Heart-to-Heart with an Atheist
Heart-to-Heart with an Atheist – When she asked me what I did, I said I was retired from being a petroleum engineer who studied fracking for 25 years. I gave her my card which says Weed and Water in bold letters. She asked what this was about, and when I told her she laughed….. I am an atheist, she said. Off we went into an extensive but respectful discussion of Christian faith. It must have lasted for 45 minutes.
At a group dinner in a local restaurant, an elderly lady (I shall call her Evelyn) came and sat beside me. We chatted perfunctorily for ten minutes, eating the warm buttered bread. Originally from Vienna, Austria, she has made her home in the USA for over twenty years. She said she was an MD and a Ph.D. in Austria, but couldn’t practice in the US unless she took a lot of the exams. She raised a couple children. Her second husband died a few years ago. In recent years she has returned to her love of painting. She can paint scenery and she can paint portraits, but her favorite style is impressionism.
I will summarize some of the fascinating issues this highly intelligent woman raised, and some of my responses.
E: I was raised in the Catholic church. But I have intensively studied philosophy for years, and concluded there cannot be a God.
GN: I was raised Methodist in Australia. But I was drawn to the famous statement by Pascal, a French physicist: There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of everyone that can only be filled by Jesus. I sensed that the vacuum I had would be filled, and it was.
E: How was the vacuum filled?
GN: While I was doing a Ph.D. my wife took me to a fundamentalist church, where the people talked liked they knew God and Jesus. Back in the Physics department, the only person I found who believed in God was the janitor. He said, When I look up at the sun, how can I not believe in God? I stood on the fence for two years, interrogating the church folks and the physics folks, and had to conclude the church folks had something real. I finally fell on my knees and asked Jesus to come into my life. Everything changed. I received peace and joy, and a reason to live. My vacuum was filled and has stayed filled for 45 years.
E: But there are many great religions in the world. What about them?
GN: The Christian faith says God sent Jesus to save us, and it’s free. We don’t have to do anything to gain this. In most other religions you get saved only if you perform.
E: The philosophies of the great men took me away from Christianity. And I can’t go back. I wish I could. I wish I could have faith in God again.
GN: In my opinion, the philosophies of the great men tend to be elitist. What I love about Christian faith is that it’s free and easy to accept….. for anyone…. The janitor in the Physics department. The nurse-aid in a nursing home. The man who drives the garbage truck. But intellectuals can also follow Jesus if they just kneel down and ask. However, the fact that it’s simple and it’s easy can trip up some people who want their philosophy of life to be difficult and require much study and self-absorption (which is elitist).
E: Scientists argue there is no God.
GN: You can make an argument, but science cannot disprove God.
E. And science cannot prove God.
GN: Agreed, although the recent discovery of the Higgs-boson, which is what the galaxies, humans, atoms, protons, electrons, and quarks are made out of inclines me to think that God may somehow reside in the vast sea of mysterious Higgs-bosons. In fact many call it the God-particle.
E. But really…..science hasn’t proved God exists.
GN: There is scientific truth, and there is spiritual truth. I encountered scientific truth about cosmic rays when I spent four years studying them for my Ph.D. I encountered spiritual truth during the same period when I fell on my knees and asked Jesus to come into my life.
E: I cannot believe in heaven.
GN: Have you read the book by Dr Eban Alexander?
GN: He is a doctor like yourself. Neuro surgeon. He contracted meningitis and spent seven days in a coma. During this time he claims he experienced an alternate consciousness. He was escorted by a female angel, and led to the Core, which I identify as the throne of God. He was overwhelmed by a feeling of love, and now calls love the centerpiece of the universe.
E: Our brains often do funny things like this when oxygen levels fall just before death. There have been many near-death experiences recorded.
GN: Yes, but Dr Alexander’s brain cortex was inactive, and he was hooked up to diagnostic machines which verified this. This is why he called his book Proof of Heaven. The “heaven” experience did not come from his brain activity, and that’s what makes his experience unique.
