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Tuesday, September 20, 2005
  The Atheist

"The notion that everyone would like Christianity to be true, and all atheists are brave men who have accepted the defeat of all their deepest desires, is simply impudent nonsense."~C.S. Lewis, Encounter with Light
I met a man once that changed the way I looked at things. He said he was an atheist. That may have been his chosen moniker, but he exercised this belief in such a zealous way, this one label was not enough to cover his explosive relationship to God and all things supernatural. To simply say he was an atheist would be like saying Che Guevarra had an active interest in Latin American politics.

When I was in my twenties, I thought I knew a lot about being a Christian. I had read the bible all the way through, I had read things like systematic theologies, Old and New Testament survey books, bible commentaries, and anything I could lay my hands on. I even led bible studies and taught Sunday School classes. I thought I had it all figured out. I was working in a senior center as a volunteer while I continued with one my many Joe-jobs to make a living in the meantime. All my time spent studying the bible, reading doctrinal books, and spending so much time in church made me think I knew everything about how the world around me operated. I was just waiting for an opportunity to share all of my incredible knowledge about how the world and all things spiritual could be explained so easily.

The Atheist was a remarkable man. Many of the rest of the residents were kind of out of it, but not this guy. He was sharp, sharp as a razor blade just out of the little cardboard package. He never allowed any of the staff to treat him with that sort of patronizing treatment you find so common in people dealing with the elderly. He expected, "Yes, Sir" and "No Sir" ,and he would not be put in arts and crafts classes. Instead he would give lectures and roundtables on things like nuclear war.

He was in his late 80's. He had almost transparent skin, with a shiny bald head shrouded by fine cotton-like hair, and a beard of the same white, but what was amazing about him was his eyes. They were bright blue with the darkest pupils. He carried himself like a gentleman, but there was also something about him that said he would not suffer fools gladly.

There were little apartments connected to the senior center by wings, like spokes in a wheel. He was in the assisted living, but he needed very little help. One day he invited me into his room and we spoke for a while. Even though I was bursting at the seams with spiritual wisdom, I knew a man like this was not going to change easily, certainly not because of anything I would say, I also knew he had been arguing against Christianity for years, he wasn't just some teenager in an anarchy shirt and greasy hair trying to be an atheist this week because it sounded rebellious and chicks might think he was dangerous. This guy was an Old-School-Bad-Ass-Infidel.

He gave me some books on apologetics, he said he didn't need them anymore. I'm not sure how we got on the subject, but he proceeded to tell me why he became an atheist.
"It happened when I was younger, about your age. I had been a salesman for a long time. I was having a rough time and could not make any sales. Every thing I did went wrong. My wife was sick, the baby was sick. No matter how hard I tried, nothing went right for me.

One day as I was sitting at the kitchen table thinking about my lot in life and how little God had done for me. When I stood up and cursed him.
'God! God! Do you hear me?! You are a fake and a fraud! Your Son was just a bastard and the Virgin Mary was a just a little whore!'
After that, everything got better. I started making sales, life became easier and I never looked back...'
I was speechless. I had never heard such a thing. Beyond the obvious blasphemy, it was so shocking that he just didn't give a shit...about anything spiritual! Even more than that, he was happy! Things went got better after he rejected God!

I didn't know what to think. "He should be miserable.. He should be convicted of his sin.. should be..can't be..shouldn't be..will be..can't be..", I couldn't put it all together. Then he turned his intellectual guns on me,
"So how do you believe there is God?", he said.

I should have been ready for this. I should have jumped in there with both barrels blazing, but I didn't. I realized that all of my religious education had been based on the assumption that everyone believed in God and would kowtow to my superior knowledge. Not this guy...

I finally stuttered out an answer,
I-I believe in God because I see him everywhere I go, in everything I see, in the world around me. Creation speaks to me that he is and he loves me. I believe in God because I know him in my heart as my friend.
He looked at me sort of pitifully, but with some measure of respect. He didn't berate me, but it became clear that our little visit was over. I thanked him for the books and shook his hand and left.
"Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbably: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable"~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
I'm still not sure of what really happened there. I still think about it now. On one hand, his espoused atheism was just as fervent as my faith. He really wasn't a purely intellectual atheist, he had experienced a conversion to atheism, just as sincere and just as real as my own conversion to Christ. He didn't want God to exist, he didn't want God to have anything to do with him. I won't be so bold as to judge all atheists this way, I'm just saying that I have met one who wanted God to not exist. His desire to not believe in God was as strong as my desire to believe.

I still felt bad about how I had responded, for years I felt ashamed that I had not been more forceful and strong in my response. Several years later, a friend of my Dad said something that really helped me to put it all in better perspective,

"A.C., When you were in your twenties and thought you knew everything, at that moment, you knew more than you will ever know. From that point on, you started knowing less and less."

It took me a while, but I got it. Systematic theology is great for academics, but it doesn't always translate into real Christianity. You start to retain less and less of superfluous knowledge, and start keeping only the things that help you. When push came to shove, I fell back to something more basic, something more familiar, something like..."Jesus loves this I know, for the bible tells me so.", something like "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life." Something simple to the ear, but substantial to the heart.
"The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of."~Blaise Pascal
The other thing that occurred to me after this conversation was this: People who state strong beliefs aren't always all that they appear to be. Before our conversation, the Atheist stalked my world like a wolf who would overtake me and make me come face to face with the doubt all Christians experience from time to time; the doubt that all my beliefs could be wrong. He was so cock-sure, so intelligent, so passionate, but like so many people in this world, nothing is as it appears...

