Conversation with an Agnostic / ex-Non-Practicing Catholic

I was sent on a business trip traveling with this guy from my work.  He’s not in my department, but works nearby.  I’ve known him casually for many years – I would guess over 10 years, but this is the first time we’ve ever spent a significant amount of time together.  It is just us 2 staying at this hotel (separate rooms of course) and we’ve been going to breakfast, lunch and dinner every day together.  We’re here for the whole week and today is Tuesday.  So far, I’ve just been getting to know him and finding out about his family, his situation, his likes/dislikes, hobbies, etc.  Probably level 2 type conversations.  We’d gotten beyond the weather and sports and into more personal stuff.  So, today on the way home from work, we started talking about musical tastes and he shared all the music that he likes.  So, I knew that it was going to come out that I pretty much liked all Christian music, because that is the truth.  I have a past history of liking all sorts of music and I certainly do still like a lot of that (e.g. the Beatles).  For some reason, the subject of guitar came up and I talked about knowing how to play guitar.  He asked me what type of music I play.  So, I decided that was a good opportunity to bring up my faith.  I say, well, I don’t know if you know this, but I am a Christian.  He said, no he didn’t know that.  And I said that every Thursday evening, I’m part of a men’s group where I play guitar and it is all Christian music.  He said, that is interesting, because my brother does the same thing.  He’s gotten really into going to church and Christianity.  He’s like totally changed.  I told him that I’m the same way.  I then talked a little bit about how I became a Christian.  I got a job offer in our corporate headquarters (at the previous company where I was working) and my wife at that time said I was really difficult to deal with.  She’d been taking my son to church with a friend of hers and she was really wishing that I would go.  So, she said that she would agree to move so that I could take the job offer at corp as long as I would agree to go to Church when we got there.  So we moved and I ignored my promise for about 2 years.  Until one Easter…  My son’s best friends (a brother and sister) invited us to go to Church.  It was a Lutheran Church.  So, my wife reminded me of my prior commitment to her about going to church.  So, I grudgingly said yes.  Well, in that service, something very strange and special happened.  As I was sitting there listening to the sermon, it felt like the pastor was just talking to me.  There was the cross behind him as he told about Jesus and how he’d died for our sins.  And it hit me like a ton of bricks.  I just had the sense that there really was something to this and I felt stirring in my heart and I was convicted that I was a sinner before God and that Jesus died for me.  So, at that point, me and my wife had started going to a new believer’s class and I was going to a men’s group.  Later in November of that year I was baptized.  Then we move out here to Arizona and eventually, my family got less and less interested and finally I was the only one going to Church.  Now that is still the case and I’m more involved than ever including even teaching the Bible at the Church to kids.  At this point our conversation got interrupted because we were back at the hotel and the car we’d pulled up next to had it’s back driver’s side passenger window smashed out.  It shocked both of us.  So, that derailed us for a few minutes then we got back to talking.  I shared that I know it may sound cliché but what happened to me (and I think your brother) was that we were born again.   Once I was born again and my eyes were opened (he used the phrase about his brother that he’d finally “saw the light”), I started to investigate whether it was really true, because I was starting to have doubts.  During the first 37 years of my life all I looked at was all the evidence that was against Christianity, I never looked at the evidence that was for Christianity.  Now I started looking at all that and was amazed how much supporting evidence there was.  I was becoming convinced that this was true beyond a reasonable doubt.  I was getting the feeling that I would actually need more faith to NOT believe that I would need to believe.  Then he shared that his brother, after he really started to get into this stuff invited him to Church and he went.  He talked about the guy up there playing music in his casual clothes and talked about how it was pretty laid back.  He said that it “stuck” for his brother, but it didn’t really “stick” for me.  He said he just really wasn’t that into it, so he stopped going.  As we were starting to go up the elevator, he was asking me if Catholic and Christians had the same Bible.  I said that it was mainly the same, except that they have the Apocrypha in between the testaments.  I said that however the theology of Protestants and Catholics is quite different.  I asked him if he’d ever heard of Martin Luther, in the 1500’s, how he posted his grievances with the Catholic Church and that started the whole split between the 2.  He said that no, he’d not heard of that.  At that time, it was time for him to get off at the 4th floor to go to his room and I had to go to the 6th floor for mine.  We agreed to meet in about an hour and go to dinner.  I had hopes that the conversation would continue…  I’d shared my testimony, now I wanted to get more deeply into what Christianity was all about.  