"You say you have faith," Call told them. "The Bible says that if you have the faith of a mustard seed, you can move mountains." 

"So if you have even this much faith," he continued, pinching his thumb and forefinger together to illustrate the size of a tiny mustard seed, "You should be able to move this penny with your faith. Can anybody move this penny even a centimeter with the power of their faith?"

The Christians looked at Call, then down at the penny. Nobody said anything. The penny didn't move.

"Come on!" Call prodded. "If faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain, why can't your immense faith move this little penny? If anybody can move this penny with the power of their faith, then I will believe!"

Jim Coleman listened to Call's argument, shaking his head. Coleman's 83, and he's been coming down to Mill Avenue to hand out church tracts for the past eight years. He was the first Christian to start hanging out down here, and he's well liked.

He's got a jolly, grandfatherly demeanor and never yells at anyone, preferring to take a humorous approach to evangelizing. Rather than assail readers with scriptures about eternal damnation, the tracts Coleman hands out are filled with cute little jokes like, "If at first you don't succeed, don't try skydiving" and "Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool."

Coleman says he was completely paralyzed eight years ago, and though he's regained some use of his legs, he walks only with great difficulty. It's easier for him to use a wheelchair.

On this night, Call tried to use Coleman's disability to belittle his faith.

"If you have the faith of the mustard seed, you'll be healed," Call told the old man. "Get up! Walk! Be healed! Don't you have faith?"

Call later apologized to Coleman for the incident but says he doesn't remember much about it now except that it did happen. He admits that wasn't one of his finer moments, but he says he tries to be respectful. If he seems harsh sometimes, he says, it's because he's just so driven on his mission to question Christianity. But the man who now stands on Mill with a "Damn God America" sign was once on a different mission.

If he could go back in time 10 years, Call would have the fiercest theological debate of his life — with himself. Back then, he was a devout Mormon missionary, born into and blessed by the LDS church in Baltimore, with ancestors on his father's side that he says go all the way back to the church's foundation. He's read the Book of Mormon several times over. He's read the Bible from beginning to end. He's read most of the Oxford English Dictionary. He learned Hebrew so he could read the Old Testament in its original language. He knows the scriptures well.

"I was a believer. I believed in Christ," Call says. "I have testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and that I was saved to live with him in glory forever."

But about seven years ago, things began to change. Call lost his faith, and found passionate anger toward religion in its place. He officially left the church his parents had raised him in and announced his atheism to them on (of all days) Easter, upsetting his family and making subsequent holidays really awkward. Then he started coming down to Mill Avenue every Saturday night. The Secular Free Thought Society atheists followed but have gone from being brothers in arms to a cramp in Call's style.

Call often works Mill with his good friend Jimmy Curley, a Ph.D. candidate in neurolinguistic programming he met as an undergrad. Like Call, Curley insists on dressing well when he anti-preaches, and he's been with Call since his first night protesting preachers on Mill. But aside from Curley's companionship, this atheist is a loner. He doesn't want to hang out with his would-be disciples on Mill, and the people closest to him — like his wife of six years, Amina — aren't particularly interested in his anti-God rants.

Amina spends her Saturday nights at home with friends. (Sometimes Curley's wife calls, and they hang out.) But she understands her husband's need for a public platform on his views, and accepts it because he enjoys it so much. She was with him the night he went down to Mill and saw preachers screaming into microphones for the first time, and remembers how furious he was about it. He told Amina (they met in college; she grew up without any organized religion) the Mill Avenue evangelists had no right to yell at people and call them sinners, that somebody should stand up to them.

So he went home that night and ordered a bullhorn on eBay.


"The opportunity to serve a mission is indeed both a privilege and an honor, one that I have been looking forward to and preparing for my entire life. Seeking to share the word of the Gospel with other children of Heavenly Father is certainly one of the most worthwhile and far-reaching endeavors an individual could hope to strive to embark upon."

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28 comments
Liza
Liza

Its nice to read a story about an alternative point of view. Especially in this religion dominated city-state-country.

S.W.
S.W.

