Speaker 0 00:00:01 Yeah. And I would say it reminds me of, you know, one of my favorite apologies, Frank Turk, when he debated Christopher Hitchens of all people, he summarized Christopher's atheism or antitheism as there is no God, and I hate him. And that very much was my atheism. God does not exist. He's Santa Claus for adults. And oh, by the way, he's a misogynistic bully. And if you believe in him, you believe in a celestial dictator. And so I very much went into the level of animosity, um, that it was, it was a war zone. When we talked about faith, when we talked about your, your testimony, um, I was going to treat you with the disdain that I thought you deserved.
Speaker 2 00:00:44 Hello and thanks for joining in. I'm Dana Harmon and you're listening to Sibe Stories where we see how skeptics flip the record of their lives. Each podcast we listen to someone who has once been an atheist or skeptic that who became a Christian against all lives. You can hear more of these stories at our Cby stories [email protected]
stories.com. We also welcome your comments on these stories on our Sy Stories Facebook page as well. When someone takes on an identity, whether it be atheist or Christian, we often have presumptions of who they are. That works both ways. At least we think we know who they are, and they think they know who we are. We think we know what they think, how they feel about things. We presume that they will always be like that and that they will never change and vice versa. But if you get to know someone and they get to know you, oftentimes our perceptions will change.
Speaker 2 00:01:43 As we begin to reveal the persons, we are below the persona, below the presumed negative caricatures and stereotypes. Sometimes underneath a hard exterior and strong anti-God sentiment of an atheist lurks the unexpected, softer side of someone who has the same human needs and desires for truth, meaning, value, and love as everyone else in today's story, former atheist and strong atheist, Roger Sheerer thought believe in God was not only childish but bad and needed to be taken down. Now he is just as passionate about his belief in God and is an apologist for the Christian worldview. What could move someone from such an anti-God vitriol to becoming such a strong advocate for Christianity? I hope you'll join in to find out. Well, welcome to the Side B Podcast. Roger, it's so great to have you with me today.
Speaker 0 00:02:48 Yeah, thank you so much for having me, Jenna. I'm honored to be on here with you.
Speaker 2 00:02:51 Wonderful. As we're getting started, Roger, tell us a little bit about who you are, where you live.
Speaker 0 00:02:58 Yeah, so sure. I'm a, uh, I'm a youth pastor. I'm in Lebanon, Missouri. Uh, and so here in the Midwest, I, uh, we've got a church on average. Um, I I would say youth wise, we run about 200 on a Wednesday, so a lot of, lot of fun that we have, uh, here in our youth group. But, um, beyond that, my, uh, I'm also a college student and so I recently finished my undergrad at Liberty, uh, in a, my Degrees in Christian Ministries. And my currently working on my master's right now and doing my thesis and my master's is in Apologetics also from, uh, Liberty. So that's kind of what I've been doing the last couple years.
Speaker 3 00:03:37 Okay. It sounds like, uh, you're very, very busy.
Speaker 0 00:03:41 Yeah, I like busy ministry is all, all, you know, good ministry is busy ministry, so it, it's fun.
Speaker 3 00:03:46 Yes. That's, that's great. Well, let's, let's walk back into your, your story and your childhood. And because obviously you have experienced a period of disbelief, but as it stands now, it appears that you're a very strong believer and a strong advocate of the Christian faith. So let's walk back into your childhood and, and, and tell me about, did you grow up in that area in Lebanon or, or in the Midwest? Tell me about your home, your culture was Christianity or God, a part of your, your upbringing?
Speaker 0 00:04:25 Yeah, and so, uh, no, I guess would be the short answer. Um, and it's, it's funny when I tell people about my, my family, um, you know, my mom, my dad were divorced. Um, and so I kind of had two families, but I tell people there's, there's two people, um, that have never heard me preach the gospel. I, of course I've preached on Sundays, I've preached on Wednesdays, Wednesdays, but my mom or my dad or two people, um, they've never heard me give a message. They've never heard me give my testimony. Um, and that is something growing up, um, ha being very distant from church organized religion, um, certainly something that we did not adhere to. And, um, so what kind of started as unbelief growing up in Missouri, um, really transitioned from just almost an agnostic, I don't know if there's a God, I don't really care if there's a God turning into a version of antitheism, um, in which my identity going into high school really was predicated upon there is no God.
Speaker 0 00:05:26 And not only do I believe there's no God, but if you believe in God, um, then you are, you have inferior intelligence. You are a weak person. You are emotionally, mentally, psychologically, intellectually, um, subpar. And so my identity, people that knew me in Lebanon, which is a town of about 15, 20,000 people, um, I was kind of known as the community atheist. That was really something that, that people knew me as. And so, um, that very much was kind of my testimony up until about my junior year of, of high school in terms of, of growing up in church. There certainly was no church component in my life.
Speaker 3 00:06:06 So what did your parents believe? Did they, did they have any animosity towards God or religion, or was your home I religious or what?
Speaker 0 00:06:16 Yeah, it was very irreligious and I think my dad never spoke of God. I think he was, he, he, he did not grow up in a religious household. And so I think Alan, a lot of times your belief is going to be dominated by your upbringing. Uh, in my dad's case, that was very true. Uh, my mom, I always said, and I love my mom, and she was a very genuine person. Um, but a lot of her, what I would call a religious belief, uh, was her political beliefs. And so very, very progressive politically, very much, um, a humanist in terms of her philosophy. Um, and there didn't play a role. A deity did not play a role in a lot of what she believed in the, the, the principles that she wanted to pass down to myself. Um, God was, was obsolete. He was unnecessary in what my mom truly felt was important. And so, um, she was not dogmatic that there is no God. It simply was he was absent and, and all of the things that she kind of gave to me. And I was really the one to say, Hey, not only is Christianity irrelevant, but it's actually harmful and detrimental to intellectual, you know, growth.
Speaker 3 00:07:29 And I do want to investigate where that contempt came from. But before we get there, even as you were growing up as a child, the Midwest is typically steeped in at least a cultural cri Christianity and Yeah. Did you have any friends even growing up, uh, as a, as a boy or a child that professed belief?
