A Dangerous Conversation

Is atheism real, or is it an act of self-denial? Does a supreme being exist, or is it just a wonderful act of imagination? Find out

"I need to see him; I really need to see him. Tell him it's urgent.

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but you have no appointment today, and the pastor works on a very tight schedule, so if you could just book an appointment and I'll make sure I get a suitable appointment for you".

My secretary was truly professional; when Mrs. Smith recommended her with so much praise, I thought she was just overdoing it. She had been nothing short of exceptional since she started six months ago.

"But it's…." She stopped; Madam Eze knew about my annoyance toward preferential treatment; even though she was the women leader of the cathedral, it didn't really matter. However, I was intrigued; the Ezes weren't the pestering type. Mr. and Mrs. Eze were well to do financially (which helps a lot these days, especially for meetings like this), but more than that, they exuded this air of Independence rare among many of my church members. They hardly ever complained about anything spiritually or otherwise. They had two kids, a very tall, handsome taciturn teenager and a little adolescent girl.

"Let her in Miss" I voiced over the intercom,

"Right away, sir," she turned and smiled apologetically, "you can go in now, Madam, so sorry for the delay."

Without even a second gaze, she strode into my office, already familiar with the structure; she helped construct it, after all.

"What can I do for you, madam", I said, trying to sound as casual as possible while noting that her countenance was so unlike her.

Madam Eze, a bourgeoisie wholesaler, enjoyed her life, she came to the alter wholeheartedly every week, all thankful and grateful to the almighty and why not, the devil could make a similar excuse he made for Job when you have all you seek, it's kind of expected that you strongly believe in his infinite goodness. However, today was very different, and she was obviously in some tight situation. Her shoulder was unrelaxed and appeared heavy. Psychologically, she was tensed and rattled.

"Pastor, the devil has struck. He has woven his wicked and abominable behavior into the very fabric of our family".

"Calm yourself, my dear, for whatever your challenge is, the Lord already has a suitable and favorable response."

Perhaps I was too presumptuous, or maybe it was just borne out of years of giving psychological and then religious counseling in this side of the world, where poverty has impoverished many dreams and aspirations, has caused untold harm and unforgettable experiences amongst my various patients and members alike, but I immediately presumed that something bad had befallen one of my most steadfast members, so I was quite taken aback when she said;

"Pastor, my son says he's an atheist"!

The picture of the teenage boy immediately surfaced in my mind, "how old is he"? I blurted out.

"He is just past 20, sir" she answered nervously.

Not as young as I expected, of course, this was not a novelty, young people his age especially if they were studious in the arts and history or brilliant aspiring scientists are immediately drawn towards the concept of atheism, it seems very feasible and tantalizing, for many because it creates that aura of authority amongst their peers, they suddenly become the ones who dare refuse to swallow hook, line and sinker, the confusing tales of religion, their age mates suddenly regard them with awe and even fear sometimes, "how dare you challenge the almighty" of course secretly this group of aspiring atheist are very easy to convince towards the truth, since all they seek from this ideology is just the awkward authority that comes with it, however, there is another group of young atheists, this group presents a tougher nut, these ones have undergone or probably are still undergoing belief crisis, the deep thinkers and avid readers, these ones care very little about the awkward authority that preludes atheism and sincerely doubt the existence of any higher power, they present sometimes with what they call "irrefutable evidence" that there can possibly be no personnel who controls the fate of the universe.

"When did he say this"?

"About a fortnight ago, he had begun to showcase some signs that he was tilting towards this ideology. He refused to join the Youth for Christ program and resigned from his office as their newsletter Chief editor. He then stopped appearing during our morning devotions. When my husband asked the reason why he refused to give a specific answer, my husband got angry and cut off his pocket money, and still, it had little effect. He continued brooding and muttering to himself, and then finally, a fortnight ago, we had a family reunion with his uncle. During the food dedication, he hissed and exited the room, and after the guest was gone, he came back and proclaimed his ultimate belief in absolute atheism".

"What did your husband do"? "he laughed and is still joking about it to date. He considers it a teenage prank to get famous".

"But you think otherwise"?

 "He doesn't know Micheal the way I know him; he has never been one to look for cheap fame and authority. If he truly believes this, which I think he does, then he took a while deciding it and will take a lot of convincing".