As a Christian, I disagree with the atheist who commented (regarding this article and our disagreements in general) that the "full respect" approach by atheists toward Christians wouldn't work. Quite the contrary, I think that's precisely what both sides *NEED* to do. We can agree to disagree. Those who choose or care to get into a debate can do so, and do so passionately, but respect isn't an option.

We need to learn to get along regardless of our beliefs. I mean, didn't we all learn in preschool to "play nice with others?" How basic of a lesson is that? Yet adults (on both sides-- I see it far too much with those who share my faith, even)seem to have overlooked it.

Show me respect, show respect to those around us, and I'll invite you to my house for a BBQ. I don't care who you are... atheist, Christian, Muslim, agnostic, "apatheist," Hindu, whatever.

Everybody just needs to get over themselves, hug each other, sit down, have a beer, and listen to some Miles Davis or something. It really isn't that complicated.

Ethan
Ethan

Good article, but comment strings are less about the article than about the comments, so it is to the string that I tailor my response.

The article reflects what has been revealed in the comments, that the issue is not nearly as "black or white" as many people may think. There is not merely a dichotomy of "religious" and "secular" people, but interesting and competing factions of each that deserve acknowledgment. The comments range from those who give outright denunciation to Call for his position or for NT's legitimization of it; there are those who offer blanket appreciation for them. But the interesting debate is that between moderates and conservatives on both sides, who, as is often the case, often find themselves encamped with those of the other side against the extreme factions. Sadly, many Christians have a tendency to believe that they hold the patent on righteousness, as if bigotry is, by definition, absent from their beliefs. Believing that all members of one's own group are good is just as fallacious as believing that all members of another group are evil. There are gradations among atheists that Christians would do well to acknowledge, for fear of reveling their latent bigotry and ignorance. Atheism is not a cult, as one commenter claims, it is a belief. I am an atheist, and an "out" atheist, and I admit that my belief is just as strong as those who believe in deities, but it is neither a cult nor a religion, and it is ignorant to fear it, though more Americans fear atheists than *any other social group.*However, there is an interesting shift in atheism that is discussed by one poster's assertion that it is illogical to speak outwardly of one's atheism. I think this is common among atheists who feel that they have no right to impose their choice on others, and see it as a virtue that they do not proselytize. I was one. My realization was followed by an initial phase of loud, zealous declaration where I would look to challenge people's beliefs with my newfound "enlightenment." However, this subsided, as it should, to quiet, internal satisfaction (people were getting pretty annoyed by me). But I strongly believe that it is time for atheists to "come out of the closet" and acknowledge our place in this country. Nearly 18% of this country is atheist or agnostic; a larger inclusive percentage than African Americans. However, these people are forced to vote for a religious (read: Christian) president, or not at all. This country was founded on some pissed off people screaming "No Taxation without Representation," and this creed has been forwarded by African Americans, women, and (hopefully soon) homosexuals. It is time that the atheists raise their own voices and combat the bigotry that keeps us deferential and supplant the country's fear of "Communist" atheists with a picture that combines the Hitchenses and Calls with the quiet, content, secret to their co-worker atheists than most of us are.To Christians and religious people of all banners who fear atheists and what our growing voices may mean, please understand that we are people, too. We're not out to eat your children, we just want our slice of the pie.

Brian
Brian

I just want to say that its a very immature thing to attack a man that does not believe the same way that you do. "He already has a hole in his head, judging by the article" Grow up.

Editorial Assistant
Editorial Assistant

via Letters to Editor:

What were the editors at New Times thinking by running such a sacreligious picture on Christmas Day. The very idea of running a story about such a terrible man on this holiest of days! The pictures on the inside of your paper were worse than the one on the cover, especially the one where he�s got the cross in his mouth, as if it were a gun he�s using to blow a hole in his head. I can tell him, he doesn�t need a gun or a cross for that; he�s already got a hole in his head, judging from your story.Ned Graham, Phoenix

Editorial Assistant
Editorial Assistant

via Letters to Editor:

I feel just as sorry for strict atheists as I do for strict Christians, Jews, or Mormons. How can anybody be that sure of they�re right?! I know, some people will say they talk directly to God, that�s how they know. These are the people whom I consider bonkers. or liars. At least Omar Call doesn�t do that. Yet all he�s done is replace one dogmatic belief system (Mormonism) with another (atheism). He�s a fool to be so committed to any belief. Omar�s just another of those annoying street preachers you cross the road to avoid. Here�s an idea? Why don�t we all stop worrying about what some religious/atheistic propaganda tells us and just try to be good and honest people? What a concept, eh?Jack Williams, Las Vegas

Wendy
Wendy

This was an awesome article, I loved it all!I have gone down to ill Aventue and 5th street but didn't get to hear him talk. I lan on going next saturday. I hope he is there this time. It would be really great to hear a passionate debate on religion.

The hatred that religious followers, mostly christians, it's the reason that religion is an ugly thing. I don't support following any religion to the point that you hate anyone who doesn't follow your cult. Which is technically what any religion is.

Awesome article!

Holy Cheese and Rice
Holy Cheese and Rice

A psychic, palm readers, witches astrologist, soothsayers, prophets, popes, and priest. What are the differences?

None.

Elder Call is going through what many intelligent Mormons go though, classy cognitive dissonance. Once the scales of make believe are pull away, there�s a feeling of angry, resentment and embarrassment.

In time Brother Call will settle down, move on, like many of us ex-Mormons, and enjoy life without believing in talking snakes, arks, talking donkeys, creationism, walking on water, buried books, golden plates and other folktales.

Heather
Heather

I'm reminded of the song "I Used to be a Hippie, Then I was a Stockbroker, Now I am a Hippie Again" with an added componate of self-hatred. I'm guessing he was molested as a child.

Janis Chambers
Janis Chambers

I sometimes wonder what mixture of respect and audacity we atheists should use. I don't think full respect is ever going to work, religion demands so much respect that it goes virtually unquestioned. There seems to be a default backlash installed into religion, I think the only way to ever win over theists would to fully express that we only desire to free people from dogma... but it's almost impossible when people would choose certainty over truth.

darter22
darter22

We are all atheists when it comes to the gods of others. Atheists just don't believe in yours either.

Eat Jesus Crust
Eat Jesus Crust

I was raised in a very similar situation to Mr. Call (LDS, served a mission, left the church), and I can completely appreciate the vigor with which he approaches his newfound anti-faith. While I'm not as publically active as he is in proclaiming my dissidence, in private discussions we're probably about even keel.

Organized religion is a scourge, for large ones a means of accumulating vast amounts of wealth and land, and for smaller groups it is merely a vessel for the propagation of lies, damn lies, and the premise of faith: something which is to be hoped for but never seen.

mabel_said_so
mabel_said_so

As a once stout atheist who was married to a Mormon, I completely understand Call's need to argue with believers and express himself and his new-found information. I am still not religious nor believe that there is a God, but I ceased arguing with others who are or do. Why, one may ask? Because IT IS ILLOGICAL TO DO SO. As a philosopher, for one to make a claim to knowledge such as there being a God (i.e. theism) or there not being a god (i.e. atheism) this knowledge must be a true justifiable belief, because that is what knowledge is. Now, we can not prove that there is a God and as Mark Twain said "Faith is believing in something you know ain't true," so right here the argument should cease. But for Call to continue to argue that there isn't a God, he can't prove this either, and is really trying to prove a negative. So his claim to knowledge is false as well. I still stand by Socrates words of wisdom "All I know is I know nothing." So therefore, I am agnostic. I find Call's tactics inherently dogmatic, and also a bit ridiculous, the same with the "Secular Free Thought Society's." Isn't the point of this whole movement to disprove religion and beliefs in God? Instead these people are ASSEMBLING with like-minded people of ideas and beliefs (which, as proved above, they are also using faith, instead of knowledge, for the non-belief in God) and are labeling their "clubs" (for lack of a better word) and so are therefore forming their own religions, which, in my opinion, defeats the whole purpose. They are also invoking HATRED and ANGER in believers which is one of the problems with religion nowadays anyway. I am all for expressing one's beliefs, but to do so through pictures such as the one's Call took for this article, or through T-shirts with fuck so-and-so's church printed on it, is really only reinforcing the underlying problems with religion in the first place. It should be noted that although I consider myself a skeptical-secular-free-thinking-agnostic-humanist (as far as labels go) I am not a huge fan of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins and think that Call and others are only emulating their tactics.