Speaker 0 00:07:52 I would say that I did have friends that were Christians. I would say that they were very lukewarm in that they didn't get their feelings hurt. When I professed my atheism, uh, the people that I targeted and I did target them, um, were those outside of my friend group. And, and really the f d a kids, as I called them, they were not just Christians, they were the obnoxious Christians. Uh, and they were the ones I really wanted to humiliate. I wanted to minimize them. Um, and so I did have friends that were Christians. I don't think any of my close friends went to church. I think they were very much pascal's wager level Christians, Hey, I believe in it for fire insurance, but it's not really something I live out every single day.
Speaker 3 00:08:35 So as you were growing up and your mother obviously saw no need for God and there was no God in your home, what informed your particular atheist identity belief that there is no God is a fairly strong positive statement of reality.
Speaker 0 00:08:53 Yeah. And so
Speaker 3 00:08:54 How did you, how did you come to that place or that conclusion or that identity, I guess, uh, how old were you when you decided or that you believed in this way?
Speaker 0 00:09:05 Yeah, no, that's a, that's a great question. And so I would say my eighth grade year, um, I watched a YouTube video. YouTube was just becoming a thing. Um, and it was a Christopher Hitchens, um, talk on a book that he was writing called God Is Not Great, how Religion Poisons Everything. I was completely mesmerized by what he was saying, and I thought everything that I've kind of perceived, he's putting it in words that make sense. The next year would've been my freshman year of high school, 2007. Um, and Richard Dawkins', the God Delusion hits the New York Times bestselling list. Um, and I went to Barnes and Noble and St. Louis just a couple hours away, and I bought a, my copy of the God Delusion, and that was my Bible. I, I memorized that book and it was really my blueprint on how to deal with Christians, how to argue with Christians.
Speaker 0 00:10:05 Um, and so I found in a very Bible belt community, I'm wearing politically motivated shirts, and the people that are the most distasteful to me are those that are carrying a King James Bible. And so it gave me an incentive to take my atheism a step further to say, well, no. Now I actually have motive to, to be angry at you people because you're the ones that oppose everything that I stand for. Um, and so it was the new Atheist movement, the Dawkins's and the Denis and the Harrises and the Michael Schirmer's, and I still have all those books at my house. They're in my garage and I read them front to back. Um, I read the Old Testament and I memorized many parts of the Old Testament, the Levitical Laws, the Deutero Domical laws. Um, and it really became a, an opportunity for me to intellectually flex myself against those that I truly believed were just brainwashed.
Speaker 3 00:11:04 So you found an intellectual affinity with these new atheists, and and if you read their writings, which you obviously have, there is, is a, a bit of animosity spewing from the pages, um, towards Christians. And I would imagine that, that when you start there and then you add then the political aspect to it, I can see where the contempt would rise. Um,
Speaker 0 00:11:31 Yeah, and I would say it reminds me of, you know, one of my favorite apologies, Frank Turk, when he debated Christopher Hitchens of all people, he summarized Christopher's atheism or antitheism as there is no God, and I hate him. And that very much was my atheism. God does not exist. He's Santa Claus for adults. And oh, by the way, he's a misogynistic bully. And if you believe in, in Him, you believe in a celestial dictator. And so I very much went into the level of animosity, um, that it was, it was a war zone. When we talked about faith, when we talked about your, your testimony, um, I was going to treat you with the disdain that I thought you deserved.
Speaker 3 00:12:10 Hmm. So you really embodied that, uh, religion is bad and should be gotten rid of and as, as quickly as possible, that poisonous view of, of Christianity and of Christians and that whole ideology.
Speaker 0 00:12:27 Well, I would say often that, you know, some atheists say, I don't believe in God, but I wish I, I wish God did exist. Like I, it sounds nice. I took the stance of I don't believe in God and I'm glad he doesn't exist. And so, um, yeah, I mean, it, it, no, and, and when I say like I was the community atheist outside of Lebanon High School, we had a local message board that people would post on the newspaper, had it on their website. And I was one of the only ones that used my name. I used Roger Sheer cuz I wanted everybody to know, Hey, I'm not hiding behind a name. And most of my posts had to do with Christianity and why it needed to be, um, lessened in our community. So people that knew my name, they knew me as, oh, that's the, that's the atheist kid from, from Lebanon High School. And so it was not a secret.
Speaker 3 00:13:14 Right. So if God did not exist and Christianity was not true, what was Christianity in your mind?
Speaker 0 00:13:24 It was as Stephen h uh, Stephen Hawkings said, it was for those that are afraid of the dark, it is for those that, uh, cannot explain death. It is the biggest phobia, the biggest fear that humans we innately have. Um, and yet just as Mark Twain said, you were dead a thousand years before you were born, it'll be the same after you die, you will cease to exist. And it is for people that need to play fairytale to give them answers, just as we give children answers about the man that goes down the chimney or the bunny that that does this or the tooth fairy. It is simply a more, um, adult version of what we have been making up for centuries upon centuries. That, that was my answer. And, and just as at some point you have to tell children, Hey guys, sand is not real. Um, it was my intellectual responsibility to play that role for adults and say, Hey guys, the jig is up. It's time to start living a different direction.
Speaker 3 00:14:17 Mm-hmm. What, what convinced you that atheism and or naturalism or materialism or the worldview that came along with atheism was true?
Speaker 0 00:14:28 Yeah. And so it's funny because when I was in high school, um, I was captain of the debate squad. That speech and debate was my thing. Um, it was the only thing I was really, really good at. And, um, so in the midst of that identity of me trying to be this confident, um, eminent, dogmatic atheist that is just so good at, at speaking, you know, to all these Christians, deep down was the most insecure person you would've ever met that was screaming Love me. I want somebody to love me. I want somebody to hold me and to say, hey, um, it's gonna be okay. And so my compromising in life of my war against Christianity came down so much to the biggest things that I feared. And so in the midst of that was my diagnosis with depression and, um, the sadness and the despair that I had, and really, I would say a nihilistic philosophy.
Speaker 0 00:15:28 Um, and that there is no meaning. There is no value, there is no purpose. And, um, it was Halloween night, 2009, October 31st that I wrote out my suicide note. And it was a two page note. It's actually a note that I read to our congregation a few months ago for a sermon that we did on mental health. Um, and I read the suicide note from beginning to end where I, I apologized to my mom, to my dad, to my grandparents, to my principal, um, and said, I'm so sorry that I've been this burden on you because I had never felt any semblance of meaning for me to even exist anymore. Um, and it was in that midst of breaking myself down to the point where I, there was nowhere to look other than up because I was on my back and it was the next morning, um, I found myself at the First Baptist Church. And funnily enough, the church that I'm sitting in, the church I'm now a pastor at, was the church that I found myself at, um, in the corner of the balcony trying to hide from everybody to get some type of answer. And during the invitation, the pastor said, if you lack meaning, value, or purpose in your life, there is a God that wants to know you. And, um, it was a Saul to Paul level conversion in that moment that I truly had become born again.
