Saturday, December 24, 2005

A boy, a bible, and an atheist.

This morning I heard the familiar “rap” of a fist on my door. In this city an unexpected knock usually isn’t the neighbor asking for a cup of sugar. Indeed, with the season in mind I think we can all readily assume just who it might be calling for my attention. I opened the door to find a young man (perhaps 12) dressed in his best, yet rumpled, clothes holding a bible and pamphlets. He happily wished me a good morning and immediately started to read, haltingly for a boy his age, from a pre-prepared speech he had been given by someone for this situation. Behind him stood an elderly man with an even smaller boy at his side. The old man smiled as he stood back, allowing the young evangelist to take the lead in his commitment to proselytize. I stood there, waiting patiently as he fought through the words of his document until, upon finishing, he asked me if I thought the “meaning of the season had been lost in society?” In that moment I stood and reflected on what action I should take. Before me was this young man, most likely here only at the behest of his impeccably dressed grandfather (?) asking me, an atheist, my thoughts on the season.

Who am I, I thought, to take away this boys hope? Who am I to say “I am sorry; there is no Jesus, no final deliverance or everlasting life, no rich reward at the end of it all”? In the city, many times, religion is all the hope people have. It binds families (Usually Grandparents to grandchildren unfortunately) together as a united front against the poverty, the racism, the hate, and the despair that they face as a part of their everyday lives. Should I give him the nuanced response, something like “Although love and charity are important and admirable notions, they are not dependent upon a deity for existence”? This is, remember, just a boy.

I told him that indeed, the meaning of the season had been lost in society, that people were too involved in material possessions rather than each other and that with just a little more love, we would all be better off. I looked down and saw him beaming, as if my simple response somehow connected us in our view of the meaning of Christmas. On some levels, he was right.

He walked down the stoop to his smiling grandfather’s side and, as all three walked away to find the next door to knock on, they turned and wished me a Merry Christmas. I found myself hoping that that the boy would stay in the church, away from the streets. I hoped that he would hold on to that vain belief in a distant savior for whom he should stay vigilant in life, if just long enough to escape his life in the city and then decide for himself if he still needed that invisible man to guide him along. In the best of all possible worlds we wouldn’t need this type of paternal religion but, as I’ve written before, in this world we just might.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


Christmas is here and I believe it is the time of year in which we all remember the blessings and gifts the good lord has given us. Unfortunately, I am an atheist (Although I beginning to agree with Sam Harris who says that we should not even need a term for a “person who does not believe in god”. After all, we don’t have names for those who don’t believe in astrology, the Easter bunny, or the tooth fairy, do we?). So, in lieu of a “giving thanks” article I thought I would do something truly American and complain about the negative aspects of the many positive things that have happened recently in my life. As you all know, I recently sold out to the man after spending what seemed like an eternity staring at the shadows on the cave wall in graduate school and am now out in the sunlight, breaking my back for the almighty corporate dollar.

As part of this recent “sell out” I have had to agree to a bit of traveling. Many would see this as an exciting. Here I am, a dashing young fellow with the no roots in the ground galavalanting across the globe on trips paid for by the company. In part, this is true. I am excited about the next two months which will see me in the U.K., most likely Japan, San Diego, Long Beach, Munich, and possibly elsewhere. Superficially it is interesting. I am sure all of those places are exciting (Check that, I KNOW San Diego is exciting) but business trips are MUCH different than vacation. I will be spending most, if not all, of my time in offices with managers who want nothing more than to tell me all about themselves, laboratories with scientists whose social skills often resemble an odd mélange of autism and Tourettes syndrome, or conference rooms surrounded by people who just MUST offer their opinion no matter how obvious or irrelevant their point. When I do have a spare moment, the locals will undoubtedly fill it with dinners (These are fun for married guys, people who don’t actually go out on the weekends and view business trips as vacations from the wife and kids.) tours, or nights at Karaoke bars; basically those tourist activities I have come to know and hate. I know, I know, it won’t ALL be bad. I am sure some of those nights will be fun, and the ability to experience all of those cultures on somebody else’s dime is definitely nice but, via my friends, I know business travel isn’t entirely what it’s cracked up to be.

Having said that, I fully realize how lucky I am. I have a wonderful, caring, intelligent, and most importantly, interesting family for whom I am thankful everyday. I have friends who I would be proud to call brothers, who support me in every insane endeavor, and with whom I always have the time of my life. I have also had the opportunity to meet some amazing women who come and go, but always leave me with interesting stories to tell. I am thankful I have and had the people in my life to share those moments which wouldn’t have happened, or been as sweet, without them. Tonight my light shines and, as this doesn’t happen everyday, I am going to enjoy it while it lasts.

Merry Christmas everyone, I hope your light is shining out there too.

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