ON MY FLIGHT HOME Saturday ((11/19), storms in Chicago rerouted me through Charlotte and added a 3 hour delay. That took me to a massive gate complex where planes for multiple destinations shared seating – hundreds of seats.
At the airport, I was running out of battery power on both my phone and my computer, so I sat near the charging booth. A fellow joined us, intending to charge his also. I had sprawled out my equipment across two outlets, so I popped up and shuffled my stuff off to one side.
He thanked me for a nice gesture.
“No worries, mate – there is plenty of room.”
He was wearing a tweed blazer, blue jeans, and deck shoes, with over the collar hair and short cropped beard. Peaceful looking fellow.
We started talking. Somehow we got to dogs before other topics. I explained about our breed, Havanese, and he was interested in more info. I invited him to look at a couple of websites and he said they sounded interesting so he would. (** See below if you’re interested in the dogs.)
“So where are you going in the Memphis area?”
“I’m not. I’m finished and headed home.”
The topic of occupations came up.
“What do you do in NJ?”
“A college professor.”
“Do you go to any church?”
“No, I am an atheist.”
I was taken aback. I asked him the first question that popped into my mind:
“Where do you get your morality?”
“Oh that is easy. We all are born with morals as part of our genetic make-up.”
I laughed. “Listen, I am not smart enough to debate a college prof atheist. But I know someone who is. Look up Ravi Zacharias when you get home. He debates atheists and generally wins,” I said. “But I can tell you something I heard a converted Islamic Jidhadi say in an interview: “As you move towards violence in the name of religion, you move closer to the core of Islam. But as you move closer to peace and love, you move closer to the heart of the Gospel of Christ.”
He drew a deep breath, said “well,” and then went silent as he shook his head. “That argument is for another day.”
We were both silent for a minute. I was trying to think of something conversational to say. “So here is something I always wanted to ask an atheist. If you don’t go to church, where do you go on Sunday mornings?” Then I thought, boy that sounds lame!
He quickly replied, saying, “I’ll tell you something that I doubt you will have the courage to tell your congregation. I was was a happy member in the Congregational church until about 10 years ago. Then I got fed up with the hypocrisy and quit. I had a terrible marriage, I was unhappy in my career, and was a pitiful father. I was lonely in church. But now – my wife and I are both atheists. We are both happy. Our marriage is rich. I am a better father. I have ore friends. Why? Because I have time for the important things in our lives. I can talk to people face to face. I enjoy my life. I bet you won’t tell them about this part of our conversation will you?”
“Oh man, I don’t know how to debate an atheist. All I can do is tell you about Jesus. But I know someone who IS skilled in this area. His name is Ravi Zacharaias. You can look him up on line also.” **
“I am more likely to remember Havanese and look them up than to remember this Indian fellow. That is not at all likely.”
I said. “Look, what you say does not put me off because you still have not answered my first question. Where do you get your morals?”
About that time, my flight was called, so I had to excuse myself so I could gather various chargers and plugs and devices. And he had to leave. We never got to the fundamental question. He just left me with this information:
“We all have morals built in. We may have to dig pretty deep, but it is there in all of us,” he said. “And if we all would look for it, find it and embrace it, we will be healthier and more peaceful.”
I left him with a handshake, and held on to the question of “What can I say about Jesus to a happy atheist?”
For the last couple of days I have thought about that question. And now I have a list of topics titled, “Things I could have said to a happy atheist.”
1. What made my “sharing space” a gesture that he would call “nice”? Why was it NICE? Would it not have been equally nice to keep my horded space? I got there first. It was mine by right of occupancy. Why would he say it was NICE? Are there standards of niceness and not-niceness? Where do those standards come from?
2. Who built the system of ethics into us, the system that you say we all have?
3. How do we explain all the evil in the world, because this is a really viscious place, with little room for peace.
4. What do you do, you personally, to help others dig deeper to find that spark in them?
5. Do you see the irony here? You claim the spark of morality, whereas the Bible proclaims that we all have the spark of divinity.
6. Is this another irony: You try to explain the evil in the world by saying we all bury the knowledge in us. The Bible says simply all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
7. What gives you hope? That we can learn to be nice to one another? That has not worked for thousands of years. Japanese buddhists boiled their enemies. African animists ate them. European Crusaders pillaged and raped in the name of the church. Muslims still pillage and rape in the name of Mohammed. In all this mess, Christ speaks peace. Can we talk about real hope?
I don’t have his name or college or anything other than he hails from New Jersey, and that he seemed to be happy atheist. So if you remember in your prayers to ask God to send His Spirit to restore the Happy Atheist and his wife, God will know and He will answer somehow.