Speaker 3 00:16:48 Wow. Okay. There's a lot there.
Speaker 0 00:16:51 A lot there. Yeah. I wanted to give you everything and then you could unpack it. Yeah.
Speaker 3 00:16:54 <laugh>. Ok. So first of all, I, I want to acknowledge here that you were an honest enough atheist to understand the implications or consequences of your own worldview, which is the endpoint is nihilism. For those who don't understand that term, can you just express what nihilism is?
Speaker 0 00:17:15 Sure, yeah. It really is that, um, the, the aspect of what is the meaning of life. And that is a question that if you look up Google searches, everybody wants to know what is my meaning. Um, and to me, I would tell people, I would say, listen, this is doom and gloom, but this is what you need to hear. We are on this rock, this pale blue dot for a little bit of time. Um, we will die, we will cease to exist, we will eventually decompose. And that our meaning is whatever we put into it. But beyond that, our meaning is relative, it's subjective. And in the end, we're going to explode. We're all going to die a heat death on this earth. And our meaning, therefore is by definition purposeless, meaningless, and valueless. All of those things are manmade inventions that we put upon ourselves, we impose on ourselves to, again, give us some level of optimism when we wake up the next day.
Speaker 0 00:18:11 But in the end, there is truly no purpose in what we do. We are simply one species evolved from those that are in the animal kingdom. We are a half chromosome away from a chimpanzee. Um, and in the end, we all die the same death, which is leaves us with, with very little. And so, um, that was my style of nihilism, and usually people left saying, that's really depressing. Um, but I said, yeah, but the truth isn't always depressing, right? I mean, when we see children get cancer, it's easy to make up fairytales and to make up heaven, and, and that sounds really good, but in the end, they're dead and they're going in the ground with you and I, and that's, that's the end of it. And so I think I almost wanted it to sound that depressing because to me, life was depressing and I wanted my philosophy and life to mirror everything else I saw. That was the lens that I viewed. Everything was truly, um, value is simply a man-made, um, principle that truly doesn't exist.
Speaker 3 00:19:14 So that's a very honest, pragmatic, sober-minded view of life within, uh, uh, just because you lived this, and I'm so curious, again as a, uh, as someone coming from an another perspective now, but looking back, there are a lot of issues within atheism that are difficult to grapple with nihilism, you know, the meaninglessness being one of them. But there are other questions that are very difficult to answer, I think within the atheistic or naturalistic worldview, were there, and I won't name them for you, I want to see Sure. If there were any conundrums, uh, within the atheistic worldview that would, that you scratched your head and said, I'm not really sure about that. I don't know how to answer that. I'm not sure if Yeah. If science will actually provide the answers that we need. You know, you had mentioned earlier that, you know, you were a very strong anti theist and oftentimes with strong antitheism comes a strong confidence that your worldview is true. And for all of these reasons. But I wondered if there were any inherent doubts for you as you at the same time we're projecting the strength Yeah. Of persona of atheism.
Speaker 0 00:20:36 I think the, the first intellectual, true intellectual objection that I had to really look myself in the mirror was a few months before I became a Christian. I was still very much involved in my atheism. Um, and a local pastor that had heard of me, um, had invited me to have a meeting with him. And I very much agreed because I would, I, I love nothing more than to have one-on-one conversations with pastors. And so I met with him and we talked a lot about some of the issues we've already discussed. And one of those was dealing with death and how you deal with people, um, that are involved in that, whether it be the death of a loved one. And he said, Roger, he said, I want you to put yourself in my shoes for a second. I want you to pretend that you're a pastor, um, and that you're in my shoes.
Speaker 0 00:21:24 And I said, okay. And he said, I wanna tell you a true story that happened a few weeks ago. And he said, I had a couple here, mother and father, um, loving couple devout Christians. Um, the mother had a baby that was still born. The baby did not make it. They had named this baby. They had painted the rooms of the walls of the, of this baby's room. They had picked out all the outfits for this, for this child. Um, and as a pastor, I'm driving to the hospital and I'm thinking of the words that I have to say to this mother and to this father that are holding their, their their baby. And he said, thankfully, we were able to turn it into a, a moment of celebration in that, um, you're going to see that child again. You will be with your child in eternity.
Speaker 0 00:22:11 He said, Roger, I want you to play the role of me right now. How would you have responded with your worldview to that family? And I think in that moment, it be, it took the, the issue off of me, cuz it was easy for me to say, well, hey, life is meaningless. I'm only here for a little bit. I'm gonna have as much fun as I can. But in the first moment in my life, I truly, my feet were held to the fire on how do you respond to grief? How do you respond to suffering as an atheist? Because it was easy for me to put the telescope on God and say, well, why would God allow this? But then instead to turn that telescope back on me and say, okay, if you can't explain God's account for suffering, how do you explain that account apart from God?
Speaker 0 00:22:55 How are you able to give that answer? And I think that question wrestled with me for months and months and months, and it kept me up at night. Um, and even now as a pastor and I get to talk to atheists that maybe have a similar question and I get to use that example that worked in my life. And so that was something that obviously it's an emotional ploy, you know, but there is an intellectual side of how do we have an account for that suffering if nihilism truly is put into practice? And I think that that was something that really was effective in, in my testimony.
Speaker 2 00:23:31 We're going to take a quick break from our story to tell you about some big news at the Seeler Institute. They've been working very hard to develop a new website and it's gotten noticed. the.com awards honors excellence in web, creativity and digital communication. And they've given this year's gold award to the CS Os Institute for their wonderful union designed website. I encourage you to go take a look for yourself, go to www.csosinstitute.org and take a look around. You'll find loads of resources and study courses to learn, study and deepen your faith as well as a place to donate if you so desire. Again, congratulations to the CS o s Institute for their outstanding new website. I do hope you'll see it for yourself. Now, back to our story.
