By Joseph Walker
My friend, David, is a philosopher, of sorts. With a brilliant mind and profound faith, he enlightens and inspires me with his common sense wisdom dispensed in pithy observations that seem to be a mix of C.S. Lewis, Thomas Aquinas and Obi-Wan Kenobi. In fact, his Facebook profile picture features his gentle face superimposed onto a picture of a robed, hooded Obi-Wan.
The force is strong with this one, it is.
The other day he was telling me about a radio program (or “programme,” as David would spell it С yeah, he lives on the other side of the big puddle) featuring a well-known atheist in a discussion of “What Makes Us Human.” According to David, the program’s host is promoting the program by saying that the atheist “will be telling us that ‘it’s certainly not God’.”
“Is that all this man has to offer?” David asked, rhetorically. “Whatever the subject С it’s not God? I’m hoping he at least has something positive to say.”
“Don’t count on it,” I said. “I’ve heard this man before. His whole message is based on negativity. Everything I’ve read by him or about him, it’s about what he is opposed to, not what he is in favor of. Don’t waste your time.”
As Obi-Wan would have said: “You don’t need to listen to this atheist. This is not the information you’re looking for. He can go about his business. Move along.’
But David was prepared to give the man a chance. That’s sort of the way he is, and has been for as long as I’ve known him. Although with David, a chance only goes so far. He spoke of once having a discussion along these same lines with an atheist friend of his.
“I pointed out that his stance consisted in being against things,” David told me. “I asked him to tell me one positive thing about atheism in its own right; something unrelated to negativity.”
“’Why does it have to be positive or negative?’ was the man’s response. ‘Why can’t it be neutral?’
“Well, of course it can,” David replied. “But what kind of life is that, to fight for the right to not be positive, and have neutrality as it’s highest aspiration?”
David’s experience reminded me of a run-in I had with a man who was standing outside a religious shrine, loudly ridiculing the faith of those who entered. It seemed inappropriate to me, and I told him so. He challenged me to defend the faith he was belittling, but since it was not my faith I was not inclined to do so.
“But here’s what I will do,” I told him. “I will stand here and let you preach to me, for as long as you want to preach. But there’s one condition. I don’t want to hear anything negative about these people or any other religious group. I just want to hear what you believe in. Keep it positive and I’ll stay. But the second you go negative, I’m gone.”
The young man seemed a little confused.
“But I’m called to witness against Й”
“I’m not interested in what you’re called to witness against,” I told him. “I’m only interested in what you’re witnessing for.”
He looked around, and then took a deep breath. And he tried. I’ll grant him that. He really tried. He gave me about 23 good, solid seconds of what he believed before he slipped into his comfortable “these people are minions of Satan” rhetoric, and I was free to go.
So of course, I went.
The thing is, this is far more than just a religious issue С or even a lack of religion issue. Politics, business, journalism and the entertainment industry all feature their share of what former Vice President Spiro T. Agnew once famously С or infamously, if you prefer С called “nattering nabobs of negativism.” While there is certainly a time and place for serious, constructive and even painful criticism, the true measure of a person, I think, is not what you are against, but what you are for.
In other words, may the “for” be with you.
(To read more by Joseph B. Walker please go to www.josephbwalker.com.)