I didn’t quite see eye to eye with a man I met for the first time at the European Christian Anarchist Conference last weekend. We were among about eight people in a workshop where we thrashed out some ideas about anarchism and the Old Testament. Of course you are only hearing my side of the story; I’m sure his version of events would be different from mine. I think it’s fair to say his views are somewhat on the conservative side and mine are more radical. I did not know this until we started discussing. There were three main areas of disagreement between us. I’ll just give a summary, and omit what the chair and other people said.
First area of disagreement was the verse in Genesis where it says that God made us all in his own image. “All” is the key word here. I wondered aloud whether this ‘all’ meant men and women, black and white, gay and straight. I could have added ‘Jew and Gentile’. Immediately I was told not to talk about gays because it was irrelevant to an understanding of the passage. When I asked why this categorisation could not be discussed when racial divisions could, I was told the bible was quite clear on the subject. At this point, the chairman decided to move the discussion on.
The second area of disagreement was evolution. Why it came up I don’t recollect: it certainly had nothing to do with the topic under discussion. My friend gave a long account of how atheist Richard Dawkins’ views on evolution had been proved false. As a former teacher of evolution (to children in state schools, at the taxpayer’s expense) I love this sort of thing. I used to collect anti-evolution tracts from the creationists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses for my classes to analyse. I can’t speak for Dawkins, whom I’ve never met, but it’s interesting that we’re both New College Oxford zoologists. (That’s what my M.A. is in). I made it clear that I took issue with his stand and would gladly have expanded on this, but we were brought to order.
The third area of disagreement became clear when we looked at the story of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. I know little or nothing about the topic but I mentioned the somewhat negative view (found in Don Cuppitt’s writings) that as there is no archaeological evidence that the Hebrews were ever in Egypt, and as the description of these events may not have been written down until centuries later, then one has to wonder whether they ever occurred at all. You can see what a wet blanket I am. This questioning of the inerrancy of the bible was the straw that broke the camel’s back. With a splutter, and some words I could not catch, my fellow workshop member got up and left the room. A moment later he could be seen through the window slamming his car door and driving off.
I think this raises important issues about how conversations are conducted between radicals such as myself and traditionalists. I think there is a need to be more circumspect than I was; more aware that I could be upsetting someone, even sowing doubts where before there had been certainty. This has never been my goal, and it is why I do not label myself as an ‘atheist’ but as a ‘non-theist.’ In this blog I warn readers that it is a ‘polemic’, but in conversation I need to be more sensitive to the feelings of my listeners. The worst thing for me is that we exchanged so few words. I can really only guess what his views were, and guess in what ways I might have upset him. I am used to a robust exchange of opinions, he probably isn’t. I feel we are in a post-Christian world and believers need to ‘toughen up’, like the Witnesses at our doorsteps have done, and not run away.
What do you feel?