The Day I Learned God Wasn't Real8:00 AM
"I'm going to sit next to you girls, if you don't mind."
That's how elderly guests of the college treat us, in general. We get to the CCA lectures zonked out from midterms, homework, and a week of full shows, and then we try to smile and politely make intelligent conversation. I always feel like we college students give our donors bad impressions...nodding off during lectures, giggling like crazy, searching through the recesses of our brains to remember what coherent thinking looks like. It's a wonder we still get any funding at all.
"Now, I want to know your majors," he told us three girls. "What's your major?" he asked me, because I wasn't listening because I thought he was talking to the woman on his right.
"Me? I'm a Christian Studies major."
Somebody needs to rename my major. I don't mind letting people know I'm fanatically religious enough to spend four years and thousands of dollars studying my faith. It's just that it violates small talk rules: don't talk about religion or politics. The dental hygienist, the friend of a friend's mother, the coworkers all innocently and politely inquire into the innocuous topic of my education, then bam. Jesus right in their face. They always say, "Oh, that's nice." I think half of them want to say what this man did: "What are you going to do with that?"
"I don't know," I whimpered. I'm twenty-years-old, I'm a junior in college, I don't have my life together. Nobody told me how much toilet paper and peanut butter cost. I didn't know I'd actually have to get a job other than that of a starving writer.
"You'd better switch majors," he told me. "Religion's on its way out."
"Really?" I missed that memo.
"It comes down to whether you're Aristotelian or Platonist. Plato focused on the ideal and the metaphysical. Aristotle cared about what was actually real in the world -- not the Man Up in La La Land, as I like to call him."
Having been shamed into silence through association with Plato, I escaped his further notice.
"And what is your major?" he asked the girl next to me.
"English and theater," she said. "Much more Aristotelian."
I told this story to my philosophy professor, who knows more about Aristotle and Plato than I or the donors combined. He kept giving me weird, sarcastic, confused looks as I explained my interaction, and doubted that religion was on its way out. The major news headlines suggested otherwise.
"The funny thing is," I concluded, "he's still paying for my irrelevant education."
"Yes," said my professor, "it's like plundering the Egyptians of their gold."
Several days later, I galumphed -- yes, galumphed, which is borderline slouching and skipping -- into my class on the Incarnation and the Spiritual Life. And then he was there. In the back row, paper and pen ready for notes. The man who thought God wasn't real.
Why is he here? In my class? In my class? I weaved a fantasy of his sudden conversion and interest in Christ's Incarnation based on the funny look and fumbling answers I gave him earlier in the week. He stayed quiet the entire class period. It was one of those unknown, unfinished God moments where you appear in chapter three and your presence there makes no difference until the climax of the story. Not that I did anything, but our class kept up a lively conversation about how pride pushes God out from the top spot in our lives. That's got to count for something.
The last CCA lecture, I sat with a fellow philosophy buddy. We chatted about the CCA and how Frank Capra seemed still more of an enigma than before we attended this lecture series.
"May I sit with you young ladies?"
Of course. It was the man who thought God wasn't real. Maybe our running into each other would end up an entire chapter of meaning all to its own.
"Now, I want to know your majors," he told us. "What is your major?"
"I'm undecided," the freshman philosophy buddy said.
"That's okay. And what is your major?"
I sucked in a little breath to defend myself from the outset: "Well, you actually asked me this question before."
"Oh, I did?"
"I'm a Christian Studies major."
"Well, I'm afraid you're outnumbered here at this school," I said with a smile, then threw my small talk skills into full gear: "I saw that you were in my Incarnation and the Spiritual Life class. What did you think?"
"I wanted to see what the college was doing with my money, spending it on a class about Incarnation." He laughed. "I wanted to know if I'd be incarnated into a witch or something in another life."
"Yeah?" That's reincarnation.
"I was disturbed by this view of pride you talked about it. You think that pride is a bad thing, but no, it is a good thing. While you were writing down your definition of pride, I was writing down that pride is knowing how wonderful you are. That's a virtue, not a vice."
The freshman distracted him with a simple defense of the vices of pride while I mentally headbanged. Why couldn't I remember any of apologetics talking points I learned in high school?
In true evangelistic form, he said right on cue, "It all goes back to whether you're an Aristotelian or Platonist."
"Aristotle believed in God," I countered. Oh, goodness. I just brought the little Christian knife to a philosophical gunfight.
"Yes, but Aristotle believed that as soon as God acted in a personal way, he ceased to be God. Let me give you these." He rifled through his satchel and pulled out a booklet. "I follow Ayn Rand's philosophy. You don't need God. Take this."
He directed it toward the freshman. He seemed to have lost hope for me, a hardened Christian Studies major, or at least didn't deem my rationality worth bestowing an Ayn Rand Institute tract. Then the lecture started up, and then it was over, and we parted ways.
Somehow, I think we'll run into each other again before I graduate. And somehow, I'll figure out a coherent, gentle rebuttal to the man who didn't believe God was real.