devil’s Own Potato-Leek Soup

For Lent!

I used

  • Two tablespoons of olive oil
  • Three leeks, the white part, cleaned thoroughly and chopped
  • A pound of white potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • Three celery stalks, chopped
  • Four cloves of garlic, minced
  • One 15-ounce can of white beans
  • Sea salt
  • Water
  • Some jalapenos (preferably spicy ones)
  • A bunch of cilantro (or parsley, if you must)
  • The juice from a few limes (optional, unless it’s Cinco de Mayo)

Here’s what I did

Leeks can be hard to clean, but I recently read about a fool-proof way of getting rid of the grime. Before chopping it cross-wise, cut each leek length-wise, then fan the layers out under running water. Brilliant!

When the leeks are clean, chop them up and add them, along with the potatoes, to a stock pot with heated olive oil. After a few minutes, add the celery and garlic and salt (several tablespoons). Cook on medium-low until the leeks become translucent but before they start to brown. Then add the can of white beans, including the liquid. Don’t worry: nobody will ever know this soup contains nutritious beans! (Unless they are allergic; in which case, leave them out.) Add enough water to cover everything by about an inch, leave a crack in the lid and simmer for about forty minutes, or until everything is squishy.

Then, if you have an immersion blender, use it. If not, transport the soup by sections to a real blender. Puree and be careful of boiling splatter. Divide the jalapenos, cilantro and lime (if you want) among the blended sections. Combine everything back into the stock pot and reheat if necessary. If it’s too thick, add more water. See if you need to add some more salt (you probably do).

The result is green, springlike, vegan, low-fat, super flavorful and hearty, because it’s still freaking cold out most of the time. Also, you can eat it the next day, warm or cold.

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5 Responses to The Teenage Proselytizers, the Atheist and the Soup

  1. joe medler says:

    I love this post. I agree more with the proselatysing atheist’s you follow on twitter and believe firmly that idiocy that perpetuates hurtful practices should be mocked. Loudly. But I also recognize this to be a part of my scarring and admire your ability to remain so calm in the face of such conversations. I’d like to discuss the issues with your young friends if only to return in kind their superior and condescending ‘pray for you’ trope with my own rationalist’s bent. Again, this is in my sweet spot of righteous indignation and intolerance. My bad.
    Thanks for keeping me thinking!

  2. Thank YOU for reading, Medler! I think for me, the thing I like most about being a nonbeliever (aside from feeling like I can be friends with anybody) is that religion doesn’t define me. And I think those people who make it their life’s mission to disprove Christianity/Islam/Jainism are sometimes just as defined by it as they would be if they believed in it. Those kids told me that Satan was always tempting them, but that he has no power over them because of their faith. And I was like, “Well…he doesn’t have any power over me either.” They are so focused on the idea of “evil” that it has become a massive force in their lives. I’m so grateful not to have that burden.

  3. Erin Machell says:

    Viscy-diablo! I loooove that soup, and had totally forgotten about it! I will stick to the butter and cream version though ;)

    I also really appreciated the rest of your post. I am *so frustrated* by dogmatic atheists. They just seem like bigots of another flavor, and they annoy me even more than dogmatic evangelicals because I feel like they make *me* as an atheist look really bad, and intolerant. Plus they seem like they have something to prove really bad, which I tend to view as suspect. I really loved your perspective, especially the part about celebrating the incomprehensible radness of scientific inquiry, human compassion and the natural world. Well put!

  4. Joe Medler says:

    I have to defer as my maturity in regards to the topic is ridiculously stunted. When I was little my mother spoke in tongues and has taken it in several directions since then. My sensitivities in this area are somewhat outside the norm. I often relate it to a scene from ‘Roxanne’ in which Steve Martin explains that he didn’t catch the irony in something said to him thusly, ‘People around here ski naked while smoking dope, so we don’t get a lot of irony.’ It’s something like that. That said, she’s the most amazing woman ever and if one person’s earnest beliefs could make a thing so, I’d wish this to be true for her.
    For me I’m just going to have to live with the reality, a fine one, that my fervor in regard to my atheism makes me more like your two friends than I sometimes think myself.
    A side note, I find fantasy sports an excellent diversion from my constant desire to argue the merits of religion with believers!!! That, and of course my saucysalad updates… Keep up the very interesting work, and thanks again

  5. Pingback: Punctuation May Not Save Your Soul, but It’s Still Your Friend | Saucy Salad

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