We Are The Change We Seek
"i got this" - Kenny Wyland
This isn't where I thought I was going to be when I looked forward into my life, but here I am....
Yes We Can
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2009-07-30 10:31 AM
Roby asked for the story, so I decided to write it up here. Theresa and I were in Covina for some karaoke with my "friend" Marc (quoted because the bastard was an hour late!) We walked over to a burger joint on the corner and sat down outside because the employees were nearly throwing people out the door as they approached closing time (still 30 minutes away). A young man and woman were sitting at a table a few feet away and they finished their dinner about the same time Theresa and I did. The young woman introduced herself and asked if we would mind answering her questionnaire. I think she introduced herself as a member of the Calvary chapel in the area, so it was clearly going to be a religious pitch.
I looked to Theresa, because I knew she might be very worried about my potential interaction with them, but she gave me an "it's up to you, but be nice" type of answer so I agreed to answer the questions. The young woman began to nervously read the questions from a piece of paper... my first clue that she was new to this. They were similar to: Do you believe in God? Do you believe you are going to Heaven? etc. I can't remember many of them. Theresa do you remember any questions of particular note?
Both of us gave our individual answers, but they started to focus more on my answers. I remember one answer they didn't particularly like was the "Do you believe you are going to Heaven?" question.
I can't remember many of the exact words I used, so the stuff below is as close as I can remember and/or is reconstructed from the basic idea. I apologize for the random paths taken by the stuff below because it's hard to piece it all back together.
"Well, I can't really answer that question because I don't agree with the inherent premise of existence of Heaven. Since I don't believe in Heaven, I can't really formulate an opinion on whether I'm going there."
The young lady wasn't really ready for this answer and wasn't sure what to say, but the young man stepped in and asked, "Well, hypothetically, if there is a Heaven do you think you will go there when you die?"
So, I responded, "That's a hard assumption to make because it includes a long string of assumptions that have to go along with it. Ok, let's assume there is a Heaven. I'm also going to have to assume that there is a God and he's going to have to be the type of God that wants to be intimately involved in my day to day actions. Then I'm going to have to assume that this God has a particular set of behaviors that he will use to judge me. Perhaps that set of behaviors fits with what you think, perhaps it fits with the behaviors that I favor, but either way there is a long string of assumptions that would have to come before the assumption of Heaven and that's just too large a jump for me."
This moment is where they should have realized that they might have chosen the wrong target for that evening's sermon.
The young woman was the primary speaker of the two, but the young man would interject occasionally. I got the impression that he might be more experienced and was sort of mentoring her as she gained experience with preaching to others. Not really sure though.
They asked me questions about why I don't believe in God and how I transitioned from believing in my early life to non-belief in my later life, etc. At intervals I think she would get stuck or tired and would change gear and talk to Theresa a bit. I'll try to recount some of the more interesting bits that I can remember.
I tried to explain to the young lady that there wasn't anything she could say to shake me from my stance, but she felt that she could. "Well, the problem is that the only real 'authority' that you will try to use to convince me is The Bible and I simply don't consider The Bible to possess any authority. I don't believe that The Bible is inspired by God."
She responded, "But the Bible WAS written by God."
I countered, "Well, no, The Bible was written by many different authors, but the story goes that they were divinely inspired by God. God did not write The Bible himself."
I can't remember her response here, I think it was an agreement with the idea that it was divinely inspired by God.
I continued, "My problem here is that there is no proof that The Bible has any sort of divine origin. For example, are you familiar with the Iliad by Homer? It talks about Zeus and the other Greek Gods and it contains many descriptions of physical locations that can be verified to exist today, so it seems to have some historical accuracy. Now, the Iliad was written WAY before Jesus ever existed, but people don't believe that Zeus is real."
The conversation trailed this way and that and we got to the eventual question, "Who do you think Jesus was?"
I borrowed from the late, great, poet-philosopher Douglas Adams when I responded, "I think that Jesus was a guy who encouraged other people to be nice to each other for a change. I have no problem believing that a guy named Jesus existed, I just don't believe that he had a divine origin."
She responded, "I can assure you that he was divine," and she began talking about his death and resurrection.
"I really have no problem believing that some guy named Jesus existed and was killed. However, I don't believe that he was divine."
She said, "Well, it's like in The Passion of the Christ. Have you..."
I interrupted, "Yeah, but that's fiction." She looked as if I had slapped her across the face. I'm not kidding, she looked horrified that I referred to a movie made in Hollywood as fiction. I continued, "It's just a movie. It's fiction. Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter is a movie too, but I don't think he hunted vampires."
Her priceless response was, "I can assure you that Jesus did not hunt vampires." At which point I think I did laugh out loud slightly, so Theresa was right when she told me afterward that I shouldn't have laughed at them. You're right, babe, I think one or two did slip out! *kiss*
At some point we talked about Easter, but I can't remember if it was here, so I'll just include it here.
I said, "Ok, well, Easter, why do you celebrate Easter?"
To her credit, she said, "Some people think Easter is about rabbits and eggs, but it's really about the resurrection of Jesus," but unfortunately she kind of stumbled and asked the young man under her breath if that was right to which he agreed. Her answer, despite the moment of doubt, is the best answer I think you can expect. She's focusing on the Christian part of the ideal and de-emphasizing the pagan roots of the celebration.
