So many news sources, such as the Springfield News-Leader, made news out of what Springfield Restaurant owner, Andy Drennen, did in reaction to what he saw at Skepticon last weekend that I wondered about the man behind the story. While they reported what happened, in regards to a "Culture War", and gave clips of what people said, they missed the human behind it.
Along with the news, many people tore Drennen apart in blogs, comments, and reviews, despite his apology. There are some people who believe Drennen offered the 10% off and apology to make profit and save his business, which is partly true. He does need to make a living and support his family, but that is not the only reason he apologized.
The only way people will know if Drennen is sincere is to meet him and talk to him face to face. That way, he can see you are human and you can see he is a human who made a mistake and is truly sorry, which I did. Thus, I decided to write this as a human-interest story, and not just make more news.
For the first time since leaving Christianity, eight years ago, I stood in front of a Christian and announced, “I am a humanist.”
I went in, gave him my home-made business card, which stated my name, the top Google news source site I write for, with the web address, and that I am the humanist columnist, section editor, and writer for the God Discussion. As I handed it to him, I shook his hand and introduced myself, telling him that I attended Skepticon and would not only appreciate the 10% discount, but would also like to do a story on him that would show him as a human being, making a living, but made a mistake.
Drennen agreed and served me ice cream. He did not spit in it, like some feared, and I know this because he dipped up the ice cream in front of me.
Andy Drennen, age 28, owns Gelato Mio ice cream parlor. Born and raised Baptist, he stumbled in on Brother Sam’s show, which he did not find funny. Instead, as a Christian, he found it deeply offensive, so offensive, that, out of impulse, he put a sign on his door, which excluded a religious group, or rather a non-religious group. This sign read very much like signs prior to the 1970s, which excluded another minority group. This started a backlash, which hurt both sides- atheists, of which I am included, and Andy Drennen. People did many hurtful and potentially harmful things, but some individuals learned some lessons too.
During the interview, Drennen said he felt people cannot reach others with such shows that mock others. He does not know how atheists expect to reach others by using mockery and ridicule.
In all fairness, we reach each other by sitting down together and talking to each other without judgment or imposing our views on each other. Listening to the other side brings about understanding, as well as seeing what we have in common. In fact, Drennen commented that I chose two of the flavours he likes, which showed we have something in common as far as ice cream goes, adding, “Everybody likes ice cream”. For the record, I chose White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake and Pumpkin Cheesecake.
No human is perfect and we all make mistakes. Drennen, like many other Christians, believes he is not perfect, just forgiven. The question is by whom is this young businessman forgiven? In the Christian worldview, God forgives a person, but who forgives him in a secular society? Can people forgive the mistakes of others, which they might find deeply offensive and hurtful?
After Drennen’s statement, concerning mockery and ridicule, I asked him how he would feel if he walked in on PZ Myer’s talk concerning Junk DNA, given that it deals with Evolution. He was not sure, especially after everything PZ said online. Part of it depended on how PZ talked about Christians, if at all, in his speech.
As for dropping into next year’s Skepticon, to see something other than Brother Sam’s show, he does not know. If he did, he would hope to see something that does not mock Christians or any other worldview.
I asked him, if the tables were turned and a humanist or atheist walked in on one of their events and heard the minister criticizing humanists or atheists, which happens often, how he thought we would feel? He agreed that we would feel much the same way he did concerning Brother Sam and felt that should not happen either.
Then I asked Drennen how he felt about the street preacher, who stood on the corner, telling all of us atheists that we were going to hell. He missed that early morning threatening display of judgment, so I told him about it. To Drennen’s credit, he does posses a sense of humour. He chuckled when I told him that I told the street corner preacher that it would be a lot warmer. Thus, not all remarks that atheists make towards or about Christians offend him. The key probably concerns the circumstances of the statements, criticism, and actions, as well as the reason for the response. In this case, attendees of Skepticon walked by to enter the Gillioz and the street corner preacher accosted and threatened people, namely non-believers.
However, Drennen’s response, concerning the street preacher telling us that atheist were going hell, was that was also wrong, believing that people on all sides, even Muslims, should try to co-exist in this world without mockery, judgment, or imposing their beliefs on others.
Ironically, he said people here in Springfield Missouri, have reached out to him in friendship after what happened. Many, including atheists, want to help him improve his ratings. He also agreed that Springfield is a large and diverse community, with many views. He feels we, both atheists and Christians, also need to work together to better downtown Springfield, so that we can bring life back into it, instead of letting it stay a ghost town. Drennen wants to work amicably with atheist to better Springfield, but not in a manner that publicly mocks and tears down others. He does not believe that will better Springfield or the world, allowing us to co-exist.
Drennen does not mind sitting down and sharing each other’s views, which we did, but do not expect him to renounce his beliefs. At the same time, he says he does not expect anyone else to renounce his or her beliefs either.
Towards the end of our meeting, I told him that God Discussion has a radio show and asked if he would like to be on the show. He looked away and I could see some pain in his eyes, as he said, “No, I just want to let this die.” I truly feel he gave a heartfelt apology and was not just trying to save his business or make profit. He even said he felt so bad about what he did that he ventured onto the atheist section of Reddit to give his apology. “I felt like I went into the lion’s den,” he stated, adding that the incident was scary for him. Supposedly, he received emails from as far away as South Africa and Switzerland concerning his sign.
Some people believe God is love. Others believe love is god. Still, others believe love for one’s fellow humans is part of the human condition and, as humans, we all make mistakes. It is part of what makes us human. Some mistakes are bigger than others are and it takes a big person to admit their mistakes, as well as make amends. It takes an even bigger person to accept an apology and forgive the one who made the mistake.
It also takes a gesture of compassion to sit down to talk with the one who made a mistake and see that person as a human being, especially if the two do not share the same worldview.
For now Springfield Missouri has at least a temporary truce between atheists and the religious, but as far as the United States goes, and because we are humans with our own opinions and beliefs, we probably have not seen the last of such incidences.