People have wondered about belief in God for as long as there have been people. Some find belief in God easy while others demand proof. Some can not believe in God that allows torture and great pain while others find hardship leads to belief in God. People throughout the world believe in thousands of various religions – could there really be one religion that is correct? Missionaries come to the door recruiting for various faiths while other missionaries build hospitals in the poorest of conditions.
There is certainly great confusion about religion throughout the world; many people chose just to forget the whole thing because of this confusion.
Could it be that one of the most important reasons we are here on this planet is to find the answer to that question – to come to believe in God, or is that just a fantasy dreamed up by philosophers searching for meaning?
Can only one religion be true, or do they all contain an element of the Ultimate Truth?
One man becomes desperate for an answer to these questions as he learns his mortal existence is coming to an end. He seeks the guidance of old friends to help him find the answers for which he is so desperately searching. Is a belief in God reasonable, or was Carl Marx right when relegated religion as the opiate of the masses.
“It’s good to see you after all these years! What brings you here to see me?” I motioned to the long lost stranger at my office door to sit down in the chair by my desk.
“Well, of course, I’d like to make up for some lost time; it’s been a long time since I saw you!” Jeffrey Burgen blurted out while he rearranged the furniture in my office to get to a nearby chair. About a week ago, my office started to receive mysterious urgent phone calls which were dutifully intercepted by my secretary. She said someone named Jeffrey Burgen urgently required a meeting. At first, I was amused by some stranger “requiring” a meeting with me as though he were ordering me to see him.
Doctors frequently get persistent calls from drug salesmen, equipment purveyors, timeshares in Florida, or others clamoring to sell something. Then, there were other physicians from hospitals trying to discuss patients or disgruntled family members of a patient who recently succumbed to a long and painful illness. These family members are particularly troublesome because they had little interest in the patient while alive, but now want to become intensely involved now the patient is deceased.
It is difficult to know whether these uninvited guests have something really important to discuss, or whether they are merely going to take up previous time. These guests will invariably take up lots of precious time and can be very difficult to get out of the office once they appear. They want you to make commitments to things you would rather not commit to and are much better dealt with by email or text message. Once they get into your office they are hard to dismiss as it is their job to sell you something. Time to a busy doctor is a precious commodity because there never is enough of it, everyone wants more of it, and once spent is gone forever.
“Karen, just hang up on him if he keeps on calling.” I was not going to have my daily routine interrupted a stranger who insisted on an impromptu meeting! But this interloper was very persistent, calling several times a day and insisting on an urgent meeting. Karen was becoming flustered and threatened the caller with not answering his next call but then the caller retorted he was a personal friend of mine. Eventually accepting what seemed to be my fate and with more than a little bit of curiosity, I acquiesced and asked Karen to schedule an appointment. Legitimate charities understand how cold calling to an unwilling donor will seldom result in a donation. But this called seemed different; somebody who was so persistent must have a good reason – at least I hoped so!
Jeffrey Burgen – the name was unfamiliar to me. I had to get out of my college graduation yearbook and was finally able to identify this mysterious interloper. When you have extended years of education as do most doctors, you associated with many people you never see again. They may have even been a good friend at one time, but your busy schedule and the time challenges of school mean your social life gets left behind. Medical school and residency are particularly lonely times for most people, and a time when many marriages fail. Physicians who work eighty hours a week or more have little time to spare for niceties.
Burgen and I hardly knew each other in college; I was a very serious student trying to get into medical school and he was a party boy only interested in having fun and living for the present. Many colleges have required classes in order to graduate such as English composition and two years of a foreign language. We came to know each other while we were both struggling in conversational French. I had a little exposure to the language in high school and thought it easier to continue one with conversational French in college. Burgen wanted to know French to impress the girls.
Burgen spent the last years of his college adventure as a frat boy maximizing his exposure to drugs, sex, and alcohol. He would derisively tell me that we would both get the same diploma upon graduation and it simply didn’t matter if I had better grades because no one really cared. Jeff would delight in assuring me he would become successful even without good grades or recommendations; he would find a way to the top and eventually would climb over us all on life’s ladder of success. He partied hard, had all the pretty girls, went to Europe on spring break, and seemed to be always happy. While we spent Saturday night at the library, he was at a frat party with girls in the upstairs bedroom. He was the kind of guy serious students quietly detested, secretly envied, but never befriended
Jeffrey managed somehow to get passing grades and eventually graduate; there were even rumors he used his Daddy’s money to pay for expensive tutors or to buy answers to exams. He was a distraction to my world of academic achievement and represented a time sink I tried at all costs to avoid. We would both eventually graduate from college and go our separate ways. I would go to medical school while he would get a job. While we knew each other in school and might say “hello” if we met outside of French class, our paths never crossed after college graduation. We were very different from each other and never communicated in any way after the last graduation party was over.