I chuckled but caught myself on time before the woman could get more aggressive.

"Why don't you relax? It might be just an ideological battle going on in the head of a seemingly brilliant chap" But even as I said this, I knew it wasn't the case, for I had seen the boy Michael in action. He exuded the same spirit of Independence so visible in his parents. He coupled it with a strong scent of confidence in his level of brilliance and knowledge when he spoke to his peers, and even older people listened, and he rarely spoke.

"No, sir, this is not a flimsy trick of the mind; I believe this is serious."

"Alright, Madam, if you strongly believe I can help, then, by all means, book an appointment for him, but how are you sure he'll come here knowing what I'm going to try and say to him"?

"He respects you, sir, and would be intrigued to hear what you have to say about his well-thought-out theory and subsequent ideology."

"Ok then, I pray I live up to young Michael's expectation."

"Thank you, sir".

I went home surprisingly, still thinking of this sudden encounter. Throughout my years in public advice and counseling, first as a clinical psychotherapist and then as a pastor, I had never taken any special interest in any particular case; of course, there had been weird ones, but I made sure to drop it all before going home at least for sanity case, most of the cases anyway were deeply rooted in poverty and money problems or illiteracy.

I knew this young man, not personally, and I had never taken any special interest in him, but I knew the stuff he was made of. The looming conversation stressed me, and it was much easier to convince someone who was engaged in vices that the Lord offered solace. A drug addict, a liar, a drunk, or a womanizer would see a suitable reason to abandon their vice and hope the Lord provides them with the much-needed grace to survive. This case was so opposite, and it was staggering. The young man in question had no vice and was adored by his peers for his high moral grounds and honesty.

Throughout the night, I thought deeply about how I was going to go about this delicate issue, and the family had high hopes in my convincing abilities. Still, I immediately saw the woman explain her predicament that the young man in question would not be convinced by any emotional appeal or unreasonable arguments based on blind faith. If I wanted to bring this young man back to his senses, I would have to display some intellectual evidence on the issue, which was not easy to do.

My office is usually ridiculed by my peers and the church leaders as extremely unsatisfactory, and it had only two guest seats and no sofa. The desk was a thick brown wood that looked fine in its heydays, as I inherited it from the former presiding pastor. It was sparsely decorated with only the essential thing needed to run an office; a wall clock, an intercom, and the pictures of the general overseer and the district Bishop.

Michael came in without timidity, without arrogance either; he looked interested, like a student looking forward to an interesting topic in his favorite subject. He debunked my earlier assumption that he'll definitely feel he needed to prove my and his parents' belief wrong.

"Good morning, sir",

"Good morning Michael; how do you do?"

"I'm fine, sir."

"Have a sit"

He sat comfortably and immediately stared directly at me. Well, he wasn't at all timid, I thought.

"I won't bore you with hackneyed details; you and I both know why you're here", it wasn't a question instead of a confirmation that lit up his face immediately,

"My Mom thought you could slap some senses into me," he said sarcastically,

"Well, should I?" 

"If you think it's necessary, I don't think it'll produce any favorable results on your side."

"Well, you're in luck because I think the same thing too", he smiled; this was why he agreed to the meeting. With any other minister, he would have strongly refuted any meetings.

"So you don't think I'm possessed by Lucifer himself."

"On the contrary, it's expected of every intelligent and curious human brain, especially the young developing ones, to question things and discover things for themselves; many people try to raise religious beliefs above this simple act of maturity; I am not one of them."

"But you misunderstand me, and I am not just questioning; there are things to question; are human rights real? Is everyone born equal? What is the best political and governmental strategy open to society? Is absolute communism possible in our lifetime or any lifetime? Is capitalism a good or a bad thing? These are things that are questionable, raw factual, seeable ideologies with both its pros and cons available evidentially in history; the existence of a God or an absolute supreme being has none of these characteristics."

"So you're saying that because there is no evidence (according to you) of the existence of God, then it's primitive to believe in his existence".

"precisely"

"From your earlier statements, you come across like a very well-read person, meaning things like the Bible and holy books don't influence you that much. The Bible, for instance, states and describes very well the existence of a supreme being, God."

"I agreed to come to you, sir", he said, gritting his teeth, "because I believed that unlike other ministers and arch believers, you would try and reason this argument with me and not throw age-long superstitions at me; for me to swallow."

