Wednesday, June 8, 2011

God Bless You

I travel a lot for work, and that means spending long hours at airport hubs waiting for my next connection.  Dallas.  Chicago.  Charlotte.  Phoenix.  Denver.  And, of course, Atlanta.  There's a joke in Christian circles that you have to stop through Atlanta on your way to Heaven.

Anyway, airports in general, and these hubs in particular, can be overwhelming for the uninitiated and the elderly.  It's fairly common find someone who is completely bewildered; staring at the departure list screens, looking at their tickets, looking back at the screens, looking all around.  They are bewildered, foreigners in a foreign land, even if they are native citizens to the country.

I try to take these lost souls under my wing, when I can.  Depending on the timing of my next connection and my reading of their mental state, I'll either point them in the right direction or walk with them until they get where they need to go.

"God bless you," they'll sometimes say in thanks.  I just say "you're welcome," give them a smile, and turn to go to my gate.

Every time it happens, I wage a friendly debate in my mind.  Should I tell them that I am an atheist?  To get them thinking?  To show them atheists can actually be nice and helpful people who contribute positively to society?

I remember reading a survey a few years back that showed Americans were more nervous about atheists than they were Muslims.  Certainly, atheists could use some good press.

I also remember back in college to a physics teacher I had.  After one grueling test, she was passing out the graded papers.  This guy, Mike, got his test back. "B."  Mike proclaims "Oh, thank God I passed the test!"  The teacher immediately fired back with "Why are you thanking God?  You put in the work. You studied hard.  And you earned the grade that you got."

At that time, I was ambivalent with the faith, but I remember thinking that was a bit over the line.  Mike was proclaiming "thank God" like a colloquial expression for happiness and relief, just the way some people might yell "God damn it!" without actually having the desire for God to damn anything.  But even if that was a true expression of Mike's faith, what was the purpose of the teacher's confrontation?  What would really result from it?  It just served to sour the mood.

Circling back to the airport, I hold my tongue.  What would really be the result of voicing my beliefs, or lack thereof, to this stranger who I have helped?  Would it get them thinking?  Would it help to give atheists a good name?  Would it just make me feel better to get it off my chest?


But maybe, it would just sour the mood.  Maybe it would taint the beauty of the transcendental moment of one person helping another person in need, without requirements, without presuppositions, and without an agenda.  There is far to little of that beauty in the world.  Why let a silly thing like beliefs spoil it?

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