After college, I endured four years of medical school, a year of internship, two years of residency, and two more years of fellowship before I got my first job. It was a long, difficult slog but it eventually it paid off when I got a good-paying job at a teaching hospital. My world was consumed with teaching medicine to students, taking care of patients, and writing grants to get money for research science. I had no time to reflect upon old friends from college, especially those like Jeff.
It was a mystery why Jeff would want to meet me after all these years, and it was curiosity that led me to make an appointment to see him. I decided to make his appointment at the end of my workday to allow for a potentially long meeting. I justified this incursion into my relaxation time by as a chance to reacquaint myself with one of the more interesting characters of my younger days, and to learn whether he had indeed managed to achieve the success he had predicted for himself so many years ago.
The Office Meeting
There is always some awkwardness when meeting an old acquaintance after many years of absence; the mandatory apologies for not keeping in touch, the shaking of hands with a firm grip to exhibit masculinity and control, and then deciding who should sit down first. Jeff grasped my outstretched hand with a vengeance, eager to demonstrate his firm power and practiced self-assurance. He motioned for me to sit down first demonstrating his control over the meeting. I was already beginning to feel uncertain as to the wisdom of having this meeting in the first place.
He was meticulous in his appearance, clearly wanting to make a good first impression. He had on a pressed three-piece vested suit with a handkerchief folded in his left suit pocket with a pattern carefully chosen to match his silk tie. His pressed, starched white long-sleeved shirt had diamond cuff links, and his monogram “JRB” was clearly visible on the right shirt collar. He was perfectly groomed; every hair was in place, every fingernail carefully manicured, and a quick smile revealed brightly whitened perfectly straight teeth.
Jeff had clearly done well for himself since school days, having replaced his boyish brashness with a confident presence that bespoke his many years of success and entrenched power. After interacting with many great men as patients during my long years of clinical practice, I have found it is difficult to feign gravitas; either you have the presence of power and control – or you don’t. Jeff had it; he fairly exuded strength of character that instantly made you understand he was in control and leading the conversation. Yet, he could be very personable and seemed genuine in his desire for friendship and comity. It is this dichotomy of presence that makes such people fascinating from a distance yet unnerving up close; you are never quite sure of your standing with them.
It is never truly clear whether you are being used in some elaborate ruse for some unknown purpose, or whether you were fulfilling a genuine heartfelt need. You strangely sense being manipulated yet unable to avoid the manipulation; you don’t know whether to turn and run for the exit or keep quiet and let them lead the conversation. It is often clear you are being set up, but not so clear how it would all play out. I was aware of these contrasting emotions as I sat in the presence of my old classmate from so many years ago. It was clear I had something he wanted – but what? I was about to find out.
While Jeff clearly had power and success, it was also obvious he did not share this power with anyone for I also noticed there was no wedding ring on his finger. Many great and powerful people have difficulty with intimacy as they find the openness required in personal relationships to directly contradict their need for power and control. Jeff volunteered he had been through many women, usually for their physical attributes and his personal pleasure; when they had finished their usefulness, they were discarded as one might discard a used tissue. He was always careful not to confide too much with his love partners be they male or female – child or adult. He was an expert in the game of relationships, never giving anyone potential ammunition they might employ as blackmail when the dalliance would inevitably finish. Sometimes he would even feed them false information and amuse himself when his victims would attempt revenge after they were discarded. Jeff was the master of using people for he had considerable practice in the art of personal gain. Much like an old-time gangster, he hired professional enforcers to handle any overzealous ex-patrons of his largess so they might experience unfortunate circumstances.
It was this kind of person who wished to renew my acquaintance. I had my guard up but was totally unprepared for why he came to see me.
Despite my protestations of having a very busy schedule, Jeff insisted on telling me his life story. Great and powerful men seldom confide their tragic personal life as it can be perceived as an admission of weakness. But it was important for Jeff to divulge his past family life in order to prepare me for his ultimate story; the reason why he graced me with his presence after decades of absence.
“Dave, I know you’re wondering why I came here. I know your time is valuable and I won’t intrude on our friendship,” he began, clearly trying to soften me up. I momentarily pondered the existence of this mysterious ‘friendship’ to which he referred when Jeff continued. I knew that his gratuitous pandering meant he was expecting something from me; I listened intently preparing myself for what was to come.
Reason for the Meeting
“I’ve been very successful over the years – I’ve made a bundle of money and I’ve had a pretty good living doing things my way, taking what I want and letting no one give me any grief. I can take care of myself, but something has happened over which I have no control – no idea about how to proceed. This is the reason I had to see you, why I am here today.”
I recognized this introduction for I had heard it many times; somebody is sick, getting cancer, AIDS, venereal disease, cirrhosis, or some grievous illness associated with the ‘good life’ of indulgence in various pleasures – especially sex, drugs, and alcohol.
“Do you need a doctor, Jeff?” I asked, hoping to hurry this uncomfortable interview along. “I know lots of good doctors here and would be only too happy to get you an appointment with any one of them.”