"very well" I could see his agitation, so I stirred it towards reasoning grounds.

"What would you say about a person who tells you how the good Lord has saved him and walked with him for many long years, with pure feelings, miraculous interventions, and communications. How do you explain such a phenomenon."

"Sir, you happen to be a psychotherapist, and you know firsthand how deluded and imaginative the human mind can be. Apart from religious beliefs, we see people invent a lot of non-existent characters in stories, and even in the real world, phenomena such as money, motherland, and political ideologies would not exist if not for the imaginative powers of the human brain. Secondly, the person who claims to walk with the supreme being, funny enough, walks with the supreme being that is close and available in their location. For instance, if the person is from Afghanistan, he walks and communicates with Allah, born in the impoverished southern parts of America. He would certainly walk and communicate with Jesus, same with the Indian and Buddha. However, we all know that there is no room for another savior with most of these monotheistic religions. Theirs is the only one and true supreme being.

I had heard these arguments before, but never had they been spoken with such humor and presented clearly. I hoped he didn't go around to my members' houses talking like this.

"So essentially, you're saying that anybody who claims a certain connection to any supreme being is highly deluded and imaginative?"

"Exactly!"

"But we look at the world, dear Michael, and we see certain things, not exactly the same things our ancestors saw but generally a garden full of earthlings so conspicuously created and expertly harmonized, the rain, the sun, the force of nature, gravity, photosynthesis, death and birth, the beauty of nature and if there's such a garden, dear Michael, then there must be a gardener, are you saying our ancestors just magically introduced these gods from nothing?"

"First of all, sir, humans are social animals, and as social animals, there's this innate feeling to harmonize, and that means some necessary feelings have to be available too. For instance, there is this constant feeling in almost everyone (unless you're a psychopath) to say thank you when something nice is done to you, "one good turn deserves another" is a popular and realistic phrase that defines human nature. There is also the innate feeling to blame someone when things don't go our way. These two feelings are still in us today and can be seen in our everyday life. However, when this good fortune favors us mystically, and there are no humans to appreciate, for example, when we survive an accident or when we give birth smoothly or go back to the ancestors when we have a plentiful harvest or a very successful hunt. We lack the necessary human to give all the thanks and reverence, so we invent the all-seeing, all-conquering supreme being to collect these unclaimed reverences, likewise, when it goes the other way. We have to invent another being to heap all the blame whenever we are desperately unlucky. The evidence of this can be seen in the creation of these gods and devils according to the locality, the flora and culture of the people involved, their supreme beings share a common culture with them, if they're agrarian, then their gods focus more on agriculture, if they are hunters, the same thing happens."

"But the sequence of the earth, its glory, its beauty, how can there be no gardener," I said softly, smiling.

"One of the greatest achievements of humankind," he said confidently, "is Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, which ultimately proved that without a gardener, the earth could exist in its purest form; through natural selection, it eliminates and creates various checks and balances that could sustain the planet and prevent it from self-destruction, over the years we have seen scientists and archeologist uncover previously unbelievable secrets and notions starting from extinction of animals and plants to the presentation of pure evidence against various religious stories of creation."

It wasn't supposed to be enjoyable; I was supposed to admonish this recalcitrant idealistic prodigy to return to the known ways of his parents, but this discussion was intellectually instigating; he didn't just deny the existence of God categorically. He was attempting to provide factual evidence, and it was almost exhilarating.

I tried other tactics, "so supposing you're right and there is no supreme being, you are of the opinion that religion should be banished, like Plato's poets?"

"Ordinarily, I would say a definite yes; however, the situation on the planet today makes that absolutely unachievable; so many people cling on to the solace it provides and still makes use of the various functions of religion that it'll be disastrous to attempt such a thing".

"What are these functions?"

