Open letter to Mark/ChrisLanganFan et al

Dear Mark,

I’ll call you Mark because that was the first name you used when you called us, and I’ve spoken to you at length using that name twice.  If that’s not your preferred name, please let me know what name I should use instead.

For a long time, I denied that your calls were coming from the same person — I suppose due to some kind of misguided pride.  After all, I thought that you and I had some interesting and even somewhat productive conversations when I was talking to you.  I didn’t want to feel like those conversations had been a waste of time, and I was unfairly annoyed with the viewers in email and chat who were trying to point out the obvious — that you were disguising your voice to keep calling.

Even after accepting that you were faking the British accent, I wasn’t completely convinced that you were the original “Mark.”  But obviously, you gave the game away when Matt asked you about it this past Sunday.  Instead of asking “Who’s Mark?” you answered by repeating an argument from another of your alter egos, which was basically as good as an admission.  And I know you read this blog, because you’re obviously the one writing in as “ChrisLanganFan” (and Andrew, when you double-posted) so I thought I’d ask you about this directly.

First of all, why do you feel the need to disguise your identity?  We don’t avoid conversations with real theists.  A few months ago I invited you to meet us for dinner, and I was serious about it — I’d be happy to meet with you.  (Granted, I was also trying to work out whether you were really a native of Austin as you claimed.  I guess I have my answer now, and I’m disappointed.)

I recognize that the internet and phone-only conversations can feel impersonal enough that you don’t need to reveal every detail of your identity, but I’ve always valued honesty a great deal.  On the web I sometimes go by the screen name “Kazim,” but I’ve always been up front about who I really am and what my real values are.  I tend to expect that of others — sometimes, unfortunately, incorrectly.

I had a phone conversation about you with Martin once, when I wasn’t sure whether you were really calling in with multiple names and voices.  Here’s what I said in a nutshell: “I suppose Tom might be Mark, but I don’t understand what his goal is.  The way I see it, there are three possible reasons why he might be doing it: 1. To make us look bad; 2. to make us look good; 3. Some kind of weird performance art.”  Number three doesn’t make much sense to me (again, as someone who values honesty).  If it’s number two, we don’t need your help.  And if it’s number one, well, first of all you’re not doing a very good job of it; and second of all, I don’t see how it helps you in your goal to use fake identities.  Shouldn’t the arguments speak for themselves without worrying about the personality?

I guess what I’m feeling most of all is disappointment mixed with a bit of confusion.  On some occasions, you seemed to be very angry about the show.  On other occasions, you seemed like you were actually listening to the people who were talking to you and trying to understand what they said.  And in the latest calls you’ve started out angry and then switched topics repeatedly without settling on one point long enough to make a lasting impression about it.  This Chris Langan fascination seems like a new development — you never asked us about him in your first few calls, and you always seem to hang up before any real discussion about him can get underway.  Besides that, you appear to be more fixated on the idea that Chris Langan himself should speak to us directly to defend his ideas rather than being willing to do it yourself.

So I’m just wondering which one is the real you?  How do you really feel about our show, and why is it so important that you keep talking with us at all costs?  Is it because you really like us, worry about us, hate us, want to shut us down, or what?

I really am interested in trying to understand you better, but I can’t do it without your help.  Doesn’t it bother you to try to keep all these lies straight?  Wouldn’t it feel better to come out and say what’s really on your mind?  Come on, give it a try.  What do you say?

If it IS performance art, then I guess you win.  You’ve gotten past the screeners multiple times, and now you have a lot of people talking about you.  That must really stroke your ego to get all that attention, I guess.  Do you want to supply a web site or a podcast so people can admire other facets of your work?

Ball’s in your court, Mark.

Russell Glasser

Update: “Mark” came clean in comments, pronouncing that he’s an atheist who is deliberately prank calling.  He repeatedly states that he will only stop if we devote 75% of the show to theist callers.  He is now banned from this blog for all the previous posts in which he’s lied.

Austin Stone pastor writes in, dismisses Mark as “crazy”

Today an email popped up from Ronnie Smith, a teaching pastor at Austin Stone Community Church. Most of it was addressed to Matt and is in the nature of a personal correspondence, but I thought I’d excerpt the opening paragraph as it pertains to the show in general. (Note: Ronnie’s statements here are themselves not meant to be taken as an official communique from Stone Church, but simply voicing his own concerns as to the impression Mark may have been giving viewers of the show.)

My name is Ronnie Smith and I serve as one of the teaching pastors at the Austin Stone Community Church. You may have heard of us from “Mark” whoever that guy is. Anyway, first, please don’t let guys like “Mark” color your perception of our congregation. You were raised in a Southern Baptist church for a while and I’m sure you encountered your share of crazies, that you wished hadn’t identified with you. We have about 8,000 people attending church each Sunday so we can’t really deal with every person that walks through the door. I’m sure it bothers you as well when fellow atheists either spew things you don’t really believe or act in a way that doesn’t represent your character.

Fair enough. Though I’m sure Mark will be unhappy to hear, next time he calls, that the church he’s so eagerly defending is rushing to distance themselves from him, claiming him to be nothing more than an anonymous face in the crowd. In truth, many of us had already suspected as much, as Mark seems utterly unequipped in any of the conversations we’ve had with him on the show to respond to literally anything thrown at him. He isn’t a fellow who understands what he believes or why he believes it, whereas someone who actually represents a large church such as this ought to, at the very least, be able to hold his own in a discussion. (Even if he’s only doing so with PRATT arguments.)

Hopefully, this will open up some more dialogue with the Stone Church folks, and we’ll get some really enjoyable phone calls coming in from people who actually represent the church and can engage us in spirited conversation.