Busted Halo
feature: religion & spirituality
August 9th, 2009

The Lone Believer Left at Applebee’s

Shrugging my way toward Bethlehem

 
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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.

 
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The Author : Rich Knight
Rich Knight is a seventh-grade English teacher in Irvington, NJ. In his spare time, he works on his novel, Stuck, and updates his blog, Cold Rice and a Little Rat Meat at lovethymovies.blogspot.com.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Winnie Clark

    Hi Rich, good article, come visit Applebee’s Lynchburg, Va.Many young people who believe. With two catholic churches, church mem,bership common among all faith traditions Liberty Univ, provide lots of stimulating religious conversation and controversy.

  • Deacon Bill

    I was born into a practicing Catholic family and always had an interest in science. I received my BS and MS degrees in Engineering [from the University of Illinois, '57 and '58].
    I’ve never seen any problems or discontinuities between my faith in God, and my understanding of science. And I’ve lived with both for many years.
    The bible tells us that God created the world. Can’t gravity and evolution be the means He used?
    Hang in there!

  • Catholic

    Thank you for your essay, Rich. I’ve been there, too!

    It’s hard to tell from your story if you are increasing your faith and knowledge in an effort to deepen your faith, and help bring it to others. Saint Eusebius, Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas are three of thousands (!!) of Saints who have paved the way in helping us learn to discern the truth and implore us to have the strength to defend it.

    Recommendations to you and your friends would be to come together and read any if not all of the following: The Confessions of St. Augustine, St. Augustine’s City of God, and the Summa Theologica.

    I wonder if your friends realize that the Big Bang theory came from a Catholic priest, Fr. Georges Lema√Ætre. Or that the father of genetics was Abbot Gregor Mendel? There are countless believers who have studied the sciences….look at the story of Steven Hawking….he was a staunch atheist most of his life and said it wasn’t until he advanced his studies that he realized there absolutely *must* be God.

    Here’s another site that might be of interest:
    http://francesblogg.blogspot.com/2009/03/catholic-scientists-index.html

    And in the words of Saint Augustine : “Crede ut intelligas.” Believe so that you may understand.

  • Mark

    Great piece. Been there myself from time to time. What I found that works is simply….”I believe…simple as that…and that is my answer”. The example of your calm reassurance, your joy is what makes it somehow hard for the others. The world is a scary place to them and they are uncomfortable with someone who has an answer that they can’t reason out. After you have given your answer and they persist, just repeat it and smile. If they are real friends they will smile back and stop and maybe begin to seek. I myself am a scientist with a PhD in physiology and I am trainined in experiment, scientific method, the whole rigor of scientific process. But that is not incompatibale with my faith. In fact, it strengthens it. I am even more certain we have a loving Father as I explore what I see created in the world around me and in what I see man, inspired even unknowlingly by God can discover and create. So tell them scientists believe profoundly in God. We can’t explain this universe and we creatures in it without Him who is the marvelous Creator. I do think it is unfair that you become the focus of the conversation/bashing. For now, your joy and simple declaratio0n of faith without explaining more than it is a gift from God is sufficient. He will make the rest happen according to His will. Be at peace, you are not alone. And I will remember you in my prayers.

  • Max Lindenman

    It’s hard to be put on the defensive when you’re not a trained apologist for the faith. I’m lucky in that all of my friends — whether religious or not — are pretty laid-back about their beliefs (or unbeliefs). If you share ‘em, great. If you don’t, there are better things to argue about.

    The only person who very occasionally breaks my coglione over religion is my mother. She grew up Catholic during the pontificate of Ven. Pope Pius XII, and last took Communion from behind a rail. Now, she’s sort of a cafeteria Buddhist, meaning she mediates and practices something she calls “mindfulness,” but wouldn’t even bother to kill the Buddha if she met him on the road.

    Fortunately, she’s not a trained apologist, either, so our exchanges typically go something like this:

    “I don’t see what you get out of Catholicism that you couldn’t get from the Society of Friends or secular humanism or Baha’i.”

    “I dunno. To me, if a religion isn’t apostolic and sacramental, it seems like an awful waste of time.”

    “Wow, you’re really sold, aren’t you.”

    “Duh.”

    Whereupon we’ll both snort and change the subject.

