Thursday, June 11, 2009

A conversation

When I was hanging out on campus, I met a guy, henceforth referred to as Alex. He was just walking by, and a mutual friend pulled him over. We were introduced and we started talking.

Because of the location of my hangout point (next to the BASS table), it didn't take long for the topic to turn to religion. Alex quickly realized that I was an atheist, and was curious about it. He was interested in the extent of my knowledge of Christianity and the Bible. One question he asked was, what did I think was the central message of the Bible?

I said I think there are a lot of different things which different Christians hold to be the central message. I have ideas as to what different Christians believe, but I would not dare to guess what he, Alex, thought of as the central message, because I would almost certainly get it wrong.

Mind you, I am a lot less articulate in person than I am in writing (and I also now have the benefit of hindsight). As waffly as I might sound now, I probably sounded worse when I was talking to Alex. Nonetheless, he was consistently polite, and seemed to understand where I was getting at before I got to it.

Another guy, henceforth referred to as Eddie, came up to the table. Eddie told Alex that he thought the debate on religion too often focuses on the extremes. For instance, the most outspoken atheists tend to focus on the most extreme forms of religion, like the Creationists. I quickly pointed out that this is to some extent justified, since the most extreme forms of religion are the ones which disproportionately cause the most problems, and thus deserve the most criticism.

Eddie responded that he didn't think the extremists were the source of the problem, but rather, stupid people were the problem, to put it bluntly. Stupid people will remain stupid whether they are religious or not. But I disagreed with this too. In my experience with skepticism, people who believe weird or harmful things are not necessarily stupid at all. Most of them are ordinary people, and some are highly intelligent.

At this point, Eddie asked Alex what he believed. To Eddie's surprise and mine, Alex believed that the Bible's account of creation was true. That is, he believed in a young Earth of six thousand years. After this, I kept quiet, because I could not think of a better demonstration of my point than to let them continue their own conversation.


DeralterChemiker said...

You might have pointed out that the Old and New Testaments are decidedly different in their central messages, if they have a central message. He should read, for example, chapters I Samuel 15 and Matthew 5. These two chapters are fundamentally different, so different that it is surprising to find them in the same Bible. The Old Testament God was a nationalistic God of vengeance, while the New Testament God is a God of peace.

miller said...

But then I would have guessed his beliefs wrong! He seemed to believe that the old and new testaments had deep parallels. I can't say I would have the knowledge (or will) to argue the point with him.