“No Dave, I’m in good health – at least, that why my last doctor told me a few years ago when he treated by last drug OD,” he laughed.
I didn’t see anything particular humorous about his near fatality, but I let him continue on for sake of brevity.
“I’ve made a bundle as a stockbroker. You see, Dave, when my clients decide to invest in the stock market, they are like sheep which I can lead to the slaughter. They know nothing about stocks, options, puts, calls, iron condors, calendar spreads, annuities, ETFs, CEFs, or broken butterflies. Of course, sometimes they win a few bucks here and there but usually, they lose a bundle. But you know what, Jeff? I make a commission no matter if they win or lose! I just get them to buy and sell more product – what brokers call “churning”; the more active they are, the more money I make in commissions!”
“I didn’t know your knowledge was so encyclopedic in so many areas!” my curiosity roused. Certainly, this was not the miscreant I knew in college! At that time, he could barely utter a coherent thought, let alone understand the vagaries of the stock market!
“No, I don’t know a lot about investing – all I certainly know more than my stupid clients!” he said, confirming my recollection of his integrity. “But I hire people to make a few cogent suggestions about the stock market. Then I simply repackage their suggestions, and sell it to thousands of lazy investors around the world who think I am an expert in what they want to know!”
“And that has earned you millions?” I wondered at the brilliance of this simple guy who attended college only to get girls yet could sell packaged information to thousands of rich investors will to pay him generously for his supposed expertise.
“You got it. I hire brokers to do market research and put their information into emails and newsletters to make me look like an expert when in reality I am virtually clueless about the whole thing! All I have to do is to get more and more clients to buy and sell more and more stocks and make me commissions by the boatload. You see, I win whether my clients win or lose! It doesn’t matter to me – just that they keep buying and selling, and the more the better!”
My inquisitive look prompted him to elaborate.
“Look, life’s too short to work your days away! Why look at you. For all the time you spent in school and internship, not to mention the interminable hours you spend here, you work all the time and hardly ever see your family. Am I right?”
I reluctantly nodded, confirming his accusation. A doctor might make good money and have a comfortable living, but he sacrifices his personal life for the lives of his patients.
“I knew it. And I probably make more money than you – much more, and work much less. While I don’t save lives, I give people what they think they want. Dave, we live in a world of affluence and laziness. People want information about how to make money, but are too stupid and lazy to do their own research so they trust me! That’s what is so great about my business – I invest other people’s money and make a bundle whether they make money or not. If my clients lose too much money they might eventually leave, but then I just advertise a little and boom, I’m back in business with a boatload of new rich suckers!”
“Just think of it, Dave,” he went on clearly enjoying the conversation. “All these rich people clearly very good at whatever they do because they make money too. They see all these ads online about stock investment and figure they better stash their money away. But most are too lazy to do their own research so they call me. I advertise myself as an investment firm and talk these rich guys into making me rich! What a great business!”
“That’s great Jeffrey,” wondering how I was ever going to get him to get to the real reason why he insisted on this appointment. We came from different worlds, and I could see no early reason why this old acquaintance would want my advice or input about anything. After all, he seemed successful, confident, and certainly rich. I couldn’t help but notice the huge stone on his pinky finger – at least five carats of sparkling diamond beautifully set in a gold mounting obviously meant to impress.
Jeff’s Hedonistic Life
“Yes, Dave – It has given me time to pursue my interests especially women.”
Now I was starting to get even more uncomfortable.
“Dave, I love women; all kinds of women, and also young boys. You see, Dave, I indulge myself in whatever I want, and have no regrets about anything. My money gives me the freedom to go anywhere in the world where anything is legal – and I do mean anything. I’ve used all kinds of drugs but I find they often cloud my mind so I generally avoid most of them.
I started to get up to escort Jeffrey to the door, but he quickly stopped me by saying, “Sit down, Dave and don’t be such a prick, I’ve got more to tell you, much more.”
“I’ve enjoyed my life since getting out of college; I really have! With money comes power, and with power comes connections, influence, and indulgence. And I am the best at being corrupt, and indulge myself in anything I want.” After a pause, he leaned forward, stared me in the eyes, and said, “That’s everything you can imagine.”
“So what do you think you want from me, then? If you have so much money, so much power, and so many friends in high places why me?” I replied, hoping to hurry this along. I was beginning to suspect he was going to reveal something I would rather not hear.
“You’ll see, Dave. You see, I need you – not for being a doctor, but for being a Christian.”
That was about the last thing I expected from my hedonistic, narcissistic friend! I decided to let him talk, and find out why he had any interest in religion after his debauched life. He was gloating about his worldly power, prestige and money – and now has questions about religion?
