When he sat at my table the other night, I looked up with mild surprise, wondering what exactly he was doing. He pulled out the chair, set down his mug of beer and had a seat, introducing himself by a name I now don’t remember but whose face I might not soon forget.
A blonde man with long hair combed to the side, German and Italian (by his own cognizance) with blue eyes and pale skin, with blonde scruff across his face, he sat with a half smile, asking if I were a Marine.
I do not now nor in many years have I worn a high-n-tight, but most civilians, even those with military friends, don’t know the difference between a high-n-tight and just a close-cropped, military haircut.
He works for a solar panel company and believes whole heartedly the earth is warming and that we will use up all our natural fuels – that the earth is essentially already destroyed, and that he was doing his part to help us convert from fossil fuels to a more widespread nuclear-powered future. I agreed nuclear was the way to go, but wasn’t going to challenge him on the destroyed-earth concept he seemed assured of.
He had something on his mind, I could tell, as he immediately talked about his military friends. He asked what I did, and I told him I was in military public affairs, using journalism, photography, design and administration to tell the Air Force story. He said he admired what I did. He then asked what it was like to report as a journalist, and I clarified that we weren’t journalists. We’re corporate communications, and that while we always report the truth, we do so with the Air Force message, and we can’t simply dig around for information and report cold facts.
I tried to reiterate that we weren’t propaganda and that we could not lie, but he leapt into a semi-angry rant about how his cousin, an Army spec ops, had been killed by a friendly helicopter while on mission, and that the government couldn’t tell them much details about the incident. He locked onto my “We’re not journalists and can’t report everything” statement.
Admittedly drunk, he would apologize for saying something insulting and then repeat the insult in the generic “you” regarding “Do you think what you do is right?”
I told him that I was at peace with what I did. There’s no simple answer to the US military, and no simple answer to what our forces are doing overseas. And it’s the truth. I am at peace with what I do, but I don’t necessarily agree with everything the military does, and the military isn’t a single, simple-faceted beast. It does many things in many places around the globe, and there is no single measure of describing it as right or wrong.
It didn’t take much longer before we ventured into faith and religion – which is really where he spun up.
“Are you a man of religion?” he asked, bridging our military discussion into the root of his concern. I told him I was a man of faith. Despite being drunk, and though he didn’t say it as clearly as he might have if sober, he asked if I thought any war in the past 100 years, save WWII, was justified, and also if it weren’t for Christianity (which he later tried to clarify solely as the generic credit of religion), would we be in wars overseas in Afghanistan and the like?
I let him continue. I’ve learned over years of debate to let people continue after saying an initially inflammatory statement. Not that they might backtrack, but inflammatory statements don’t usually capture the whole concept someone is trying to relay. Sometimes they say that statement to capture attention, but in the end, define it slightly different than the statement would imply. Let them continue, and they’ll come off the attempt at a rise and clarify with a better definition of their point.
He did, and also asked about where I thought the world might be if agencies like the Catholic church and the muslims and the like didn’t hold millions- billions of dollars, money that could go to scientific research. “Where would we be if the first humans didn’t try burying people only four feet in the ground, and then see the worm, and then have to bury them six feet, and I think religion is all about fear of death. What- I mean, what would have happened, where would we be if they didn’t fear death and look for some God, and instead just looked at the world around them …”
It’s not much different than other arguments I’ve heard from others on the same subject.
I didn’t venture to him that modern science owes much to early church support. I also didn’t have much to say about the burial of people, which he tried desperately to relate coherently to the fallacy of the human search for God, but failed to do so in any meaningful way.
This continued for probably around two hours, and I knew I’d make no great impact upon this young man so sure that science was the single greatest solution to mankind’s ills, that religion was the single greatest evil to walk the face of the earth, that our earth was destroyed. However, I did make a point that gave him great pause.
Espousing his love for a godless, science-only and entirely pragmatic society, and crediting the evil of mankind to religion, I gave him an example to think about. During the 1900’s, in the 79-year or so lifespan of the USSR, what he wanted had been achieved. The United Soviet Socialist Republics evicted God and religion from their borders, moved to a purely scientific and pragmatic society. I asked him if he knew how many people had died under the hand of the USSR during war, collectivization, secret police, etc. He shook his head. I raised a finger and gave him the facts: 100,000,000 people had died.
He stared at me for a long second. “Man, that ain’t right.” He did try to defend the concept of collectivization – that it would work better – but he had no defense of the USSRs utter slaughter of so many people.
I added that the same brainwashing he had accused religion of and the evils which the Catholic church had visited upon the people of Spain via the Spanish Inquisition and Spain’s theft of Mexican gold and its promulgation of hard-core Catholicism was the exact same tactic the communists had used, and that it wasn’t whether it was a government of faith or of science, that the key was the desire of one human to control another.
We spoke about religion mostly, and I made the point with him that there is a great difference between faith and governmental religion, so much so that you can expect to see a full post on it in the coming weeks. Essentially, I wound the conversation to the point that faith, itself, is not a source of evil. It was when faith and a personal belief system became an excuse for one man to try and control another that it became a point of evil.
In the end, friends of his arrived, we spoke a bit more on the subject, and then when he grew distracted talking with his friends about other topics, I excused myself, thanked him for buying my dinner (which he did early on in our conversation), and rode home.
It’s amazing the people you will meet in the course of your life. People with such different views and approaches to life and love, to belief and philosophy. I can hope that he’ll find a greater balance to himself. Science has great merit, but at the end of the day, science does not comfort the lonely or love the unloved. People do, and people are more than science can merely describe.
There is a spiritual element to this universe we cannot ignore. And while the young man believed a great spirit existed, he made every other logical point that it was stupid for humans to believe in a God.
I think the young man just hasn’t sat down to really think it through, but it made for an interesting evening, all the same.