We went out to eat at a Mexican restaurant and started off with small talk.  We didn’t really resume talking about spiritual things right away.  So, I started back with the guitar and talked about what guitars I’d owned in the past and what I own now and various other music related topics.  In an effort to get the topic steered back to what we were talking about earlier on the way home from work, I brought up the topic of his brother.  I asked where he lived and he told me, then he started talking about how his brother had a job in finance in a car dealership and was working 7 days a week and making a lot of money.  He had a really nice house.  But when he “saw the light”, he decided to get out of that and get a job with more reasonable hours where he could spend more time with his family.  He quit his job and sold his house.  He said he couldn’t believe the change in his brother.  He said that is his flesh and blood and he really couldn’t understand it.  He thought there might be something to it, that is why he himself decided to try it and went to Church with his brother, but he admitted he didn’t really give it a good try.  I think he said something like it just didn’t work for him and it didn’t do anything for him.   He just wasn’t interested in it anymore and stopped going.  So, I shared with him that I think there were 2 things that really caused my to be Christian.  When I realized that God’s standard was perfection and that I’d sinned – you know the 10 commandments???  He nodded that yeah, he was familiar with all of that because he went to Catechism as a child.  He has the “Our Father” memorized and everything.  So, I continued – when I realized that I was guilty before God and basically was headed for hell – he stopped me – because you didn’t keep the commandments??  I said that no one in the whole world can keep the commandments perfectly and that is what God’s standard is – perfection.  (He agreed that no one can be perfect).  And when I realized that I was guilty before God and headed for hell and that God provided a free pardon for my sins through faith in Jesus Christ, I thought I’d be a fool not to accept that, so I did.  I think at some point he mentioned that hell was a pretty harsh punishment “for not going to Church”.  I said, well, I think people in the world have a lot of misguided ideas about heaven and hell.  I told him that a lot of people seem to think of heaven as kind of like an eternal Disney Land.  But the Bible says that the essence of heaven is being with God forever.  Now on the other hand, hell is being separated from God forever.  He said, oh well that doesn’t sound that bad – no fire – maybe just a little heat he said with a giggle.  I said, well, while I think that it is possible that the flames of hell are literal, it is possible that they are just figurative and are meant to communicate how horrible hell will be.  See the people who believe in Jesus will be with him forever in heaven, but the rest of the people who reject Jesus Christ will be separated from him.  And since everything we have in the world that is good is from God, the people who are separated from God forever will be permanently separated from everything good.  I think people generally don’t realize that everything we have that is good in this world comes from God – the beauty in nature, the sunshine, our bodies and skills and every other good thing.  So they think hell won’t be that bad, but really its being separated from the source of good – God – forever.  He seemed to understand it when I put it that way.  But then he asked – what about other religions?  Will they all go to hell?  I mean what about Islam and Allah?  I explained to him that the subject of other religions is certainly a tough subject to talk about.  But assuming that a person has heard the Christian message accurately, that they’ve heard about the condemnation they’re under and still consciously and willfully reject God’s free pardon through Jesus, they will end up separated from God in hell.  Jesus says in the Bible “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words.  That very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day” (John 12:48).  I said there is some controversy over whether a person who’s never heard of Jesus will be condemned.  Jesus said one time, “If I had not come and spoken to them they would not have been guilty of sin.  But now, they have no excuse for their sins” (John 15:22).  So, if there is a person in the jungle who’s never heard of Jesus, there are some who feel that God will judge them according to what they know (according to the light they have).   He said – oh, so people who have other gods won’t go to hell.  I cautioned him – I said again, if they’ve heard the message of Jesus and rejected him, no they will go to hell.  So then I said, but you know the other thing that convinced me in regards to Christianity is that there’s strong evidence that it’s true.  So, even though I’m really uncomfortable with the idea of someone from another religion going to hell, unfortunately that’s something I ultimately have to accept.  It’s not an issue of how it makes me feel, it’s more an issue of whether it is true or not.  If it is true, I need to accept it, so my primary task is to determine the truth of it and then, once determined to be true, it needs to be accepted.  But I said, I can always go back to the Bible says that God will treat everyone ultimately fairly.  He is a good judge and no one will get anything that they don’t deserve.  