  • Mary

    I’ve encountered several people who swear by “random” activity in the name of science. I don’t really see the logic in that. It seems to me that the basic premise of scientific thought is that the world is reasonable–fundamentally ordered–and therefore we can know and understand natural processes through reason. Granted, we might not always understand those processes right away, but we *should* be able to understand them with enough time, in theory.

    Random activity, however, is defined in a nutshell as a process or series of processes that occurs without any rhyme or reason–making random activity inherently *unreasonable*, not merely unpredictable. That flies in the face of science, since truly random activity can never be fully comprehended. Furthermore, it is utterly impossible to accurately label any process as truly random, since that would require an infinite amount of time wherein scientists could definitively determine that there is *NO REASON* behind the outcome of that particular process. They would literally have to become omniscient in order to make this determination.

    More and more, discoveries in quantum mechanics seem to disprove the idea that “random” activity exists. It is certainly true that many things that were once thought to be random are now known to be run by a series of complex processes that reasonably determine the outcome. Human psychology has determined that our own decisions and tastes are governed by genetic predispositions and the like, so that nothing we do is ever truly random. Even our supercomputers cannot truly generate random data, as their programming is all predetermined and ordered, although complex.

    Bottom line: Science and reason must always go hand-in-hand. Since the existence of random activity can never be proven, it seems to me that belief in *that* requires every bit as much faith as does belief in God. The next time someone asks me to prove that God exists, I’ll ask them to prove that random activity exists. If belief in God is unreasonable and unscientific, so is belief in that.

  • RC

    Rich, I wonder what your girlfriend believes is her reason for existence. To me, she sounds like someone still searching for the truth, even if she doesn’t know it.
    During the last two years, I have heard two different physicists (one a Jesuit and the then president of Gonzaga or Creighton University, the other a professor at Biola University) use the ‘Big Bang’ theory to show that believing an intelligence created the Universe was a reasonable conclusion. This was not a proof of God, but a demonstration that belief that it was created by chance is such a remote possibility that it is illogical. The Jesuit was scheduled to publish a book on the subject this year. He was going to leave his post as president of the university this summer. It might make interesting reading.
    During the presentations and the questions afterward, it appeared that similar reasoning exists using the Theory of Evolution, but the physicists wouldn’t discuss something not in their field.
    I mention this to show that your friends’ beliefs are not so well based on science, but on their ignorance of both science and religion.
    You may also want to read some of the books published by Peter Kreeft, a philosophy professor at Boston College. He has a nice sense of humor and a readable style.
    Finally, during his homily, a priest once said that as children we learn as children within the limits of a child’s mind. As we mature, we must continue to learn so as to function as adults. This is also true of our Catholic beliefs. It is a lifelong journey, however short that journey might be.
    Enjoy the journey.

  • angela

    Rich, loved this. As a returning Catholic from a family that has had some bad experiences with the Church, I face this regularly in my own family. And I think they often just miss the fact that we still have way more in common than not, including our shared respect for and strong belief in evolution, and the fact that like them, I am not a biblical literalist. I understand that they and many other atheists and non-churchgoers have very real scars from organized religions (not just the Catholic Church). I have some of those same scars, and so I very much understand the anger and fear that seems to undergird what sometimes feels like their frustration at me personally. I try as much as I can to connect to that and will just keep working on them to connect to the parts of me they similarly understand.

  • Fr.Larry

    Thanks for the essay, Rich. Inevitably, when an “atheist” explains who this god is that he disbelieves, I have to say I don’t believe in that god either. Honestly, I have much more respect for agnostics. It’s awfully hard to prove that God doesn’t exits; equally hard to prove that he does. So what, exactly, is the point of this long conversation? These supposed friends don’t seem to respect you.

    You might point out to them that faith isn’t a head-trip. While we believe that faith and reason are entirely compatible, we participate in our church communities because something there touches our hearts, moves us to compassion, and gives our lives and relationships meaning.

    Hang in there. But skip the mozzarella sticks– they’re deadly! :-)

    Peace. – Fr. Larry

  • Bob S.

    When I was in my twenties I was a militant “free thinker”. I too abandoned my faith because I believed that science was inconsistent with religious claims. I also felt like religion wasn’t useful in this life and that’s all that mattered. I had a naturalist world view and was very pragmatic.

