Atheist has "faith" in East Texans
POSTED: Thursday, March 22, 2012 - 11:04pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 4:10pm
It's a christian staple--- a nativity scene---- Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus in the manger.
And for many years--- it's been a Christmas tradition--- right smack in the middle of downtown Athens for all to enjoy.
But last year--- was different.
A national church-state separation group, called the "Freedom from Religion Foundation", wanted them to take it down.
And that sparked a huge debate.
Pastor Erick Graham with Sand Springs Baptist Church in Athens was one of the many clergy at the center of it.
Pastor Graham says, "It wasn't necessarily about the nativity scene itself. It was about what it represents. Our Christian liberties to display the nativity scene. We're not fighting for that particular scene. It's just plastic."
To Pastor Graham and many others, it was about freedom of religion and sticking together as a community.
But, just when they thought things were quieting down, they met a new challenger.
He's 63-year-old Patrick Greene.
And, for the past 50 years, he hasn't accepted Jesus into his heart.
He is an atheist.
Greene says, "I told my wife--- it's not close enough to the secular decorations. It's by itself. That's not close enough. It's a violation of the Constitution."
Greene agreed with Freedom from Religion Foundation and also wanted the nativity scene removed.
So, he started typing up his own lawsuit.
Greene not only wanted the scene removed, but thought county officials were being swayed by Christian beliefs.
He felt that was wrong--- and wanted them to stop.
But then, something happened, and Greene started having serious troubles with his eyesight.
Greene says, "Every site I saw, American and English site, said you have a detached retina and you'll be blind in a few weeks. You have to have laser surgery."
Because he needed to focus on his health, Greene says, he dropped the lawsuit.
That decision spawned an outpouring of support from none other than--- a group of god-fearing people in Athens.
Christians across Henderson County stepped forward--- wanting to help Greene financially.
But at first, neither he nor his wife, Karen, wanted a dime.
So, he reached out to those with his same views.
Greene says, he called every Atheist organization in Texas he could think of.
Most of the time, he says, he never heard from them.
The organization Foundation Beyond Belief, did however, e-mail him back.
And in a statement--- Executive Director Dale McGowan tells KETK, they could not help him.
Saying---- they are "simply not chartered for the direct support of individuals."
Still, the community of Athens rallied in support of him--- and sent the Greenes some cash.
But for Greene, that was a tough one to swallow.
He says, his liberal, pro-choice and pro-gay beliefs were never accepted by the Christians he's met throughout his lifetime.
Even in his 63 years, he was raised Roman Catholic, was baptized at 2 weeks old and went to a Catholic High School.
Greene says, he blames a lack of attention from his family for his Atheist beliefs.
And to this day, he is always looking for physical evidence.
Often times, he researched the facts and always asked a lot of questions.
Greene believes Jesus was an ordinary man.
And although no one can change his mind and open his heart to Christianity, Pastor Graham believes this experience has changed his heart.
Pastor Graham says, even though he doesn't realize it, God has used Mr. Greene to bring Christians in Henderson County closer together.
It's allowed them, he says, to practice their faith.
And show Greene--- true christian love.
Greene tells KETK, as a token of their thanks, he and his wife bought a star to add to the county's nativity scene this year.
They also say, plans to move to Athens, might just be in their future.
Pastor Graham says, if that's the case, they'll welcome them with open arms.
Greene also plans on writing a book about this whole experience.
It will be called "The Real Christians of Henderson County."
And-- since this story has gone public, Mr. Greene tells KETK, many Atheist individuals around the country have come forward and offered their help as well.