Speaker 3 00:24:26 No, that, that's, that's very interesting and actually insightful in terms
Speaker 2 00:24:30 Of him asking you
Speaker 3 00:24:32 To consider something, uh, yeah. From your own worldview. Were there any other issues? You know, obviously, um, you are a thinker, you are activator and you knew the issues coming from the atheistic, uh, perspective. Were there any that you just scratched your head like, Hmm, I'm not sure why there's something rather than nothing? Or how did the universe arise Yeah. Out of that Well, or the fine tuning of the universe. Sure. Consciousness. Yeah.
Speaker 0 00:25:04 Well, you know, my thesis is on the second premise of the colon cosmological argument. And so I'm looking at William Lane Craig's work in the last 10 years, um, specifically from 2006 until today with the Gord Booth, Lanum Theorem. And, and basically as we see the expansion of the universe, and we're starting to see more and more through the Hubble telescope and less than a hundred years ago, you know, in, in the late 1920s. Um, and so I have a passion for the origins in the beginning of the universe, but what's interesting is that was never an issue I think that I really grappled with when I was an atheist. I think the best argument, um, that in terms of an intellectual argument, um, which again was innately emotional, was probably what CS Lewis grappled with in Mira Christianity. Um, it's funny because I talk about politics and my mom was dominated by politics, and I was dominated by I would say my mom's politics.
Speaker 0 00:26:01 Um, and, and of course going door to door missing school in 2007 because I was going door to door, um, telling people to vote for the president that I wanted to vote for. That was very much my view is, okay, let's get God out of the way and let's focus on real world issues. And I, I had a friend, uh, his name's Tim, he's a pastor here in Lebanon, but he was my one Christian friend that did go to church, and he did live out his faith. And I remember he would ask me, he said, Roger, why do you hate Christians so much? And I focused on homophobia, I focused on women who don't have the rights that they should because of Christianity. And I remember Tim saying, well, Roger, why, why is that wrong? Why is it it wrong? Let's say Christians are homophobic, hypothetically, why is that wrong?
Speaker 0 00:26:47 And I would say, well, that's wrong because it's, it's, it's hu it's humanity and, and blah, blah, blah. And eventually he got me to eventually run into my nihilism in that I'm so angry about all of these issues. Well, and then finally, Roger standard, are you using to say that Christians are immoral for these actions that they take? And I think finally figuring out, well, wait a second, I think certain things are objectively evil. Um, and th some things are objectively good. Well, wait a second. I, I can't, I can't do that. I have to argue moral relativism. There's no, there's, there's no other way out of that. Um, and so then finding myself looking at the arguments for moral relativism and subjective morality, but then finding out that, yeah, that doesn't do it for me because if moral relativism is true the way I need it to be true, it has to be a prerequisite. Um, well then I don't get to have the moral outrage that I truly feel when it comes to why certain Christians do this and why self-righteousness exist and why judgmental people exist. And so, um, I think it really was objective moral values and duties. Um, if they exist, what standard do I have? Um, and eventually I realized, well, some of this is self-evident. There are objective moral values. And that one was, that one was tough for me too, as an atheist, I would say.
Speaker 3 00:28:10 Hmm. So, but I, I guess too, I want to appreciate the fact that as a, a sober-minded thinker, a debater, someone who was willing to weigh the ideas for what they were, um, you were willing to admit that this objective moral values and duties don't fit within the box of naturalism. Yeah. That they are not consistent with your worldview. Um, again, for, uh, for those who might be listening and are a little bit confused by that, we're not, uh, I guess maybe you can speak to the fact that atheists have a sense of right and wrong, right? Yeah. And it can be very moral people
Speaker 0 00:28:51 Yeah.
Speaker 3 00:28:52 Their ability to ground that sense of right and wrong
Speaker 0 00:28:56 Is Exactly. Yeah. No, and I tell people all the time, jokingly, I know a lot of atheists that are a lot better on the surface than some of the Christians that I, that I've met and, and talk to. And as Paul writes Romans, he says, you know, the law was written on their hearts. It's not that you have to read the Bible. When Moses had the 10 Commandments, I'm assuming they knew thou shall not kill before he revealed the 10 Commandments. And so it's not just the knowledge, but it is what, what, where is that seed? You know, why, why is, okay, I've never been taught that killing children recreationally is evil. Um, what makes that self-evident? And so we all have that self evidence no matter what our philosophical or ideological belief is. The question then becomes, what is the seed? What is what is written on our hearts, as Paul says in, in the book of Romans? And so certainly, yeah, that is definitely something that I think a lot of atheists will straw man and say, well, no, I'm a good person. I I I do a lot of good. And that's not the argument. So, yeah.
Speaker 3 00:29:53 So it sounds like in your journey that you were having not only some intellectual doubts and, uh, with regard some dissonance perhaps with Sure. Regard to your own worldview, uh, intellectually, but also existentially that you, you were depressed and that Yeah. Because of the purposelessness and the meaninglessness of, of life. I mean, to the point where you were willing to write a suicidal note. And obviously that thankfully, uh, you know, that did not come to fruition, but sure. You mentioned in your story that you found yourself in a church, um mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so I'm curious, were you invited? Was it because of your, your felt need that perhaps there's something more, or maybe I need to give this a second look, or I mean, the, the thought of such a strong anti theist sitting in a worship service in a church. Yeah. I just wanna know <laugh>, I guess I'm just wanting to know how you got from A to Z here.
Speaker 0 00:31:02 Yeah, no, they're definitely, no, it's, uh, and so it's funny because my junior year, um, I took an art class with a, a lady by the name of Shelly Osborne. Shelly Osborne was who I would call obnoxiously Christian. She was not enough to say I believe in God, but she had to wear the cross around her nag. And she had to make, she was just, she was obnoxious. And I did not like her. And I didn't even know her, but I didn't like her. And my friends knew, you're gonna take an art class with the obnoxious Christian, you're the obnoxious atheist. And so my friends literally took that class with me as spectators because they knew that I was going to challenge her. And I think it was like the third week. And, um, she starts talking about art history, and she's showing Christian art, you know, she's showing these different levels of Christian art.
Speaker 0 00:31:48 And I immediately raise my hand and I start asking her, uh, Mrs. Osborne, is it true you believe that a man, uh, survived in a giant fish for three days? Because if you believe that, um, I've got some ocean front property for you, you know, that I'd like to sell you, you believe in the, in the talking serpent you believe in in all of this. You know, you believe in the, the story of Noah on the boat. And I mean, just humiliating her in class in front of all these students. You know, my friends, they're in the corner and they're like, this is perfect. You know, this is fun. And I remember Mrs. Osborne, she said, Roger, I can't give you my testimony in a public school class. Um, and she moved on, but it was afterwards she came up to me and she said, Roger, if you really have questions about my faith, um, I'm going to do something out of the ordinary.
