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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