I have read the blogs, watched the you tube videos heard numerous calls to Atheist Experience, Thinking Atheist and the like. But, Sunday was the first time I personally got a true ' I am shocked that you don't believe in God' response. Here is how the conversation, which was with an extended family member here in Barbados, went down.
FM: How are things at your church ? Your parents still go there? Who is the pastor there?
Me: Father "X" is still there. My mum she still sings in the choir. Dad goes occasionally and sometimes visits other churches. How is it ? I suppose its ok, I myself am not really involved in church now.
FM: You mean that you are not involved in the church down here.
Me: No, I actually mean I am not involved in the church full-stop.
FM: You don't go to church?!!
FM: Why not ???
Me: I just don't believe anymore.
FM: Don't believe what?
Me: in God
FM: Gasp!! [Places hand over mouth , stays in that position frozen for about a minute]
Me: [Take up newspaper from table in front of me, start leafing through it and pretending to read , trying to give impression that this is a normal conversation]
FM: [ Finally breaks silence] Wait, who is the Prime Minister of Canada now?
Me: [ Know she feels really super awkward, subject change more dramatic than a gear change in a Caribbean maxi taxi, but I answered as if it was most natural question] It's Stephen Harper.
FM: [Another moment of silence, then suddenly we are back on to topic] So what do you believe in?
Me: The same things you believe in, I just don't believe there is a God behind it all.
FM: Like what?
Me: Love, friendships, relationships, family, welfare of humans, justice, health, clean water, access to energy, the environment, rights of children, women and minorities, music, the arts, sports. [ I tried to list off in one fell swoop everything that mattered to me in life]
FM: You don't believe in God? What shocked you into that?
Me: Nothing, I had doubts about my faith for a long time. I just gradually came to a point where I could no longer support the claims religion was making. I just don't see any evidence to support the existence of a God. So, I don't believe there is one.
FM: [Shaking head] I never thought that in all my life I would meet somebody that would say something like that. The thought of there being no God has never even entered my head.
Me: Well that's honestly how I see it.
FM: You say you don't believe in God. So are you a Muslim now then?
Me: [ With very puzzled look] No! I have rejected religion. Why would I then go and pick another one?
FM: But how can you say that there is no God?
Me: Well, our belief system is something that is taught to us from the time we are very small. We don't ever question it. We assume it is true and just go through life looking at everything based on that presumption. But religious beliefs are just arbitrary. Each culture teaches a different faith tradition but it's not based on evidence or anything that they have investigated and found to be true. Therefore, I see no reason to believe in any of them or any of their Gods.I just think it is better to face life without presuppositions, try to look at what is out there and see where the evidence seems to be pointing. I think you are more likely to find truth that way.
FM: David, I am not hearing you!
Me: What do you mean ? Is it that you don't agree or you don't understand me?
FM: No. I have just tuned you out. I am not hearing a word you are saying now. I don't want to discuss religion with you anymore.
Me: Ok, I don't want to discuss this with you if it makes you feel uncomfortable.
[ Conversation continues discussing, Barbados politics, recent rains in the island, the royal wedding, the death of Bin Laden, and then]
FM: But back to you. You say you don't believe in God.
Me: So we are back on to talking about religion now?
FM: Do you know right from wrong?
Me: [Puzzled look returns] What do you mean?
FM: Can you say that anything is right or wrong?
Me: Yes, I consider some things right and other things wrong, but there are also many grey areas. I determine if something is wrong if I generally think that the action will be of harm to humanity.
FM: [ Shakes head some more]
Me: So, you have never ever had any doubt about the existence of a God? [ I asked this because I know that she at least didn't consider that the bible was literally the word of God. This had come out in a conversation we had years ago.I knew she was not fundamentalist]
FM: There are some things I don't understand, but I am 100% SURE that there is a God!
Me: Do you think that God is the one described in the bible?
FM: I told you already, I am finished talking about this!
Me: Ok, sorry
[ back to previous conversation centering on what is on TV, a gospel group is singing on the screen. It's the one I once used to play in. They are performing the song, " I am Glad that I still have Jesus." Unbelievably the family member brings up the topic of my lack of faith once again. ]
FM: So would you ever say ' Lord have mercy' ?
Me: [ Puzzled look has now become a permanent fixture on face] Maybe, but I didn't used to say that much even when I did believe. In any case I consider that to be just an exclamation. It is not really a statement of belief.
FM: So do you say prayers?
FM: What ??? Oh my gosh!!! [ Hand goes over mouth once more]
Me: I actually haven't prayed for a long time but I don't mind if people pray for me.
FM: [ shakes head] And you think you know a person.
Me: But even if you believe in God, why would you have to pray to him if he already knows everything?
FM: [ Puts finger over lips] I don't want to hear anymore. I told you I didn't want to discuss religion with you. In fact I don't want to discuss religion with you ever again!
Me: It's ok, I respect that I just thought since you had brought it back up that............[ FM interrupts]
FM: No, I don't want to hear anymore from you! I will put you into the same category as my other family member who is a Jehovah's Witness. I never talk religion with hm either.
Me: Ok. I didn't mean to shock you or cause you any pain tonight. I am sorry this has caused you such distress. I just thought since we were family it was important to share with you how my perspective has changed. Anyway, I am still glad that in spite of our differences we are able to sit here and have a conversation.
FM: It's ok, you are still a human being.