Speaker 0 00:32:33 I'm going to invite you to have a meeting with my pastor. And you were allowed to ask him any question you want, want to. And so, again, my rule, if a pastor invited me, I accepted. And so I, the next day she took me to her church, which happens to be the church that I'm sitting in. And I met Matt Taylor, who happens to now be my boss and my lead pastor. Um, and I met Matt Taylor, and we had a two hour dialogue where I asked him all of my gotcha questions. Those were my, my checkmate questions that I knew no Christian could answer. Um, and the conversation was very uneventful because I don't remember much of the content of what we talked about. Neither of our minds were changed. But I remember afterwards as I got up to leave, um, he came up and he hugged me and he said, Hey, um, you wanna do lunch tomorrow?
Speaker 0 00:33:21 And it was the first time in my life where a Christian, after I had just spent two hours decimating his worldview and telling him why he was basically an intellectual idiot. Um, he had embraced me and said, Hey, let's, let's, let's hang out. Let's do some stuff. And so what began was the most unlikely friendship in the history of Lebanon, Missouri, the most well-known lead pastor in the most well-known atheist. And Matt Taylor became my best friend in the entire world. He became the person that I called. We never talked religion beyond debate, and I never asked for prayer. But when I needed someone to listen to me, Matt was the person I called apart from being a pastor or a minister. And so I tell people all the time, first Peter three 15 is kind of the apologetics verse, you know, be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks of it, of the hope that is in you, but do so with gentleness and respect.
Speaker 0 00:34:14 And if we don't do it with gentleness and respect, having an answer will so often fall on deaf ears because no atheist has ever converted to Christ because they lost a debate. I've never met a, an atheist that said, okay, your points are better than my points. You win. I'll be a Christian. There's obviously much more to that. It is how we present ourselves. And so the next morning, I'll write my suicide note. Um, I call the suicide hotline, I pass out on my bed, and I wake up the next morning as alone and defeated as I had ever felt. And I remember saying, I need to be around the one person who has loved me throughout all of this, and his name happens to be Matt Taylor. Um, and so I went to the First Baptist Church, not to be a Christian, but because I felt that that's where I needed to be, because that's where Matt was.
Speaker 3 00:35:02 So that's extraordinary. So the, the INI from the initial meeting and he said, let's do lunch. How I just am curious is how, what that looked like. You, you met for lunch, you said he, you didn't debate. Was it just getting to know you like a friend and hanging out? What did that look like? And for how long did that last?
Speaker 0 00:35:27 Yeah, it's funny. Um, in the few months of my atheism, he taught me how to drive a stick shift. And so I was 17 and I didn't have my driver's license license because my parents had never taken me out to drive. I had failed the driver's test. And Matt said, Hey, meet me at the church at 11 o'clock. And so he taught me how to drive a stick shift, and then I went and got my driver's license, and he's a big Pittsburgh Steelers fan. I'm a big Atlanta Falcon fan. So we would, we would talk, um, we would talk football and, and we would argue, you know, why the Falcons are better than the Steelers. And he was a right wing conservative, and he wouldn't say that from the pulpit. I was a far left liberal. And so we would argue politics and we would have fun with it. And he truly got to know me in a span of a few months, more so than probably any friend I had ever had.
Speaker 3 00:36:13 Wow. So he really just invested in you just because he loved you as a friend?
Speaker 0 00:36:20 Yeah. And I was so used to Christian saying, Hey, I'll pray for you. And I never heard from him again. And my response to that was always, you pray for me and I'll think for you. Because it was so condescending, and it was so much, Christians were so focused on the afterlife that they were missing what was happening in that moment. And all it would've taken was 10 minutes to realize there's something else with this kid. There's something going on here. And they were so focused on my eternity, which is important as a pastor, I'm, I'm very much into that. I think we need to be into that, but we have to minister to people where they're at. And Matt ministered to where I was at, and he did it with gentleness and respect, and it opened my heart.
Speaker 3 00:37:03 Hmm. Through all those months together, did he ever bring up kind of God focused conversations? Or did he just let you become open to go wherever you felt comfortable?
Speaker 0 00:37:16 Yeah, no, we, we did. And it got to the point where he, he broke those walls down where he could give me his testimony and he can tell me about the impossible things that God had done in his life. And instead of me getting into debate mode, I think I was willing to listen to them. Now, granted, my response typically was, Hey, Matt, that's great. I I appreciate that you believe that. Um, but I think it humanized it to an extent where it wasn't just a sales pitch. I, I always said, Christians are like timeshare people. Um, hey, you know, I've got, I've got, I've got a place that you can stay for the weekend, but you have to listen to my presentation. And so many Christians maybe wanted to be my friend. And then I realized, oh, wait a second, this is a timeshare. You just want me to listen to your sales pitch? Okay, well, no, I'm out because I, I thought you actually wanted to be with me. Turns out you just wanted to make your little sales pitch. Matt ceased that in my life. He was, he was a Christian, that it wasn't just a timeshare presentation, but he was able to make it real in a way that I had actually never seen before. And so, um, he taught me a lot without necessarily beating me over the head with the Bible.
Speaker 3 00:38:28 Hmm. That's really beautiful. So, but d through your relationship, you were still, I guess, going downhill emotionally in your own life, um, really despairing, I guess, um, yeah. Um, and to the point where you were willing, I guess, of your own volition to go to church, um, that, that I'm sure in your mind must have been a real point of desperation, but yet having been softened, I suppose, by having been with Matt and, and, uh, seeing the love and care that he showed
Speaker 0 00:39:07 Yeah. To you. Absolutely.
Speaker 3 00:39:09 So tell me again, a little bit more about what happened that morning.
Speaker 0 00:39:14 Yeah, and so it was funny because I, uh, I did not want people to know I was there. Um, I, I did not want people, because my fear was that, you know, everyone jokes about, well, if, if I walk into church and, and, and the, the steep was gonna burn down or something like that, um, being a local celebrity, um, and that my atheism was my identity, and I'm now going to the biggest Southern Baptist church in Lebanon, Missouri. I, I, I joke that it was like I became a Navy seal. Like I became a special operations Tom Clancy splinter cell, like I snuck into that church and got to the balcony. And in our church, we have a, we have a, you know, a a lower level and then we have an upper level. And I was able to get unscathed to the top left corner of the balcony, and I was able to sit by myself away from everybody with no, Matt didn't know I was there.
