As an atheist my wife thinks I’m absolutely nuts when I listen to religious broadcasting on the radio. I’m pretty sure she’s not worried that I will convert; I once told her that after I’ve learned what I’ve learned and know what I know that if she sees me crossing myself before dinner that my mind is probably going. But I do listen to a couple of Christian radio stations that air out of Chicago. Originally I liked to listen the political opinions (seemingly homophobic rants in the guise of the protection of the institution of marriage, incredibly cynical and suspicious vitriol directed against candidate and later President Obama) and opinions on evolution, which unless these people are total idiots they must be knowingly distorting the record of 150 years of scientific research. As a biologist and a progressive, I am somewhat concerned what our religious brethren are up to. But on the evening drive home from work, I ran into the sort of Christian that defies stereotype casting.
Gregory Dickow is the pastor of Life Changers International Church based in Hoffman Estates, IL. He has a daily broadcast Ask the Pastor that airs in the early evening. I have listened to this radio call-in show for over a year, and have participated in the show by asking questions on subjects like evolution, different rewards in heaven for Christians with differing levels of good works, and other subjects. Mr. Dickow is always very cordial to me in spite of my handle, Chuck the Atheist. He should know that I don’t go around introducing myself as such, but thought that would be a good way for the Pastor to remember who I was. I’m by no means a vicious, spitting atheist of the Dawkins or Hitchens type (although I highly respect these individuals for other reasons). I think that evolutionists and atheists can have interesting and enlightening conversations without animosity. Gregory Dickow is one such Christian that does not make an atheist like me feel uncomfortable. I have to say that I am impressed by his more progressive stance that seeks to diminish the guilt that Christians might have about the normal contradictions in their lives in comparison to the ideal of a Christ-like existence. No sin is better or worse than an as Pastor Dickow relates, and the guilt that most Christians feel seemingly emanates more from other Christians who chastise them for their homosexuality or adultery while not seeing that their own vindictive, gossipy ways are just as much an affront to their god or religion.
Also interesting to me is that Gregory Dickow used to be a pastor with Maranatha Christian Ministries, which was a pretty fundamentalist Christian denomination from the 70’s and 80’s. This group was often the subject of suspicion from mainstream denominations and the press for its cohersive practices and close control over members dating lives and marriages. It wasn’t uncommon for ex-members to report that they were told implicitly or explicitly that their salvation was in jeopardy for leaving the church. MCM dissolved in the early 90’s. I have first-hand experience of this group from my early college years at SIU; I was a member of that church for a year and a half, and experienced some of the same things. I think that my path towards atheism was aided by my experience with Maranatha, although that was certainly not the only decisive factor. I suppose that makes me mildly suspicious of Gregory Dickow, but not overly so. I think he is a dynamic speaker, and has made a positive impact on his listeners. If anything he doesn’t seem horrified to speak with atheists or condemn anyone that doesn’t agree with him. A pretty interesting character. I wouldn’t mind writing a book with him, something along the lines of what questions atheists might have answered by the Pastor. Could be an interesting project.