Jesus existed. Why do I feel the need to state that explicitly? I’ve never really doubted the historicity of Jesus, that he was a man and lived 2000 years ago, even that he said the things attributed to him. I just have a bit of a problem with the part about him rising from the dead. In any case, I want to understand him, to know what he was about and how he might impact my life.
Sometimes I wish I believed in God. Not during hard times. During hard times I rely, for better or worse, on my intellect. No, I find myself wishing that I believed when I’m treated like an outcast, like someone unworthy of existence, by people I love. If I believed in God, people would treat me like a normal human being, not the anomaly that I am.
There was a woman, Linda. We met in a dance club in January, 1992, after DeAnn and I had broken up. Linda had a masters degree in psychology. She was short and wore glasses. She had long brown hair. She smiled at me. We danced. Atheists have emotions and needs and desires, and so do Christians, and we became intimate. Not that night, but the next, and the next. On the third morning, she asked me about my religious beliefs, and I didn’t lie to her.
It would be easy to lie about my religious beliefs, to say that I worship Christ, that the Bible is a holy book, that I want to get married in a church, all for the purpose of getting and keeping a high-quality woman. The problem with lying, however, is that it is wrong. Who determines what’s right and wrong? We all do, of course. A lie undermines trust whether you’re a Christian or an atheist, or a Budhhist, or a Muslim. Without trust, there can be no relationship.
So I told Linda that I am an atheist.
She took it hard. She told me that she didn’t think that we could continue dating. I argued with her. I said, Why should a difference of religious beliefs spell the end of a romance? But she would have none of it. And we went our separate ways. For a week, anyway. When we ran into each other in the dance club the following weekend, the spark–no, the fire–was still there. We went back to her apartment and woke up the next morning in the same place we had been a week earlier. We spent the weekend together. We shared meals. I showed her my house. We laughed. But by Sunday evening, a gloom settled upon us again, because I knew what she was thinking. Then we had the argument again, the one where I said two people don’t necessarily have to have the same religious beliefs to be in love. But we arrived at the same impasse that we’d reached the week before.
Beliefs cannot be changed just by wishing them to be different. Beliefs, especially religious beliefs, are not like the paint on a house, that can be scraped off so that another hue can be applied. No, a religious belief is more like the foundation of the house, or maybe the load-bearing stud walls. They can’t be easily moved without tearing down the entire structure. Even if I wanted to believe in God, and accept the lord Jesus Christ as my savior, it is not that easy.
Linda stared straight ahead, past me, into a grieving void. I knew that I had to leave, never to return, for her sake if not for mine. I gave her one last kiss, and then I walked out. As I climbed into my car, I could hear the sound of her crying. I drove away.