E: Life is a continuing struggle (sighing).
GN: I agree, but faith is like a step-function in mathematics – it takes us to a new level, it introduces a new dimension. The resources of God make it easier to deal with the tribulations of life. And we have heaven to look forward to……
E: I love the personage of Jesus. He was a good man who helped a lot of downtrodden people.
GN: Yes, he wasn’t elitist. And for us followers it’s a privilege to do similar things. In the past few months I was able to help two women who were desperately ill. They both felt at times like giving up on life. However, they turned the corner, through God’s grace, and are up and running once again.
E: But I don’t believe Jesus was the son of God or that he rose from the dead.
GN: Hmm. So you are being selective in your believing. You choose to believe he was a good man, but you choose not to believe he rose from the dead. Jesus said himself that he was the son of God and would be resurrected. If you pick and choose like this, aren’t you saying Jesus fabricated stuff sometimes? That doesn’t seem fair…..I think it’s all or nothing. Either he was a total charlatan, or he was the son of God.
GN: Since you are from Vienna, you must be able to dance. Strauss waltzes and all that.
E: Oh yes (eyes shining). I used to love the Viennese waltz.
GN: I have danced that waltz….it’s awfully fast.
E: That’s what makes it fun. You have to learn to avoid getting dizzy.
Evelyn and I departed as friends, and both admitted we enjoyed the conversation which was respectful and stimulating. I shall never forget this gracious and engaging woman who is an atheist but who wishes she wasn’t!
The Gray Nomad.
Probing the practice of Christian believers……
“For ever since the creation of the world God’s invisible nature has been clearly discernible in the things that have been made. So men are without excuse.” [Book of Romans, chapter 1].
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Ian, so pleased God gave you the opportunity to tell Evelyn the wonders of Jesus. You may never know what you did for her. You planted that seed in her heart and now God takes over. Bless you for your outspoken belief in our Savior.
It seemed easy to share, because Evelyn and I were respectful of each other’s opinions. Unfortunately in religion and politics, this is not always the case. Thanks for your comment Marie.
I sent this to two men I meet with in a writing critique group. Both claim to be agnostic but one is definitely atheist. One is a chemist and the other a physician. I pray they will someday “get it.” Maybe your blog will help them. I’ll let you know their responses.
Thanks for your comment Barbara. You made me think about “getting it”. In my own case, there was this vacuum in my heart, and I recognized this from a young age. This vacuum kept me searching. When the vacuum filled I knew it immediately.
In my view the divine exists in the universe, and the so called atheists are really agnostics. Meaning they believe and see the divine order but they can not believe the dogmatic points of Christianity (One god, the son of god, etc.) or of other religions.
All these religions were made (and evolved) to convince peoples more primitive than we are today.
This is probably why Evelyn does can not believe…
A miracle of yesterday can possibly be explained today using physics, etc.
Talking about the philosophers, they dealt with the same questions and they arrived to the same ethical conclusions (meaning what a good man does and how he behaves) as many of the world religions (including Christianity). They did this without even using a specific religion, but instead using a belief of the perfection of nature (god or gods in the abstract). E.g. the concept of resurrection predates Christianity in several religions (including the Greeks) and it has a symbolism of regeneration of nature.
Faith is a good thing, but cannot be adopted by all persons (including me). However, lots of good people do struggle to better society even though they are not Christian believers. They simply see Jesus as the greatest teacher/philosopher that influenced humanity, but not as divine as postulated by the Christian Dogma.
Be well my friend in the quest of faith and happiness.
Hi ZAM. I can’t respond here to all your thoughtful points. Maybe my friend, a Professor of Philosophy in Vancouver, can add to this discussion. I will respond to three of your points in quotes:
(1) “All these religions were made (or evolved) to convince peoples who were more primitive than today”. If I apply your words to Jesus’ time on earth, I reach the opposite conclusion. The behavior and actions of people who directly interacted with Jesus are very similar to people’s behavior and actions in 2015. What worked in Palestine 2,000 years ago still works in the USA in 2015.