“Dave, I think mostly you Christians are a bunch of hypocritical fools who believe themselves as being better somehow than anybody else. Most use their religion as a kind of ‘fire insurance’ just in case all that nonsense just happens to have a kernel of truth in it. Most Christians I know can be easily corrupted with just a little money – especially the ones who believe in that prosperity gospel nonsense. All that stuff isn’t Christianity – it’s all a scam.”
“Are you here to ask about my belief in God?”
“Why do I need God? I’ve built my empire myself – I am a self-made man. I have lackeys to care for my every whim or need, I have not a care in the world. Why then God? Let me give you some more background. You see, Dave, I started out with a difficult life which turned me forever against God, and certainly against Christianity.”
Jeff’s Life Story
I’ve heard many a similar story from many patients who turn to drugs, alcohol, sex, and eventually suicide. I was getting myself emotionally ready to hear another tragic tale about sexual abuse, or maybe an alcoholic, abusive father, or alternatively an uncaring distant mother, or being bullied at school, or some other early boyhood traumatic life-changing experience.
“You see, Dave, I came from a religious family, and have heard enough about God, Christ, and the Ten Commandments to last me a lifetime. I was a PK – you know, ‘Preacher’s Kid.’ Every little old lady would come over and pinch my cheeks, tell me how cute I was, and how lucky I was to have a father who was a preacher.”
“I guess that was hard, Jeff.”
“But you know what, Dave? Eventually, I grew up, questioned everything I ever heard and figured out it was all bogus. Quite frankly, you’re a doctor – you’re smart. Why are you willing to trade in evidentiary science, modern social science and philosophy for some ancient Hebrew writings about some magic man who you have never seen and quite frankly, never will?
He looked like he was about to get physically sick all over my desk; I could see the depth of his emotion and hurt. I had no recollection of suspecting anything like this when I knew him in high school. He seemed anything but the troubled kid with a troubled home situation and if anything was self-confident projecting poise and maturity. Jeffrey went on.
Grew Up Poor
“I was born into a family that was poor – dirt poor. I was a ‘surprise’ to my parents who were not married when my mother got pregnant with me. She was still in high school, and my Daddy was studying to become a preacher, when – well, things happened and hormones got ahead of judgment, I suppose. Good thing for me, they decided not to follow the advice of their ‘friends’ to get an abortion but instead did the “right thing” and got married. I was born a few awkward weeks afterward. Back in those days, my parents were ostracized by their religious hypocritical “friends” and the church showed them the back door for being “sinners,” My Daddy became a self-educated preacher in a non-denominational church and just lied about my birth date after moving to a different city. Hard to be a preacher if you’ve been fornicating around, ya know? Even though my Mom and Dad were “respectable” in their new church with their new baby and convenient altering of my birth records, they could barely provide for themselves let along for their new baby. They did what they had to do to survive, held jobs outside of the church, and got precious little help from their “loving” church congregation.”
I could tell Jeffrey was reliving some intense anger, and venting his emotions. He paused for a few moments and collected his thoughts. He had gotten out of his chair and started walking around the room as he talked. He looked at my diplomas neatly hung on the wall shaking his head in apparent disbelief. He ambled to my bookshelves and even pulled out a few interesting looking medical books. He needed to determine how to proceed and was obviously having some difficulty about what was coming up.
“Dave, I’m a little teary-eyed with this stuff. I hate thinking about those days and thought I left them far behind. Who wants to remember a childhood so miserable!”
I nodded my head, said nothing, and allowed him to continue.
“My Dad could never get a good ministry job. Imagine that; churches care so much for their pastor that they virtually starve them and their family with a measly salary no one could live on. My Dad was told simply to “have faith” and manage his finances better; that somehow “God would take care of them.” They tried – goodness knows they tried – to live frugally but there is only so much you can cut out! If it weren’t for the occasional dollar they got from sympathetic friends, they would lose their apartment. But I guess that’s the way God treats his servants; starve them into submission.”
I could see Jeff was reliving a painful time in his life, and that he was laying the groundwork for the important thing he wanted me to do. But I was becoming more confused about why he would want to talk religion when he seemed to hate Christianity so much.
Father Leaves the Church
“Dave, eventually my Dad just gave up begging for pennies and got a factory job instead, making Ford car parts in an assembly plant. It was a brutally boring and difficult job, doing the same thing hour after hour, day after day, and then year after year. That job sucked all the life out of him; he came home tired, sad, read the paper, and went to bed. My Dad always felt like he was a failure; a failure to God for being starved out of the ministry, and a failure to his family for their squalid living conditions. He earned more money at the factory than taking care of God’s children but still was never enough to really take care of his family. He got little satisfaction from his repetitive, boring job, and basically just went through the motions. He lived out his life a beaten man; ignored by his church and God, and beaten into a pulp by circumstances. He was always too tired to play with me growing up; we never did anything fun, never went to the movies, never went to a ballgame or on vacation. On the weekends he would stay in his room, where he would mostly sleep trying to recover from the daily grind. Monday would inevitably come and he would drag himself out of bed and take a city bus back to work.”
