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January 22, 2008 | 6 Comments

Mr. Garrison Keillor,
I would be grateful if you could set my heart at ease and let me know precisely where you stand on the subject of atheists. I am one, and yet despite that I love your show and its down-home warmth, its honesty and above all its humility. I even love the songs that include God in their lyrics, as they aren't arrogant at all and only try to provide comfort in an often cruel world. I am convinced that you are not, never were and never could be a bigot, and that your love for your God does not preclude giving a fair hearing to people who do not need a god to tell them to be a good person, eat your vegetables, don't steal, don't lie etc, in other words to be (almost) all the good things a good Minnesotan is as described in your book "Homegrown Democrat". I am not a Minnesotan: I live in Rhode Island, founded by Roger Williams, the great proponent of freedom of conscience, a champion of tolerance and a personal hero of mine.

Stephen M.

It's good to hear from an atheist, especially one who is tolerant and humorous, as you are, Stephen. I know quite a few atheists and some of them are tolerant and others rather prickly and if you want my honest opinion of atheists, I'd say they tend to be pompous. I'm sure they feel beleaguered in the sea of piety and that makes them defensive and irritable. Very understandable. And I don't mind their lawsuits against Christmas in the schools and school prayer and all of that, though I do feel that religion is woven into our culture and that it's a foolish exercise to try to remove each strand. But one of the beautiful things about Christian faith is the pervading sense of mercy and forgiveness, which is a form of humor. The parable of the prodigal son is a comical story. I don't doubt that atheists can be good people, but of course the Christian faith is not about goodness, it's about darkness, especially our own darkness. But that's our problem, not yours. As for Rhode Island, my ancestor Elder John Crandall was Roger Williams's right-hand man and we Keillors are proud of that.

Freedom of conscience: long may it wave. As we Christians get older and wiser, we become a little gentler in our self-righteousness. Glad you enjoy the show.


Speaking of old, wise Christians, have you heard this one attributed to Jesus: "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth from within you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth from within you will destroy you." This from the person who gave us: " This is my body. This is my blood."

What does Garrison mean by:
"of course the Christian faith is not about goodness, it's about darkness, especially our own darkness"?

In response to Peter C.-

"of course the Christian faith is not about goodness, it's about darkness, especially our own darkness"?

I believe what Mr. Keillor may mean by that statement is that the Christian faith or being a Christian is not necessarily the pinnacle of goodness. You can certainly be a Christian and not be a good person, just like you can be an Atheist and be a good person- Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, Helen Keller, Robert Frost, etc.

As far as the darkness, Christianity is rife with blood, sacrifice, torture, damnation, bigotry, guilt, penance, etc. Read the Old Testament- Genesis, Deuteronomy, Leviticus, Samuel...and the New Testament...Revelations. The history of Christianity is littered with the bones of people who did not agree with the Church.

I agree that "some" Atheists are pompous, just like "some" Christians. In many public venues, in order to be heard, it is sometimes necessary.

I invite all people to read the works of Robert G. Ingersoll at
to better understand both religion and atheism.

How ironic that you receive a letter from an atheist from Rhode Island who mentions Roger Williams. Either he/you or both of you do not know or overlooked the fact that Mr. Williams is acknowledged as the founder of the Baptist faith in America.

Like other Protestants, we Baptists come in many different "flavors". I prefer to believe that I am among the more moderate and accepting strain. I enjoy your good natured "jabs" at our perceived intolerance and hope that we all grow from it. In an increasingly secular world I particularly enjoy your utilization of religion as an entertaining and humorous part of your show on a fairly regular basis.

Ken Best

I think he is referring to sin. There is plenty of evidence of man's evil. For a Christian our own personal darkness keeps us from knowing our God. The work of Christ on the cross heals the rift between heaven and earth and we can approach God again. Not based upon our goodness but upon Christ's.
(as always, please pardon the grammar)

"If a way to the better there be, then it exacts a full look at the worst". Thomas H? I think...
I believe this is what Garrison suggested about Christian faith.

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