"Well, most of them are archaic and have over the years been proven either insufficient or outright illiterate fabrications, for instance, the question of humankind, where did we come from? Who is responsible for the rain and the sun, the seasons? These questions have been answered for hundreds of years by religious imaginations only and were subsequently unquestionable by the illiterate masses. Nowadays, of course, most of those questions have gotten factual answers; however, not many people are ready to abandon the easy and superstitious ways of the past. They cling on to it desperately, afraid of the impending change. Secondly, religion provides solace for the emotional hearts of humankind; with religion, we can confront our biggest fears, and with the imaginative reassurance that there is a favorable and good supreme being watching over us, then it's easier to handle this delicate situation, how can people abandon such solace even if they know it is ultimately false. Finally, religion provides, in certain cases, more good than evil, with people's ultimate beliefs in religious phenomena such as; an omnipresent God, life after death where judgment will be passed according to your deeds on Earth, and the earthly rewards of good deeds, these beliefs provide in most cases a barricade against many people's evil intentions, in order words, there are more people on the planet more susceptible and loyal to their religious beliefs than in the Rule of Law or the Constitution, if these beliefs are shattered, it'll have to be replaced by something as similar and as powerful as religion is".

"You know, you sound as if you admire it; you might not be a firm believer, but you've just enumerated the advantages of having God around your life. Without that nonchalant and all-knowing attitude of yours, you are a very promising one."

He smiled, a knowing smile; it was not the first time he had heard such a thing.

"I've just mentioned the temporal solace and uses of religion, which in my mind will be completely eroded as we continue to progress in the field of science and archeology, but religion itself has provided as much pain as it has cured, for instance, many ancient oligarchs and supreme rulers use it to bend the masses to their will, they provide it as a common drug for enduring inequality both economically and politically, true opium of the masses, little wonder religion excels in places of subjugation, the apartheid black society, the racist South of America, the Jewish concentration camps in Nazi Germany, etc. These people, hampered by a much superior force both militarily and economically, have little option than to turn to this supreme being who is just, maybe not on Earth for "vanity upon vanity, all is vanity," but in his heavenly place, where he shall be a right and just judge of the human soul and condemn the rich, the arrogant and oppressive while having mercy on the poor, the meek and the oppressed, such stories resonate within the oppressed masses "after you have suffered for a while", so they labor on, waiting for that fateful day when all shall be well, of course, some societies later come to their senses and revolt, but it usually takes the awakening of an individual or a set of individuals to realize this fraud. Furthermore, nothing subjugates the minds of an oppressed people than a good religious story, the plundering of various colonies by many of the colonial Europeans was so successful because of the meek missionaries they took with them, these guys broke boundaries the machine guns couldn't, the guns could frighten, but religion could convince, it could turn brother against brother, it provided native allies for the Europeans, and it remained there greatest colonial tool.

"Is that it? I asked, some religious misuse by a certain group of people, that's your disadvantage?"

"Till date", he quipped, "religion has remained powerful not because of its convincing tales or empirical evidence; it has remained powerful because of its rebuttal to human reasoning. "You shall follow the Lord as sheep follow their Shepard" without question or a rethink. Most of the things it dishes out are taken whole by the congregation, who are forewarned about the sin of being wiser than God. Remember Eve, they say, remember Lot's wife, don't fall for the same temptation they fell for. But this lack of essential reasoning has caused untold havoc in the mind of individuals and subsequently in society. Every other ideology and belief is open for discussion and intellectual reasoning. Are you socialist? Then what are your reasons? Are you a vegetarian? Tell us why? And the person in question, without picking offense, goes on to explain and even sometimes convince the audience why they strongly believe in this idea. In religion, on the other hand, this is not only impossible but even dangerous. For instance, monotheistic religions tend to believe in the existence of an all-powerful, omnipotent, and omnipresent God, who is good at heart and knows the future before it happens. However, the question remains why is there then evil in the world? If this guy is so powerful that he established all the order in this universe, why do bad things happen to innocent people? Earthquakes, floods, and accidents happen to good and innocent people, while most bad people escape without much punishment. Karma remains mysteriously and suspiciously absent; the usual answer by those who bother to engage you without spitting on your face or trying to kill you for blasphemy is that this supreme being allows it to teach us some lessons, for mostly our bad behaviors, because we have free will, we tend to disobey our creator, but this supreme being supposedly knows the future? Should he know we would disobey, right?

Most religious people deliberately ignore this and many more controversial beliefs, and they become quite aggressive when these points are mentioned. These religious beliefs are then impacted into newborn brains, without objection and without questioning the doctrine being fed to these little ones who might ultimately serve as pawns for power-mongering religious fanatics or become fanatics themselves".

That very night, I jokingly thought about resigning!

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