I asked her what she thought was tugging at her on Sunday morning, that would make her think that a church was the right place to go. She didn’t know what I meant, so I explained.
“When we’re hungry, we look for a place to eat. When we’re lonely, we seek out the company of a friend. When we’re sick, a doctor. On and on it goes. So what was it that caused you to desire a connection, or at least proximity, to something or someone that you would find in a church?"
She thought for a moment, and then said simply, “I don’t know. Maybe it’s just something left over from childhood, something that brings me comfort in difficult times, even if it’s not necessarily true.”
I considered a moment and asked, “You mean, like the story of Santa Claus?”
“But is it really?” I pressed. “After all, I bet you don’t still write letters to the North Pole when you’re hoping for something. You don’t look in the closet for monsters before going to sleep at night either, I’d guess.”
She threw me a quizzical look.
“I think you know where I’m going. If you really knew that this notion of God was false – like these other childhood stories – you wouldn’t still feel a tug to find something in church that you know is somehow otherwise missing. You’re just not willing to take the next step yet – the one that involves the heavy lifting necessary to evaluate the truth claims of Christianity.”
But she wasn’t interested, and it didn’t take long to hear what I hear from most skeptics:
- "I’m perfectly happy with no religion, but if that works for you, that’s good for you."
- "After all, I’m a good person so I’m not really worried."
- "You don’t really expect me to believe that the vast majority of people who ever lived are condemned to hell?"
It was the typical “shotgun” approach. A variety of objections being fired in my general direction, none of which needed an answer because they weren’t really questions. They were a smoke screen to hide the apathy that really motivated her approach.
So, what is the apologist to do? Not much, as far as I can tell. Apathy about finding answers is pretty difficult to overcome. And it’s not going to happen in one conversation. It took her many years to develop these views, and most, if not all, of the people in her sphere of influence probably reinforce them. The arguments we seek to make are rational ones; they’re not likely to have an impact when the decision in question is more emotional than rational in nature. But minds are capable of changing, and if a change is to occur, someone has to offer a view that is worth considering. It may be a minor point or two, simply stated and not overdone, that may begin that process.
So I left her with a parting thought about the nature of “goodness”, the stuff she felt confident she had and that any god would recognize. I made the point that seeking a reward for good behavior was a rather odd concept when you really think about it. After all, we don’t give awards for following the law; we expect it. For instance, we don't qualify for a reward by listing all the people we haven't assaulted or killed in our lives. Come to think of it, we don't get rewards for doing charity either. The act is reward itself for people so motivated.
More importantly, I asked, what makes her think that a God with whom she has sought no relationship would be interested in the "good" she thinks she has done.
Think of it this way, I suggested: can I ask the teacher of a different class to give me an A based on the good work I am doing in my class? Can I ask your employer to pay me for the good work I am doing for my employer? Should I expect my friend to give my son an allowance for the chores he performs at my home?
I concluded with a last question:
"If you weren’t doing the work for someone you knew, the way you knew he wanted it done, why would you expect a reward?"