Matthew at Get Underground had an experience not unknown to many atheists: he had to listen to an older man talk about Jesus on a subway. It wasn’t something he asked for. He was just trying to read his newspaper, until the man started talking to him, and Matthew wanted to be polite so he indulged the older man in his dialogue:
Somehow the topic of the mostly one-way conversation turned towards history. “All history is, is HIS story. And that HIS is the Lord, Jesus Christ. You’ve heard of Jesus Christ?”
My heart sank. My wanting to humor a tipsy old man had ensnared me, and I was stuck listening to a religious lecture. Crap. But I continued to be polite and heard what the man had to say. His religious jive was not a hateful diatribe against sinners or the prediction of doom.
“Everything that is going to happen has been pre-ordained…”
It was standard pro-Jesus patter, complete with the effect that it had on his own life, though being an old drunk chatting up people like me on the subway doesn’t say much for Christ’s power.
But it was this that worried me:
“It wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I discovered the truth in Jesus Christ. Up until my 40s I was an atheist, you see…”
I am an atheist, and I’ll be 40 in just over five years. Would I turn out like this man, pathetically pronouncing my faith to strangers on mass transit? Would I be able to withstand the trials and tribulations of life without running back into the comforting arms of religious faith?
With that, Matthew created an atheist prayer:
Words to live by
Lord, if you exist,
please grant me the strength
to continue to not believe in you.
And if I turn to religion in desperation,
please grant me the decency
not to harangue strangers
with pronouncements of my faith,
oh Lord who I do not believe in.
He closes with the following:
Religion will always be with us because it fulfills two very basic human needs: it explains the world around us and provides a code of conduct. We don’t have to get those things from religion, but most people do.
People find what they are looking for in religion. Those that want to find inspiration and encouragement to being kind to people will be served by religion; those seeking justification for being hateful and judgmental will find what they are looking for as well.
But I’m looking for neither, just some piece and quiet on the A train. Wish me luck.
Good luck with that. Saying the Atheist Prayer may help…
Matthew says this guy in particular appeared drunk. Personally, on the Chicago L, I’ve always had the same experience. I’m only approached about religion by people under the influence, interrupting my crossword time. It’s never anyone sober… or cute, for that matter. On the other hand, when I’m at the Taste of Chicago over the summer, it’s always sober people trying to interrupt me while I’m eating with a group of friends.
I don’t recall going to churches when this practice of proselytizing-only-when-the-victim-is-in-the-middle-of-something was being taught. I wonder how they pick it up…