Isaac Iris
Isaac Iris

HAHAHA! This article was hilarious. This is what I got out of it: was a mormon, now an atheist, still self righteous... and what a snazzy dresser!

Alton
Alton

I understand and [respect] those who have a need to believe in the magical universe of the religious. It is extremely difficult if not impossible for some to truly think objectively as they drag all the baggage and trappings of our society, history, culture and family with us through our lives. But, if Call's mission is to demonstrate that we non-believers exist (in larger numbers than most would imagine) and need to be recognized, excepted and respected, then I support him 100%. On the other hand, if he's just having fun, more power to him. Keep on dancing.

Chris
Chris

Remember when the church excommunicated Galileo because he said the Sun was the center of the Universe? Remember when it said the world was only 5,000 years old? The Church has been wrong time and time again. There is no higher power giving them answers. It's just the Church, telling us whatever it wants us to believe, regardless of whether it is true or scientifically accurate.

Religion was useful back when we didn't know what caused rain, or what held the Sun up in the sky. Now that we know the answers to those questions, we don't need a "god" who "magically" does that stuff. We understand how it really works, and it's not what the Church told us. Believing in a god who performs miracles is the same as believing in a wizard that does magic. Both are fantasies. It's time for the Church to stop deceiving people. It needs to stop telling them that the bible is true, because it is not.

Besides, religion is routinely used as an excuse for violence. Remember the Crusades? The Inquisition? Present-day Iraq, where religious extremists are using religion as an excuse to kill Americans? The sooner we get rid of religion and replace it with science and reason, the better off the entire world will be.

Chris
Chris

The Church is constantly wrong. Remember Galileo? The Inquisition? Religion was useful back when people did not know how the Universe was created, or what held the Sun up. Now that we know the answers to those questions (which are not what the Church told us), we don't need their lies. We know the answers. The Church should stop trying to delude people into believing things that science has proved wrong. Plus, religion is often used as an excuse for violence (i.e. the Crusades, present-day Iraq, etc.). The sooner we eradicate it, the better off the world will be.

mabel_said_so
mabel_said_so

As a once stout atheist who was married to a Mormon, I completely understand Call's need to argue with believers and express himself and his new-found information. I am still not religious nor believe that there is a God, but I ceased arguing with others who are or do. Why, one may ask? Because IT IS ILLOGICAL TO DO SO. As a philosopher, for one to make a claim to knowledge such as there being a God (i.e. theism) or there not being a god (i.e. atheism) this knowledge must be a true justifiable belief, because that is what knowledge is. Now, we can not prove that there is a God and as Mark Twain said "Faith is believing in something you know ain't true," so right here the argument should cease. But for Call to continue to argue that there isn't a God, he can't prove this either, and is really trying to prove a negative. So his claim to knowledge is false as well. I still stand by Socrates words of wisdom "All I know is I know nothing." So therefore, I am agnostic. I find Call's tactics inherently dogmatic, and also a bit ridiculous, the same with the "Secular Free Thought Society's." Isn't the point of this whole movement to disprove religion and beliefs in God? Instead these people are ASSEMBLING with like-minded people of ideas and beliefs (which, as proved above, they are also using faith, instead of knowledge, for the non-belief in God) and are labeling their "clubs" (for lack of a better word) and so are therefore forming their own religions, which, in my opinion, defeats the whole purpose. They are also invoking HATRED and ANGER in believers which is one of the problems with religion nowadays anyway. I am all for expressing one's beliefs, but to do so through pictures such as the one's Call took for this article, or through T-shirts with fuck so-and-so's church printed on it, is really only reinforcing the underlying problems with religion in the first place. It should be noted that although I consider myself a skeptical-secular-free-thinking-agnostic-humanist (as far as labels go) I am not a huge fan of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins and think that Call and others are only emulating their tactics.