Jeff went over to the window and started out to the street for a few moments trying to collect his thoughts. I thought I might hear the faintest bit of emotion as Jeff began to tear up, and he turned his back to me while he wiped his face with a handkerchief. After deftly replacing the handkerchief into his pocket and readjusting his suit, Jeff continued.
“I began life in a poor neighborhood with poor friends, little food, and nothing much to do. My parents were strict with me; very strict. I suppose they didn’t want me to follow in their footsteps and jack up some girl. We would read the Bible at night for an hour or two, and say prayers before going to bed. My mother made sure I did my homework by producing more! If I had to read a book for school, she would make me read two. If there were ten vocabulary words, she would make me learn twenty. I know she meant well, but it made me hate school – and them. It was hard growing up, but I gradually developed a sharp, inquisitive brain. They made sure I didn’t waste my time watching TV and certainly wouldn’t let me play with my friends outside. Occasionally, they might let a friend come over to the house for carefully monitored playtime, but I was never allowed to go anywhere without their being right behind.”
“That’s good!” I replied. “What’s wrong with a strict childhood where your parents took you to church and made sure you did well in school? Look at where that finally got you!”
Very Strict Childhood
“Dave, I’m afraid you aren’t hearing what I’m saying!” he answered sternly looking at me with some disgust. My Dad was a shell, mostly staring into space; it was my Mom who raised me, forced me to be “good” and live a “righteous” life. Dave, while my friends were playing basketball, I was studying Scripture; while my Mom went out to see her friends, I was doing homework or practicing the piano. My life was miserable – I mean, it really was. I would have to be done all my schoolwork by Saturday night because on Sunday, I was dragged by my Mom to church all day. It was the Lord ’s Day, and there would be no work – and certainly no fun – on the Lord’s Day!”
I could hear the intense bitterness in his voice while recalling his childhood. Jeffrey would frequently tear up, then get angry at himself for showing emotion. I could see an inner conflict raging in his soul; hatred toward his parents for giving him what he remembered as a miserable, lonely childhood.
But what I really learned was how it felt to be deprived; no movies, no television, no friends over; Sunday was devoted to God, and God alone
“Dave, I learned to hate God, hate school, and particularly to hate my parents. But, I had no money and no way of escape. I was trapped at home by my circumstances. I tried a little rebellion now and again, but all it got me was layers of guilt heaped upon me by teachers, pastors, and certainly my Mom. She was no stranger to a big, wooden spoon she would pull out of the cupboard and whack me across the rear end for any backtalk – ‘sin’ she would call it. And man, did I start to sin a lot!”
“I know a little about guilt; I guess everybody does. It is often used by desperate parents with their rebellious youngsters, often causing much long-term harm and damage to their relationship. Being made to feel guilty is one of the worst ways parents discipline their children, for it creates poor self-esteem, internalizes hatred either toward themselves or their parents and robs them of the happiness of childhood.”
“Sure I learned about Christ, God, the apostles, and the endless number of ‘thou shalt nots’ we all had to memorize. But what I really learned was how it felt to be deprived; no movies, no television, no friends over; Sunday was devoted to God, and God alone. Then after Sunday morning service, we were all dragged to Wednesday evening church.” Jeff looked down at the floor as if seeing his miserable childhood playing over in his mind.
I braced myself for another diatribe.
“I certainly complained a lot about Wednesday evening church. Always, there was something I wanted to watch on TV, a friend wanted to come over, or I had something after school. There was no trust, Dave; none. Of course, I constantly complained, but my prison only worsened when I did. I guess my parents were worried I might follow in their footsteps and get some girl pregnant just to escape their clutches.”
“Did that ever happen?” I wondered aloud.
“No, Dave, I made sure I wouldn’t follow my parents’ example and get some little girl pregnant. My Mom had little social contact outside of the church, so she annoyed me by consuming another thirty minutes catching up on ‘girl news’ with her friends. I could never understand what they could talk about all this time and was always impatient with her to stop talking and get out of the church. That would get her mad at me, and we would end up having a tense drive home as she leveled more guilt at me.”
“Jeff,” she would say, “I spend all day with you and all I ask is a few minutes after church to talk with my sisters in Christ about what they are doing for the Lord; is that really too much to ask?”
“Dave, I hated that whole church thing. I could never understand the sermons, there were never kids there my age to talk with, and everybody was so prissy nice and asking if God had given me some “message” in my life and later as a teenager whether I had found somebody to marry. Shit, Dave, I didn’t want to marry any of those church girls; they wouldn’t give up anything on a date, and wouldn’t even kiss or do anything else but talk about brother Bob or sister Sally. Why would I go out with them when I could have my pick of nearly any girl at school?”
“Dave, I tried for relief from church, but my complaining only earned me more grief. I started some serious rebelling as I got older; I just left the house Saturday night and went out drinking with the guys, seeing what hell we could raise. This made my Dad really angry; he never beat me like my Mom, but he sure got in my face. But I figured out to get back at him too; I read all I could about being a ‘free thinker.’
