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Friday, May 13, 2005

An Imaginary Conversation

A little over a week ago, I was invited to speak at the local high school in a philosophy and world religions class. It was a lot of fun. But I have to admit, it wasn't exactly what I had planned.

See, the student who invited me (actually, students) never really prepped me for what I was going to do. They told me not to prepare anything, and that I should be ready to just answer questions.

So in my mind, I imagined that I would be sitting at the front of the class, facing a "firing squad" of 20+ high school students. A little scary, especially since I was warned that two of the students were atheists or agnostics or something like that and that these two were the most vocal. I was especially nervous since one of them is the son of a local pastor and, in the words of the students who invited me, "knows his Bible very well." It's not that I was worried that he would know more than me, it was just that I was worried the talk would turn into Bible-diving and alienate the rest of the class.

It turns out my fears were unfounded. Three other local pastors were invited to come in as well, and we were divided up into smaller groups. I had a group of all girls, including three Catholics (nothing wrong with that, just commenting). My group was very nice and asked some really good and tough questions.

But I have to admit, as strange as it sounds, I was hoping to talk to Atheist Boy. Especially after this past Wednesday. One of the students who invited me told me that he and A.B. lock horns all the time, and that one of his favorite arguments is that he's not a Christian because of the Crusades and the bad stuff that Christians have done.

I've heard this argument before, and the more I thought about it, I realized what I would say to A.B. if I could. Since I don't know if I'll ever have the chance, I thought I would just post it here:

IMAGINARY CONVERSATION

ME: So you aren't a Christian because of the bad things that Christians have done, like the Crusades, right?

AB: Right. I don't want to be part of a group that has killed or suppressed hundreds of thousands of people while they claim to serve some higher ideal.

ME: That seems pretty logical. I mean, I wouldn't want to either. So when are you renouncing your American citizenship?

AB: What? Why would I want to do that?

ME: Well, you say that you don't want to be part of a group that's killed or suppressed people, right? If we apply that logic to every part of your life, you should quit being an American citizen.

AB: Why would I have to do that?

ME: Just follow my logic for a while:


  • In the early 19th century, the American people were involved in the brutal subjugation of African slaves. Even though "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," the American government at best ignored, or worst, winked at, the brutalities perpetuated by Americans on African slaves. It was considered politically inexpedient to free the slaves, and so for at least a hundred years, people were treated like property. Even though the abolitionist movement (started primarily by Christians, incidentally) tried to get the Founding Fathers to free the slaves, they refused.
  • In the late 19th century, the American people were involved in the brutal annexation of Native American lands, forcing them onto reservations or killing them.
  • In the early 20th century, prominent American politicians, such as Teddy Roosevelt, and scientists bought into the pseudo-science known as "eugenics". Eugenics was the belief that society had to regulate how people reproduced to weed out the "undesirable" influences. Policies enacted in many states resulted in the forced streilization of thousands of people, mostly the poor, people from the "wrong" ethnic groups, the mentally and physically handicapped, and so forth. California led the way and sterilized the most people "for the public good." It wasn't until after World War II that eugenics was quietly swept under the rug, and that was because people had seen what the logical conclusion of the movement was, namely, concentration camps.
  • As long as we're on World War II, how about the fact that FDR forcibly relocated thousands of Japanese Americans to P.O.W. camps simply because they might be spies?

ME: The list could go on and on and on. All these people did horrible things, and I'd be willing to bet that all of them thought they were serving some sort of higher ideal, namely America. So if you're going to avoid groups that have tainted pasts, you should logically renounce your American citizenship as well.

AB: But Christians have still done some lousy things!

ME: I know that all too well. And yet, I'm still a Christian anyway. You know why? Because as a Lutheran, I understand the tension that all Christians live in. In Latin, it's known as simul justus et peccator, or "saint and sinner at the same time." Christians aren't perfect, and anyone who claims that they are is a liar, plain and simple. The true difference is that Christians are forgiven. That doesn't excuse the horrible things that Christians have done. It's not meant to. It just doesn't seem right to me to judge a whole group of people on the basis of what some idiots did.

AB: Oh.

And, hopefully, that would be the end of that.

Okay. I have to go. I need to head to Mankato to get tickets for "Episode III." I'm really hoping that Lucas did a decent job on this one. If not ... well, if he didn't, at least there won't be any more for him to screw up.

1 comment:

Tristan said...

Wonderful thoughts, and I am fond of your line of logic. Smart people are always fun to watch converse, and you, my friend, have always been one of the bright ones.