Tuesday 17 April 2012

An Atheist professor walks into a bar...

Often times we can sense the lead up to a good joke. There are certain common elements that cause us to understand the story being told as a clearly fictional account with the ultimate purpose being to make us laugh. However, our senses aren't always quite as keen on discerning fiction from reality. This is especially true in the juxtaposition of the discussion of matters of faith and the instant dissemination of information through social media. While a good joke might be clear for what it is, a fictional faith story may not be, and it's spread through social media circles is often based on obligation and guilt.

There is one particular story that has made the rounds for years, mostly through email. It once again appeared on my Facebook timeline today with the title "TAKE TIME TO READ. It's worth reading it. Trust me. :) " The story involves a philosophical discussion between an Atheist university professor and a Christian student, with the professor being the cruel instigator of a pointed conversation designed to destroy the Christian's faith. It actually kind of reminds me of the story of David and Goliath. Now there is a very good reason that David v. Goliath is one of the most widely known children's stories from the Bible. While it is true that we usually offer our young ones a sanitized version of the account, wisely leaving out the decapitation that actually killed the giant man, we share the story because it  appeals to the universal longing for justice, where those in the right can see the hope of triumph over those in the wrong. Goliath calls out the people of Israel, mocking them and their God, and David responds by coming forth in his weakness and defeating Goliath in the most unlikely way.  We see this same timeline of events in the story I am now referencing. The Professor calls out the student, mocking his faith in front of the class, and the student responds by turning the Professor's logic back on himself, leaving him humiliated in front of his students. (There are actually a number of different versions of the story, with the one I read today seeming to combine them all into one account, humorously concluding that the Professor does not in fact have a brain.)  

I must admit that the story is entertaining, and the logic contained within presents a very compelling argument for the concept of faith. Jesus actually used some of the very same methods in His parables, using real world situations to illustrate important religious points to the people who listened to Him. Sometimes He seems to have even used humor in His parables, as in the story of the man with a plank in his eye. (You can almost imagine Him acting out the story as He was telling it.)  My point is that there is nothing wrong with a good parable. However, as soon as we insert elements that make the story appear to be truth we are on a very different and in my opinion dangerous path. In the story in question, it is the final line that causes me the most concern. "By the way, that student was EINSTEIN." 

Einstein was not a Christian according to any measure of historical evidence. While not an atheist, he also did not subscribe to the belief in a personal God as Christians (or even religious Jews) would understand Him to be. Einstein's religious convictions may not be well known in our day in age, but his intelectual brilliance is. By inserting the name of Einstein into the story, the writer has taken what could easily be read as a highly inspirational parable, and presented it as a historical fact. The problem is, while a parable stands on it's own as an illustration, false history is very easily revealed and rejected. By writing a story such as this, and I would argue as well by spreading it through email, Facebook, or any other means; we are actually doing more harm than good. We are using an obvious mistruth in order to try and explain the powerful reality of God. Think about that for a second.... we are sharing a lie in order to try and convince the world that God is true. 

Coming back to the story of David and Goliath, there is another reason that the story is so well known, and I'd say it's much more important than the first. The story of David & Goliath speaks volumes of the power of God that lies within His children.  David did not go into battle on his own power, and in fact the story makes it abundantly clear that David depends fully on God's power.
1 Samuel 17:37 - "The Lord who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine!"
1 Samuel 17:46 - "Today the Lord will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut of your head....
Are we walking in God's power when we spread mis-information in order to make His name known? When we do the "Christian thing" and press like on a Facebook story without discerning it closely, are we actually stepping out and sharing our faith or are we simply taking the easier way out by clicking a button and feeling better about ourselves? I think these are questions we need to consider especially in the social media world that some of us live in. As Christians, we should also look at ourselves each and every day and pray that the Counselor, the Holy Sprit would guide us in truth and love. Living in His power is much more important than "sharing" a link, and will go much further in gathering others to Him.

ps. the punchline is "Ouch" 

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