A Free Thinker
“So Jeff, what’s a ‘free thinker?’
“Well, you know, an atheist – someone with no belief in God. My poor Dad tried to counter my ever-increasing skepticism about God but was quickly outmatched. I even joined a philosophy club at school just so I could learn more to throw in his face. He was outmatched and outwitted; I had it all over him and used it to my advantage every Sunday. I finally said if he couldn’t prove God’s existence, I wouldn’t go to church anymore. Of course, he couldn’t, and I didn’t”
“Didn’t what,” I queried.
“Try to keep up, Dave. Didn’t go to church. Whenever ordered to get my lazy ass out of bed and go to church, I asked if he had that proof yet, and he said ‘no’ so I turned over in bed and said, ‘see ya later.’”
“Well, eventually he got so flustered he let me be. Then, my Dad used what he probably thought was his trump card. He told me to talk it over with the pastor; if the pastor couldn’t convince me of my evil ways, then I could stay home. I think he eventually surrendered to my continuous rebellion and constant arguments and left me home just to get some peace.”
“So did that meeting ever happen?”
“Sure it did,” he said with some satisfaction in his voice. “Of course, I was prepared. You see, Dave, pastors are taught about God, Christ, and all of that stuff, but know nothing about the real world; you know, about evolution, science, and how religion, in general, has been simply proven wrong.”
“Go on,” I said, biding my time wondering where his conversation was going.
Interview with the Pastor about Belief in God
“Well, Dave, the pastor started off by welcoming me to his study and indicated he was pleased I was showing some interest in religion. Well, I thought; I had absolutely no interest in religion. He and I were clearly not on the same wavelength, and I was ready for an argument.”
“Look, pastor,” I said, staring him confidently in the eyes, clearly more ready for this conversation than he was. After all, I had prepared for this moment for years and knew exactly what to say. “I understand how you were brought up in that Christian stuff, how it means something to you. This is how you make a living and raise your family; I get that. But, I would rather believe in science; what can be proven, measured, and scientifically verified rather than just some blind faith in something you can never see or measure. Look, science, for example, has settled, proven scientific evidence concerning the origins of life, and had clearly demonstrated evolution from one primitive life form to another more advanced one; there is no longer any reason to believe in some Magic Man in the Sky. To be frank, I don’t believe in God for the same reason I don’t believe in the tooth fairy. I’m all grown up now, and have progressed beyond such fairy tales.”
“I remember how the pastor was somewhat taken aback by the aggressiveness of my response,” said Jeffrey with some satisfaction leaking onto his expressive face.
“The pastor tried feebly to come back at me.”
“How can you say Christians believe in some magic man? I think you’re being unreasonable putting words in my mouth. I don’t believe in any magic – I never said such a thing; it is certainly not a fairy tale! “
“But isn’t that really what you believe?” I returned with confidence. “You speak about some unseen, unobservable entity out there somewhere that it all-powerful, all-knowing, just speaking things into existence! Doesn’t that sound like ‘magic’ to you – kind of a holdover from an ancient culture that knew no better! Then, there is this Holy Spirit thing living inside you, whispering in your ear not to do bad things; and Christ – rising from the dead! Then you talk about the human race being the crown of God’s creation – sounds rather vain to me, don’t you think? Millions of species live on earth, and yet your God considers man – you know, the one species that kills each other by the hundreds of millions – as God’s crowning glory? Really, sounds like magic – or at least deception – to me!”
“I remember the pastor trying quickly to think of what to say and blabbered something about being taken out of context when I deftly continued the attack.”
“And another thing, pastor, I believe in science. Science only believes in what can be proven, it only deals with hard data – you know, facts, that can be measured, put to statistical tests, written in scientific journals, and undergoes intense peer review and years of excruciating scrutiny. When mistakes are made, they are corrected; new foundations of knowledge are built leading to increased understanding about how things really are. This is true scientific progress; it makes more sense than religions proclamations of faith, things you must believe or else punished by not going to heaven. People are frightened into belief by threatening them with an eternity of burning alive – suffering intense pain – certainly not an all-loving God to me. I believe in what can be seen, felt, touched, and measured; not in some spirit in the sky by and by.”
“See, I was well prepared, and clearly in attack mode sensing ‘blood in the water.’”
The pastor responded, “Well, you are right; Christianity does require some faith; belief in God does require faith that he exists. God’s existence can’t really be proven, you just have to believe that he is there! I believe in what the Bible says, as well as from the wonders of creation that God made. My belief in God comes from my faith that he exists; it is really as simple as that.”
“I knew I was winning; the pastor was actually admitting in the inferiority of religion compared to the superiority of science,” Jeffrey proudly proclaimed. “I then went for the jugular.”
