The Religious Debate

Clemson’s Professor Adams wore blue jeans and a buttoned down blue denim shirt.  An imposing looking man with a fleshy face, he used his big hands for gesturing like a sculptor might before tackling a block of rough clay.  On the blackboard behind him were written the words:  Humanism, Existentialism, Darwinism.  “Now, shall we continue this discussion or is fashion and romance the religions here?” he asked impatiently.
    Steve cleared his throat, grinned, and turned back around from whispering.  I glanced back at the door, half expecting to see my mother slip in to audit the class on the same kind of visitor’s pass I used.
    “Now we were saying that the concept of a God or gods is endemic to the usual structure of civilizations . . . and it’s by no means an aberration that you should find the redemption motif rendered in any of dozens of cultures, civilized or not.”
    A Korean girl in a light checkered sweater raised her hand, and Adams acknowledged it.  “But doesn’t that point to an underlying truth that many of these cultures might be approaching?”
    “No, it points to a basic need for us to feel that our only hope for salvation isn’t just to buy lottery tickets.  That life itself isn’t just sound bites and soap operas and infomercials on how to rip off your fellow taxpayers by getting free government grants.”  
    “I see.  And since we can’t understand the randomness we see, we imagine a Being who can?”
    Dr. Adams nodded, pleased and impressed.  “What I’m getting at is that mankind finds comfort in believing in a god or gods.  Why?  Well, because it’s hard to face that truth, which is that we’re all alone in the end, with the possible exception of Bill Clinton.”
    Alone, I thought.  I especially felt that here, without Julie.  
    Adams underlined the word Humanism on the blackboard.  “Now let’s talk about whether Humanism is a real religion.  Any ideas?  Carla?”
    An attractive blond girl shifted in her seat by the window, daydream interrupted.  “I don’t think it is.  I . . . I mean . . . is this earth god Ghia we hear about really seen as a god, or some huge eco system. . .”
    Dr. Adams’ trap didn’t work.  He should have waited for the daydream to take firmer hold.  Next he acknowledged a nerd beside Carla, who had his hand raised.  “What about all that new age metaphysics stuff?” the nerd asked.  “In Sedona, Arizona don’t they sit around in crop circles and try to focus power from psychic vortexes?”
    Carla:  “But Bill, I mean, is that God?”
    “If you have to see God as nature, as everything.  If you don’t wanna pin Him down to just some bearded man with singed hair from throwing all those lightning bolts.”
    Carla played with her hair as she spoke.  “So God is within us all, and we’re all within God.  And so there’s no sin except not seeing the good in everyone?”
    “Exactly,” Bill said, smiling at last and looking at Adams in mutual amazement.
    But Carla wasn’t finished.  “So you shouldn’t judge anyone or anything, because no one’s ever gotten a fax from God asking if they want to do lunch?  And you think that’s a religion?”
    Bill frowned.  “Well, it’s not rap lyrics, but–”
    “But we still get rated, anyway.  I mean graded.  Right, Dr. Adams?”
    Adams finally smiled as some of the others laughed.  “There’s no heaven, no Satan, no guardian angels, no Second Coming, no Judgment . . . none of it.  What about it, Bill?  Does that open your sinuses?”
    “What about reincarnation . . . isn’t that part of Humanism?”
    Carla:  “Of what?  And what I wanna know is if there’s power vortexes on Mars or Alpha Centauri.  Or are they Ghia’s brothers and sisters?”
    More chuckles, which didn’t subside until another girl spoke from the back row.  She was a mousy brunette with a delicate, almost fragile appearance.  “I think what you’re talking about is a religion,” she said.  “I’m a Christian, myself.”
    It was a bombshell.  The classroom hushed into dead silence.  Yet Dr. Adams seemed intrigued.  “Tracy, right?”  She nodded.  “So, Tracy . . . because it ignores the deity of Christ, it. . .”
    “Well, it requires a foundational belief system,” Tracy concluded.
    “Like atheism?”
    She nodded once this time, as I watched mutely.  “Your disbelief is your belief.”
    “So, in a way, you agree with Bill.”
    “I think Humanism is popular because it does away with sin.  You don’t have to think what you’re doing may be wrong.  You can do what you want.  Just like with atheism.”
    “And the difference is. . .”
    “Humanism and this Ghia thing is an extension into what science can’t explain.  We have a space inside our souls shaped like God.  The atheist fills it with cynicism.  The humanist fills it with nebulous feelings of peace and love and harmony with nature.  And both of them end up in hell.”
    There were some laughs, and at least one gasp.  
    “You really believe that?” Carla asked in disbelief.
    “Clemson is in the Bible belt,” another student whispered, spreading his hands.
    Tracy nodded slowly, then quoted the Bible as if on cue.  “But God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
    Carla turned to Bill, her disgust transformed into triumph.  “Now there’s a religion.”  Take that, you nerd.
    “Yes,” Adams agreed.  “Requires a suspension of disbelief, like reading fiction.  The characters on the page—and I mean the Bible—come alive to you.  You experience emotions you’ve never had before, as with most number one bestsellers.  God calls, and wants to do lunch and supper, and breakfast too.  You hear the ringing between your ears, constantly.  Then there’s the slam bang finish, although the reviews never end.”




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