The Lone Believer Left at Applebee’s

applebees-insideIt’s Thursday night. Work is off my back for the day. Friday is just ahead and the air is crisp and cool as I head to meet my friends at our designated weekly spot for copious calorie consumption: Applebee’s.

Once inside — after our hellos and “Work sucks'” — two things are bound to happen: 1) One of my friends is going to order mozzarella sticks, half-off (cause it’s late); and 2) Somebody’s going to criticize and make fun of me because I’m Catholic. Every single person I hang out with is an atheist, from my best friend to casual acquaintances.

Usually, it starts with a comment from my best friend, “Rich, why are you always following that BS? It’s such a scam.” Other times, it will be one of my other friends who still can’t believe I spend Saturday nights from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. in a big steeple house with an organ player and a guy in a long robe and some black shoes: “You’re still going to church, man? What a waste of time!”

Fortunately, I can usually rely on my girlfriend to have my back. She’s not technically an atheist, as she still prays sometimes, but then she drops a bombshell like, “I still share a relationship with God… I just don’t think there’s an afterlife.”

Don’t think there’s an afterlife?! What kind of a relationship is that?!

“Well,” she’ll say, twirling her wrists as if that explains everything, “I know God exists, I just don’t think there’s anything after we die.”

To which I ask, “Then what’s the point of doing all that praying in the first place, if you don’t think there’s an ultimate purpose afterwards?”

And she’ll just shrug.

Shrugging a lot these days

As a 25-year-old life-long Catholic, I find myself shrugging a lot these days too, but it wasn’t always this way. It started when my best friend started denying religion altogether, becoming, as he puts it, a militant Atheist. He is very persuasive, and when he turned his back on religion and discovered it to be what he calls “the greatest sham in history,” he easily persuaded my friends to do so as well, one by one. Except for me.

But it isn’t easy being the lone believer at the Applebee’s table.

The shrugs just keep on coming…

“Rich, how can you possibly believe in the Bible and evolution when the two contradict each other?”

Shrug.

“Do you really believe there was an Adam and Eve?”

Shrug.

“Well, if you don’t believe in stuff like Adam and Eve, then why do you still go to church?”

No shrugging this time. “Beats me,” I tell them. “Why? Does it bother you?”

Honestly, I think it might. I’ve never been a traditionalist, so not taking the Bible literally is hardly enough for me to relinquish my faith that God is real.

Why draw a line in the… carpet?

Most of my atheist friends are atheists because they say science, which they believe in, is inconsistent with all religious claims. But even Pope Benedict XVI says that the clash between evolution and creationism is an “absurdity.”

But really, why should I have to say anything at all? Most of my atheist friends are atheists because they say science, which they believe in, is inconsistent with all religious claims. But even Pope Benedict XVI says that the clash between evolution and creationism is an “absurdity” and that evolution makes too good of an argument to be pushed aside as bunk. He says that everyone should take evolution into serious consideration, both spiritual and non-believer alike. And I agree.

The truth is, I sometimes think my friends are atheists because they’re young, and the notion that they will someday be lying on their deathbeds never crosses their minds. Though I’m young as well, a part of me has always thought about what might happen to me after I die. Of course, that might have something to do with the fact that I was raised in a religious home, but I see that same interest in other areas of my life as well.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been passionate about comic books and gaming, both of which are filled with genesis (origin) stories and life-or-death choices that are often laced with hints of redemption. In X-Men, the characters would sometimes fight a giant villain named Apocalypse; one of my favorite video game systems of all time was the Sega Genesis. Since I was a child, without knowing it, I was drawn to secular forms of entertainment that were steeped in religious themes — and I guess it followed me into adulthood.

Ironically, even though I’m the religious one at the table, in many ways I feel much less certain about my own beliefs being the only truth out there than my atheist friends do about the truth of their non-belief. Despite my doubts, I have faith that something out there created us. My science-be-thy-name friends all cite the Big Bang theory, and I won’t dispute that. But why couldn’t some entity like a god have created the Big Bang itself? I have a hard time believing that that’s not a possibility. But that doesn’t mean my friends and I have to draw a line in the Applebee’s industrial carpet to separate us.

My militant friend likes to tell me that I’ve been “fooled by randomness.” If that’s the case, then there’s a lot of randomness to contend with in the universe. Take the human eye, for example. How random is it that all those pieces fit together to make the eye function? Are Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony ultimately only shining examples of extreme randomness at work? Or, for that matter, is it random that my non-believing crew and I met each other, became great friends despite our differences, and gather — like clockwork — at a New Jersey Applebee’s to share mozzarella sticks and debate faith, reason and God? I have my doubts. But even if it were random, one thing I’m sure of is that there’s no place on earth I’d rather be every Thursday night.