Speaker 0 00:40:07 I had to call Matt the next day and say, Hey, buddy, um, we need to have a conversation because there's something I need to tell you. Um, but I was able to get into church and leave church basically unnoticed. Um, and what's really cool about that as a pastor, um, I preach a handful of times a year on Sundays, and every time I will preach, I end it with an invitation. And that invitation is the top left corner of that balcony. And I get to point to the very balcony that I got to sneak into in the balcony that I became born again in, um, now preaching to a thousand people on a Sunday and saying, Hey, maybe you're in that balcony right now. May, maybe that's where you're at. Um, and so it's like we talk about how God writes these stories in our life, and it's like, man, God wrote this out perfectly. 12 years later. Um, I still get to do that. And it was last month was my spiritual birthday, November 1st, 2009. And every year, that's the most important day of my life. And it's a day of reflection and just a day of thanks that God, you've, you've put me in this position. Like, I don't deserve this. And yet that's how he works. And so it's been really, really cool.
Speaker 3 00:41:17 So what did you hear that morning that that changed your mind and heart? Did, I mean, did you anticipate going in, you went in, uh, you went in sleuth, you know, still. Yeah. Uh, but, and you, you weren't probably sure why you were there, but then,
Speaker 0 00:41:36 Yeah.
Speaker 3 00:41:37 So it was probably an approach avoidance in a way, but then you found yourself on the other side of the fence.
Speaker 0 00:41:44 Yeah, and I think, I think my, my goal was truly not to get a gospel conversation or a presentation. I think my goal was to show up hide, and then eventually, once the message was over, I was gonna kind of sneak down to Matt and say, Hey, buddy, can we maybe go do lunch or something? And so my goal was kind of to get to Matt, and I knew church is where he is at. It's easy to find a pastor on a Sunday morning, you know, you don't have to go search, searching for him. Um, and the message itself, um, the, the content of the message is not what really drew me in. Um, but in that invitation, and, and I say that it was word for word, if you lack wiz or if you lack value, meaning, or purpose, there is a God above that wants to know you.
Speaker 0 00:42:29 And as Christians, we always joke like, man, pastor, preacher, that, that message really spoke to me this morning. Like, I, I felt like you were preaching to me one-on-one. Um, that's never been more literal in that moment because he inadvertently, it wasn't like he knew I was there. He used the very lingo of how I saw life. I mean, meaning, value and purpose like that, that's what he said. And, um, you know, I, I, I tell people and they think I'm being like hyperbolic or figurative, like I almost collapsed in my chair. Um, and I, it really was a, a, a moment that I say salt to Paul and it, and it was a moment where I walked outta the church. I'd tell people I could have crab walked all the way to Pittsburgh. I was so happy. I didn't know why, um, I couldn't explain everything, but I knew I was born again. And so, um, my whole life flashing in a moment and I knew this is why I'm here and this is my story.
Speaker 3 00:43:31 Mm.
Speaker 2 00:43:35 I'd like to pause for a moment and tell you about our new side B stories website. Perhaps you or someone you know is questioning whether or not belief in God is even possible or credible, whether or not Christianity is worthy of belief. The trouble is in our culture today, Christianity is viewed largely as a belief system for the week, delusional and uneducated. It can be extremely difficult to break through the negativity and stereotypes to explore authentic historic Christianity. If you're a skeptic or atheist, what would it take for you to consider the reality of God or the truth of Christianity? Or if you're a Christian, how can you better understand or engage with skeptics in a meaningful way? Our new side B Stories website was created with you in mind. In addition to housing our podcast stories, it also features short video testimonies from former atheists and resources.
Speaker 2 00:44:33 They have recommended or written about their own journeys to believe. And you'll hear their advice to skeptics on how to pursue a search for God and advice to Christians on how to engage with those who don't believe. We offer these stories from former skeptics on the Cby stories website, because there is no bigger question that affects your life than whether or not God is real or true, good or relevant. In a culture where Christianity is sometimes viewed unworthy of belief, CBY stories shows what it did and does take for skeptics to become believers. You can find all of this by going to our new website, sy stories.com. We hope you'll take a look and share this wonderful resource with skeptics and Christians alike. Now, back to our story.
Speaker 3 00:45:32 So you, the, the words born again, a again, especially for those who are perhaps skeptic, skeptical of that kind of Christian language. That may seem a little bit off-putting. Yeah. What do you mean by born again? Because, um, yeah,
Speaker 0 00:45:50 No, I mean, and you know, and Paul talks about a new body and, and we say born again. And it, it does become, and you know, as a pastor, I always, I'm always careful cuz sometimes we get into that, you know, church lingo. And, um, but you know, in that moment, um, realizing the gift of grace and realizing that I had spent an entire, my entire life sitting on God's lap just so I could slap him in the face. And knowing that for some people it's the struggle of, am I truly forgiven? Um, and I think in that moment as I was accepting Jesus, I was like, God, do you really love me? Like, do you really understand all the things that I have done? Um, because I had been living for the flesh. And yet in that moment, and when I say flesh, like my, my, my meaning and purpose in life was what is happening right now?
Speaker 0 00:46:42 Because in the end, it's all gonna, it's all gonna end. Um, but to truly realize that there's something beyond myself. Um, and I think when I talk to my students and I, and I hear students present Jesus to people, and I say it's very important, and as an atheist, as a former atheist, I would give this advice to any Christian, do not present Jesus as a self-help coach. Do not present Jesus as somebody who is going to fix all of your problems. Because if that's the case, there's gonna be a lot of former atheists that feel like they've been sold a bill of goods. Um, one of my favorite authors, Jay Warner Wallace, he says, in, in a cold case, Christianity, he says, I did not become a Christian because it works for me. I did not become a Christian because it makes life better.