I said, "I agree, the celebration is supposed to be about the resurrection of Jesus, however the celebration of Easter includes all of these other things like rabbits and eggs. The reason for that is because a long time ago, the Christian church was trying expand its ranks and bring more people into the fold. By making the celebration something familiar to others they could bring people in. They could show these other people that they had something in common and so it would be ok to join Christianity because it wasn't so different from what you were already doing. So they included Easter. 'Easter' is the name of a pagan goddess. She is a goddess of fertility and these groups of people would have celebrations for her near the beginning of Spring. That's where we get the symbols of eggs and rabbits because both of those things are symbols of fertility and life. It's where the name 'Easter' comes from. After all, 'Easter' is never mentioned in the Bible, so where did it come from? It came from a pagan goddess."
Early in the conversation she asked me what I believe in since I don't believe in The Bible. I responded, "I believe in things that I can see, touch, feel or experience... things that can be tested experimentally and reproduced. Things that are based on empirical data." I struggled with the use of the word empirical here because on a couple of occasions the two had some problems with "big words" but it was the right word to use so I ended up using it.
She asked if I believed in science and I said, "Yes, of course I do. Don't you? After all, science has created this table and this cup and cars and such. Now granted I don't necessarily agree with every theory put forward by science. For example, I think the jury is still out about quantum physics. I think there is something to it, but I still have yet to be convinced by it." Their eyes glazed over so I stopped there, but Theresa and I have had this conversation before. At the moment, the only real proof for quantum physics is, as Leonard Hofstader puts it, "it has a certain internal consistency." It's why the Large Hadron Collider is so important because it's our best chance of getting some physical evidence of these mathematical theories.
After recovering from my dip into quantum physics, she asked, "So do you think the Big Bang happened?"
I said, "Well, I can't KNOW that it happened because we don't really have any proof. However, as a theory it does hold some reasonable answers to the beginning of the universe and it is a fairly well-viewed theory in the scientific community, but I can't say that it did for sure happen." I don't think she expected that answer and really didn't know what to do with it, so she changed topics.
This bit is the combination of two parts of the conversation that happened separately from each other but returned to a central premise so I'm presenting them together. I tried to provide an example of why belief without evidence wasn't the right way to go and said, "If I told you that I could fly, would you believe me? If I told you that I could walk over there, levitate up from the ground and then fly up into the air and zoom off through the sky, would you believe me?"
She said, "Well, do you think that bench over there can hold me?"
I really have no idea where she was going with this line of questioning because I can't think of how it might benefit her argument, but I responded, "Well, I can't truly know without testing it or knowing how much you weigh, BUT it appears to be made out of metal which I know is strong and it's a bench inside an eating area for a restaurant which I think it's safe to assume gets a fair amount of traffic. So this means that it has probably had quite a few people sit on it before and it's still intact so think it's a very safe assumption to say that, yes, it could hold you. So, do you believe me that I can fly?"
She said, "Well, no, I don't."
"If you aren't willing to believe I can fly without evidence then why do you believe God exists without evidence?"
She returned to the strange example and said, "Ok, well again, do you think that bench over there can hold me?"
I said, "Let's find out." I stood up from my table, walked over to the bench and stood on it. I bounced up and down a couple of times and returned to my table. "Yes, it seems pretty sturdy. I'm about 230 lbs and it held me, so I think it could hold you. So, why do you believe in God without evidence?"
She said, "Because he does exist and I trust that he exists."
I said, "But you wouldn't trust someone you don't know, right? Trust is something that you build up between people over a period of time. You build that trust, but you don't actually know the people who wrote the Bible, you're just assuming they are right without evidence and that's one of the fundamental reasons that you won't be able to shake me from my stance. I've spent approximately 30 years of my life thinking about this stuff and coming to the conclusion that I hold today and if you were able to derail me from that in just an evening of discussion, well then I wouldn't have a very strong stance, would I? I've spoken with people who know a great deal more about the Bible than you do and who have more training in how to argue and they haven't been able to shake me from my stance, so it's really not possible for you to do it."
Theresa jumped into the conversation at this point with, "It's true. I've tried and I haven't been able to come up with anything to convince him."
I agreed, "It's true, and honestly she is able to make your arguments better than you are able to make them and she hasn't been able to change my mind either. The truest problem with the discussion is that it comes down to proof of God's existence. Until you can PROVE to me that God exists, you cannot possibly change my mind and it's simply NOT possible to prove that God exists."
She said, "I can prove to you that God exists."
I said, "How? It's not possible. There is no way to prove that God exists to me because we have no way of actually measuring God. You can't use the Bible as your proof, because I just think it's a story and not a historical account."
She said, "Well, I hope that God reveals himself to you so that you can believe in God as well."
I said, "I would welcome that. If God were to show up at my door and say, 'Hi, I'm God, we need to talk...' I would be ecstatic.... but until that happens, I'm going to need proof before I believe."
It was getting cold and late, so the conversation petered out. She asked if I would be willing to come and continue talking to her next week, but I declined. I suggested that there she had no way of shaking me from my stance and that her time would be better spent talking to someone who is looking for an answer and would be open to her. They offered to pray for us. We thanked them and headed over to the karaoke place.
If you've read this far, you have a great deal of patience. heh.
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