The Day I Learned God Wasn't Real

8:00 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?"

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"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."

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"Religion is on its way out, you know."

"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.

How would you have responded? What are your apologetics tips
for out-of-the-blue philosophical discussions?

Credit
p.s. While we're on the topic, you'll find this post called "Why I Didn't Try to Save His Soul" interesting. Thoughts on that?

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12 impressions

  1. Oh, please can we share you middle meme? The 'oh, you're an atheist?' one. That is a nice piece of work!
    How would I have responded? Probably like you did. How would I wish I had responded?
    'Oh, but I do need God, and so do you. The only difference is I know it now, and you won't know it til later.'

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    1. The memes aren't mine; they're floating around the internet and Pinterest. :)

      See, you're so much pithier than I! I like your response. I guess I'm always scared of making the move from abstract, philosophical conversation to our personal need for God....it's so much more subjective and messy. But I think it's a good place to go.

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  2. I know I've heard this story in real life, but I snorted out my coffee from laughter.
    At the same time, I feel your pain for those moments when Jesus enters the small talk. Yes, lets talk but please give me five hours to think of what to say. (headbanging is a family trait, I think.)
    For the record, he's probably heard more coherent arguments against his atheist-preaching, so maybe he needed a sweet little college student to throw some more light into the picture.
    Reincarnation. Lol. :)

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    1. Hmm, let's hope! My freshman friend did a much better job at calmly defending Jesus (while I was busy mentally headbanging, of course), so I do hope God used her eloquence and my gentle, bumbled pushbacks to do something!

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  3. I've gotten hit with stuff before ... I'm terrible at saying what I really think to people's faces. I'm an eloquent orator in my head, but none of the stuff I would say, if ever given the chance, is what I actually DO say if I'm actually given the chance. Either I can't get it into the proper words, so I just say a few straightforward things and try not to offend them, or else my mind goes completely blank and I'm like ... "Ummm, letmegetbacktoyoulateronthatactuallynever."

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    1. Ugh. I hear you. It's an awkward dance between, "I really think you need to hear this" and "If I actually said what you need to hear, you'd probably hate me." It's hard to be sensitive to where they're at spiritually and who they are as a person while feeling the pressure to share the truth with them. I've had great conversations with friends whom I live with, play with, and work with, but I'm awfully at holding serious conversations with people I've never met and will probably never meet again!

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  4. Not to get all nit-picky or anything, but I think paragraph five has a few issues, like half a sentence missing or a few sentences scrambled together, maybe?

    And out-of-the-blue philosophical discussions? I'm terrible at them. Philosophy just isn't my thing. So your bumbling replies were probably about ten times better than anything I could have said!

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    1. Oh, my goodness!!!! Thanks for catching that! That was definitely an HTML train wreck. O.o

      Philosophy is only my thing when I'm listening and asking questions. As soon as I have to start philosophizing on my own to someone who disagrees, I'm doomed.

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  5. Heh, gotta love these moments! In your case, I'm not sure what I would've said. People who want to slam Christianity have chosen to slam it. Any proof or bulletproof defense you hold up won't get noticed because they've already decided Christianity is a crock. It's like the old adage, "people see what they want to see". I loved that article you shared, and I think in light of reading it, perhaps a better way to respond to people like that is to ask questions about their own faith, or lack thereof. Get people to think about the why behind what they believe, and if they think about it long and hard enough, they'll realize their beliefs have some pretty big holes. Then perhaps they'll start asking the right questions, and then you'll know how to answer those. :)

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    1. Yes! Exactly! That's some excellent thinking going on there, Jasmine! Thought-provoking, genuine questions that seek to understand and ask about contradictory evidence, while silently praying that the Spirit works through that questioning to do as He pleases. I need to remember this next time I get into these kinds of situations!

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  6. Oh my gosh, I spent around two hours today--on a plane--reading about Ayn Rand's philosophy for an essay contest of some sort. Ayn Rand is so very anti-religion. That's funny that you actually met someone who wholeheartedly follows her philosophy--I have a feeling they're not terribly common these days.

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    1. I think I almost entered that scholarship contest! But I didn't feel like reading "Fountainhead." Also, it's a good thing I didn't, because I thought she was another conservative person with creative views about good. I iz so edjucated.

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