Speaker 0 00:47:27 I became a Christian because Christianity is true. And it became real to me. And so in that moment, um, making something that was once artificial, something that was once flat out fake and, and, and how I viewed it, um, it became real. It became authentic. And in that moment I realized I'm leaving this a new creation. I am leaving this as a brand new person. Um, I'm still Roger, I still have the same struggles. And by the way, 29 years old, I still suffer from clinical depression. And I, that's my testimony. God did not cure my depression. He did not remove a lot of the anguish that I had in life, but he gave me an opportunity to live with that and to live through that, um, through his son Jesus. And so, um, I know that's very churchy, and it sounds very churchy, but I think even to the most hard atheist, he can hear that and say, no, that that's not disingenuous. It may be, it may be a fairytale, but it's not disingenuous. And I think that, that, that's important. It's important to be real with people because atheists need real, they need authenticity. Um, and, and I think as Christians, you know, we, we, we need to, we need to thrive on that.
Speaker 3 00:48:39 Yeah. And and I I agree with you. There was something so profoundly real and true for you in that moment that that allowed you to surrender as it were surrendering. Yeah. The, this, uh, animosity surrender everything that you had. Again, like you said, you were sitting on God's lap to slap him in the face. Um, I can hear a skeptic in my mind saying, you know, sometimes stories are good too good to be true. And that's what you wanted. You wanted this kind of meaning. You wanted purpose and value and dignity, and although you were sober minded to accept it as an atheist, you no longer are. So you bought into this and you, um, you know, how, what, what about that trans, you know? Yeah, of course there's been a huge transformation, but what about that morning that convinced you that it was true?
Speaker 3 00:49:32 Sure. Now, now, again, Jay Warner Wallace, I agree. And, and I believe that you believe that too, that you, you, you believe Christianity, you not because it works, but because it's true. Yeah. Same as Lewis, right? So, but what what convinced you and I, and of course God is involved in all of this, and sometimes changing your mind or your heart is mysterious and it's a work of the spirit of God. Uh, and at that moment, I'm sure it was much more profound than some kind of intellectual argument. Sure. That convinced you. Exactly. But at the end of the day, uh, the skeptical rebuttal, um, yeah. How would you respond to that? Well,
Speaker 0 00:50:09 There has to be both. And so it, one could say, well, Roger, you contradicted yourself because before you said no, atheist, beca, uh, has ever become a Christian because they lost a debate. But yet Jay Warner Wallace says, I became a Christian because Christianity is true. So how do those, and, and, and there has to be both. Um, I appreciate Muslims, Hindus, Buddhist, who say that there is something beyond myself. And even though, you know, we can get into the intellectual side, um, William Lane, Craig, one of my favorite apologies, and of course I'm doing my, my thesis work on, on, on a lot of what he writes, but when he debates, he gives the intellectual arguments, the teleological argument, the cosmological argument, the moral argument, the ontological argument, all these big words that people are like, okay, great. But he always ends every debate. He says, the final argument is not much of an argument at all, but it's what philosophers call a properly basic argument, which is that God can be personally experienced, he can be known apart from arguments.
Speaker 0 00:51:08 And so as Christians, we believe in the Holy Spirit. And that's not just, that's not just church speak, right? I mean, that's not just, oh boy, you know, all of these things. And some Christians don't even know what they mean. But like you, we literally believe, we literally believe that when you become a Christian, that the Holy Spirit will come inside you. And we believe that as a born again Christian, you live with the Holy Spirit inside of you. That in itself, there has to be a level of self evidence to say, listen, I have personally experienced this. Now if you want to argue that, and it's like, well, that's your experience versus my experience, well, then that's when we're able to have an apologetic con conversation and saying, okay, that's my experience. That's our foundation, our pillars, our bedrock. We have that. Now let's build arguments on top of that that will confirm or validate the emotional experience to make it intellectual. And so from there, okay, there's my testimony. Um, now let's talk about the beginning of the universe. Now let's talk about moral values and duties. Okay, let's talk about the complexity of the human eye and let's talk about, let's go from there. Um, but I think there, you're able to bridge two conversations into one. And I think that that is very effective when dealing with, with atheists that are often going to have two different levels of questions, the emotional question and the intellectual question.
Speaker 3 00:52:30 Right. And your story is such a beautiful marriage of the both.
Speaker 0 00:52:35 I, I, I, like I said, it is God's authorship in my life. And, and we talk about divine providence and, and all of that. And, um, it, it is, it has been a blessing to be able to share that testimony and to be able to baptize students every month that, um, are very much in that position. And to be able to say, Hey, listen, God's using me as a vessel, and there's days I wonder, am I qualified? Am I, am I, is this really like of all the people, you know, my background, my testimony, um, and yet it's just a confirmation every single day I'm exactly where God needs me.
Speaker 3 00:53:08 Yeah. Yeah. It really is. It's beautiful really to, to listen to. And I imagine that people around you who have seen the transformation are just amazed that you no longer have to enter the church building like a Navy seal. No.
Speaker 0 00:53:23 Yeah. I walk the front door now, it's amazing. They're
Speaker 3 00:53:25 On the front lines now, so <laugh>.
Speaker 0 00:53:26 Yeah, exactly. No, it's, it's amazing.
Speaker 3 00:53:28 Right? So for those skeptics, and I'd love that you work with young people because the, uh, oh, I'm sure you're hearing all kinds of pushback. Um, oh yeah. So you're on the front lines, just like I said. And so for, for those who are skeptics and, and who are listening in, um, and are, are pushing back, but yet open in some odd way. Yeah. Could you speak to them? What would you encourage them to do, um, in dealing with this whole issue of God?
Speaker 0 00:53:58 Yeah, and I think I, it's a great question. And I think if I have a student or even an adult, um, that is grasping with that, or let's say they're not even grasping with it. They've made up their mind and they say, Hey, listen, I mean, they, God does not play a role. Um, I, I very much focus on the, the emotional versus the intellectual, kind of what we had talked about, finding out what those objections are. Um, I think what you will find is that from a naturalistic worldview, that this is all we have, nature is all, is all, all the observable universe is, that's it. You know? Um, going into the, the question of, okay, and that's, that's great. And science is, science is an amazing, amazing tool that, that we have. Um, but beyond that, when we talk about things like that we experience every day.
Speaker 0 00:54:48 I mean, and I love focusing on human consciousness and music and poetry, and I mean, goodness gracious, I'm a 29 year old man. I cannot watch the Titanic without crying. I've never gotten through it without crying. It's embarrassing. Um, I can't watch America's Got Talent without singing an audition. That just makes me feel like, yes, this is it. And, and I don't mean to trivialize it. And yet I think we all have to have a standard, and we all have to have an account for, okay, this is how I explain this. And there are so many atheists that are great, great people, and they, they do things in life that I envy on the goodness scale. Um, but where are we putting that standard? You know? And, and going back to the pastor that I talked to years ago and, and the, the, the mother holding the child and and, and the child has taken its last breath.
