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Atheist, minister discuss viewpoints at downtown bar

POSTED: August 16, 2014 1:30 a.m.
J.K. Devine/The Times

Justin Mullinix and Will Dyer sit at a table outside of Monkey Barrel in downtown Gainesville.

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A Baptist minister and a proclaimed atheist walk into a bar for an open dialogue about religion.

It may sound like the beginning of a joke, but it’s not. It happened in real life when Atlanta resident Justin Mullinix and Will Dyer of the First Baptist Church of Gainesville sat down for a conversation at the Monkey Barrel in downtown Gainesville.

"This is not meant to change any opinions," Dyer said before beginning the evening’s question-and-answer session. "This is not meant to convert Christians or atheists. It is just to show people we can talk civilly about it."

Then Mullinix and Dyer seemingly accomplished just that. Before a crowd of 50 people — some attending to watch the religious discussion and some arriving to grab a drink from their favorite downtown bar — the two men exhibited a different kind of respect and camaraderie while sharing their opposite views of religions.

"Before we start, I just want to say, he (Mullinix) is a good man," Dyer said while looking the 33-year-old Atlanta man in the eye.

Mullinix gave a nod of respect to Dyer in return.

The considerate and knowledgeable exchange is exactly what Monkey Barrel owner Albert Reeves had in mind. The bar and restaurant owner felt inspired to instigate a calm conversation between the Baptist minister and the atheist.

"From talking with both of them and them both being friends of mine, I want to share with others how easy it could be to talk with each other," Reeves said. "And I wanted to make sure it was not a debate, it was a discussion."

Therefore, the Gainesville man formulated a plan. He asked Mullinix and Dyer for an open and honest question-and-answer session at his bar one night. Some questions would be prewritten, but audience members could submit others queries anonymously.

"I didn’t want anybody to have any fear of asking a question," Reeves said. "That’s why we did anonymous questions."

Both men agreed and arrived with a sense of purpose to ask and answer questions in a "light-hearted" manner.

"I wanted to show it doesn’t have to be a heated argument," Reeves said.

Mullinix and Dyer proved him right. The two men delved into the list of questions ranging from "What is an atheist?" and "Why are you a Christian?" to "Is there a hell" and "How old do you believe the planet is?"

Both men answered with ease and without the fear of offending each other.

"Some of my best friends are Christians," Mullinix said. "My father is a Christian, and he is really smart."

However, Mullinix said he believes as he does because of the evidence or lack thereof.

"I don’t think I can prove there is a God, and I don’t think I can prove there isn’t a God," he said. "And if you answer the question ‘Do you believe in God?’ and you answer anything other than ‘yes,’ then you are an atheist."

Dyer followed up by explaining his reasoning and belief in God.

"God is music in the other room that you can barely hear," he said. "And no matter how close you get, you can still barely hear it. But you still have a need to get near it."

The Baptist minister added he is a Christian because he feels it is the path that leads to joy.

"For me, it is about finding the beauty in the world and God has given me this," he said.

Mullinix said he may not believe in Christ, but he does believe in sharing the world in a humanistic way.

"We don’t all share the same belief in an afterlife, but we all share this now," the Atlanta man said.

Describing the event as a success, Reeves said many of his patrons and others who attended have asked if another is in the works. The bar owner noted he and Dyer are in talks with bringing other religions into the open discussion fold.

"People can talk about this without the emotion and anger," said Reeves.


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