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Preacher vs. Teacher: Sam Richards And The Willard Preacher Debate Everything From Religion To Rape Culture

Sam Richards (semi-famous professor of Sociology 119) and Gary Cattell (better known as the Willard Preacher) debated Monday night in a packed 121 Sparks to benefit the Sociology 119 class Haiti project. After a brief history of the duo’s value system backgrounds (Cattell is an Orthodox Christian, while Richards broadly considers himself an atheist.), the evening quickly dove into debate.

On LGBTQ Issues

“I think that sexuality exists on a continuum,” Richards said. “I think we’re all born with natural inclinations, but those can change over time, maybe by choice or just by changes in our bodies or our spirits or whatever the case is.”

As expected, Cattell dissented. “I personally don’t think somebody’s born homosexual,” he said. “I think people are born with a sex drive and whatever happens after that happens.” Cattell compared sex to eating, explaining both have true biological purposes but are also pleasurable or would be rather strange.

Richards said homosexuality must be a natural entity because humans now find it in nearly every species. “The way we [Orthodox Christians] see the world is that everything is screwed up,” Cattell responded. “Nothing is the way it was intended to be.”

The pair digressed to a conversation about the concrete reality of God, which Cattell said is apparent when you find the right religion and the right God you believe to be true. Richards said he feels the concreteness of God has gone over his head in his life so far. “I felt God last night when I was making love to my wife,” Richards said. He explained he thinks what people want is the mystery of a God, not an actual God to hold onto.

On Premarital Sex & Hook-Up Culture

Cattell again explained the purpose of sex is to fertilize an egg to have a baby nine months later. “Penis goes in vagina. Sperm comes out — unfortunately at your age about 2.3 seconds later.” He said people should be open to creating life every time they have sex.

“Just for transparency, I lost my virginity when I was 14,” Richards said. He told the audience sex can be dangerous because you can miss out on deeper journeys if it’s your sole focus.

A self-described premarital fornicator, Cattell warned against using premarital sex as “practice” because every person is different and it is difficult not to make comparisons.

On Religion

Richards said he thinks the number of people who consider themselves religious is depleting because many religious stories and mythologies have been discredited to our generation by scientific discoveries. “[The stories] just don’t speak to us,” he said. “People want to be spoken to.”

“The age of the book has no bearing as to the truth of the book,” Cattell countered. Providing a short history lesson on when he thinks the decline of religion began, Cattell said, “In my mind, the intellectuals are the originators of all bad ideas in the world.” He explained people shouldn’t think they can’t know who God is, but rather they don’t know if they can know who God is, or they might be able to know who God is.


The second segment of the debate featured questions submitted via Twitter using #PreachervsTeacher.

Do you think our actions in this life have consequences after we leave this body?

“If you take sin into the next life, then that sin brings guilt and misery to you,” Cattell said, telling the audience it is not God who locks people in hell and throws away the key but rather it is the people themselves. Richards briefly stated he does not believe there is any future life past this one.

Is it possible to be in love with more than one person at a time, and what does it mean to be in love?

“Our definition of love should be more along the lines of ‘If you love somebody, you seek their highest good,'” Cattell said, “‘even if that means a sacrifice of yourself.'” He said if you are married and have feelings for someone else, you need to stop and think about whether acting on those feelings would be the best decision for all those involved. Richards explained he believes you can be in love with multiple people at the same time, although it is difficult and complicated.

What are your views on the current state of race relations in the U.S.?

Richards said each individual in the U.S. is acting how they feel is best, so perhaps race relations are actually perfect, even though this gets in the way of other people.

“I don’t believe in the concept of race,” Cattell said. “I have no understanding why skin color makes you a different race, as opposed to hair color or eye color or any other characteristics you have.” He said race ultimately leads to self-segregation, and people should focus on common ground rather than differences. Richards agreed race is a concept created by white people to incite divisiveness.

Is there free will or is everything predetermined?

“The more that I live in this really beautiful mystery…the more I feel like life is absolutely everything about my life is predetermined by factors and forces beyond my control,” Richards said. Cattell argued God gave people free will rather than predetermining who will go to heaven or hell; predestination would be “evil.”


The final segment of the debate highlighted questions from the audience present in the lecture hall.

What are your opinions on safe spaces?

“Safe spaces are for wimps,” Cattell said. “There are no safe spaces in the real world, nor should there be.” He said you have to learn to deal with differing opinions and views, especially on a college campus. Richards generally agreed, saying he is not normally inclined to support safe spaces, although he understands why they exist and how they can sometimes be important.

Describe your personal realization experiences with your perception of God.

Cattell described his experiences with partying and searching for a deeper meaning in life before finally asking God to make himself known. He said after he realized there was a God and the Christian God was true, everything was clear to him when he read the Bible and attended church services.

Richards said he decided he wanted to “experience the divine” about 30 years ago; he described experiencing a powerful feeling in various venues of different religions all around the world. “I can really adapt to any religious perspective, and I have,” he said.

What is your overall input on polygamy vs. monogamy in our society?

Richards reiterated polygamy can work for some, but it can also be extremely difficult. Cattell said from a Christian perspective, man and woman joining in marriage as one takes so much time and effort it “can only really be done with one person.”

Churches and other religious locations could be considered safe spaces. Do you consider people who have religious backgrounds wimps as well?

Cattell said he would not consider churches safe spaces because people can come to churches no matter if they believe in God or not. He said respecting other people’s feelings is important, but you shouldn’t have to “run to a specific space” to avoid certain conversation.

There’s been a lot of talk about the divine tonight. What are you ideologies on the imperfect, like the devil?

“When the good falls, that’s when you have evil,” Cattell said, citing a religious example of angels leaving God. He acknowledged grey areas between right and wrong, but noted there must first be the rule to create the exception.

How do you feel about women and they way they dress when they go out? If anything happens to them, do you believe that it’s their fault?

“I think guys are sexually turned on by sight primarily,” Cattell said. “When a guy sees a woman dressed in a certain way…guys think, ‘She wants to have sex.'” He spoke of discussions with feminists at his Willard perch who condemn him for victim-blaming. “It doesn’t matter if this is the way things should be…it’s the way it is, and you have to deal with the way things are,” he said.

How do you deal with hate as controversial figures on campus? How can we as a society deal with hate on a larger scale?

Richards said he sees the good in everyone, and he never has a bad intention behind his actions. “I walk through the world assuming the best,” he said.

“In Christianity, we’re supposed to love everybody,” Cattell said, explaining he needs to repent when he isn’t loving everybody as he’s meant to.


If you missed last night’s debate between the preacher and the teacher, you can watch the full video here.

About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa is a junior public relations major and the managing editor of Onward State. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Send questions and comments via e-mail ([email protected]) and follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.

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