Marty (not his real name) is one of my patients. He’s articulate, intelligent, opinionated, materially successful, relatively healthy for 90-something male, kind, and looks like Pope Benedict. He was born into a Jewish family but is a die-hard atheist. Marty and I had an interesting conversation this week. Or at least, Marty talked and I listened.
I’m not sure how the topic came up, but some how we started talking about religion. Not any specific religion, but the whole God thing. His arguments were rational and passionate. Among his reasons for being an unbeliever, these are the ones he kept repeating:
- there are so many religions yet we all claim to be the “right” religion
- people continue to be killed in the name of a so-called God
- religion breeds hatred
- the Bible and Torah are full of legends
- Moses, Abraham et al were fictional characters
- people say they are a certain religion but don’t follow all the rules of that religion
Marty talked as if he had to get it off his chest. Fascinated, I watched while his normally calm demeanour became more animated. He said he had seen too much in his life to ever believe in any God. His voice trembled as he told me of his 4- month old son who died because of a doctor’s negligence and if there was a God, how could He let that happen?
He kept insisting that he meant no disrespect since I looked like a religious person and there was no animosity in his words. He told me how he once dated a Protestant girl who became furious with him when he told her he was Catholic, just to see her reaction. He didn’t understand how Protestants could hate Catholics so much, and vice versa. How can we both claim to be Christian and yet not believe the same things?
It wasn’t the Jews who killed Jesus, he repeated over and over, it was the Romans. Pope Benedict even said so and still the Jews are blamed. Pope Benedict seems like a nice man, but he’s wrong too. And the Jews are no better because they believe in the fictitious Moses and all the other characters in the fictional Old Testament. And the Muslims are killing everybody, and on and on he went. Of all people in the world, he thinks that Black Jews have it the worst since not only do they have to deal with the problems of a black person in society but even among the Jews, they’re outcasts.
To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary.
To one without faith, no explanation is possible.
But Marty’s observations are legitimate. This is how a rational, kind-hearted non-believer sees those of us who profess to believe in God. There really are too many discrepancies between what we say and what we do. Maybe we need Marty to show us our hypocrisy. Maybe we need him to challenge our complacency and moral superiority. Maybe Marty’s unbelief is a grace in itself.
I reassured Marty that he didn’t offend me in any way but I had no answers for him. What would you have said?