Poetry2Beatz
Poetry2Beatz

Interesting Article! I haven't read much atheistic work like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris, but a Buddhist friend of mine let me barrow "Anthem" by Ayn Rand. I am a very opened minded/curious guy who loves to pursue absolute truth wherever that leads me. Here's a really good book for believers and non-believers, I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek...

r�nato
r�nato

we are all atheists; some of us simply believe in one fewer god than the rest of you.

Jesse Chanley
Jesse Chanley

Very good article. I admire Mr. Call's willingness to publically challenge religious dogma.

Some of the commenters assert that LDS is not Christian. That assertion is false. LDS members believe in their version of Christ, just as Catholics and the many Protestant faiths have their own versions. The LDS version is among the least believable, but it is a variant of Christianity.

Not mentioned in the article is the overwhelming scientific and historic evidence that people created god(s). The reason there is so much good and bad is that there is no beneficent god ordering nature. The good and the bad done by people is all to our credit.

What I find most frustrating about Christianity is the failure of many Christians to pay attention to Christ's message, which is very radical. Christ said to love our enemies and to practice pacifism and material selflessness. Many people in the U.S., and especially those who call this a Christian nation, are among the biggest supporters of our military and the strongest opponents of collective welfare. These positions contradict Christ's teachings.

Jeff
Jeff

Hats off to a true thinker. It takes true courage to confront the American Taliban on their own turf. Keep up the good work Omar Call.

Jeff

Vocab Malone
Vocab Malone

I know Omar. I debate with him often on Mill. He gave me a ride home once. Interesting guy.

Some of the pictures (flipping off, cross as gun, hostage situation, cross in mouth) invoke a sense of hostility and even violence that caught me off guard. This type of posturing is unbecoming in my estimate.

I also concur with TED that LDS and actual Biblical Christianity (read: orthodox evangelicalism) theology were unfortunately conflated in this article. This is much to the detriment of the reader's understanding.

Once again, I am just glad the NT is covering stuff like this. So props on that end.

Merry Christmas,

VOCAB of Backpack Truth dot com

PS - Can Omar really READ Hebrew Script? I don't think so ...

VOCAB

Jack O. Fire
Jack O. Fire

If millions of people worldwide share the same common (non)belief and use the same arguments and rituals to convey those beliefs, then Atheism in itself is a religion. Welcome to the new cult.

Niki's article proved what I have known for years: atheists have now become every bit as annoying (if not more) as the street corner bible-thumping testifiers that inspired them to turn their back on the word of God.

ted
ted

Well, no wonder, Mormons don't believe in Christianity. They believe in some other stuff. There are so many stories of former Mormons becoming agnostic or aethiest as if it were the same thing as Christianity. It's like saying a Jewish person is Christian. It'd help if secular writers at least got these journalistic facts straight first.

Hammer of The Gods
Hammer of The Gods

Call talks about the evils done in the name of God. Just because evil is done in the name of God in no way means that God was actually involved. On the flip side, how about the good done in the name of God? The charities, the homeless shelters, the food and clothing banks, the hospitals, etc. Ever hear of an atheist charity? Ever hear of a pagan food bank? Me either.If anything has outlived it's usefulness (if it ever had any use), it is atheism. Promoting a cause that is mostly about being against something else is simply a dead end street. Try being FOR something, something positive, life enhancing, enriching, freeing, contributing to the well being of others as well as yourself. Go ahead, TRY it!

Avinash Machado
Avinash Machado

From one extreme to the other. From the LDS cult to Atheism. Hope he regains faith in God.

Jeff Schrade
Jeff Schrade

That was an interesting read about Mr. Call. It's unfortunate that he is an all or nothing kind of guy. At one point he was 100% Christ-believing Mormon. Then he becomes a 100% atheist who wants to convert small children to his new-found belief system. Weird.

 
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