Monday, December 13, 2010

"My days of not taking you seriously are certainly coming to a middle"

At work, one of the residents* learned that I was a science major. He told me that a friend of his, a pastor, had visited Einstein and had written an interview. He had a copy and would copy it and give one to me. Being that I've been working a great deal recently on astronomical history for a large project of mine (details when it gets closer to completion), I was very interested in seeing this.

Last week, he brought the copy by and.... well, I'll just repost the majority of it here and let everyone see what they think before I give my conclusions.
The housekeeper answered the door, and I asked if I could see Dr. Einstein concerning a particular matter. She invited me in and referred me to Einstein's secretary, who at the time was his stepdaughter. The stepdaughter went upstairs to check with Einstein and, upon returning, told me that her stepfather was willing to see me. I walked upstairs to his office.

Three walls were lined with books. The fourth "wall" was really a huge pane of glass that afforded a beautiful view of the Princeton University golf course, with the tower of the Princeton University Graduate School in the distance. Near the door hung portraits of Einstein's heroes, Mohanda Ghandi and the English physicist Michael Faraday.

Einstein was dressed in baggy trousers and a long-underwear shirt, the latter sporting what appeared to be soup stains. A pair of scruffy wool-lined slippers covered his bare feet. His hair was gray, bushy and very long - a preview of the hairstyles of the 1960's. He say back in his chair, puffing contentedly away on a long curlicue pipe.

Einstein was never much concerned about his physical appearance or about material things in general. His home was not at all the palatial mansion I had thought it would be prior to me arriving in Princeton; rather, it was a plain wooden-fram structure already 120 years old. Some of its shutters were cockeyed, and the whole place wanted paint, but the inside was quite neat, even spartan, which I attributed not to any efforts of Einstein's but to his stepdaughter and housekeeper.

He invited me to sit down. I told him who I was, and then I posed a question of a religious-scientific nature (I have long since forgotten what my question was). He gave me his answer, and since he seemed to be in a rec eptive mood, I continued with other questions.

"Dr. Einstein," I asked, "do you believe in God?"

He replied: "I suppose the average atheist would consider me a believer in God, whereas the average believer would call me an atheist or agnostic. Actually, I do believe in a supernatural force."

I then asked him a few questions about the Old Testament - what, for instance, he believed concerning Noah, Moses, David and the Psalms. He showed from his answers that he was acquainted with Old Testament Scriptures, evidently because he had been brought up in a Jewish home.

From this point, I proceeded to the New Testament, saying, "Dr. Einstein, I believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God. How about you?"

"No," he replied. "I can't believe that."

"I believe," I continued, "that Jesus Christ made atonement on the cross for us human beings so that we might become children of God and heirs of heaven. How about you?"

"No," he responded. "I can't go that far with Jesus Christ."

Following his answers, he often laughed and chuckled a bit, and in this chuckling I could sense a tone of derision. This was especially apparent in connection with the subsequent remark I made.

"Dr. Einstein," I said, "according to the Bible, if we are lost, we have ourselves to blame. If we are saved, we have God alone to thank."

"To this he responded: "If that is the case, then I'll have to blame your God for giving me a mind that can't accept Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world." Here is where his laughs and chuckles struck me as being particularly derisive, although I knew he meant no meanness by them. They simply seemed to say, "Young man, how can you be so naive as to accept that nonsense?"

It is evidently true, as the Scriptures say, that "the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14).

Though humility was not especially in evidence on Dr. Einstein's part during the bulk of my 40-minute visit with him, yet a semblance of it did become apparent at the conclusion. As I left, I sad, "Dr. Einstein, I'd like to invite you to our Lutheran worship services at Westminster Choir College Chapel. I'd like to be able to tell my grandchildren one day that I preached to the smartest man in the world."

To this he replied, "Oh, no, I'm not the smartest man! I'm not the smartest man!" Once again he laughed and chuckled, but this time there was no derisive tone. He meant it.

Let's condense that down.

1. Arrogant preacher waltzes into someone else's home, without prior invitation.
2. Said preacher declares steadfast belief and asks if other person holds them.
3. Said preacher feels mocked when laughed at casually for having beliefs without bothering to support them.
4. Insinuates other person is not as intelligent as they seem for not sharing said beliefs.

This is a pretty perfect micro-summation of the general problem I have with religious blowhards like Jerry Falwell. They have large, public platforms, declare their beliefs, whine about persecution and intolerance when other people don't give them inherent and undue respect, and then insult the people that only go so far as to disagree and make it known!

While that's annoying enough in and of itself, the larger problem to me is that so many people seem to think this is a perfectly respectable position. There's not one iota of logic or reason in it. It only works if you already accept the conclusion that the absurd position is valid. It can only perpetuate itself by circular reasoning.

It's bad thinking. It needs to stop. These people aren't victims. A bit of scoffing isn't going to hurt them. But playing it off as if it does certainly hurts others.

* - I'm currently working at a retirement community while I finish getting my certification. I passed my last test and am just waiting on paperwork to go through so I can get back in the classroom!

PS: For those that aren't familiar with the post title, it's taken from the series Firefly in which Malcom Reynolds sarcastically informs Jayne that he's considering taking him more seriously after Jayne offers to trade a rifle for Mal's supposed wife.

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