Thanks for reading,

AC
 
Comments:
hey, great post.
thought-provoking. i'm not in a very inspirational big-word mood right now... but some thoughts come to mind...

...many people are sincere. but they can be sincerely wrong...

just because the atheist man felt such happiness after and things improved after, to me, doesn't prove anything about God "not" existing. I would say his happiness came more from the fact that he was no longer doubleminded. Doublemindedness is one of the worst tortures to the human mind... when you can't decide between two opinions. So to finally choose ONE direction, and not be torn any more, a peace (a mind at rest) comes to your life... and unfortunately, this can happen even if you choose the wrong direction. but there is something built into us, that *God* put there, where we can only function and be happy if we are only facing in one direction....

just some thoughts...

ali
 
I have indeed noticed that many people who want to be free "from religion" and declair their ferverant distain for people who believe in god, especially those cursed christians... but when it comes down to it--athiesm is a religion to them. They have to have faith that God doesn't exist just as much as I have to have faith that god does exist. To some it's a very rigid structure and belief system like "organized religion." It's organized athiesm to them. To others, it's a spirituality, just the sense and notion that there's nothing else out there, and you're an idiot for thinking different.
 
Huh. Well, let me be the first Atheist to jump in here. Good post, A.C., glad to see you refrain from Atheist-bashing, although I know a couple of Atheists who would certainly give you reason to. But, yes, many of us are living without a god in our lives and are doing fine, thanks, and yes, many of us aren't Christian-bashing idiots. But while I don't blame Christians for bashing the Atheists who attack their religion (only fair, after all), I certainly wish the religious folk would leave me alone about my lack of religion. *I* don't bother them about their choices in life, so why do they keep pestering me? (Don't even get me started on the people who bug me about being vegetarian, heh.)

At any rate, I think spirituality is a beautiful thing. I just don't have it.
 
Spring,
Thanks for the great comments. I'm glad you saw that I wasn't trying to categorize all Athiests in one way.That was important to me. There are as many kinds of Atheists and Agnostics as there all kinds of Christians.

Its always hard not to be annoying, or self righteous when talking to others about religion. We are sincerely concerned that people who don't believe will be lost forever. But that doesn't mean we should not respect their choices, or be pushy. It wouldn't help change anyone's mind anyway, it just pisses them off more.

Mainly, I was just trying to tell a story about an interesting person and what I thought about it.

I think the same idea translates to non-belief. That is that people who are passionate about their beliefs to the point of being obnoxious should be subject to scrutiny.

AC
 
Hi AC, long time no see.
I loved your post and particularly agreed with the comment from Spring who was much more eloquent on the subject than I could be.
What I would take from the post is the idea that we can all learn from being exposed to a different point of view.
 
Spring--sorry if you took that as a personal attack. It was not meant as such. I didn't in fact call anyone an idiot for not believing in God. Honestly--it doesn't affect me one way or another. We're both going to get up and go to work tomorrow. Unless your job is much sweeter than mine and you have fridays off.

There're christians out there trying to "save everybody" by trying to beat them to death with a bible, sure. Heck, they're trying to do it to ME too (brands of christianity can be important to some people too). But honestly... i'm tired of being the bad guy. Other people's beliefs don't harm me, however, aparently mine manage to harm others. Christians are trying to "force their beliefs onto everyone," and such... and I'm tired of being demonized. That's all. it's rather exhausting being the bad guy all the time.

I'd just like it to be a two way street. I'd like others to care as little about my personal choices as I care about theirs. And just because I believe differently, I don't need a lecture as to why they live their lives as they do, and why I'm wrong for thinking differently.

My grandfather and my brother are avowed athiests, and they believe just as ferverenty in the lack of God as I believe in the existance of God. They're positively catholic in their ritualistic denial of God. My brother has toned down in recent years, and you can actually mention God without him lighting off like a roman candle and going into a ritualistic diatribe about the lack of existance of God. It's like ok, that's great for you. As long as you keep living in mom's house, she's going to keep having a picture of jesus on the wall-get over it or move out.

And yes, I'm projecting. I've got a lot of built up frustration in this arena. There're not many times in my life when I've wanted to be more ignored. I'm tired of being talked down to, I'm tired of being "quaint" and "decieved" etc etc. I'm not an idiot, and I don't presume anyone else to be. I'd like the same courtacy shown to me.

It's like I'd like to reccomend an official public policy of ignoring. I'd feel better. I'm just exhausted from people caring, and defending myself, and listening to them defend themselves... I want a couple things in life. A dog, some other human being to mow my grass, and people to leave me alone.
 
Actually, I didn't take what you said as a personal attack. Not sure where that came from, unless you perhaps thought I was referring to you with my "Atheist bashing" comment. (Which, looking back, I guess I could see why someone would take it that way. Oops.) I wasn't referring to you specifically, but rather the practice in general. Sorry for the confusion.

I feel EXACTLY how you do, only I just happen to be in the other camp. Religion is such a personal thing, you know? Your religion is your choice and your choice alone. Other people should say out of it.
 
Hi , just some advice for christians with a heart for evangelism, Jesus only did what he saw the Father doing . So we should follow his example , thats where the power is ," obedience to God ", don't get involved in battles that aren't yours to fight. If you want to encourage those who don't believe , follow Jesus example. Pray and listen for the responce . Submit your desire to reach the unbeliever to God and follow his instruction when you get it .
Remember instruction from God is never accompanied with pressure to perform , he will equip you as you go . Be at peace and trust in him . From Me
 
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