(2) “Also a miracle of yesterday can possibly be explained today using physics, etc”. Archeologist Collins has discovered the ancient city of Sodom, and made a strong argument that its destruction is consistent with the Bible record. This was 3,700 years ago when a comet blew Sodom and nearby cities to dust. By including the physics, he actually supports the unbelievable destruction of Sodom as recorded in Genesis chapter 19 of the Bible.
(3) “E.g. the concept of resurrection predates Christianity in several religions (including the Greeks) and it has a symbolism of regeneration of nature”. You may be correct, but its hard to argue against the fact that the Christian religion started with a scraggly band of eleven uneducated men who changed the world at that time. In my opinion they could only have been motivated and propelled by a real Jesus resurrection to achieve this.
Thanks for your write-up, Ian. As always, your blog is interesting to read. I am an agnostic, and what fills my heart are wonder, love, compassion and service.
I don’t believe in God as a being, but rather — if anything — as the entirety of existence. I don’t believe that anyone has ever risen from the dead, though there are many real people (Jesus among them, as far as I know) who do and have done good things for others.
I don’t think that either “camp” can convince the other through rational argument, nor do I see any value in trying to do so. I admire those Christians who live a life of honest self-reflection that is tied to service and self-betterment. I am not a fan of “Sunday Christians” who proclaim their faith while living lives focused on their own well-being. Unfortunately, I have met many of the latter group in the US.
Whereas I have no doubt that a belief in something larger than oneself can bring great peace, I don’t believe that a belief in God is the only path to peace, nor to “goodness.”
Your words are honest and articulate Meg. I’ll respond to a couple of your thoughts (in quotes below), and leave the rest for a hike sometime.
“I am an agnostic, and what fills my heart are wonder, love, compassion and service”. I would love to know how these wonderful qualities came about in your own life.
“I don’t believe in God as a being, but rather — if anything — as the entirety of existence”. Your statement fascinates me, as the essence of the Christian faith is knowing God (and Jesus) personally, which provides security and confidence to address life and death (i.e. we are not doing life alone).
To Gray Nomad: I really appreciate your willingness to open conversation without giving the feeling of any negativity. Quite the opposite….you were very helpful and bridged the gap so that the conversation could continue. Excellent!
Hi Vanessa. I try hard to remain respectful of other’s opinions. And anticipate they will be respectful of my opinions. This doesn’t mean we have to agree but it does mean we can have a discussion. This was the case with Evelyn.
Good work pulling out the right tools Ian. Breaking up hardened soil is sometimes all that’s needed for the seed of the Word to germinate… let’s water now with prayer … thank you for sharing !
I agree Ed, and thanks for framing it in the concept of plowing and sowing. The strange thing is this conversation was the last thing I expected to happen at that social dinner.
It appears clear to me that (because of your strong desire to help bring hope to those who need it), you are being placed into the lives of people who need hope and faith most. Evelyn, in her heart, wished she could believe and you presented her with some unassailable information to chew on. Bless you, Ian!
It does seem this way, and I hope this continues. My credo has been for over three years now “To help someone to hope”. I think everyone needs hope, but to some people it is critical (as you know Karen), and I just hope I can respond and be there to assist.
Very good. I wish I could put my faith into words like you just did. I read Proof of Heaven. Great, well, amazing, really! There are some books by a physicist, a Jew, and he talks about a lot of scientists who had been atheists but then believed in God. Gerald Shroeder is his name. I read God According to God. You could probably understood 100% of the book. I came pretty close.
Thanks Mary. There are a few new books that appear to be game-changers in my opinion. One is Proof of Heaven by Dr Alexander. One is Discovery of Sodom by Dr Collins. One is Radical Remission of Cancer by Dr Kelly Turner. And the last is Spontaneous Happiness by Dr Weil. You have read some game-changers as well.