Ah, back into writing about religion. It’s about time, isn’t it? And can *you* guess what the answer to the question in the title is? Of course you can!
Recently, I noted a post on Ed Brayton’s Dispatches From The Culture Wars, about Bill Keller and his silly challenge to the leader of ISIL, the vermin in the Middle East. Mr. Keller challenged Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to the Old Testament contest found in 1 Kings 18, where the prophet Elijah has two altars built and calls down his god’s power to consume the offering on one. He then has all of the priests of the other god murdered.
In my decades of questioning theists’s claims, I’ve often asked Christians to do this contest with me. I’d bring a Zippo, a industrial sized torch or even just a magnifying glass on a sunny day, and they could pray as long as they said was necessary. Unsurprisingly, everyone refused this challenge giving many excuses: that they weren’t a prophet so their god wouldn’t answer, that this god only did such things thousands of years ago, that their god shouldn’t be tested (belied by the stories of Gideon and the words in Malachi and 1 Thessalonians), that they didn’t have time, etc.
Now, here we can get this done! I thought. He has claimed he is a prophet, so there goes that excuse, and since al-Baghdadi likely won’t answer, he’ll have time in his schedule. Mr. Keller obviously believes this will happen in this modern time, so that excuse is gone too! I promptly sent off a request for Mr. Keller to do the challenge with me at a place and time of his convenience.
Here’s the email I sent (and yes I did use my real name, if you are curious about that, do the work):
I have seen your challenge to the leader of ISIL: ““I will come to Iraq, Syria, any location you desire,” says Keller. “We will each take an unblemished animal, cut that animal into pieces, put those pieces on wood, but not set fire to the wood. Once prepared, you have one hour’s time to call on Allah to rain down fire on your offering. If at the end of that hour Allah has still not answered your pleas, I will call upon the one true God of the Bible … not just to bring down fire on my offering, but yours as well.” “If your god Allah does not answer you … you will resign as the leader of ISIS. You will retire from your life of terror. You will encourage your followers to live in peace and I will be free to return to the United States.”
“If your god Allah answers your pleas by fire [and] my God does not, I will renounce the Christian faith, and you’re free to kill me or do whatever you like.”
I would like to ask you if you are willing to take the same challenge from an atheist, to pray for fire from your god. I will meet you at a place of your choice in the US (perhaps midway between Florida and Pennsylvania?) with two altars, as you describe above. You may pray to your god for fire to consume it. If there is no response, I will use a means of ignition discovered by the scientific method, a Zippo would be a fine choice, to light both altars. These proceedings would be videotaped. If you god answers you, I will be happy to publically announce that I believe in this god, though I would not worship such a being. If there are no flames, you will publically announce that your god does not exist. You also may choose to announce that your god does not respond to you if you prefer.
I look forward to your response.
Lo and behold, I got a response, which I do appreciate. I won’t reproduce it here verbatim until I get permission from Mr. Keller since he has the copyright but I’ll talk about what it said and my thoughts on it. UPDATE – 9/1/14 @ 8:28 pm. I got another response, and no refusal of publication. Mr. Keller has said he was too “bored” to read my email. So, here is his first response:
LOL..sorry…first..Dr. Keller gets 40,000 emails a DAY…mostly for prayer…there are 700 of us..all retried pastors who work with him to make sure each one is prayed over and answered..Dr. Keller isn’t into “stunts”..but is led by God’s Holy Spirit in all that he does….the things he does are God-led..not simply a game..my suggestion..you will die one day..even a genius like yourself who claims there is no God..meaning you were nothing but a genetic accident and your life is absolutely meaningless..will accept that..at that moment..you will either be correct..and go into the ground like a dead plant..or as the Bible teaches you will stand before God and cast into hell..for your CHOICE to reject Christ..you are clearly worried about the wrong things..and should be focused whether you are willing to stake your eternal soul on the lies of this world..we will pray for you though.
btw..your offer is foolish since proving God’s existence only requires you do something every day..look into a mirror..there is ZERO explanation for you other than God..glad to have helped and saved you the drama..blessings
Know that I am praying for you, be richly blessed, Bill Keller Founder, www.liveprayer.com To get Bill Keller’s FREE Daily Devotional…sign up at the link below by putting in your email address and look for the confirming email you must reply to…http://www.liveprayer.com/signup.cfm
It is fascinating that prayers aren’t known at all by their god, but must be handled by pastors. Seems like the same “intervention” as Catholics require. And I was wrong about 40,000 a year. Of course, there is not one independent verification of such a strangely high number. I did get another response which I shall post in a day or two. It’s even more amusing.
This response was purportedly from one of his “700” retired pastors who handle the prayer requests for his ministry. It began with “LOL”, which didn’t exactly give me any great hopes on the content of the missive. It was also full of ellipses, which always baffles me why anyone does that, other than to make their response rather incoherent. My guess is that this is from Mr. Keller himself considering how the post is written, with claim of “I” do this, etc, and not from a random pastor. We also do not have the name of the pastor which is unusual from my point of view. Why not take ownership of one’s actions? So, from this point, I will treat the letter as written by Mr. Keller. The writer also says “Dr. Keller” but I cannot find any information he has received a doctorate from anywhere, not even in his own biography. This appears to be an attempt to appeal to authority. I have asked for information where the doctorate came from.
The letter opens with the claim that the ministry gets “40,000” prayer requests a year. (UPDATE: this is supposed 40K per “day”. I have asked for the email stats for this since there is no independent confirmation of such a ridiculous number. google stats may be able to take care of this. The Exchange server certainly could do this.) This appears to be an excuse of “I don’t have the time”. This would average out to around over a 100 a day. Certainly the 700 pastors can handle this for a day or two while Mr. Keller tends to altar business?
Mr. Keller then goes onto say that Mr. Keller isn’t into doing “stunts”. This seems to indicate that this challenge by Mr. Keller is now a “stunt”. Or that he wasn’t serious about doing this at all? However, the letter writer states that Mr. Keller is “God-led” by his god into doing everything, which would indicate that Mr. Keller is serious about this “stunt”.
Then we have what is expected from a Christian asked to do complete the challenge he has offered to another religious figure. I am told that I will die one day, a great shock to everyone, I’m sure….. 🙂 I am threatened with hell as usual and the pastor claims that he will pray for me. I am told that I simply must have no meaning in my life and that I am a “genetic accident”. I am then told that I just have to look in the mirror to see evidence for Mr. Keller’s god because “there is ZERO explanation for you other than God” for it. Except for the claims of nearly every other religion that their god/gods made me exist, all with the usual lack of evidence that Mr. Keller has. This lovely excuse is what is offered instead of doing the altar challenge that Mr. Keller proposed to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. I guess we can see what Mr. Keller’s excuse would have been should the self-described “caliph” accept his challenge.
Thank you, Mr. Keller. You have shown that no one should believe your claims.
The above is the short and sweet version of the story. Now, if you want to read my much longer response to Mr. Keller, with juicy details, here you go: Continue reading “Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – the altar challenge, will Bill Keller take the challenge he offered to a Muslim?”