He also brought up objections about how there was a time when he was searching for answers and open to religion, then he would see the stories about the priests involved in those molestation cases and it would really discourage and disappoint him.  I share that it grieves me as well.  I think that is a big turn off to people when they see Christians acting like hypocrites.  But Jesus said “by their fruits, you will recognize them”, meaning that you can generally tell if someone is a Christian by looking at their life.  If they’re out buying crack cocaine every night and visiting the house of prostitution, then that may be a pretty good indication that they’re not living the life that they’re professing.  I talked about how your good life does not and can’t save you, but the pattern of your life (becoming increasingly righteous and being grieved and repenting when you do slip up and sin) is evidence that you’re saved.  He also made a point to bring up Athletes who point to God or thank Jesus – are they just doing it for show?  I said, we can’t really know of judge for certain.  But again, if the pattern of their life is filled with sin, they may be just doing it all for show.   We talked about keeping the rules and the pattern of your life and how you’re not kicked out of the family every time you sin.   Christians still sin; they still have bad thoughts and sometimes fall into old habits.  It seems to be more about their attitude when they do sin.  Whereas I used to celebrate my decadence and actually brag about it, I no longer do that.  When I do slip up or fail or fall into old habits, I’m quick to go to God in pray and ask for forgiveness and repent.  I realize that my salvation is not in jeopardy every time I sin.  I’m still in God’s family and I’m still going to heaven.  Nothing’s going to change that.  When I was discussing this topic of obedience and disobedience, he actually brought up Mormonism.  He mentioned that a friend of his is Mormon and that they place a big emphasis on obedience.   I agreed with him and relayed a story of someone I know who got ex-communicated from the Mormon Church for having sex outside of marriage.  This person went through like a little mini trial and was kicked out of the church and had to get that corrected before being allowed back in.  We talked a little bit about the problems with Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham as well.  He made the assertion about Christianity having problems as well – that the books were written down after a period of hundreds of years and they changed them to say what they wanted.  I shared how the New Testament was 27 books written by 9 authors who were all either eyewitnesses or interviewed eyewitnesses.  And they were all written in the first century in the life times of those who could challenge these claims being made.  The authors (all but one) went to their deaths proclaiming these truths when all they had to do was recant and they would have saved themselves, but they chose instead to die to make sure these claims were spread.  I mentioned that from a historical point of view, the New Testament was more well attested than most of the literary works from that time – in fact not even close.  I shared how the New Testament has more than 24,000 manuscripts, which is far more than other documents from that period.   He mentioned that he thought he’d heard that there were some scholars that were skeptical of all this that was written in the Bible.  I asked if he was referring to Bart Ehrman.  He didn’t know the name.  So I explained how Bart Ehrman would even affirm that there was a historical figure called Jesus, who lived in the first century, was crucified on a Roman cross, buried and that his disciples reported seeing him alive (back from the dead) later.  Now he admittedly doesn’t believe that Jesus was actually resurrected, but he will at least affirm those minimal facts.

During the conversation at some point I said that there are times that I as a Christian have doubts.  I wonder if all this is a hoax.  I wonder am I crazy because so few people seem to believe it.  But then I go back to the basics – there is a God – I mean, we have this universe – where did it come from?  And there is life that looks to be designed in the universe, with DNA, our bodies and their design.  He agreed with those being good points.  And those same points made him start seeking answers in the past too.  I also said that I investigated the historical evidence that Jesus is who he said he is and did what the Bible said he did.

He had made some comment about Christianity making his brother’s life better and I think that was part of what his brother was telling him in order to convince him.  I told him that in some ways your life gets better, but that’s not why I became a Christian.  In fact in some ways your life gets worse.  You can expect some persecution.  I get mocked and laughed at and sometimes excluded because of my faith.  But there are also ways that it makes your life much better – just knowing that I was under condemnation and that now I have peace with God and I have the peace of knowing that I’m going to heaven.  And my life has purpose now.  I have something and someone to follow.  My life is meaningful and I know it doesn’t end at death.  There were other things we talked about and other lines of conversation, but I just can’t remember all the details now…  Overall, he said he enjoyed the conversation.  Then the night was over.  We’ll see what tomorrow brings…

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