Speaker 0 00:55:36 Um, what do you say? How do you respond? How do you do that with love and truth? Um, but to give them hope. And I think that for so many, and those that, that may be atheist, and they say, well, I, I, I can't fit God into this, into this worldview that I have. Um, don't be afraid to ask questions and don't be afraid to go to Christians that have answers. Because here's the thing, as Christians, um, we have a biblical account. We have, uh, first Peter three 15, second Corinthians 10, five. Paul tell us, tells us, you know, we are to demolish arguments when we talk about the knowledge of God and, and, and that, you know, there are very real answers to very real questions. And if the only answers you're getting are you're going to hell, or I'm gonna pray for you, um, find other answers, because there may be some, some other answers that, that may intellectually surprise you.
Speaker 3 00:56:25 Yeah. That, that's good advice. And some of that, again, is for the Christian too. I, I hear that just asking good questions is a good thing. But I, when I think of your story, and I think of whether it's the art teacher in your life or, um, Matt, pastor Matt, and the way that he invested in you, um, even the way that the art teacher knew, she may have not had, she may not have had the answers that you were seeking, but she knew someone who did. And, and yeah. Resources. Uh, how would you commend Christians to engage? Uh,
Speaker 0 00:57:01 That's so important. It's so incredibly important. It reminds me of a conversation I had in my, my, it was my sophomore year, uh, science class. And I was talking to a, a Christian well-meaning kid, good, good kid. And he asked me, you know, he is like, well, there's no way You're atheist and you believe in evolution. And yet why are there still monkey if, if, if evolution is true and you evolve from a monkey, but there's monkeys all around, and it's like, there's an easy atheistic response to that. Like that you actually don't understand evolution. You're not a biologist. Like we did not evolve from monkeys. We evolved from ape-like ancestors. Like, okay, I just, I just destroyed what you felt was a checkmate response to me, when in all actuality, your response should should've been, Hey, listen, I, I believe in intelligent design. I believe in young earth creationism or progressive creationism like Hugh Ross, whatever you believe in.
Speaker 0 00:57:51 Um, and instead of us always having the answer instead saying, Hey, listen, let me recommend a book. Hugh Ross wrote a book. He's got a ministry called Reasons to Believe. And all those objections you have, like Hugh Ross, he's an astrophysicist. Like, he's so brilliantly smart. I would encourage you to go and watch one of his DVDs, and then let's talk about it. Let's have coffee and, and give me your response because I would love to hear as an atheist, like, how do you respond to some of those objections that he has? And as a former atheist, I promise you, anytime somebody told me, watch this and let's talk about it. I'll always take him up on that. And sometimes as Christians, that's all we gotta do. We don't have to be smart. We just have to know somebody who is smart, you know? And, uh, and then through that we're able to have a lot of good conversations from it.
Speaker 3 00:58:33 Well, that, that's really, again, excellent advice. Yeah. Anything else about your story that you think we missed that you'd like to add before we finish?
Speaker 0 00:58:42 I will close with this. Um, and, and I, you know, I wrote a, a, an article in the OR journal for our local apologetics network in the state of Missouri. Um, and i, I implored parents and youth leaders, we are arming our children, our young adults. We are arming our students with rubber knives, and we are expecting them to go to gun gunfights when it comes to their faith. Um, and Jesus loves me. This I know is true if you're a Christian. Um, but the questions that are being asked, and as we, as we continue into this world that we live in a fallen world, a post-modern world, we have have to understand that young people are leaving the faith in droves. And even with my apologetic background, I have conversations, uh, consistently with students that come home and say, I'm done. I'm not doing it anymore because I was never given an answer.
Speaker 0 00:59:37 I was never given an account. And thankfully, some of those students, we can try and win back and we can have those conversations. Um, do not take this issue lightly. Do not take this issue with a grain of salt. It is a very real issue. Um, and it is something that is Christians, we need to be ready to fight. Um, and I don't mean fight in a violent sense, but we need to be ready with our students and our young adults and our children. Um, we need to arm them with, with their, the proper, you know, proper material, proper education, so that when they do go off to college as, as Jesus says, to love the Lord, dear God, with all your mind, we need to start teaching our students to love God with all their minds. And that would be, that would be my, my core thing that, that I always wanna stress to parents. Um, we're in this together. Um, let's do it. So that's how I would end
Speaker 3 01:00:30 It. No, that, that's fantastic. And I think that applies to ourselves as well, right? So many of us are ill-equipped to deal with what's happening in culture and the, and the issues that are just like a tsunami that are coming at us. Yeah. We all need to be prepared, right? Very much so. You've uh, brought that up, uh, many times through first Peter three 15, and I, and I so appreciate that, Roger, you are just such an inspiration in so many ways. You are a voice of wisdom, a voice of reason, obviously a voice of passion for what you do, that this is, this is something so incredibly real for you, um, that you've made it the frontline of your life. And, and, uh, I so appreciate your story. Uh, your testimony is powerful. Um, I think it gives hope for people who know others in their life and think they will never believe. I mean, you were the, you were that guy. Yeah, absolutely. And now you're this guy <laugh>, you were this guy. I mean, look at you now, and you just think, uh, I just think praise God, uh, no one is too far from his reach. And, and this plans are perfect. So I, I am so grateful for you coming on to tell your story, and I'm excited for those who are listening. So thank you so much for coming on.
Speaker 0 01:01:52 Well, I appreciate that, Jan. Thank you for having me on. Thank you for all that you do and, and your ministry as well. And, um, you, you certainly are, are, are fighting the good fight alongside. So we appreciate all that you do.
Speaker 2 01:02:04 Thanks for tuning into Side Me Stories to hear Roger's story. You can find out more about Roger and the resources he recommended in this episode, in the episode notes below. For questions and feedback about this episode, you can contact me through our website at again, www.syibystories.com. If you're a skeptic or atheist who would like to connect with Roger or a former atheist from this podcast with questions, please contact us on our sy iby stories website and we'll get you connected. Again, I hope you enjoyed it and that you'll follow rate and review and share this podcast with your friends and social network. In the meantime, I'll be looking forward to seeing you next time where we'll see how another skeptic flips the record of their life.