I just got back from having one of those conversations with a Christian in Korea, which was actually the first time someone has ever confronted me—albeit very politely—about my lack of faith in that book of bronze age fables known as the Bible.
Normally I would never push my own religious views on anyone else, as I think all of these questions and answers are not only private but totally subjective and therefore not really worth more than a few moments of hand-wringing, but when someone comes to me and asks me why I don’t believe the Bible is the truth, I have little choice but to retort with an overwhelming volley of calm, measured, relaxed, gently-toned reason—and that is exactly what I did.
The conversation began when I made the mistake of politely asking my coworker what she had done for New Year’s—and this is a very nice woman I’m talking about, not the 악마 선생님 or “devil teacher” of earlier posts (I would be afraid to ask her the same question, as she probably spent the evening drinking the blood of schoolchildren)—and it was this nice one who replied that she had gone to her local church to listen to a speech by her pastor at 12AM.
Now this was the first time she had identified herself as a Christian to me. I think that generally Christians are, like most people, pretty okay (or, like most people, insects, depending on my mood), but organized religions or movements of any kind have an obvious tendency of attracting total assholes and blowhards, and this is particularly true in Korea, where the Christian minority focuses most of its energies on converting the rest of the godless country to belief in the one true faith, usually by just annoying the hell out of everyone, which is also the way you try to sell things or get votes in the political elections. They also derive a great deal of pleasure from annihilating the little that remains of traditional Korean culture, which is Pagan and therefore a one-way ticket to the fires of hell.
So my immediate thought was, wow, 재미 없다 (literally, “not fun”, “not interesting”, “boring”, “not good”), but then she asked me if I was a Muslim since I owned a statue of the Hindu god of good luck and obstacle-overcoming, Ganesh, whom many readers will probably recognize as a result of his distinctly elephantine appearance, the question itself belying the typical total, laughable ignorance of other cultures that is the accepted norm here in Korea.
(The question came up because I had been attempting to teach the kids in my classes about a number of world religions which most people never hear about at all, and when we learned a little about Hinduism I mentioned that I had a statue of Ganesh in my family’s house back home in beautiful, beautiful, beautiful Maine; the story of how and why I possess such a statue is too long to utter here.)
The conversation that then ensued about our own belief systems was conducted in good faith, and I had to remind myself a number of times not to shout her down, as she is a thoroughly nice person and I suppose many of us freethinkers have a habit of attacking Christianity because it is the predominant religion on Earth, while giving other religions and ideas a free pass, even as they are all equal in the eyes of God. I tried to remain civil.
Still, her questions persisted, she was practically begging me to unseat her faith in the little book she whipped out of her purse, and so I responded—I asked her about Genesis 1:9 and Genesis 2:5, and Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:7, where god forgot that he already made plants and people, respectively, and decided to make them twice, under circumstances that were somewhat different from one another—in 1:27, for example, he makes men and women at the same time, a part of the Adam and Eve story (which begins at 2:7, with its exceedingly odd rib) that is usually left out.
Now this sort of forgetfulness is typically the result of poor copyediting and would be claimed as such in any other document, but because it’s the Bible we just have to believe that God knows what he’s doing and that if he wants to make plants and people twice, then sure, why the hell not? He’s god, the creator of our infinite universe, and every galaxy, and every neutrino, in it, so let him do whatever he wants. Actually other people choose to believe such nonsense, with all the life-wasting crap about heaven and hell thrown into the mix, but for me, I don’t really care enough to talk about it, unless you try to make me believe that this idiocy is supposed to be the supreme truth of my existence, when it’s really just not.
And it might be one thing if this were the only contradiction in the Bible, but the Bible is practically a manual of how one contradicts oneself, as it was composed over the course of centuries by completely different people who were later hailed as saints and holy men, all guided by the divine inspiration of the holy spirit, when I think in fact the evidence speaks to the contrary—unless the holy spirit was Writing While Drunk.
But before we got into this she asked me what I believe in, and I replied with a favored quote of Flaubert’s—and if I were to speak in nothing but Flaubert quotations, I would be the proverbial “smart guy”—“I doubt everything, even my doubts”, or something along those lines. This naturally includes my doubts about Christianity. I suppose I believe in what I can see and prove, as illusory as it all may be, and that a number of writers and musicians (at this moment, Nabokov, Ballake Sissoko, and Remember Shakti) exhibit signs of being far closer to gods than most people. Sometimes I do believe that there is more than meets the eye, and that every object is alive, and trembling with divine possession, but in a soul-crushing place like Busan these moments of spiritual ecstasy are somewhat rare.
The best part of our conversation was the end—my coworker couldn’t answer these simple questions, and said she’d go ask her pastor to explain the apparent discrepancies! I’m definitely jumping the gun with the title of this post, as the poor woman was brainwashed by a virulently Christian child care provider of some sort when she was just a kid (her parents are Buddhists and apparently did not mean to leave their daughter in the hands of a raving lunatic), and so her rehabilitation is somewhat unlikely, but still, one can hope.