The man stood on a podium in front of a screen. The screen was showing him, himself. He was at some kind of festival, complete with tent-booths and hippies. He went into a booth marked Atheist- there were a couple of people inside. To my child eyes, they looked dirty and unkempt. To my adult mind they may have also been strung out, but who knows.
The Man was showing us how to talk to Atheists.
The man on the screen began asking the Atheists belligerent questions. How do you know there is no God? Yeah? How do you know you’re not wrong?
The (strung out looking) atheists seemed befuddled and angry. They started giving semi-coherent answers, repeating the same answers as the man repeated his same questions.
“Well, how do you know you’re not wrong” the chick atheist asked, conversationally. She was obviously trying to calm everyone down.
“Nice try, but I asked first” said the man on the screen.
“I know I’m not wrong!”The guy atheist said. “I wasn’t wrong when I was a teenager and I’m not wrong now!”
“Ha” The man on the podium pointed, as if catching that atheist in the act.
The images froze. The sound of the festival was gone.
“Now, what do we know about that? 1 Corinthians 13: 11 ‘When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put…”
He rattled off the words until he came to the last phrase, which he drew out as if making a point.
“…the ways of childhood behind me.'”
Clearly, this atheist had not yet become a Man. His Atheism was Proof.
The clip started up again, and, a devout, wide-eyed child, a budding teenager, I watched. It didn’t occur to me that these were hardly the most articulate specimens of Atheist. That a tent in a giant party was hardly the best place to debate. That the entire clip was like shooting fish in a barrel. A propaganda piece at best.
That life is complicated and which phase of life one held a belief in is not, by any rational stretch of the imagination, proof of the belief’s truth or falsehood.
That Paul, in the rest of the passage, was describing the central role of love in Christian life.
1 Corinthians 13: 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
And pointing out that, without love, all the wittiness of the wise and divinely inspired is nothing- the clanging of a gong.
1 Corinthians 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
And this man was using Paul’s words as a hammer to drive home his ‘superiority’ over a strung out hippy.
None of this occurred to me.
But the scene stuck in my memory.
Leaning forward in my folding chair, with a crowd of other children, I didn’t yet understand how long it can take to leave childhood behind.