Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Just Curious

A Semi-Imaginary Conversation

Fellow Human Being: Excuse me?
Me: Yes.
Fellow Human Being: I enjoyed the service. It was very interesting.
Me: Thank you.
Fellow Human Being: Do you mind if I ask you a question?
Me: Not at all.
(Haven't I heard this question asked in that exact frame of voice before???)
Fellow Human Being: Do you believe in life after death?
Me: Me personally, or my faith tradition?
Fellow Human Being: You.
Me: Hmmm. I don't know. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don't.
Fellow Human Being: I do.
Me: I hope your belief brings comfort to your life and guides your actions well.
(I've never said that...but it sounds like a good thing to say.)
Fellow Human Being: Do you ever use the bible?
Me: Oh, yes. Quite often. I used it in preparing this service, actually.
(Hmmm... Deja Vu... I'm sure I've had this conversation before.)
Fellow Human Being: Oh. Well, I'm a Christian.
Me: Really. I wouldn't have guessed.
(Too snarky? Yeah, too snarky. How about...)
Me (take two): Oh, good for you.
(Still sounds snarky? Well, what if I say it with sincerity? I mean, I really do think being a Christian is good for this person. Ok? Ok.)
Fellow Human Being: Do you believe in the bible?
Me: Absolutely. I've seen it. I've actually touched a few of them.
(OK, now that is just being mean. True. But, I know where this is going. Is it wrong of me to want to end it prematurely?)
Me (take two, again): What do you mean by believe?
(A perfectly good question-- but you are just prolonging the inevitable. Might as well cut to the chase.)
Me (take three): Do you mean, do I believe in the bible as the infallible word of God.
Fellow Human Being (now smiling wide): Yes, exactly.
Me: No, I do not.
Fellow Human Being: Why not?
Me: (Sigh) Why not?
Fellow Human Being: Yes, I'm just curious.
Me: No, you're not.
(This is where my fantasy conversation really begins, because now I KNOW I've had this conversation before.)
Fellow Human Being: Yes, I am.
Me: Really? You're curious? You really care about my faith, my beliefs, my understanding of the world? Or are you just trying to enter into a conversation with me in an attempt to convince me of the error of my ways? Curiosity implies a desire to learn, an openness to answers and ideas. Is that the type of curious we are talking about? Because if you are-- then I would love to talk to you. I would love to have that conversation. I hope and dream and prepare and live for such conversations. Nothing makes me giddier than the open exchange of ideas and beliefs, sincerely, honestly, and compassionately. Are you really curious?
Fellow Human Being: I'm interested in why you believe what you believe.
Me: Are you considering a change of faith or switching religions.
Fellow Human Being: No, of course not.
Me: Then why would you want me to share with you ideas and beliefs that might shake your faith. Unless you don't plan to listen to them at all. Unless you just want to argue with me.
Fellow Human Being: No, I'm just asking the question. I don't wish to offend you.
Me: Oh, asking sincere questions doesn't offend me.
Fellow Human Being: Well, then, I'm very curious as to why you don't believe in the bible.
(We covered that earlier; we'll skip it now as a sign of respect--or futility--either one.)
Me: I don't believe in the bible as the inerrant word of God for many reasons. If you wish an example, then I guess I would point to the many inconsistencies between the many myths, legends, and accounts it contains.
Fellow Human Being: What inconsistencies?
(OK...see, I knew we were headed there. I knew it. When people start out with that phrase, "I'm curious" in that friendly/detached tone of voice, I know we are headed here. Like a car accident I can't steer out of--just waiting for the crunch of ideas and the shattering of honesty--followed by the sickening sense of minutes of life drifting away never to be seen or heard again. But I'm a minister. I'm called to teach. I'm called to share wisdom when I can. I am called to help those who ask for it. I must carry on this charade to the bittern end.)
Me: What inconsistencies in the bible? How about we start at the beginning. The two stories of the Earth's creation in Genesis.
Fellow Human Being: What two stories?
Me: (Deep breath. You're in it now. If you had stayed with snark, you might not have gotten to this point.) The two creation stories in Genesis. If you aren't familiar with them, go back and read Genesis. They are fascinating stories--inconsistent and directly related to stories from earlier religions, but fascinating all the same.
Fellow Human Being (less friendly, but still smiling the same smile we started with):
I have read Genesis. I read it today.

Me: Oh. Good for you. Then you know all about the two stories.
Fellow Human Being: There is only one story. God created the earth in seven days...
Me: Do you really want to do this here and now?
Fellow Human Being: I'm just curious.
Me: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
(Sure, back to the snark. It's a great line, but I fear it will not be appreciated--or worse, not even acknowledged.)
Me (take two, last time): If you are curious, why don't you give me a call at my office at the church. I would be glad to answer your questions then if you would like to make an appointment. I'm just not sure this is the right time and place for this conversation.
Fellow Human Being: Why not?
Me: Well, for one, this is a memorial service and there are grieving family and friends who may actually want to talk about their deceased loved ones or seek comfort from the minister. And, two, you aren't curious. You aren't interested. You aren't listening and we aren't having a conversation. You are trying to convert me, bait me, ignore me, and lie to my face about your motives...
and it just isn't very becoming of a person of faith
or a fellow human being.

I have heard this conversation, with that same "curious" line, many times. I'm guessing that the faiths that put out the "how to convert the ______" booklets also coach their followers in this "non-threatening" style of confrontation. Please note, when I advocate for greater evangelizing of our faith-- this is not the insincere, intolerant, dishonest approach I am advocating.

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