“But don’t you hear how foolish you sound!” I said. “You say you are willing to live your life according to some belief system that you can’t prove, measure, or even criticize; it is basically the same as it was two-thousand years ago. Most Christians read from a Bible version that is over four-hundred years old, written in a dialect we don’t even speak – how old fashioned is that? Science has made fantastic progress in two-thousand years while Christianity is stuck in medieval times! Why are you willing to ignore the centuries of advancement by legions of dedicated scientists and mountains of observable evidence for evolution? Why are you willing to trade in evidentiary science and modern understanding for some ancient Hebrew writings about some magic man who you have never seen and quite frankly, never will?”
“Besides,” I continued the attack, “the Bible is just a book written by ancient people that is full of contradictions and fallacies with no real relevance to us in the modern age. Life, for example, has been proven scientifically to arise through the evolutionary process – look, it is in all the basic biology textbooks we read in school in introductory biology classes. Evolution is settled science. How sad it must be for you to be stuck with beliefs proven to be false, believing in a book full of cute little stories, having blind faith in the existence of something you will never see.”
“I remember how the pastor attempted a lame comeback, stammered on about faith in the Bible, and that if you only could have faith you would understand,” and I continued.
“Can you prove the existence of God?” I challenged him, pressing my advantage by staring him right in the eye. “No, you can’t. Can you verify that God created anything? No, you can’t. Can you provide any evidence that settled science is somehow faulty and incorrect and somehow destroyed by anything that is in your ‘magic book’; no, you can’t. Besides, the mere fact that there is so much evil, death, and destruction in the world speaks volumes against there being an all-loving God of peace!”
“Talk about God of peace – listen to what Richard Dawkins says about your God,”
the God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
“And what happens to all those people who never hear about your ‘magic man’ and his ‘magic book’? When they die, they all go to hell where they are tormented for eternity; where is the justice in that!”
“I had put my cards on the table and they were all Aces. The pastor tried to reply with some church-talk.”
“Well,” he returned, “I know that we all have a sin-nature, and we can’t save ourselves and we all need a Savior who was Christ!”
“Listen to yourself!” I pushed back harder, “You are merely reciting your church’s dogma; none of that can be proven to even exist! This whole hell and heaven thing is only a carrot and stick to get people to behave, scare them into going to church, where they can be relieved of their money. The only reason you believe in all of this stuff because of how you were raised. If you were brought up a Muslim, you would believe in Islam; or if you grew up in India, you would probably be a Hindu. All religion is just a bunch of hogwash made to keep people in line and in control. The world has hundreds of religions, all claiming to be right; how can you be sure they’re not right and you’re not wrong? Have you studied all of them – or even, any of them! Just stop and consider what you’re saying out of ignorance!”
“I could tell the pastor was out of his league and out of ammunition. He had expected what he usually got from teenage boys; some need for reassurance, perhaps confession of some ‘sexual sin’, but nothing like what he got from me. He was totally unprepared.”
“But,” he said, “if you could only know what I know and see things how I see them, you would understand and find belief in God.”
“But that’s just it; I don’t see what you see because there is nothing to see!” I replied deftly. “My educated mind has been trained to evaluate the evidence and to believe what can be scientifically proven. Your mind, on the other hand, wants to believe in what will make you warm and fuzzy and give you good feelings. Look, it is much harder to believe in cold hard facts; it takes real courage to be in defiance of you and my parents. After you die, they put you in the ground where you will decompose and rot; your life, your existence is done and over and you will be soon forgotten. That is hard to accept, my friend; it takes courage to be an atheist and not believe in fairy tales of an after-life where we all exist in some paradise somewhere over the rainbow. It’s time to grow up; put on your big-boy pants and accept the reality that you only live for a short time and then you’re through. You try to live a good life, help your fellow man and all that, but you’ve got to live like this life is your only one – because it is!”
I continued with the pastor, “Look, I hope we can still be friends because I can see you’re a good guy. But until you can come up with better answers to my questions than you just have to have ‘faith,’ then let’s not talk about this ridiculous church stuff anymore – it might drive us apart.”
It was clear Jeffrey was having considerable satisfaction recalling that event so many years ago where he demolished his unprepared pastor. That was the end of their conversation. Jeff would continue to come to church, mostly out of respect for his parents, and to avoid constant confrontations. There would be a few more Sunday School parties, politics discussions among the youth group, and serving refreshments after church – always with a smile. He would soon go to college, and would never darken the door of that church again.
“Well,” I returned, “sounds like you won your discussion; but what exactly was the purpose?”
“The purpose, Dave, was to squash him like a bug so I would no longer have any doubt in my mind that my path out of religion and into freedom was right. At the end of our talk, I had that conviction, and have followed it ever since.”
“So, how are your parents today after you left home?”
Father and Mother Die
“My Dad died shortly after I got out of college. He had some terrible accident at the factory and bled to death right there on the assembly line floor.”
