Nevertheless, he and Amina planned to continue attending church; she'd agreed to accompany him to one Sunday service a week. They went the first two Sundays after their wedding ceremony. On the third Sunday, the alarm went off and Amina asked Call if they were going to get up and go to church.

He rolled over and said, "Nah. Let's sleep in."


Call's friend Jimmy Curley dresses well in an effort to improve his credibility.
Kyle Jacobson
Call's friend Jimmy Curley dresses well in an effort to improve his credibility.
One of Call's signs is co-opted by a Mill Avenue passerby.
Kyle Jacobson
One of Call's signs is co-opted by a Mill Avenue passerby.

Easter Sunday 2007 was a dramatic day for the Call family.

Call's parents were visiting his sister in Tucson. Omar and Amina joined them, and the whole family went out to see what he calls "a pretty avant-garde" Easter play called The Last Days of Judas Iscariot that "had some nudity and cursing in it." They knew the play was going to be unorthodox, but didn't realize how much. The play took place at an inconspicuous art gallery/performance space off Congress Street. Call doesn't remember the name of the venue, but he does remember that the theme of the play was "honesty versus loyalty."

Afterward, Call took his already-jarred parents and his sister out for ice cream. He asked his parents what was more important — honesty or loyalty. His mother said both were equally important. His father said he believed honesty was more important than loyalty.

Call said he agreed with his father, and on that note, over waffle cones and sprinkles, he announced that he'd had his name removed from the LDS church records.

His mother was devastated. "I wish you'd never told me this," her son recalls her saying. "Why did you do this?"

Call says that, to this day, they've never discussed it again. They get together on holidays and talk about everything else.

"My mother's father was a military man — very stoic, and an atheist," he says. "Sometimes I think my mother's devotion to religion is a rebellion against her father's atheism. My mom once said to me, 'I'm not going to let your atheism destroy this family the way it did mine!'"

Call's admission that he was an atheist was difficult for his family to accept, but his compulsion to publicly and skillfully debate preachers on Mill doesn't surprise them. When he and Jimmy Curley started coming down to Mill to debate, Call says, he approached it with the same zeal he showed as a Mormon missionary, and he hasn't lost it yet. What he has lost enthusiasm for is the Secular Free Thought Society always being on the same corner he's on.

It started with a few SFTS members handing out their own tracts on Mill, which said things like "Is this your God?" and quoted the Bible story, from the book of Kings, in which God sends bears to eat small children who mocked the prophet Elisha. Call found the tracts amusing and was happy to meet people who shared his views. But then the SFTS started bringing a microphone and more members, each one adamant about bringing his or her own philosophies to the debates.

Now things are getting out of control. On a recent Saturday night, a discussion between Call and the Christians disintegrated into anarchy when some of the atheists screamed at the preachers about how creationism is a lie and grabbed at Call's microphone. The mic ended up being commandeered by an inebriated blond woman who was just passing by. She then was provoked by the excited crowd to deliver an impromptu, slurred sermon.

The Friday after the incident, Call and Jimmy Curley — both dressed in suits and ties — sat down with SFTS founder Shawn Esplin in front of the Slices pizza joint, off Mill. Call had been in front of the post office earlier with his "RIP GOD" sign, and the SFTS was hanging out behind him in jeans and black T-shirts, eating Dunkin' Donuts and blasting the music of black-metal band Dimmu Borgir through a speaker. Nobody would approach Call, and when somebody finally did, a couple of SFTS members stood in front of his sign and talked over him.

Call explains to Esplin that he moved because "my message was being diluted." He and Curley clarify that they're not members of the SFTS. They say they're doing their own thing, but they'd like for the group to be more effective. They should dress so that they appear respectable and approachable, have a couple people on each corner instead of one big gaggle, and respect other people enough to not talk over them or shout.

Esplin agrees with most of the points, but says he's not sure what to do. What's important to him, he says, is that there are voices opposing the Christians on Mill, and that the SFTS brings as many people around to "their side" as they can.

"Maybe we should figure out why we all come down here and what we're trying to accomplish," he says, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose.

Curley explains that he and Call aren't trying to convert people to atheism; all they want is to make people think, to have respectful and stimulating discussions when they come down to Mill.

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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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