    When I reached my late thirties I had the typical mid-life crisis of modern society. In time everything that used to please me became old and tired. I found myself with a host of unhealthy dependencies and many failed relationships. I also felt a deep emptiness and the a profound lack of meaning to life.

    I sought psychiatric therapy which helped but didn’t solve the underlying issue. Throughout my treatment I focused on the physiological but obstinately rejected the doctor’s suggestions that I develop a spiritual life.

    Out of desperation I became open minded to the idea that God as a power would restore me to sanity. This was a new concept for me. I had always conceived of God (when I was a child) as being concerned with running heaven and the afterlife not with anything to do in this life except punishing me.

    I re-examined my ideas about faith and crossed referenced them with credible teaching and discovered that their was this whole other aspect of religion that was efficacious in the present life not just in the afterlife. In short this was the spiritual life.

    Today when my friends ask me why I have gone back to my religion I answer that it is for personal wellness, sanity, peace of mind, effective thinking, psychic fitness, etc.

    When my friends challenge me about the seeming contradiction of scripture and science I explain that scripture must be read literately (not literally) and is not a science text but is true in faith and morals.

    I also explain that my reasons to believe are not based on the natural processes of the universe (although I could address all of them) but rather it is based on a psychic archetype. The idea deep within my consciousness that God is true and he will feed my soul.

    Thanks be to God.

  • SRP

    Great story. And exciting as good discussion always is. Ever hear of “Theology on Tap?” I am not sure if there is such a group in your area but the, you could start one. A group gathers in a bar and discusses theology in a stimulating way. It gaven be taken apart, (TORN apart, if you will) and chewed over. But be honest intellectually. Don; just spit out cliches and buzz words. Have fun. It really does make for an education in ways no one can predict. Thanks.

  • M

    I’m sending all of you to http://www.conversiondiary.com read allthe older posts and arguments.
    A scientific athiest who never believed in God discovers that there is a scientific reason to be Roman Catholic.
    Go figure

    ps militant anger is usually hiding a deep seated fear that one is actually not “right” and rather than plunge into what is unkown it is easier (not safer) to ridicule anyone who rubs

  • LMaki

    I’m wondering why the author doesn’t connect more with his faith community – it seems as though he attends mass on Saturdays, but that hour is all he gives to his local church. Is there a way to connect to other young Catholics? They are out there. Also, people convert to Catholicism and other Christian denominations all the time, so the world is not primarily atheist – there are many believers and seekers out there open to the grace of God and the enlightenment of truth found in Scripture and tradition. After an extended family gathering, where my husband and I and our children are the only practicing Christians in the place, we take time to pray together and to connect again with our faith community by attending Mass and doing some service for the community.
    I also wonder why Rich spends so much time with people who insult him, and why he continues a relationship with a girlfriend who doesn’t seem open to his faith? I’d love a follow up by this author to learn more about his relationships and how they fit into his vision for a life lived as a Catholic Christian?

  • lisa

    Loved this Rich. I don’t know everything either. I’m pretty sure Genesis isn’t a science book, but a literary, metaphorical telling of something may have taken billions of years. The above commenter might take a class or learn about literary forms and so realize the science argument on Genesis is relatively dead now to those who embrace science and faith. IOW, a lot of us don’t take that stuff literally, so literalist arguments mean nothing to us.

    The Bible isn’t a science book (and wasn’t meant to be one) and Science isn’t a religion, although it’s becoming one by those who choose to view it as such. I really like the Pope’s view on this.

  • Catholic Christian

    I also sometimes feel that I am the Lone Believer among friends and family but I am truly blessed to have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit and I do live my life according to the Ten Commandments. Why are people so bothered by that? Maybe because they are ignorant, jealous or just plain umcomfortable because they do not possess the same faith in our Lord and Savior. Keep on believing but also, I suggest you become more knowledgeable about your faith so that you can better communicate with your friends – join a Bible Study at your Church. Get more involved with friends who share your faith. And most importantly, continue to receive the Sacraments regularly – particularly Eucharist. It wasn’t easy for Jesus when he was on earth. Continue to enjoy your nights out at Applebees but also find some time to read your Bible, join a Bible Study, or watch EWTN on television. God Bless You.

  • atheist

    you sir, are an idiot. What do you think God did, spend the 8th day and put dinosaur bones all over the earth? And why were plants created before their was any light? What, did they just magically grow on God power for a couple days?

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