“That’s terrible!,” looking Jeff in the face to see if there was any sadness or regret on his face only to see a blank, emotionless stare on his face. There was no emotion; only a recollection of the facts, the telling of a story that had little relevance to his current situation.
“And my mother just passed away last year from cancer. Sometimes I heard her asking God for help; for healing. I guess God didn’t think she was important enough to heal,” Jeff spat our bitterly. I could tell that unlike his estranged father, there was still some lingering affection with his mother.
But, I would rather believe in science; what can be proven, measured, and scientifically verified rather than just some blind faith in something you can never see or measure.
“The death of my parents left me feeling alone; very alone. I have long since resigned myself to a lifestyle of pleasure, money, travel – you know, all the things you can’t do!” he chuckled, almost like winning a point in a chess match. He knew the life of a doctor, like other professions, meant dedication to a lifestyle of sacrifice; few vacations, on-call all hours of the day and night, patients’ questioning their treatment, asking endless questions, filling out volumes of paperwork and arguing with insurance companies. Jeff had largely avoided these annoyances in his profession; there was little interaction with his clients, no direct selling, and no fact to face customer interactions.
“I’ve been content with my life, and would have gladly continued like I am going until something happened last week – and that is why I’m here.”
“What happened last week?” I queried Jeff, wondering what had so seriously intruded into the confident private life that he felt compelled to seek me – of all people – out.
the mere fact that there is so much evil, death, and destruction in the world speaks volumes against there being an all-loving God of peace!
He then paused, looked down at the floor, gathered his thoughts, and simply said, “Something happened last week that blows my mind, and has caused me to urgently get in touch with you. You know Dave, I have always been in control, never allowing anyone or anything to get in my way. But now something has happened to make me wonder about my life; I mean, what is the purpose of it all? If I were to die tonight, would anyone really miss me or even care! I think more likely I would be forgotten like yesterday’s news.”
Jeff actually began to tear up a bit. I always keep a box of Kleenex tissues nearby just in case of an emotion breakdown like I thought I might experience. Jeff saw me reach for the tissues but motioned for me to stop. He would struggle to gain control, take a few deep breaths, lean forward until his face was even with mine. He then stared at me straight at me and with a pause meant to emphasis his message, simply said, “I need to talk with you.”
I wrongly surmised Jeff was having second thoughts about his narcissistic lifestyle; living only for oneself often produces a meaningless life. I thought maybe Jeff had grown tired of mere material success and wanted more meaning to his life. As it would turn out, that was not at all what he wanted to say. Jeff was very comfortable in his lifestyle and certainly needed no validation from me.
At that point in our conversation, I remembered a conversation overheard in a car dealership years ago about the death of the original owner. An older man, probably a close friend of the departed, could only say while remembering the deceased was that he was ‘a good businessman.’ Not that he helped people, fed the hungry or clothed the needy to use a Biblical reference, but only that he was a ‘good businessman.’ Not much to put on your tombstone.
Staring back at Jeff who was clearly intent on discussing some major life events, I blurted out, “Why me?”
“Because, Dave, I remember you from college and how you were once a religious. Are you still?”
“Well, yes, I guess so. But why? I thought you didn’t believe in any of ‘that stuff’ anymore!”
“Dave, I don’t believe in any of that shit – not since childhood, and I don’t guess I ever will. But I need to talk with you about something; about a dream.”
 Dawkins, Richard, The God Delusion (New York, Mariner, 2008), p.51
 Gallups, Carl. The Magic Man in the Sky, WND Books, 2012
 Barna research indicates six reasons why the young leave the church as they get older: 1) Churches are viewed as overprotective, meaning the church is seen to demonize everything outside of Christianity. Youth tend to be more inclusive than their elder peers. Also, the youth view their church as having little influence on the world’s problems such as world hunger and poverty and being more concerned about which movies are permissible to watch and which video games are not too violent. 2); Church is viewed as boring, stereotyped and scripted; there is little variety from one week to the next, there is nothing new. While some adults might enjoy a liturgical service where many aspects of the service are determined literally years in advance, youth find this stilted, boring, and irrelevant to their lives, 3) Christians are viewed as antagonistic to science, and are turned off by the evolution vs creation debate, 4) Church attitudes toward sexuality are viewed as out of date and judgmental; in a world where most youth do not get married until their late twenties, Christian youth are as sexually active as their non-believing peers even though their attitudes toward sex are more conservative, 5) Many young Christians struggle with the exclusivity nature of Christianity, feeling that their church shields them from the beliefs of other religions, and seek to identify with other faith groups as well, 6) Church seems unfriendly to those who have certain doubts about Christianity, and they don’t feel safe asking questions or admitting their disbelief in certain doctrines. More significantly, about one-sixth of Christian youth do not feel church helps them with depression or other emotional difficulties, having been told their depression is due to their disbelief or only getting shallow answers to their faith questions. https://www.barna.com/research/six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church/#.V8IUAZgrKUk